Cyber Cafes in Akure in the state of Ondo, and Onitsha, in the state of Anambra were raided today. The locals have a term for the type of cyber criminal who lurks in these cafes. They call them "yahoo boys".
(image from "Hey CyberCafe" in Onitsha, not included in the raid, just a sample picture of an Onitsha-based cybercafe)
In Akure, agents of the EFCC (Econonmic and Financial Crimes Commission), acting as customers, mingled about the crowd, bought airtime, and began using computers themselves while observing the activities of those around them. Once their suspicions were confirmed, they rose and identified themselves, requiring each of the users of the cafe to remain on site until they had confirmed what email addresses they had been using, and what activities those email addresses had been performing. "This Day" in Lagos reports that at least one Yahoo Man jumped out the window when the raid began. This Day reports that the following day the cyber cafes were nearly empty, "leaving only those with serious business".
In Onitsha, things went a bit differently, according to The Nigerian Tribune, with officers arriving in an unmarked Toyota van and blocking off the road leading to Main Market to prevent the flight of cyber cafe operators.
Sixteen arrests were made, primarily of Yahoo Boys, who spend their days reading and sending scam emails hoping to encourage rich Americans to part with their money. At least one cyber cafe operator was also arrested, and several computers were confiscated as evidence.
The most fascinating part of this story, however, is not in the current day's news. For the story behind the story we have to go back to March 17th, when the President of Nigeria, Umaru Yar'Adua, announced that he was planning to establish a separate body known as the National Cyber Crimes Commission. The bill, which was described in Nigeria's Business Day Online, was called necessary precisely because the EFCC cannot effectively "handle the cyber crimes in addition to its other responsibilities". Business Day Online's source said the activities of the Yahoo Boys are having a negative impact on the government and on investment and a separate agency was required to handle the situation.
The bill to establish the National Cyber Crimes Commission is still in the National Assembly. With the president leaning on both chambers for quick passage, is the EFCC trying to prove the bill is unnecessary?
Public opinion has turned against the EFCC, as represented in a recent column in the IndependentNGOnline, called "Heroes, Yahoo Boys, and the Rest of Us". (Sorry, the article is no longer online, the author "email@example.com" has a regular column called "Conversations of an Angry Man"). The column calls the Yahoo Boys "Criminal Eaglets", and warns the EFCC that if they continue to "deliberately overlook" the Yahoo Boys, they are going to use their relative wealth to graduate to the true houses of power.
The columnist continues "I had the impression that the EFCC may rather wait for these fraudsters to cut their teeth in politics or public administration before going after them", but he then goes on to say those who chase down and catch these crooks are the true heroes. While the President is welcoming as national heroes Nigerian boxer, Samuel Peter, and the Under 17 World Championship Nigerian soccer team, the Golden Eaglets, the columnist recommends the President proclaim those who catch cyber criminals National Heroes instead.
Whether the NCCC is formed, or whether the EFCC decides to take their cyber crime responsibilities more seriously, the benefit on the American public should be positive. For today, the EFCC are Crime Fighting Heroes. I hope it continues!