By Sonala Olumhense
Nigerian crook Obinwanne Okeke, who was arrested in the United States about 18 months ago, last week received a 10-year jail term.
Also known as Invictus Obi, the 33-year-old had lived two lives. In the first, he posed as a picture of effort and intelligence, celebrated by Forbes as an influential entrepreneur.
In the other, he was afraudster: the kind the advanced world loves to expose almost as having been trained in a Nigeria crime factory.
In Nigeria itself, such people are regarded as Yahoo-Yahoo boys; they are forever trying to deploy semi-sophisticated computer skills into riches.
Posing as the first while living as the other, Okeke spearheaded an $11 million cyber fraud scheme, unaware he was being trailed worldwide by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which continues to keep track of his associates.
Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), characterised him in these words: “Through subterfuge and impersonation, Obinwanne Okeke engaged in a multi-year global business email and computer hacking scheme that caused a staggering $11 million in losses to his victims.”
He asserted that Okeke’s sentence demonstrated the EDVA and FBI’s worldwide reach to hold cybercriminals accountable, wherever they may commit their crimes.
Court documents showed that for about four years until the FBI seized him in Virginia as he prepared to depart for Nigeria, Okeke and others had engaged in a conspiracy to conduct various computer-based frauds, compiling the credentials of hundreds of victims.
In 2016, at the beginning of that timeline, Okeke was telling the world that the secret of his success was a promise to his mother. In his Invictus Group of nine companies, he perpetrated the fiction of his drive and enterprise.
Upon his arrest, he hoped that fiction would hold, which was why his first reaction was to scream “not guilty.” Confronted with irrefutable evidence, he soon agreed to forfeit “all interests in any fraud-related assets.”
In Nigeria, in October 2019, a federal court ordered the temporary forfeiture to the Federal government of N280 million in his personal and corporate accounts. It is also now gone.
In other words, in the end, another fake wonder boy would become evidence of how deeply greed can destroy. Think about it: Okeke was only a teenager when former Delta State Governor James Iboriwas sent to jail in London after he had pleaded guilty to 10 counts of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
Speaking of greed in high places, former Customs Comptroller-General Abdullahi Dikko died last week. As a public figure, Mr. Dikko epitomised compromise, and compromised integrity, in Nigeria governance.
He rose to the pinnacle of the Nigeria Customs Service in 2009 after the then-President, fellow Katsina State citizen Umaru Yar’Adua ,appointed him over senior and far more qualified people.
But even his identity was immediately challenged, a newspaper questioning whether he was Abdullahi Dikko or Muhammadu Dikko. SaharaReporters reported that his birth certificate bore the name “Muhammadu Dikko,” and that the date of birth appeared to have been tampered with.
Thus commenced the rest of the life of Mr. Dikko, filled with accusations and allegations which included a certificate scandal, stealing and looting, even after he abruptly resigned his appointment in August 2015.
On February 22, 2017, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered 17 exotic vehicles in a warehouse in Kaduna belonging to Dikko. A few days later, the commission announced more recoveries from him in a nearby village.
He was prosecuted separately by the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). In 2018, he was listed on the Federal Government’s “looter’s list” published by Information Minister Lai Mohammed, with a whopping N40bn and N1.1bn reported to have been recovered from him in cash and choice properties.
But Dikko knew what many Nigerians ignore: that the governments of Nigeria, particularly the current one of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) are but a malleable ghost. Dikko survived them all: the friendly ghost of Yar’Adua, the uninterested one of Goodluck Jonathan, and the two-faced one.
Thus, despite a court order for his prosecution for alleged certificate forgery, being charged to court,and being declared wanted for purposes of trial, Dikko never faced a judge let alone a prison door.
In June 2020, the court dismissed the ICPC case after the commission said it was withdrawing the charges filed against Dikko, shamelessly telling the court it had been unable to arrest him.
The EFCC? It first arrested Dikko in 2016 over a N42bn fraud. Remember that: N42bn. Among others, it questioned the former Customs boss about how he had obtained the N2bn with which he bought the mansion at No. 1, Audu Ogbeh Street in Jabi, Abuja.
And then, in November 2019, a federal court in Abuja told the EFCC it could no longer prosecute Dikko.
Why? Well, Dikko had argued before the court that there was a non-prosecution agreement between him and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami. And that agreement, Dikko held, was based on his returning to the government N1.5bn proceeds of alleged crimes he may have committed while in office.
For a man being prosecuted for over N40bn, it is instructive that N1.5bn is what the AGF thought Nigeria to be worth.
In effect, Dikko died at age 60 last week laughing. He had won every tussle against Nigeria, and one of his last memories may have been of the same Malami engineering the appointment of a new leader for that same EFCC.
That nominee, Abdulrasheed Bawa, may well be a saint, but his credibility has been challenged, a report Buhari is said not to have read. The Nigeria ruler has also yet to act on the report of the Ayo Salami panel report on Ibrahim Magu, the suspended chairman of the EFCC, which he received in November 2020. And Malami is the same man who, spurning massive allegations of corruption against himself, put Magu to the sword.
The point is that no nation or leader can confront corruption with injustice. It is the reason why the Buhari government looks like a pantomime; a comedy at which people laugh and cry not because it is funny, but because they feel sorry for the characters. Desert Herald tells the story of how AGF Malami has corrupted Buhari’s claims to an anti-corruption regime.
Watch that pantomime grow: Abubakar Bello, governor of Niger State, told Nigerians last week he would not consider resigning over the abduction of 27 students in Kagara, explaining, “this is the first time students are being kidnapped in this state.”
Similarly, Defence Minister Major General Bashir Magashi (retd) told Nigerians to stop being cowards, ordering them to stop and fight armed bandits with their bare hands.
And Zamfara State governor Bello Matawalle affirmed that not all bandits in Nigeria are criminals, explaining, “…what made them to take the laws into their hands [is that] some of them, sometimes were cheated by so-called the vigilante group.”
Translation: Not all thieving governors are criminals; some of them were merely cheated out of vast riches by other politicians.
*This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.
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