Would tech or regulation save Nigeria from fraud?

Nigeria’s tech ecosystem reputation took a shot to the chest following revelations from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that it has arrested and charged Obinwane Okeke, popularly known as Invictus Obi, with an $11 million cyber crime, fraud.

Invictus Obi is the CEO of Invictus Group, a firm that claims holdings in agriculture, oil and gas and construction. He came to limelight in 2016, at the age of 28, when Forbes Africa named him in it’s June cover as one of Africa’s 30 entrepreneurs under 30. In 2017, he was a panelist at the Wharton Africa Business Forum, organized by the renowned University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, United States of America. The BBC later featured him on its “Focus on Africa” program in 2018. The program described him as an “inspiring” entrepreneur.

“Very sad day for everyone building with true sweat,” tweeted Oluyomi Ojo (@OluyomiOjo) founder and CEO of Printivo.

In the affidavit dated August 2, 2019, the FBI disclosed that Okeke was being charged for committing conspiracy to commit computer fraud.

Unatrac Holding Limited, the UK Export Sales office for Mantrac Group had filed a report with the FBI in June 2018 stating they had been compromised via a phishing email that fraudulently acquired sensitive log-in details of their Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Posing as the CFO, the intruder then sent wire transfer requests to the Unatrac internal Finance team leading to several transfers amounting to $11 million (N3.9 billion).

Tosin Eniolorunda, co-founder and CEO of TeamApt told BusinessDay that the arrest could potentially affect investors’ confidence in Nigerian tech startups.

“It’s likely foreign investors are watching,” he said. “You don’t want to be perpetuating the already pervasive Nigerian Prince stories.”

The cyber fraud smudge is not new to Nigeria. Prior to Okeke’s arrest, the FBI had in 2018 said it arrested 74 cyber criminals, 29 of whom where from Nigeria involved in sophisticated scam often targeting employees with access to company finances and businesses working with foreign suppliers and or businesses.

Adedeji Olowe, CEO of Trium Networks, a venture capital firm told BusinessDay that Okeke’s case points to a bigger problem of transparency in the tech ecosystem in Nigeria. Often times entrepreneurs make claims that are not verifiable.

“In this instance, did anyone do a simple due diligence on what a 28 year old can be doing to become the chairman of Invictus Group of companies?” he asked.

Although Nigerian has a cyber law that mandates that companies report any exposure to criminals, in most cases companies don’t heed. Thus making it difficult for authorities to investigate, identify and prosecute cyber criminals.

Enyioma Madubuike, CEO of Legitng, an online legal services firm told BusinessDay that this is likely to change soon as a group of developers in Nigeria are already working on a solution.

“It is an anti-fraud database,” he said. “Collaborators collect parties who are fraudulent and upload them on the database to protect everyone from those persons. It is similar to what many foreign banks abroad have and use to block suspicious online entities.”

While the database solution is still in its early stage, Rahmon Ojukotola, CEO of StartCredit told BusinessDay that in the meantime a lot of work has to be done to dissuade university students studying computer science in Nigeria from engaging in fraud though. As the instant financial gratification and social pressures compromises their morality.

However should that fail to dissuade them, there is the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which has the mandate to investigate, arrest and charge suspects.



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