We are all too familiar with the term “corruption” that there is at least a consensus that it is one of the obstacles to nation-building in Nigeria. Most Nigerians experience this malaise on a daily basis and indeed, our educational institutions are not immune to the virus. From playing backup roles to leading parts in criminal networks and organized “Yahoo-Yahoo” gangs, Nigerian undergraduates are fast assuming notoriety for pulling audacious crimes on their own, leading to the swindling of innocent persons of millions of Naira annually through cybercrime and advance fee fraud (otherwise known as 419). Students are now more likely to lead bank robbery operations and kidnapping and have been consistently implicated in notorious wire transfer frauds.
To staff and students of tertiary institutions, corruption manifests unarguably, through transactional reward for unearned grades (either through monetary inducement or through other anti-social gratifications) and other forms of examination malpractices. It also manifests in the impunity among the students through general acts of indiscipline and other forms of anti-social acts.
The issue of moral decadence in our tertiary institutions is so alarming now that the National Assembly is considering passing a Sexual Harassment Bill to criminalise sexual exploitation of undergraduates in our educational institutions. Increased cases of corruption are now commonplace in the ivory towers that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission regularly raid and arraign university administrators before the courts for sleaze. Vice-Chancellors, Professors and senior lecturers who several years ago were seen as role models in the society are now often subjects of petition by staff and students alike on allegations bordering on financial malfeasance.
In the same vein, cases of rape and sexual molestation are rising among staff and students, same for sex-for-grade scandals. Sting operations are now being regularly arranged by students for their randy and greedy lecturers, leading to uploading of incriminating videos on-line including arrests and prosecution of otherwise respected leaders in the ivory towers. In all of this, we fail to realize that our youths are being gradually groomed in the culture of impunity and lawlessness even as we risk the unsavoury degeneration of our country into a Machiavellian state. If we do, are our current responses adequate or do we need to think out of the box for a more sustainable solution? These are some of the issues I want us to reflect upon and collectively provide answers to.
This paper will therefore attempt to conceptualise and categorise cyber and financial crimes, periscope the crisis of the Nigerian youths, examine the motivations and triggers for youths’ engagement in financial crimes and suggest means through which a reconstruction of the fabrics of our educational system can contribute to a culture of integrity in our tertiary institutions for the overall development our country.
Financial Crime is a sub-sect of corruption, which is generally obtaining value for oneself or other persons through inordinate, illegitimate and illegal means. Though corruption is often perpetrated by a large number of persons, its conceptualisation often focuses on the dishonesty of those entrusted with power, influence, leadership positions, or authority. In Nigeria, the gradual decline of the value system inspired by dishonest leadership has led to the perceived culture of corruption, a situation which has made most Nigerians to be cynical about due process and transparency.
The acquisition of inordinate wealth has become a means towards political power. The acquisition of such political power has also become the licence to rise above the law and to become ‘the law’. This explains certain features of corruption, which are now like life-blood for most Nigerians, namely: electoral malpractices, embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds, procurement scam and ghost workers menace and so on. The “liberalisation” of corruption contributed to the emergence of financial sleaze, in that, those without access to the public till, take advantage of the permissive and odious environment to engage in a different type of corrupt practices.
Financial crime, according to the International Monetary Fund also refers to any non-violent crime that generally results in a financial loss, including financial fraud. It also includes a range of illegal activities such as money laundering or tax evasion. Money laundering on its part refers to activities involving the processing of criminal proceeds to disguise their association with criminal activities. Asides money laundering, financial crimes manifest through the following: financial fraud (cheques, credit cards, mortgage or insurance fraud); circumvention of exchange restriction; sale of fictitious financial instrument or insurance policy; stock manipulation; tax avoidance; and connected party lending.
Section 46 of the EFCC Act 2004 defines “Economic and Financial Crimes to mean the non – violent criminal and illicit activity committed with the objective of earning wealth illegally either individually or in a group or organized manner thereby violating existing legislation governing economic activities of Government and its administration and includes any form of fraud, narcotic drug trafficking, money laundering, embezzlement, bribery, looting, and any form of corrupt malpractices, illegal arms deal, smuggling, human trafficking and child labour, illegal oil bunkering and illegal mining, tax evasion, foreign exchange malpractice including counterfeiting currency, theft of intellectual property and piracy, open market abuse, dumping of toxic wastes and prohibited goods etc”.
The EFCC Act’s definition is quite broad, and it takes care of the prevalence of financial crimes on the Nigerian landscape. Over the years, the Nigerian Government has enacted laws and established different institutions to address this menace. The EFCC, in particular, has been gallant in fighting financial crimes leading to the recovery of billions of naira and jailing of culpable persons. Nevertheless, financial crimes still persist in Nigeria.
The State of Nigerian youths and motivations for engaging in criminality
According to the United Nations, youth is best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence. That is why, as a category, youth is more fluid than other fixed age-groups. Ironically, age is the easiest way to define this group, particularly in relations to education and employment because ‘youth’ often refers to a person between the ages of leaving compulsory education and finding their first job. For statistical purposes, UN defines those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 as youth without prejudice to other definitions by UN Member States.
We all know however that this age-categorisation in Nigeria is not realistic for several reasons. Unlike in the developed world, where young persons between the ages of 18 and 25 could transform into a state of mental, financial and educational independence, most of their contemporaries in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa are still battling with gaining admission to tertiary institutions and would spend on the average, the next decade in struggling to find any job at all to make ends meet, not necessarily a decent one, capable of making them to become financially independent. In the light of this, Nigeria officially recognises persons between the age brackets of 18 to 35 years as youths.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics in its 2012 national youth survey report; youths of working age, in the age bracket of 15 to 35 years are nearly 70 million persons in a population of 166 million Nigerians; of these youths 54 per cent are unemployed. Due to the falling educational standards in the country, majority of the youths in this category are not only unemployed but unemployable. Interestingly, we have more unemployable youths than unemployed youths and this sad situation has become worsened due to the country’s economic realities. This situation, which started from employment embargoes in the mid-1990s, has now assumed a crisis dimension forcing our youths into disillusionment and making them to seek alternative means, mostly criminal enterprise such as cyber crimes to empower themselves.
Though a sizeable number of our youths have turned these challenges to opportunities by unleashing their entrepreneurial and creative capacities, most of them have resorted to criminal acts including political violence, kidnapping, prostitution, militancy and economic sabotage etc to survive. It has also pushed Nigerian youths to increase their involvement in financial and cyber crime networks. Several causes have been adduced for the high rate of youth unemployment like rural-urban migration, rapid population growth, rapid expansion of the educational system, etc. Nevertheless, a major causal factor is the declining quality of education in Nigeria. In sum, the Nigerian youths seem to be in the Hobbesian state of nature where live is “solitary, nasty, brutish and short”.
From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that the problem of youth challenge, accentuated by crisis of youth unemployment, has impoverished young persons in Nigeria. However, there are other critical factors responsible for youth’s engagement in financial and cyber crimes. These include: loose Internet security frameworks; negative role modelling by leadership at all levels, particularly leadership of our tertiary institutions; etc who serve as “the mirror” but have failed to portray themselves as role models.
The modus operandi usually adopted by the typical financial crime syndicate includes promises of huge returns on fictitious investments to unsuspecting businessmen in or outside Nigeria, promised supply of phoney raw materials, luring victims through promise of funds transfer, wire and card frauds, promise of marriage to unsuspecting females online, promise of juicy but phoney procurement contracts, software piracy aimed at taking away deposits of bank customers etc.
The effects of these financial crimes are gloomy and have great implications for Nigeria’s development. According to the Office of Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, the country lost N127 billion annually to cybercrime through software piracy, intellectual property theft, and malware attacks in 2013 and 2014. Also, the 2014 annual report of the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC, shows that between 2013 and 2014, fraud on e-payment platform of Nigeria’s banking sector increased by 183 per cent. In addition, a report published in 2014 by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, United Kingdom, estimated the annual cost of cybercrime to Nigeria at about 0.08 per cent of our GDP, representing about N127 billion.
In addition, prevalence of financial crimes, have also had negative impacts on Nigeria’s image, which adversely affects the government’s effort to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Perpetrators of financial frauds are also being increasingly linked to terrorist networks, drug and human trafficking rings and the crime of kidnapping, all of which are contesting with the Nigerian image abroad.
Current response mechanisms
The current administration came to power chiefly through the mobilization of the youths and their decision to act as vanguards of change at a time when the ship of state was almost derailing. President Muhammadu Buhari has acknowledged this much by stating severally that his government belongs to the youths, not in name only, but in deed and in truth. Government has therefore taken measures to win the youth into productive ventures. Indicators include the Government’s job-creation scheme, popularly known as N-Power, which will employ 500,000 youths in agriculture, education, healthcare and technology; and the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme, which is a part of the Social Investment Programme of the Government and which is expected to provide soft loans to thousands of young entrepreneurs across the country.
As a complement to youth empowerment, security agencies and anti-corruption institutions have aggressively implemented youth-targeted value reorientation, mobilization and sensitization programs on the culture of integrity. The EFCC has engaged many youth organizations in partnership arrangements towards building a culture of integrity in Nigeria. On its part, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission has gone beyond educating and reorientation of youths to enlisting them as anti-corruption vanguards, through the National Anti-Corruption Volunteer Corps. The NAVC, which was created as a youth organization in 2008 and rebranded in 2015, engages in public enlightenment and education on corruption-related issues. The most recent effort of the Government is the ‘Change Begins with Me’ Campaign. This campaign aims to re-orientate Nigerians (majority of whom falls within the youth age bracket) to change our ways from bad to good, from negative to positive mind-sets, and to imbibe the principles of discipline, hard work, and integrity. In sum, it encourages us to be the change that we want to see in others.
While there is no doubt that Government’s efforts have somewhat contributed to ameliorating the conditions of the youths and de-motivate some of them from engaging in financial crimes, the fact remains that majority of our youths are still engaged in all sorts of social ills and it will take much more time to redeem them from these situations. Asides from the aforementioned programs aimed at reversing the negative tides, the current administration is working tirelessly to put in place, a more robust policy to effectively curb youth’s involvement in financial crimes.
Education and value reorientation to the rescue
This takes us to a critical point in this paper; how can we get the Nigerian youths and enlist them to imbibe a culture of integrity through education? According to Professor of African Studies at Harvard University, Jacob Olupona, education is so important that it is through a strong educational system that we can reform our national image, ethos and unity. If we want good governance, we must look to education. If we want social justice, we must look to education. If we want to decrease poverty and increase literacy, we must look to education. If we want a skilled, disciplined and hardworking labor force, we must look to education. If we truly want change in our country, we must begin to rethink and reinvest in our education system. Education is the bedrock of growth and development.
The starting point for me would be to redefine the type of education capable of improving the capacity of our youths which in this case, entails the process of imparting or acquiring relevant and general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment and generally preparing people for productive life. Education has to be transformative and enlightening. For the educational system in Nigeria to ensure this, it needs to imbibe the following elements amongst others:
Firstly, we need strong moral and ethical normative frameworks in the administration and pedagogy of our tertiary institutions. Managements of our tertiary institutions need to ensure the enactment of strong moral codes for lecturers and students and ensure that these codes are thoroughly and meticulously implemented. Any educational system not built on a foundation of discipline, hard work and integrity is due to reward mediocrity and sacrifice merit, a panacea for failed state.
Therefore, there should be a re-thinking of the admission, examination, grading, student-lecturer relationships and other regimes to ensure that our educational institutions churn out truly enlightened and morally rectitude products, capable of giving hope and future to our country. Let me state here that if the managements of our tertiary institutions fail to take urgent measures to put this regime in place, then other actors will intervene and impose their own values and definition of moral standards on our youths as we currently witnessing. On its own part, the National Assembly has promised to pass a Sexual Harassment Bill. The Bill seeks to criminalise the act of neglect or failure of administrative heads of tertiary institutions to address complaints of sexual harassment within a specified period, creates a strict liability offence by removing mutual consent as a defence and seeks to impose stiffer penalties on perpetrators. I enjoin the National Assembly to push the process forward as one of the necessary steps towards sanitizing our educational system in Nigeria.
Secondly, there should be scrupulous enforcement of moral and ethical codes, particularly for the academic staff. These should be in the areas of alleged financial malfeasance, sexual harassment, examination malpractices, and other forms of unethical behaviours. In enforcing the rules, there should be no sacred cows and even after culpable persons have been punished through the administrative codes, they should be handed over to appropriate law enforcement agencies for necessary prosecution. Impunity in our tertiary institutions has encouraged most of our youths to believe that there are no consequences for engagement in criminality which motivates them to indulge in cyber crimes and other misdemeanours. With strict adherence to implementation of rules on indiscipline, our youths will be encouraged to see rules and laws as sacred and channel their energies more productively.
Thirdly, a module on integrity and the fight against corruption in the local context of Nigeria should be incorporated into the General Studies (GNS/GST) Programme on Citizenship Education, which is part of the foundational courses for all undergraduates in Nigerian tertiary institutions. The design and delivery of that course should focus on simulations, using real-life scenario, and guiding students on ethical choices to make when and if they find themselves in moral dilemma. Real-life examples should also be used to show that hard work and integrity pays and that corruption is laden with dire consequences.
Fourthly, our undergraduates must learn and practice vocational and other hands-on skills while on campus because of the importance of this to addressing emergent needs of the society, the opportunities for attaining financial independence through the use of such skills and the fact that it would reduce the chances of unemployment for our youths. As part of the design and delivery of courses on these, the following additional skills should also be incorporated, namely: entrepreneurial skills, financial literacy and critical thinking, logic and problem-solving skills. This will ameliorate the acute problem of youth unemployment. However, at the completion of the vocational training, government should provide soft loans to the trained youths as take-off capital. Doing this will also turn the graduates into job-creators and not job- seekers and help to curb the trend of graduates seeking elusive white-collars jobs.
In conclusion, I wish to remind all stakeholders in our tertiary institutions that they have an onerous role to play in shaping the future of Nigeria through the quality of human resources that are produced by our educational institutions. I wish to align myself with the National Youth Policy of the government, which sees the youths as the foundation of Nigeria. Thus, their energies, character and orientation will define the pattern of development, growth and security of Nigeria.