by Farook Kperogi
A new, pernicious Nigerian 419 scam is taking root on Facebook, and Central Bank of Nigeria governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and scores of credulous Nigerians are its latest victims.
In the last couple of months, it has become fashionable for 419 scam artists to create fake Facebook profiles of prominent Nigerians and then send friend requests to multitudes of Nigerians on Facebook (who often feel flattered to be considered worthy of such “big” people’s friendship). The fake profiles update their statuses frequently and fill their “timelimes” with genuine photos of the people they impersonate. (The photos are easily obtainable from Google image search).
After sprinkling a veneer of credibility on their profiles with photos and status updates (which often attract scores of likes, shares, and comments from naïve Nigerians) they send private messages to carefully chosen victims with all kinds of fraudulent propositions.
The propositions range from offering jobs to unemployed youth for a steep fee, to offering contracts to people who appear to be well-off (of course, for a huge “kickback,” too). I don’t know how many people have fallen victim to these scammers, but given the legendary gullibility of Nigerians (which is kind of ironic for citizens of a country that has earned notoriety as the scam capital of the world) my sense is that thousands of Nigerians have been fleeced—and will continue to be fleeced if nothing is done to stop this scam.
When, some months back, “Sanusi Lamido Sanusi” sent me a friend request on Facebook, I instantly knew it had to be some debauched 419 scammer hiding behind a cyber mask. A few weeks before the request, I had written a blistering critique of the CBN governor’s ill-advised plan to convert some naira bills into coins and to introduce higher denominations into the economy. Well, the man probably never even read my column, but since I have never related with him one-on-one I didn’t expect him to send me a friend request. In any case, as the “Oga at the top,” I should be the one sending him a friend request. I accepted the request, nonetheless. I did so because I wanted to study the profile and use it as a case study of the new 419 on Facebook.
Similar fake “Sanusi Lamido Sanusi” Facebook profiles had appeared and disappeared (one of which was a member of the fanclub that readers of my columns created for me), but this latest one is far and away the most audacious. At the time of writing this article, it had 4,977friends, 1,754 followers, and over a dozen genuine photos of the CBN governor. The scammer behind the profile religiously monitors the real Sanusi’s media engagements and writes status updates to reflect this. This works to redound to the profile’s credibility.
But the status updates often lack the elevated diction, verbal exuberance, and intellectually fashionable phraseology of Sanusi’s prose. But they have all the stylistic imprints of 419 scam emails: they are usually riddled with cringe-worthy grammatical errors, make boastful claims to authority, lack sufficient attention to social and cultural cues, etc. On occasions, when the fake Sanusi profile attempts to appeal to Muslim and Hausa friends, it mixes up several linguistic, social, and cultural codes. For instance, the profile once wished friends “barika dey sallah.” No native Hausa speaker will ever write that. Ever.
The latest status update that fired up Nigerian social media circles this week was the one in which Sanusi purportedly railed against profligacy in the National Assembly and pledged that he would not seek a second term as CBN governor. It went thus:
“Has [sic] the Governor of the CBN, i [sic] am only entitled to N25,000 per night for my local trips and our Senators and House of Reps Members are entitled to N500,000 per night for their local trips, I asked for the cutting down of their salaries and they all went against my policy. My tenure expire [sic] in June 2014 and i [sic] want all Nigerians [sic] home and abroad to put all hands on deck to bring in someone that will surpass me and be able to take the financial matters of our great nation to the next step.
“Nigeria is not a country where one man can do it all, it is a collective effort and i [sic] use this medium to call on our youth from all works [sic] (O.P.C, NIGER-DELTA, THE BAKASSI BOYS, THE NORTHERN’S [sic]) To stand up and embrace the emancipation [sic]. Long live the Federal Republic Of Nigeria.”
This error-ridden update got hundreds of likes, comments, and shares. But what got me particularly nonplussed was that many otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people believed that the status update, in spite of its many embarrassing errors, came from Sanusi, arguably the smartest and most articulate bureaucrat to ever walk the corridors of power in Nigeria
As someone who has studied the logic and psychology of cybercrime, I can guess what happened. The sentiments encapsulated in the status update resonated with lots of Nigerians and, because of this, they chose to suspend their incredulity and become willing victims in their own fleecing. Before people fall victim to a fraudulent act on the Internet, they must first succumb to the temptation— called the false consensus effect— that other people share their sense of trust and sincerity. On the basis of this false logic, they give their consent to being swindled. This process is called peripheral route processing of persuasion.
Some people justified believing the error-ridden status update by saying it was probably Sanusi’s incompetent assistant who wrote it on his behalf. Others spruced up the grammar of the status update before sharing it. It’s amazing the extent people go to nurture and perpetrate the illusions that they cherish.
I am glad that the CBN’s corporate affairs unit has now officially disowned the profile. But they need to go a step further and set up genuine social media accounts for the CBN governor. Cyberia (my coinage for cyber Nigeria) abhors a vacuum
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Farook Kperogi