Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested not less than 258 internet fraudsters, popularly called Yahoo Boys, in May 2023.
This was obtained from a summation of EFCC activities made public by the financial crime fighters in the month under review. The commission was also able to recover nearly a billion naira and more than 30 exotic cars from the alleged ‘Yahoo Boys’.
Lagos remains the Yahoo Boys capital of Nigeria in May, with 61 arrests made in the country’s economic capital. This represents 23.64% of total arrests made in May.
The federal capital city, Abuja comes a distant second, accounting for 35 arrests made by the EFCC in May. This accounts for about 13.57% of the total arrests. Enugu is the Yahoo Boys capital of the southeast, equaling Abuja’s 35 arrests.
Delta state is right behind in fourth place, with operatives in the much-maligned state arresting 34 internet fraudsters in the month of May. Akwa Ibom completes the Top 5 with 28 arrests made in the state. Akwa Ibom is also the romance scam capital of the world, with most of its arrests related to romance scams.
Other states represented include Ogun State with 19 arrests, Rivers which accounted for 14 arrests, Edo where 11 Yahoo Boys were arrested in the month, and Oyo which accounted for 8 arrests.
Are sentences for Yahoo boys deterrent enough?
The commission was also able to secure 257 convictions of internet fraudsters in the month of May. Note that the convictions were mostly from previous arrests and not necessarily from suspects arrested in the month.
Sentences for the crimes range from cutting grass within court premises, 1 month imprisonment to a maximum of 3 years imprisonment. But quite peculiarly, all the sentences carry options of fine. These fines range from N50,000 to N1 million.
This calls to question the severity of these punishments and whether they serve as punishment enough to deter the guilty from engaging in future attempts. This is especially so considering that many of the Yahoo Boys have stolen way more than the fine imposed.
Take for instance an internet fraudster arrested with various high-end phones, laptops and exotic cars bagging a sentence of 1 year or an option of a N300,000 fine. The fine would be a very tiny fraction of his accumulated largesse.
Asked how the judges arrive at these sentences which many may interpret as slaps on the wrist, Port Harcourt-based lawyer, Francis Saint Paul said it’s all down to plea bargain:
“Most times what the EFCC does is plea bargain. They must have agreed with the accused person that if you plead guilty this is what we are going to recommend to the judge. Maybe a lesser sentence with the option of a lesser fine. Someone that did Yahoo and got maybe 500,000 or 1 million, it would be unfair to sentence them to 5 years imprisonment which is the maximum sentence for internet fraud. Sometimes the judges, they still give some of these judgements a human face. So if this person has shown remorse and pleaded guilty, the judges can put all those things into consideration.Francis St Paul
Looking back on the reports by the EFCC, indeed all of the accused persons pleaded guilty and their lawyers made emotional pleas to the judge which were never objected to by the EFCC’s counsels.
Asked if the sentences were deterrent enough considering how weak they appear, our lawyer said that they may or may not, depending on a lot of factors.
“It may not stop them but the truth is, even though they are given option of fine and all that, it is not all of them that get to pay the fine. For the ones that pay, many of them do not even pay immediately and until they do, they will be serving in jail. So some of them eventually make it to prison. When they get there and are subject to the prison life, it could serve as a deterrent.”
An ‘unholy institution’ for Yahoo Boys
One of the most curious cases in May was the case of one Mr Chigozie Philips who allegedly established a full institution for Yahoo Boys in Enugu.
Called the Holy Family School and located in the Abakpa area of the state, Mr Philips allegedly trains prospective cybercriminals and Yahoo boys in the unholy institution.
The Holy Family accounts for 40% of Yahoo Boys arrested in Enugu state in May as 14 of the 35 arrests made in the state were students at the school.
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