I got a true experience about the way we are viewed by people outside Nigeria during my first week of classes.During lectures, a majority of course tutors found it compulsory to associate Nigeria publicly with fraud. In one of the classes, the consultant from IBM actually had a full slide on ‘Nigerian Scam Mails’ among major internet security issues. i.e. we were next to viruses, rated next higher than spyware, Trojans. Google even used a ‘Nigerian Scam’ as part of their April fool’s joke this year which I found funny but sad. I am amazed at the negative reputation Nigeria has and got within three years of getting online (we started actively in about 2000). Obviously we are not the only ones that perpetuate fraud as you can see here but something must have made Nigeria become synonymous with online scams.
This is not a time for denial, or defense by saying “only the foolishly greedy people fall for it”, “we are repatriating the dues owed to our slave ancestors”. I dare say that A VAST majority of young Nigerian dudes use the internet to perpetuate fraud and with the help of email spiders and spamming engines it is not a big surprise that majority of the world’s people have got a mail for Nigeria seeking to make them rich. Unfortunately, majority of the perpetrators have no idea of the effect their deeds are having on us and the dangers towards our children.
How did we get here?
I remember my first contact with the internet around 1998 (which was way way early) thanks to my classmate Chiedu. Chiedu would use the internet to print out the latest shoes, the latest Guinness Book of world records and help a few people register email addresses. That was about what the internet was for… to us
Fast forward to 2001/3 when wider adoption became possible and the young lads began to get access to the internet. We had no success stories of Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com), Jerry Yang (Yahoo!), Larry/ Sergey (Google) e.t.c to look up to. The only ‘success’ on the internet in Nigeria was by those who committed fraud and it was obvious to anyone who wanted to be a success online… commit fruad.
I have met a lot of people who are internet scammers a.k.a Yahoo boys and I have tried to make them see reason why they should stop the fraud and stop spoiling Nigerias Image. The reply has consistently been “You go give me food chop” i.e will you feed me? When I pointed out they could channel their existing skills on legitimate internet enterprises majority of the responses were “I swear, if you show me the way, I will definitely follow you”
The last statement is the clarion call for anyone who wants to reduce drastically (there will always be fraudsters everywhere) the high incidence of scams and to empower the Nigerian youth. I have to tell you categorically these ‘ Nigerian Scammers’ have very important skills that could be transferred to any start up company. For example: in a scam, one person will have to lie to several victims (some call them clients) assuming different roles (lawyer, agent, business partner). These scammers dedicatedly follow leads for hours and months unending. A few make are successful (majority of which are a few hundred pounds) while the others keep trying. Some scams require individuals to build complete replicas of Bank websites with scripts to do phishing. Imagine if this their dedication, faith and programming skills could be directed at a legitimate business where they do not need to hide?
Things are changing now and Nigerians have started getting involved in the startup community of the world and showing their stuff. Unfortunately, we are almost getting sucked into the consumer mentality that has characterized our other industries. We have to start putting more effort in creating. Having a business based on Google adwords, or selling on eBay is not what we should be proud of. We should start thinking of creating our own ebay and Amazon. But don’t get me wrong, Nigeria has some impressive startup companies on the internet but one thing you’ll notice is the absence of their identity on the ‘about page’ . I am making a sure guess that they lack confidence in their Nigerian identity. I doubt having ‘Nigerian’ on your biography will give you more sales.
I’l be letting some out of the bag here. Some examples of impressive startups pioneered by Nigerians include
- Facebooklicous: Founded by my good friend and brother (KCOB) Udoka, He has also launched the first Nigerian game Application on Facebook. You can install it Here
- HopStop: This is one of the most important travel planners in New York, US founded by Chinedu Echeruo.
- iKobo: a pioneer in remittances but has been acquired after some years. It was founded by Emeka Ohuche
- We have a major blogger in the person of Dare Obasanjo and I believe he should try to promote Nigerian startups: This is not a startup but an influential Tech Blogger who works with Microsoft
As for our home based start ups I know of:
- Booksng.com: They are hoping to be the Amazon.com of Nigeria.
- Startup Nigeria: This is a blog by Loy Okezie, which covers Nigerian Startup Companies but has run into some problems recently.
- Riranwo: Aggregating Nigerian information on the web.
- Nairaland and Nairalist: Seun Osewa owns the most popular Nigerian website worldwide. (tell them I said so)
Very importantly, I wish to thank Mr. Mitchell Elegbe of Interswitch for leading the way in developing our e payment platform.
Nigerians and everyone interested in battling the scourge of internet fraud should help promote the few Nigerian Startups so that those who are seeking to make a way on the internet will see positive role models to look up to. For instance all Nigerian papers and blogs should encourage Sturvs and have ‘sturv this’ alongside digg and co, Purchase books from BookNg, e.t.c.
Nigerian banks and investment companies should seriously start looking to invest in Nigerian technology startups. A Nigerian mentor of mine who lives in silicon valley travelled to Nigeria for a project and was disappointed with the lack of interest in technology businesses. When we start investing in our own, others will follow suit.
The Federal Government (the first and only time I am calling them) should stop the politics with Nigeria’s TLD name .com.ng . and get the domain .ng working so we can have our identity online. we should not have to call our sites Interswitchng.com it should be interswitch.ng
To the influential people of the web: contrary to beliefs that Aston Kutcher Twitting will save Africa, helping promoting Nigerian and African entrepreneues will . With such success, we can then take care of our problems.
It is my personal ambition to create a new cadre of Nigerian entrepreneurs and this quest has led me to attending the right events like TechCrunch and Launch48 (where I had the opportunity to be part of the team that Launced VouChaCha) thereby networking with the right people who have shown sincere interest in helping me re orientate the Nigerian youths; Thanks Allan, Simone and Ken Banks. I should also point out that Ken Banks has spent most part of the last decade in researching on how developing countries can use the power of mobile technology to their advantage. One of the products developed is FrontlineSMS.
Actively pursuing my dream is what led me to meeting my good friend Joel, with whom I hope to conquer the internet world.
Finally, please sign up for beta testing for a project I am working on with Joel, it is called OnePage.
Oo Nwoye. KCOB