This article is not about Hushpuppi. It’s about the average Nigerian millennial that believes in the “get-rich” scheme.
As the footage confirming the arrest of Hushpuppi storms the Internet, Nigeria’s reputation plummets a hundred feet down the abyss of fraudulence reconfirming Nigeria’s pole position as the world capital of swindlers.
If you can’t understand why PayPal stops Nigerian residents from receiving funds via their accounts, you can now see the clog in the wheel. If you think that Fiverr and other international platforms are unfair to Nigerians, Hushpuppi and his cohort have shown us the truth. The staggering list of alleged crimes against Hushpuppi and his gang — money laundering, cyber fraud, hacking, impersonation, scamming individuals, banking fraud, and identity theft worth about N168bn — shed more light to the scrutiny that awaits any sane Nigerian looking to conduct legal business on the Internet across international borders.
I am aware of the bold defenders of the gospel, according to Saint Hushpuppi, you are part of the problem. For Hushpuppi’s loyalists, life can be tough when your role model is having a mid-life crisis behind bars. If you are an ardent bootlicker for Hushpuppi or you have started a prayer vigil begging God to show him mercy, you are part of the problem. At least think of the victims, 1.93 million innocent people, that’s an equivalent of four countries put together — Iceland, Montenegro, Malta, and Suriname. Think of what their families had to go through because of one man’s greed.
Nigerian Millennials and the “Get-Rich” Scheme
This article is not about Hushpuppi. It’s about the average Nigerian millennial that believes in the “get-rich” scheme. When I binge on the “Explore” section of my Instagram account, I see a host of Nigerian millennials do the unthinkable — from name-calling to blind praises of micro-celebrities to mudslinging on pages of so-called superstars — you wonder how they have so much time to waste on frivolities.
A vast portion comprises of gullible minds with vitality and intelligence but desperate to accrue wealth through fraud. From jobless ladies recruiting their victims through salacious pictures and relentless twerking on Instagram to unemployed boys spraying dollars at expensive clubs to sharing photos with rented exotic cars, one thing is clear Nigerians love and believe in the overnight success mentality. They are always hunting for the next gold rush. In sharp contrast, hardworking people are labelled as stupid and dumb, but everyone throngs the wealthy to taste their largess even though the source of their wealth is unfounded. As social media pervades your space, the concept of micro-celebrity is a monster you must conquer.
Social Media and Micro-celebrities
Long before social media, influential media houses and exalted fourth estate monarchs religiously shaped our ideas and beliefs. Before the age of digital transformation, to win the attention of the media and the populace, you must be remarkably successful. Then, the camera was one of the world’s most powerful tools, you need to be in front of a lens in the New York Times’s studio or get featured on Forbes’s front page. The media meticulously stamped its influence on distinguished personalities that morphed into our heroes, champions, and celebrity crushes. And although the press cherrypicked its celebrities, our sanity was intact and respected. But with social media comes the democratization of the camera, which has plunged us into a pool of chaos.
Every time you dive into Facebook or Instagram, you feed on a well-served mixture of lies and truths. There are no standards to censor what makes it to our feeds. Are you surprised that fake news trends while fact-based news is deserted like a madman? No benchmarks to weigh the veracity of what we consume. Hence, the madness! Sadly, we no longer have the media; we are the media. We choose what trends, and we select our role models.
The blatant freedom of expression served as a guise for fraudsters to exploit gullible users either emotionally or financially. Welcome to a world where you no longer need Forbes’s microphone or CNN’s camera to become a celebrity. You can become a superstar even if you don’t have a job. All you need is a phone, a camera, a sweet mouth, and a social media network where you can create attractive personas with your “bodyguard of lies.” All you need is a cameo in one of Hushpuppi’s videos, and your social media visibility skyrockets.
Social media, like every other useful tool in life, can be abused and used for unethical purposes. Social media’s comparative metrics unintentionally serves as a perfect catalyst that fuels greed, jealousy and desperation. Social media is a jungle where people hunt for likes, shares, comments, and followers. To achieve this aim, many tell brazen lies and fall into the trap of ostentatious display of things that they can’t afford. It’s a rat race. Every time you jump on social media, learn to use your lens of skepticism. You don’t have to believe everything because it’s a collage of edited lives.
There is no hard-working person that will splurge the “Hushpuppi way.” I totally understand that some people love luxury items and have a legitimate income to support their lifestyle. Although such people love opulence, they share other things that point to how they make their wealth. That’s how you spot the difference. Hushpuppi’s arrest further validates the age-long cliché: “An empty vessel makes the loudest sound, …”
Nigeria’s Hall of Fraudsters
Let’s bring this home with a look at Nigeria’s hall of fraudsters. Who was the generous head of state that sent Nigeria’s funds to foreign banks? Do you remember the Nigerian governor jailed in London for money laundering but was welcomed in Nigeria by melodious music and jubilant cheers? Do you know the young “Forbes Africa’s 30 under 30 entrepreneur” that recently pleaded guilty to an Internet fraud of about $11 million? Do you remember the lyrics of a popular Nigerian song that reeks of “Yahooze!”? I bet you know the answers to these questions. “Nigeria,” “fraud,” and “scammers” have been in the same sentence for a very long time. Are these not the people you invite to your extravagant parties? Are they not the ones you lobby for funds for your organization? You easily disown the thieves even though you share in their spoils and heap praises on them.
In a damning 2019 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, 77 Nigerians were charged with cybercrime, money laundering and identity theft. Nigeria’s theatrics in the world of thievery and corruption did not start today, and it won’t end with Hushpuppi. Nigeria’s disposition to crime, corruption, and fraud shows that we are not ready to redeem our reputation. Nigerian anti-graft agencies lack the intelligence to combat cybercrime and our open admiration of fraudsters says it all. I doubt if we know how to catch our thieves (FBI is always doing the bust operation for us) or we just love the way they plunder other people (Westerners). We are quiet about the glaring corruption that happens in our front porches and market squares — from the pickpockets to the diversion of public funds — but we are quick to tell the rest of the world not to see Nigerians are fraudsters. It’s a lame statement, perhaps a quick fix we run to, so we don’t have to think of addressing the corruption in the system. How can the rest of the world trust us when we celebrate our fraudsters with cheers and awards?
Samuel Osho is an award-winning Nigerian writer and professional engineer based in Canada. You can find him on social media via @iamsamosho.