Rethinking EFCC’s cybercrime strategy
Qries Girl in a jacket

Rethinking EFCC’s cybercrime strategy






 

Recent light sentences imposed on some cybercrime convicts fail to reflect the widespread disgust of Nigerians at the sharp rise in internet and related fraud activities. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission unwittingly downplays the enormity of cybercrime and its negative impact on the economy and Nigeria’s international image by plea bargain arrangements that facilitate too lenient punishment for criminals. The anti-graft agencies must rethink the plea bargain strategy; it should not become an escape route or means of obtaining a soft landing for felons.

Some recent cases appear to favour criminals. In Ilorin, Adenike Akinpelu of the Kwara State High Court sentenced two men, Kamaldeen Yusuf and Sulyman Omotosho, to six months imprisonment each for internet fraud. But both men walked free after paying a paltry sum of N100,000 each as fine. Wadaji Lawan, a convict who committed forgery and defrauded people of N2.5 million was sentenced to 15-month imprisonment last week. The judge, Daurabo Sikkam of the Gombe State High Court, however, gave him a fine option of N130,000. These light convictions throw up questions on the anti-graft war.

While the law may provide cover for such convict-friendly punishment, the magnitude of cybercrime in the country today and the severe damage it has and is doing to the economy and Nigeria’s global reputation demand zero-tolerance for fraud and a vigorous campaign to crush the racket. Cybercrime is worsening Nigeria’s reputation and destroying the prospects of innocent Nigerians transacting genuine and legal businesses in different parts of the world.

Cybercrime accounted for about 43 per cent of total monetary loss arising from fraud in the country in 2016, according to the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation. With the number of internet users in the country put at 104 million by Statista by January 2021 and the spread of crypto currency among others, cybercrime is a major challenge in Nigeria and for regulators, financial institutions, law enforcement and governments worldwide.

Estimated annual losses from it in Nigeria hit N250 billion in 2017 and N288 billion in 2018, reported Proshare, a Lagos-based consultancy. “These losses,” said Umaru Ibrahim, ex-CEO of NDIC, “have negative impacts on individuals, businesses and the government in terms of welfare losses, business disruption, profit reduction/rising operating cost and revenue losses.” Cybercrime inflicted a staggering $6 trillion in damages worldwide in 2021, reported US-based Cyber security Ventures, and is forecast to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025.

Given these realities, the law should come down hard on fraudsters.

But giving the EFCC a pass mark, its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, stated that it secured 2,220 convictions in 2021 and recorded 98 percent success in its prosecution. These are impressive on face value. Critics however frown at the seeming indulgence shown to some felons.

In the utilitarian view, punishment should produce socially desirable consequences such as deterring people from committing crimes and reforming criminals. Weighty punishment translates to higher possibility of deterrence. But when a man swindles people out of N2.5 million and gets a fine of N130,000, it not only fails to deter but also becomes an incentive. Plea bargaining should not be abused.

The EFCC, in entering a plea bargain with suspects to save time and resources, must ensure the punishment serves the demands of retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. International fraudster, Ramon Abass, aka Hushpuppi, who pleaded guilty to charges of multimillion dollar fraud in the United States last July based on a plea deal, is awaiting sentencing. Abass pledged not to dispute any fact presented by the prosecution or appeal the judgement. He also committed to full restitution to all his victims across the world.

Properly used as it is in the United States and an increasing number of countries, plea bargaining serves the cause of justice; giving felons an overly soft landing does not.

While decisions taken by judges are predicated on the exhibits, statements and documents tendered before the court, judges also need to use their discretion to impose stiff punishment to provide closure for victims and discourage aspiring criminals. Joyce Abdulmalik, a judge of the Federal High Court, Ibadan, in May 2019 famously rejected the terms of the plea bargain an internet fraudster, Oladimeji Abiola, entered into with the EFCC. Instead of the six-month prison term proposed in the agreement, the judge sentenced him to one year, saying rightly that liberal sentencing would not achieve deterrence, which was meant to be the spirit of the law.

In November 2021, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, refused to give a fine option to a member of the National Youth Service Corps, Ajayi Ayokunle, who was convicted for defrauding an American. The EFCC counsel had called the attention of the judge to the plea bargain agreement that the convict be given a fine option. But after subjecting the corps member to questioning, Ekwo ruled that such would not happen in his court and slammed a two-month jail term on the accused.

Section 22 of the Cybercrime Prohibition and Prevention Act of 2015 under which many of the cybercrime cases are prosecuted prescribes seven years’ imprisonment for convicts of identity theft and impersonation. Judges must wield the hammer without fear or favour.

The National Assembly needs to periodically review existing laws to address contemporary crimes with adequate and appropriate punishment. Many anachronistic laws that are not in sync with current realities remain on the statute books. Laws that serve as “incentives” for crimes or allow room for criminals to escape justice must be tightened.

The Federal Government, states and local governments must priorities youth development and engagement. The constant strikes by university and polytechnic workers are increasing the number of restive youths roaming the streets, invariably escalating their criminal tendencies. The governments have a duty to help and support Nigerian youths in achieving their goals and showing that they can make a decent living without resorting to crime.

 




Post a Comment

0 Comments