Nigerian and US authorities said Tuesday that nearly 300 people had been arrested in a months-long global crackdown on online scams to hijack wire transfers from companies and individuals.
“Operation reWired” broke up multiple groups, many parts of transnational criminal gangs, running the so-called business email compromise (BEC) schemes by which they steal money being used in payments.
The schemes have spread worldwide and led to some $1.3 billion in losses reported worldwide in 2018, double the previous year.
A “sweep” operation from May through to September, with Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), “focused on dismantling the most significant cyber-criminal enterprises,” FBI legal attache Ahamdi Uche told a joint press conference in Lagos.
The operation has led to 167 people arrested in Nigeria, 74 in the United States, many of them Nigerian nationals, 18 in Turkey and 15 in Ghana.
Adding other arrests in France, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Britain and Kenya, a total of 281 people have been arrested and $3.7 million seized in Operation reWired, the Justice Department said.
‘Yahoo Yahoo boys’ –
“Our efforts in co-ordinating the EFCC/FBI joint operations in Nigeria recorded tremendous successes” against “the infamous Yahoo Yahoo boys,” a nickname given to Nigerian Yahoo mail fraudsters, said the EFCC’s director of information, Mohammed Abba said.
“We have also recovered from the arrested fraudsters the sum of $169,850 as well as the sum of ₦92 million” Abba said.
“Co-operation is the backbone to effective law enforcement; without it, we aren’t as strong or as agile as we need to be,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“Through Operation reWired, we’re sending a clear message to the criminals who orchestrate these BEC schemes: We’ll keep coming after you, no matter where you are.”
Africa’s most populous country is saddled with an infamous reputation for online fraud.
Numerous figures associated with the criminal activity are often lauded in popular culture and enjoy close ties with politicians.
Nigerian authorities in May arrested a popular local musician known as Naira Marley — controversial for praising internet fraudsters in his songs.
A spokesperson for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told local reporters “the government would not stand in the way of the justice system,” and that ordinary Nigerians “should not be tagged ‘fraudulent people’ for the misdeeds of a few.”
Business email compromise fraud involves numerous variants of scams.
In some, the perpetrator poses online and in emails as an official of a company or their international client and direct other employees to initiate money transfers or payments to the criminal’s account.
In others, they hijack an employee’s email to achieve the same end.
The FBI began working closely with several countries including Nigeria’s anti-graft agency in May 2019 to tackle online fraud networks active in the United States.
In 2018, US agencies received 20,373 BECs reporting “losses of over more than $1.2 billion,” Uche said, leading to “an uptake of focused law enforcement activity.”
Nigeria outlines new visa, immigration policy for foreigners
The immigration boss said ECOWAS citizens require no visa into Nigeria but must enter with valid travel documents.
The Nigeria Immigration Service on Tuesday released a new policy that outlines the entry requirements for Non-Nigerians travelling to the West African nation.
Immigration Comptroller General, Muhammad Babandede gave the requirements in a statement by the Service Public Relations Officer, Sunday James on Tuesday.
The immigration boss said ECOWAS citizens and countries with visa abolition agreement with Nigeria require no visa for entry into Nigeria.
“They however must enter with valid travel documents and through approved entry point, a report by the News Agency of Nigeria said.
Babandede said “holders of African Union Passport desiring to enter Nigeria on short visits can obtain visa upon arrival” at any of the country’s five International Airports.
“Holders of valid Diplomatic/Official Passport from countries with which Nigeria has Visa waiver agreement can enter Nigeria without Visa through approved entry point.
The immigration service said visas such as for Residence, Temporary Work Permit, and Dependants are to be “obtained at our Embassies/Consular Missions or Visa Processing Centers, before commencing such journey to Nigeria.”
“All other passengers who are not holders of passport of member countries of ECOWAS and Africa Union applying for Business purpose will apply for Visa on Arrival vide portal.immigration.gov.ng and must obtain approval online, before commencement of journey to Nigeria.”
“All categories of applicants that require Visa for entry into Nigeria are expected to pay online, since cash payment is not allowed,” he said.
Babandede also said that the new entry policy regime had been communicated to all airlines operating in Nigeria and international airports for compliance.
He said that airlines would not allow passengers to board without complying with the conditions stated.
The immigration authorities called on genuine investors and other categories of travelers to Nigeria to take advantage of the innovation as it “improves migration, transparency and security in our operations,” Babandede said.
Nigeria’s dark secret haunts new generation, 50years after Biafra war
Biafran flags, an iconic red, black and green with a rising golden sun, still make appearances on the front of buildings in Enugu state as hardline separatists continue to demand independence.
It’s fifty years since Nigeria ended its civil war that left about two million people dead after the old eastern region or Biafra tried to secede from the rest of the West African country.
Diekoye Oyeyinka, 33, has been billed as one of the most promising Nigerian writers of his generation.
He went to some of the finest schools in his West African homeland but says that like the majority of his classmates he “didn’t know about Biafra until I was 14”.
When he did begin to find out about the brutal civil war that nearly tore Nigeria apart, it was not in the classroom.
Instead it was a schoolmate in his dormitory who showed him a separatist leaflet demanding Nigeria’s southeast break away from the rest of the country.
Before then Oyeyinka had known nothing about how leaders from the Igbo ethnic group declared the independent state of Biafra in 1967.
He knew nothing of the conflict that resulted and the 30 months of fighting and famine estimated to have cost over a million lives before the secessionists surrendered 50 years ago in January 1970.
“We’ve had a very brutal history, the older generation went through a lot of trauma,” Oyeyinka told AFP.
“We just sweep it under the carpet, pretending nothing happened. But without knowing our history we will repeat the same mistakes. Our history is a succession of deja-vu.”
It was to try to break this cycle of ignorance that Oyeyinka wrote the novel Stillborn – a historic epic about Nigeria from the days of British colonial rule in 1950 to 2010.
In it the civil war is the pivotal event.
– ‘Our history, our conflict’ -Unlike other famed Nigerian writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, with her novel Half Of A Yellow Sun, or Chinua Achebe’s memoir There Was A Country, Oyeyinka is one of the few non-Igbo writers to have dwelt on the conflict.
“An Igbo friend got angry at me and said ‘You can’t write about us, it’s our conflict’,” he recounted.
But Oyeyinka insists that all Nigerians need to be made aware of what happened.
“We need to address these traumas ourselves, as a country, otherwise we are a tinder box ready to explode.”
While in the rest of Africa’s most populous nation many know little about the history of Biafra, in the former capital of the self-proclaimed state at Enugu the memory of those years lives on.
Biafran flags — an iconic red, black and green with a rising golden sun — make appearances on the front of buildings and hardline separatists still demand independence.
The security forces — deployed heavily in the region — are quick to stamp out any clamour for a new Biafra.
At the end of the war in 1970, Nigeria’s war leader Yukubu Gowon famously declared there would be “no victor, no vanquished” as he sought to reunite his shattered country.
The leader of the breakaway Republic of Biafra, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, went into exile for 13 years before being pardoned. He returned to Nigerian politics but was detained for 10 months in prison.
Leading Nigerian intellectual Pat Utomi says that many Igbos — the country’s third biggest ethnic group after the Hausa and the Yoruba — still feel marginalised.
One key event was when current President Muhammadu Buhari — then a military chief — seized power in 1983, and stopped the only Igbo aspirant to get close to leading Nigeria since the war from becoming head of state.
“In the early 1980’s, people had forgotten about the war, but this succession of poor leadership brought bitterness among the new generations,” Utomi said.
– ‘More divided’ -Nowadays any incident — from the closure of the only airport in the southeast last year to the sacking of Igbo shops by customs officials in economic hub Lagos — can cause grievances to flare.
“It’s important to deal with history, to write it down. In Nigeria, we try to cover it up,” Utomi said.
“We are more divided today than we’ve ever been before the civil war. We learnt nothing from it.”
In order to try to heal the rifts Utomi helped organise a “Never Again” conference aiming to bring together key cultural and political figures to discuss the lessons of the Biafra war half a century after it ended.
He is also a patron of the “Centre for Memories” in Enugu, a combination of a museum and library where visitors can come and “dig into history”.
– ‘History is essential’ -History itself has been absent from Nigerian schools.
The current government reintroduced it only from last term as an obligatory subject for pupils aged 10 to 13, after more than a decade off the curriculum.
“Teaching history is essential to build our identity as a country, and defend our patriotic values,” said Sonny Echono, permanent secretary at the education ministry.
But schools still remain woefully short of qualified history teachers and there is no unified narrative about the civil war which does not figure in the lessons.
“We need to teach the war in our schools,” said Egodi Uchendu, a history professor at University of Nsukka, in the former Biafra territory.
“Eastern Nigeria is completely different from how it was experienced in other parts of the country. We need to bring in the different angles to it.”
Chika Oduah, a Nigerian-American journalist, has crossed the country to collect hundreds of testimonies of the victims and combatants of the Biafra conflict which she publishes on her website Biafran War Memories.
She says that for many of those she interviewed it was the first time they had retold the horrors of the period.
“A 70-something former soldier… broke down crying, when he told me how he lost his brother during the war,” she said.
She herself only learnt at the age of 17 that her mother as a child spent two years in a camp for displaced people.
“Our parents wanted to move on, not look at the past,” Oduah insisted.
“But we need to talk about it, otherwise we won’t heal”.
Bus explosion in Nigeria leaves nine dead
The ill-fated bus was conveying 17 adults and two children before the incident.
At least nine people were killed and three others injured in a bus combustion accident along a busy highway in Ogun state, southwest Nigeria, the road police confirmed on Friday.
Sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) Clement Oladele who confirmed the incident to Xinhua news agency said the Thursday evening accident involved a Toyota Hiace bus at Ijebu-Ife along the Sagamu-Benin highway.
He said the ill-fated bus was conveying 17 adults and two children before the incident.
The FRSC official said 10 other passengers were rescued with three of them sustaining serious injuries.
Preliminary investigation showed that the bus, heading toward Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub, was sufferering malfunction while conveying the passengers with some inflammable chemical products, Oladele added.
“The vehicle had to stop intermittently at several times to repair faulty fuel pump and fuel tank which they kept on managing by tying ropes to support the malfunctioned fuel tank,” he said.
While the driver managed the vehicle to Lagos, there was sudden spark and explosion, which engulfed the vehicle in fire while on motion, according to Oladele.
“After the fire was extinguished by the Nigeria Fire Service, a total of nine persons, consisting of seven adults and two children were confirmed dead,” he said.
Oladele advised motorists to adhere strictly with the road safety rules to prevent this type of avoidable incident.
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