By Festus Adedayo
Until their arrest and extradition last week by the United Arab Emirates to the United States, Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, also known as Ray Hushpuppi and his accomplice in cyber-heist, Olalekan Jacob Ponle, known as ‘Woodberry,’ played second fiddle only to Emmanuel Nwude, former Director of the defunct Union Bank of Nigeria, known to have swung the third largest jibiti in world banking history. Nwude himself was only bested by Nick Leeson and Quasay Hussein.
Leeson, ex-English derivatives trader, was a rogue trader whose most fraudulent and notorious heist led to the bankrupting of the Barings Bank, UK’s oldest merchant bank, in 1995. Between 1995 and 1998, Nwude pulled a fraud that shook the entire globe and eminently placed him in any variant of the Guinness Book of Records, this time, of world fraudsters. He had defrauded Nelson Sakaguchi, a Director at Brazil’s Banco Noroeste, Sao Paulo, of the sum of $242 million.
Posturing to be Paul Ogwuma, former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Nwude convinced Sakaguchi to invest in a “proposed” Abuja airport scheme, with an assurance of a commission totaling $10 million. As a result of this phenomenal heist, Banco Noroeste could not withstand the pressure of Nwude’s fraud and collapsed in 2001.
Fraud is not strange to traditional African native lexicon. While the Yoruba derisively label it jibiti, Igbo’s label for it is aghugho or mpo and Hausa finds comfort in labeling it zamba. The three ethnic structures had so many mores, folklores and fables they formulated to demonize it as a road that leads to perdition and frantically pulled their children from its ruinous path. In Yoruba jibiti etymology, you scarcely could divorce the people’s deployment of anecdotes to the rescue.
Tortoise was the anecdotal image constructed to impersonate jibiti by the people. This animal to which cunning was a second nature, approximated the fraud smartness and the negatively deployed intelligence of the Hushpuppis, Woodberry and Nwudes of this world.
At the end of those folklores, an eternally apt lesson was always drawn: that the jibiti kingpin would have money, build houses, sire children, live a life that refreshingly entices like a whooshing fiery vapour and literally build an enticing image in the moon but their end is always fatal and lamentable. Just like the life of Hushpuppi, Woodberry, Nwude and their precursors who travelled on this accursed road.
The western world also teaches that a life of crime does not pay. Readers of James Hadley Chase would confirm this. If you read Chase’s Want to stay alive? You will encounter a certain evil Poke Toholo and a trio of young crooks. Toholo the Indian, with biceps of a prize fighter, was on a killing spree; Chuck was the amoral and cruel one and Meg, a hapless character. Toholo loves money like Hushpuppi but on top of it, had a deep hatred for rich people. Fear, he conjured, was what opened the wallets of the rich. However, Tom Lepski, the no-nonsense cop, searched the nooks and crannies for them and in the end, Toholo and Chuck meet their waterloo.
Stories have been told of the humble and even humbling background of the youthful Hushpuppi who, through his transnational network, facilitated computer intrusions into sacred account domains, perpetrating myriad fraudulent schemes, money laundering, his targets being victims in and around the world who let down their cyber guards. With these, he got involved in cyber-heist schemes that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars and did this with a ring of multiple coconspirators. In his very early 30s, he was said to have hawked bread and second-hand clothing on Lagos streets.
Psycho analysis would tell you that such experience has Janus-faced manifestations. While it could push the victim to the edge of positive aspirations, it could also lead to the fringe of negative manifestation. There are thousands of those who are atop their trades today who, years back, went through far more incinerating poverty experiences than that of Hushpuppi. They however disaggregated those negative upbringings and, with the help of providence, made positive readings of their lives. Some, like Hushpuppi, can’t seem to forgive the system that impoverished their background and take it out on it by inflicting scars on the system.
Locating why Hushpuppi took this route may be difficult to decipher. Was it in the bid to shame poverty, get the recognition he didn’t have growing up or to get back at a system that impoverished his growing up? In cyber-enabled fraud and business email compromise, he therefrom made benumbing amount of money. This he deployed into a life of luxury, an opulent lifestyle that was unusual and flamboyant. He was said to have done this through fraudulent wire transfers. For the month of February, 2019 alone, he was estimated to have approximated €13 million (USD $14.7million) in heists which he funneled into diverse bank accounts in the world. With an Instagram following of 1.9 million by October, 2019, Hushpuppi was the toast of A-list celebrities with whom he reportedly had photo-ops, like semi-atheist Daddy Fresh, Dino Melaye and even American singer-songwriter, Erykah Badu.
Depicting the spirit of flamboyance that is known to be the Siamese of sudden wealth, Hushpuppi began to live a sumptuous lifestyle and flaunted it in a Nigerian society where sources of wealth abhor enquiry of the people and are a taboo to be investigated by the police. Hushpuppi could not hush jetting out in private jets, rolling in Rolls Royce and roving in expensive Range Rover cars whose prices ranged from about $330,000. He was notorious on the social media by the frequency of his designer clothes, expensive wrist watches and postures with luxury cars and chartered jets.
This year 2020 would pass as the most unfavourable to Nigeria in the global blast its nationals involved in cyber-heist schemes made while being burst abroad. Earlier in the year, Obinwanne Okeke of the Invictus Group CEO, popularly known as Invictus Obi, was arrested at the Dulles International Airport, on his way out of the United States. Between April 11, to 19, 2018, Okeke was said to have, through hacking into the email account of the Chief Financial Officer of Unatrac Holding Limited, which sells heavy industrial and farm equipment, fraudulently transferring funds from it and stealing an amount totaling $11 million.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) are managing a benumbing number of home-based Hushpuppis and Invictus Obis whose statistics is almost becoming a pandemic. It is grueling explaining to the upcoming youths who are said to be the leaders of tomorrow that a life of crime doesn’t pay. This is because, at a conservative estimate, if you gather ten youths at a spot today, those who do not have the Hushpuppi DNA among them will rarely be up to three or four.
There are also arguments that Hushpuppi, Woodberry, Invictus Obi and members of their clan made fatal mistakes of not contesting for elective offices in Nigeria after their heists. They would have been in the clear by now, shrouded from arrest by Nigeria’s nebulous immunity clause. Drug barons, fraudsters, forgers and murderers populate those otherwise hallowed offices. Only in 2005, former Assistant Inspector-General (AIG) of Police, Senator Nuhu Aliyu, had sent tongues wagging when, upon surveying the parliament, he revealed that right there in the Senate, “there are many of my colleagues here who I had detained for criminal offences. Unfortunately, I found myself with them in the National Assembly.” The belief is that there are worse criminals than the Hushpuppi gang in Nigeria’s parliament and many Government Houses in Nigeria answering to the fake prefixes of “Their Excellencies.” So, how do we get rid of the Hushpuppis in this generation?
First, at last, the acrid seeds planted by Nigerian leaders some decades back have not only germinated but are beginning to bring out fruits at an alarmingly fecund rate. From Nigerian leaders who, in their actions and words, postured that Nigeria was so wealthy that what to do with money was her brother, rather than invest in the future, to ones who deliberately failed to prepare for today, it is time of harvest of such slovenly leaderships. In the other Nigerian leadership which, against the run of play, promoted corruption as an art of governance, celebrating kickbacks, survival-of-the-fittest-and-elimination-of-the-weakest race for government patronage, this is the time to harvest those cruel seeds.
What the leaderships above succeeded in doing was to kill craft, kill hard-work, but promoting mediocrity, reign of back-corner efforts and shunting as national policy. Today, we have arrived at a lamentable intersection where money sits atop our conscience as the Nigerian national ethos. Don’t get me wrong: there is no capitalist society in the world like ours that does not put primacy on wealth. However, no serious one amongst them situates wealth ahead of industry and sweats.
In Nigeria today, no matter your mental output or your contributions to the uplift of society, if you do not possess money, you are treated worse than an infidel. This has promoted a rat race for the acquisition of money that is massive and frustrating. Everyone you meet in Nigeria is in a race to be wealthy and in the process, subverting the ethos that we used to know as constituting the rudiments of national wealth. If national wealth of a nation is indeed constituted by her human resources, ours are being tainted daily with an obsession for material acquisitions.
The above conflagration is further stoked by the huge unemployed youths that Nigeria churns out day in day out. Nigeria and her unemployed youths are like the case of the North and its almajiri offspring. While the region gives birth to children it cannot fend for, Nigeria graduates out of her educational institutions graduates it does not have space for. The statistics is so sickening that there doesn’t seem to be any family in Nigeria that doesn’t have a casualty. Check out your neighbourhood and you will behold young men and women, early in the morning, pining away in unproductive waste of their youths. Endeavour to have a one-on-one with them and you will have an idea of how seemingly hopeless the situation is. Hushpuppi, Invictus Obi and the rest who make quick money are their role models.
The few jobs that are available are seen as entitlements of politicians, their cronies and hirelings. Only last week, the news came up that the FG had appointed Chairman of National Union of Road Transport Workers in Lagos State, Musiliu Akinsanya, aka MC Oluomo and Folasade Tinubu-Ojo, the Iyaloja-General of Lagos and APC chieftain, Bola Tinubu’s daughter, as committee members to undertake the recruitment of 20,000 youths in Lagos. At the parliament, Minister of Labour, Festus Keyamo, had a spat with legislators who sought territorial control over the disbursement of 774,000 jobs with N20,000 monthly earnings for longsuffering job applicants. The allocation of N52bn for the creation of the jobs was also said to be a source of scuffle among the minister and the legislators. These would tell you how sorry the situation is.
Good news is, I do not think that the situation is a totally hopeless one. Bad news is that, there exists a hopeless tinge to it. This is that, we may never have a leadership that is as concerned about this gross and derelict mindset of Nigerians as to declare a state of emergency on the current remiss orientation of Nigerians. Of particular bother is that parents abet the Hushpuppi mentality of their children. While some do this by submitting that cyber heists, mostly directed at foreigners, are in line with the MKO Abiola campaign for repatriation of Africa’s stolen wealth by Europeans several decades ago, they forget to reason that in this quest, we are incubating a country of rogues where inhabitants will totally lose their souls.
Nigeria needs to urgently invest and massively too, in the reorientation of minds. Right now, of abiding presence in the minds of Nigerians is a renter, Naira and Kobo orientation. In families, offices, public places, interface with artisans and all that, you will confront Nigerians who derive all or a substantial portion of their survival or revenues from the rent paid by another person, individuals, concerns, politicians or government persons. They defend such with remarkably surprising energies. We must return the minds of our growing youths to the reset mode of sacrifices, morality and the eternal worth of being there for the next person next door.
Anyone heading government, armed with this fire-on-the-mountain situation, should aim at rebuilding Nigerian homes. This can only be done by massively rewarding righteousness, punishing unkindness to the other person and fortifying the walls that hold families together with dosages of personal morality. Products of such homes cannot be as heartless as Hushpuppi, Woodberry, Invictus Obi and the likes who inflict pains on people for wealth. If we allow this society to go ahead like this, not only are we going to continue to harvest mechanistic beings who possess no atom of humanity, we will soon get to a juncture where we will offer our individual blood and flesh for sale in the open market