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Nigerian Criminal Organizations

Oxford Handbooks Online


Nigerian Criminal Organizations
Phil Williams
The Oxford Handbook of Organized Crime
Edited by Letizia Paoli
Print Publication Date: Oct 2014
Online Publication Date: Jul
2014

Subject: Criminology and Criminal Justice, Organized Crime,


International and Comparative Criminology
DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199730445.013.033

Abstract and Keywords


Nigerian criminal organizations and networks are unique in both their ubiquity and the diverse nature of their
activities. Criminals from Nigeria and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere in West Africa are active in every country with
criminal opportunities to be exploited. The author looks at the political, social, and economic contexts from which
Nigerian criminal organizations emerged (and which continues to sustain them today), seeks to explain how they
established a global presence, and explores the range of organizational structures they adopt and their various
activities. The author argues that the success of Nigerian organized crime can be understood in terms of a mix of
the incentives and pressures for criminal activity, the availability of opportunities, and the resources or capacity to
exploit these opportunities, at both the national level and the global level. He concludes that the impediments to the
continued growth of organized crime are weak, as the trends facilitating expansion remain powerful.
Keywords: Nigerian organized crime, Nigeria, West Africa, corruption, drug trafficking, fraud

I. Introduction
Nigerian criminal organizations and networks are unique in both their ubiquity and the diverse nature of their
activities. Drug trafficking in Indonesia, extensive fraudulent activities in the countries of the European Union,
trafficking of women to Europe for prostitution, and advance fee fraud in the United States and Australia are just a
few manifestations of the Nigerian global criminal presence. Criminals from Nigeria and to a lesser degree
elsewhere in West Africa are active in every country with criminal opportunities to be exploited. As one observer
has noted, powerful and sophisticated criminal syndicates based in Nigeria have extensive networks reaching into
the Western Hemisphere, Europe, Russia and the newly independent states, Southeast and Southwest Asia,
Australia, and other countries in Africa. In fact, Nigerian criminal groups are more pervasive around the globe than
those of any other nation, withlarge numbers of Nigerians thought to be engaged in illegal activities in some 60
countries.1 Moreover, this presence seems to be expanding rather than diminishing. Recent reports note that
Nigerian criminal organizations, which have long controlled a significant portion of the prostitution in southern Italy,
have extended their activities into France and the Czech Republic. Sirasco, the French criminal intelligence
service, for example, identified and analyzed 36 Nigerian prostitution rings between 2006 and 2010.2 A Czech
media report in June 2011 noted that the police had seen a noticeable increase in Nigerian prostitutes who arrived
in the Czech Republic on the basis of tourist visas furnished in Spain and Italy.3
(p. 255) Reports also suggest that Nigerian drug traffickers have been recruiting Bulgarian and Polish couriers,
have begun to diversify into methamphetamine production, and have a significant presence in Brazil, with 199
Nigerians imprisoned in Sao Paulo.4 Indeed, some Nigerian drug traffickers have graduated from their initial role as
couriers to become managers of drug transshipments. Many remain as low-level couriers and traffickers, however,
and have a presence in countries as diverse as India, Indonesia, and Italy, while, in January 2012 it was reported
5

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Nigerian Criminal Organizations


that 1,000 Nigerian youths have been detained in China for drug offenses.5 In terms of financial fraud, Nigerian
criminals have long had a leadership role, devising and implementing schemes widely imitated by others including
various forms of identity theft. Nigerian criminals, sometimes with the active collusion of members of the political
and military elites, engage in the theft, diversion, and illegal export of oil (which is formally a government
monopoly) from the Niger Delta, a process that is often described as oil bunkering. Estimates suggest that 55 million
barrels of oil a yearabout one tenth of Nigerian oil productionare lost to theft and smuggling (Africa Economic
Development Institute). There has also been an increase in piracy off the coast of West Africa much of which
appears to be organized from Nigeria (Smith 2011).
Against this background, this analysis looks at the political, social, and economic context from which Nigerian
criminal organizations emerged (and which continues to sustain them today), seeks to explain how they
established a global presence, and explores the range of organizational structures they adopt and their various
activities. There is something of a puzzle here. The rise of Nigerian organized crime, and particularly Nigerian
involvement in drug trafficking, is not as readily explicable as, for example, the burgeoning of Russian organized
crime in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union or the role of Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking
organizations. Apart from some cannabis cultivation, Nigeria was not a major drug producer. Nor was Nigeria an
obvious transshipment point for the movement of either cocaine or heroin. Despite lacking obvious advantages,
Nigerian organized crime has become deeply entrenched within Nigeria, at the regional level in West Africa, and at
the global level. This can be understood in terms of a mix of the incentives and pressures for criminal activity, the
availability of opportunities, and the resources or capacity to exploit these opportunities, both at the national level
and the global level.

II. The Context


The rise of organized crime in particular countries is often attributed to the weakness of the state or inadequacies
of governance. Nigeria fits perfectly into this model. Nigeria is a post-colonial state characterized by weak
institutions, a weak civil society, multiple tribal groups and power centers, and high levels of corruption (Smith
2007). Nigeria is Africas most populous country, with more than 250 ethnic groups. The Hausa and Fulani make up
29 percent of the population, the Yoruba 21 percent, the Igbo (Ibo) 18 percent, and the Ijaw 10 percent, with a
plethora of other groups providing the remaining 22 percent. (p. 256) (Central Intelligence Agency 2011) In these
circumstances, it is not surprising that the Nigerian state, which became independent of British rule in 1960, quickly
became the prize of politics, with the spoils distributed by patrons to their political and tribal clients. The authors of
Nigerias draft constitution in 1976 even defined political power as the opportunity to acquire riches and prestige,
to be in a position to hand out benefits in the form of jobs, contracts gifts of money etc. to relations and political
allies.6 Given the predominance of such sentiments, it is not surprising that the public good has routinely been
subordinated to parochial and narrow interests, whether personal, familial, or tribal (Reno 2000, 433459). Such a
system has appropriately been characterized as the predatory or vampire or mafia state that, according to
one scholar, is a mafia-like bazaar, where anyone with an official designation can pillage at willTheir overarching obsession is to amass personal wealth7 While the predatory state has been manifest in a significant
number of African countries, Nigeria was particularly badly hurt by this phenomenon. The Nigerian state, under
successive military regimes, became little more than a series of glorified criminal enterprises. State officials were
highly corrupt and initiated various criminal activities for personal enrichment. This process reached its apogee
under General Abacha, who ruled the country from 1993 until his death in 1998, and appropriated at least $3
billion, much of which was deposited in 139 bank accounts in Britain, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Lichtenstein, and the
United States (Transparency International 2004b).
Democratic elections and over a decade of civilian government have had some impact on the most egregious
cases of corruption but have not succeeded in creating a state that is either law-abiding or responsive to the
needs of its citizens. Even with democratic procedures in place, the state is still seen as the prize of politicswith
the spoils to be distributed by those in office (Ebbe 1999, 4:2959). Election victories provide control of state
resources that can then be used for personal, family, ethnic, or tribal gain. Without a distinction between public and
private goods, leadership and ownership become virtually synonymous. The situation was so bad in 2003 that the
Director of the State Security Service (SSS) warned that members of the political elite often perpetrate lawlessness
and political chaos.8 Subsequent bribery scandals and judicial misconduct have made it hard to convict criminals
including corrupt state governors (Transparency International 2004a).

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The problem in Nigeria, however, transcends corruption. It is not simply that the political elite are corrupt; the
political elite are part of what Roy Godson termed the political-criminal nexus (Godson 2003). Indeed, in Nigeria it
appears that some members of the political elite are not simply the protectors of organized crime; they also provide
much of the leadership. Obi Ebbe, for example, has suggested that the political elite control much of the higherlevel prostitution in the country (Ebbe 1999). Moreover, political and administrative elites use their positions to
provide stamps and official documents that are integral to the infamous 419 frauds that are now perpetrated
primarily through emails.
There is an important trickle-down effect from all this: if members of the political elite are getting rich through crime
and corruption, the incentives for ordinary citizens to observe laws are minimal. Elite criminality helps to create a
culture and of impunity, (p. 257) destroying the rule of law and creating a class of overlords who need secrecy to
keep their dark deeds hidden in dark places.9 This culture also encourages ordinary citizens to engage in
clandestine economic transactions in the parallel or informal economy to keep their incomes and assets out of
reach of the state. These are survival mechanismsThey involve hoarding, exchange of goods above the official
price, smuggling, illegal currency deals, bribery, and corruption.10 In this climate citizens see state institutions and
representatives as enemies to be evaded, cheated and defeated if possible but never as partners in
development.11 Such sentiments are intensified by the poor management of the Nigerian economy, resulting in
what one commentator described as the strange paradox in which Nigeria is the only nation on earth among the
top ten oil producing countries classified as poor.12 As urbanization failed to bring expected opportunities, and an
enormous youth bulge contributed to high unemployment levels, therefore, the migration to illicit activities became
self-perpetuating. In effect, success in organized crime bred emulation while legal opportunities remained highly
constricted and offered little attraction to offset the lure of criminality. As a 2008 U.S. report noted, abysmal
economic conditions for the vast majority of Nigerians contribute significantly to the continuation and expansion of
drug trafficking, widespread corruption and other criminal acts in Nigeria.13 Indeed, not only does organized crime
offer considerable opportunities for many people, it also involves few risks. A corrupt environment is highly
conducive to organized crime as it facilitates the purchase of impunity. Moreover, the criminal justice and law
enforcement systems in Nigeria have major shortcomings, flaws, and deficiencies. When the exploitative nature of
the Nigerian state and deeply entrenched corruption are combined with a culture of impunity and the widespread
poverty and limited opportunities for a young and rapidly expanding population, criminal activities and involvement
in criminal organizations look extremely attractive as alternative career paths.
If Nigeria has provided almost the perfect environment for the growth of domestic organized crime, the country has
also become a safe haven for Nigerian transnational criminal organizations. The trigger for this can be found in the
early 1980s. Even prior to this, however, Nigerians had become involved in the global drug trade. In the 1960s,
Nigerians were moving cannabis grown in Nigeria to Britain (Ellis 2009, 171196). There are also indications that
some of the military regimes condoned drug trafficking (although others imposed very harsh penalties). It was the
economic shocks of the early 1980s though that led to the massive growth of Nigerian organized crime as both a
domestic and transnational phenomenon. Increased oil prices in the 1970s were a massive boon to the economy
and led to considerable investment in infrastructure, education, and other public services as a result of which
Nigeria expanded the number of graduates and the number of Nigerians attending universities overseas. Both
groups had high expectations of the future.14 The collapse in oil prices in the early 1980s had a profound impact
creating massive economic dislocation and acting as a key trigger for the growth of Nigerian organized crime.
Public and publicly guaranteed external debt increased from $4.3 billion to $11.2 billion, while foreign exchange
reserves were almost exhausted, from $10 billion to $1.23 billion, all between 1981 and 1983.15 One result of this
was that many Nigerians were impelled to spread throughout the region (p. 258) and further afield in search of
economic opportunity, and to seek out a livelihood, if necessary by any means.16 Many young Nigerians
overseas, who were suddenly without financial support, turned to drug trafficking as a coping mechanism while
domestically many sought to fulfill their expectation by throwing themselves into financial frauds (Swart 2007).
What seems to have started as short-term expediencies proved highly lucrative, offering tempting long-term career
opportunities which otherwise were unavailable. Partly because of market forces and partly because of elite
corruption, Nigerian citizens became losers in globalizationand compensated by moving from the global legal
economy to the global illicit economy. Indeed, one of the paradoxes of Nigerian organized crime is that it reflects
both failure and success: at the domestic level Nigerian organized crime is a manifestation of an unsuccessful
postcolonial economy and society with a culture of corruption and a record of poor economic management; at the
global level, Nigerian organized crime is a manifestation of very successful exploitation of globalization and the

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opportunities it provides.
Resources and capacity are essential to opportunity exploitation. In this connection, the Nigerian elite has
traditionally been very well educated, English-speaking, and cosmopolitan in outlook. This provided an important
set of resources for drug trafficking, financial fraud, and other criminal activities. Furthermore, Nigerias position as
a historic trading crossroadshas given Nigerian international criminal syndicates a legacy of moving capital and
commodities on a global scale.17 Because of Nigerias importance in international trade, many Nigerians have
been comfortable doing businesswhether licit or criminalin other countries. Moreover, if Nigeria has long been
an important trading nation with an entrepreneurial tradition, it bears emphasis that criminal entrepreneurialism
draws on the same drivers of creativity and energy as legal business. In addition, the Nigerian diaspora, which was
created by several distinct waves of emigration, fuelled partly by the size of the population, but also by the brutal
civil war from 1967 to 1970 and the repression of a series of military governments which ruled from 1966 to 1979
and 1983 to 1998, has provided an extensive overseas presence or transnational migr network. The Nigerian
diasporalike many othershas contained significant criminal components which feed off the expatriate
communities, seeking recruits, cover and support, and using language and dialect as defensive mechanisms
against law enforcement. These factors ensured that, from the early 1980s onward, Nigerian criminal organizations
became one of the countrys major exports. And their diversity and sophistication made them a serious challenge
to law enforcement in countries in which they established a presence.

III. Structure of Nigerian Criminal Organizations


Nigerian criminals are not wedded to any particular organizational form. Consequently, their organizations are
highly fluid in personnel and in methods of operation ranging (p. 259) from independent entrepreneurs to
highly organized syndicates. These groups are able to change and adapt, as needed, both in the nature of the
criminal activities they pursue, and in the members they employ. This flexibility allows them to remain in operation
and to insulate themselves from law enforcement.18 Some groups appear to specialize while others have multiple
lines of activity.
At least some of the drug trafficking organizations appear to be well structured with a clear if not formal hierarchy.
The core leadership is provided by major organizers, based predominantly in Lagos, who are linked with significant
numbers of criminal operations elsewhere in the world. These crime barons are often among the elite and include
people in government, who benefit from the criminal activities that they coordinate or support. The barons are also
among the major beneficiaries of the proceeds of crime that come back to Nigeria and are oftenalthough not
invariablyprotected from seizure by poor implementation of Nigerias money laundering laws. According to Ellis,
crime barons have to be able to purchase drugs cheaply at the source, have good contacts in the receiving or
market country, and have a substantial supply of capital (Ellis 2009). They often operate through a second tier of
people known as strikers who typically work for several barons, have good logistic expertise and connections, and
are able to negotiate deals and recruit couriers (Ellis 2009). The couriers themselves are the cannon fodder of the
trade and, when caught, are rarely able to provide much information about the people who hired them. As one
commentary has observed, the heads of drug syndicates have accumulated millions of dollars in profit, operate
with relative immunity from arrest, and preside over large organizations with thousands of their poor countrymen as
drug couriers who incur virtually all the risk for very little in compensation.19 How large these drug trafficking
organizations actually are is uncertain and it seems likely that they vary considerably in size.
It is clear when the focus moves beyond drugs that many Nigerian criminal organizations are relatively small, and
are based around bonds created by family membership, tribal affinity, or personal friendship. Often these groups
operate within a larger network that resembles trade associations rather than traditional mafia hierarchies. The fluid
network provides support, structure, and potential connections that can be activated when it is convenient or
beneficial to those involved. Indeed, some observers have discerned a form of organization that is project-based in
which individuals come together for a particular criminal venture (UNODC 2005). On other occasions, however,
criminal entrepreneurs will take on apprentices and develop longer-term relationships, mixing these with short-term
employees as necessary. This apprenticeship system tends to create very strong associations between specific
families, lineages, or ethnic groups and particular trades, in regard to both legitimate and illicit types of
business.20 Moreover, even though project-based organizations dissolve upon completion of a given project
this does not undermine security, loyalty, or trust because of the strength of the association and the cultural

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pressures that arise from village, clan or ethnic group as well as the use of religious and black magic rituals
threatening supernatural punishment in the event of betrayal.21 Even though some are more enduring than
others, therefore, most Nigerian criminal organizations appear to be held together by similar forms of social glue.
(p. 260) In the final analysis, perhaps the best way to think about Nigerian criminal organizations is in terms of
multiple levels of organization and activity, with a capacity to switch structures, activities and even membership
easily and seamlessly. For law enforcement this makes Nigerian criminal organizations a very elusive target.
Moreover, the high-level organizersoften based in Nigeria itselfare very difficult to link to the low-level
operatives. Typically, couriers know little about their employers, as there is no sustained relationship apart from
some kind tribal, ethnic, or geographic affiliation. At the same time, the practice of recruiting through networks of
kinship, typically based on a village or other region of origin, means that the organization of a smuggling or other
criminal network may be facilitated by cultural codes known to the perpetrators, but more or less impenetrable to
outsiders, including law enforcement officers.22 Furthermore, the multiple Nigerian dialects can be difficult to
interpret and provide a built-in risk management tool for criminals seeking to thwart law enforcement investigations
outside Nigeria. While wire-tapping and other forms of electronic surveillance are important tools for law
enforcement in many countries, they have only limited effectiveness against Nigerian criminal organizations.

IV. Modus Operandi and Activities of Nigerian Criminal Organizations


In some instances, Nigerian criminal organizations appear to be highly specialized, whether in financial fraud, drug
trafficking or human trafficking; in other instances they combine several criminal activities at one time. They also
have a capacity to move easily and seamlessly from one type of criminal activity to another, according to available
opportunities and the expertise they can bring to bear. This seems to be consistent with organized crime in West
Africa where long-term specialization in a particular field or commodity is rather rare. An entrepreneur who has
been successful in one field of operation may move into another field if the opportunity presents itself, including
into legitimate commerce. For example, an entrepreneur who has been successful in the drug trade may invest his
or her profits in a legitimate business, not purely as a form of camouflage, but simply in pursuit of a commercial
logic.23 This mix of structures and activities not only provides Nigerian criminal organizations with a capacity for
rapid adaptation and makes them extremely difficult to penetrate (a difficulty that is increased by the diversity of
Nigerian languages and dialects), but it also renders their trajectory extremely hard for law enforcement to
anticipate. This is made even more difficult by organizational structures. As one Dutch observer noted, there is no
clear hierarchical structure, as in the case of the mafia. They have a cellular structure, with about 1012 members
in each cell.24 Moreover, the cell structure itself can be dynamic with members sometimes having no specific role.
They are interchangeable. One time a gang member is the errand boy, another time he is the boss. That is their
strength. And they (p. 261) are inventive. Every time, they seek a different way.25 Other commentaries have
suggested that in Nigeria itself, the groups are even smaller with 3 to 5 people, corresponding to the notion of a
master and several apprentices (UNODC 2005).
The other difficulty for law enforcement is that Nigerian criminals have an impressive ability to function in various
legal and regulatory environments. Although Nigerians are not the only criminal groups with such ability, they have
developed a global ubiquity that is unrivaled let alone unsurpassed. In South Africa, Nigerian drug traffickers
transformed the market from one revolving around marijuana and mandrax to one in which cocaine and heroin
loomed much larger. Nigerian traffickers have also been identified in Paraguay, Brazil, and Venezuela, all of which
they use for cocaine trafficking. In the heroin trade, Thailand was traditionally one of their major bases for acquiring
heroin produced in Burma, but in 2002 reports suggested the traffickers were moving to Cambodia (UNODC 2002).
This kind of jurisdictional arbitrage is typical of many organized crime groups but does help to explain why Nigerian
drug traffickers have been so difficult to combat and why they are able to control much of the heroin trade in
countries such as Indonesia where they have faced little or no competition either from indigenous organized crime
or other transnational drug trafficking organizations (AIPA 2009; Muna). By 2006, Nigerian drug traffickers were
also involved in the opium and heroin trade from Afghanistan (Farah 2006). Although this is an area where they
face considerable competition from more powerful organizations, there have been frequent reports of Nigerians
trafficking heroin from Kazakhstan into China (UNODC 2011). Moreover, in 2009 Nigerian traffickers were the most
frequently arrested foreigners for drug offenses in Pakistan, where they were seeking supplies (UNODC 2011).
Nigerian traffickers seem particularly adept in dealing with enforcement efforts in market countries. In the United

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States and Europe for example, Nigerian traffickers have used a shot-gun or swamping strategy, where so many
swallowers and stuffers arrive on one flight that even if some are apprehended by customs and law enforcement
others get through unscathed. Sometimes, though, the arrests reach double figures. For example, in December
2006, 28 of the 32 drug couriers arrested on a flight into Schiphol were Nigerian (UNODC 2007). In July 2007, 16
couriers were arrested in the weekly flight between the Gambia and the Netherlandsmost were Nigerians with
residency in Spain, although a few were living in Italy and Greece (UNODC 2007). Indeed, according to UNODC, 44
percent of all West Africans arrested at European airports in 2006 had Nigerian passports (UNODC 2007). In
addition to using their own citizens, Nigerian organizers have also used citizens of other countries and have even
used children, elderly, and disabled people as couriers. Larger shipments have also been sent in containers and
mail services. Nigerian traffickers were also pioneers in using West Africa as a hub for the transshipment of
cocaine from Latin America to Europesomething that might have encouraged Colombian and Mexican
organizations to follow suit in using the region, especially Guinea-Bissau and Guinea as a useful way-station en
route to Europe (Cockayne and Williams 2009).
These loose networks work through trust and allow Nigerian traffickers to maintain a low profile and coexist with
more powerful trafficking organizations. Because (p. 262) they generally deal in relatively small quantities, they
do not challenge major criminal groupsand can even facilitate the transactions of these more powerful entities on
occasion. Rather than contesting markets already well served by local trafficking groups, these networks are
highly adaptive, addressing markets overlooked by others or working in cooperation with established
organizations.26 Other West Africans are not always so careful and in September 2008, six West Africans were
killed, sparking considerable speculation that they were selling drugs without permission of the local Italian groups
or had not paid for a drug transaction (Kamara 2008). For the most part, however, Nigerians seem to have avoided
this kind of backlash and have become important players in drug markets in various countries throughout Europe.
Wherever they operate Nigerian drug traffickers are very flexible and innovative. They adapt rapidly to their
environment and are adept at exploiting opportunities and weaknesses in their host society. They are also
extremely adept at using false identities, and there is an organized system for obtained forged and counterfeit
documents from Nigeria itselfmany of which are sent by courier service. Nigerian criminals often have false
passports and use false addresses (especially in residences where there is an outside mailbox) as part of fraud
schemes that require multiple identities. Indeed, Nigerian criminal organizations pioneered what are known as 419
(after the Nigerian legal code) or advance fee frauds. Typically these frauds involve an offer to collaborate with the
chosen recipient in transferring money out of a particularly country and into his bank accountfor which he will be
amply rewarded with a significant share of the funds. Once the person responds to the communication and
expresses an interest, some kind of problem arises and a request is made for advance money in order to expedite
the transfer process. In those cases where an advance is made the target is either solicited for further advances or
the communication ceases.
Some observers suggest that the origins of these frauds can be found in abuses of the administrative
requirements for importing goods into Nigeria in the 1970s and early 1980s.27 The Nigerian oil boom created
massive financial opportunities for Nigerians with access to government contracts and their foreign partners who
were able to provide the goods and services required. There were many cases of one or other party using the
system dishonestlyor, more damningly, of both colluding.28 Others see the origin in a simple confidence trick
involving the sale of chemicals and dyed notes which were ostensibly bank notes. The chemicals and notes were
sold as a package often using one or two real notes to show how the process worked. Whatever the precise origin,
Nigerian advance fee fraud has been transformed from a domestic or regional activity to a global phenomenon.
Those involved include groups of individuals who have come together specifically to carry out the fraud, particular
individuals who are acting alone, and even families for whom advance fee fraud is not only a way of life and a
means of subsistence but also a profession. According to a Nigerian student, whose family had been involved in
advanced fee fraud for more than 15 years, the business supported several dozen of his family members. He also
noted that there was some specialization and division of labor. We have the letter writers and the people who
create the official documentation, the people who talk to our clients on the phone, the people who (p. 263)
arrange travel and meetings and tours of government offices in Africa, Canada, Japan, and the United States.29
The ubiquity of 419 frauds is reflected in the existence of groups such as the anti-419 coalition and the prevalence
of web sites and newspaper advertisements warning about the scams. According to the US State Department, AFF
criminals include university-educated professionals who are the best in the world for nonviolent spectacular

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crimes. AFF letters first surfaced in the mid-1980s around the time of the collapse of world oil prices, which is
Nigerias main foreign exchange earner. Some Nigerians turned to crime in order to survive. Fraudulent schemes
such as AFF succeeded in Nigeria, because Nigerian criminals took advantage of the fact that Nigerians speak
English, the international language of business, and the countrys vast oil wealth and natural gas reservesranked
13th in the worldoffer lucrative business opportunities that attract many foreign companies and individuals.30
The fraud itself has retained its essential simplicity while also morphing in terms of form and content. In terms of
form (and mirroring communication changes in the licit business world), 419 fraud has evolved from letters through
faxes to emails. This transition has reduced transaction costs and massively enlarged the victim set. The content
of these communications still revolves around the very simple scheme described above but has several variations.
In some cases the offer is presented as a licit transaction and in other cases as illicit, a stratagem that, in effect,
creates a conspiracy between the sender and the recipient. In either case, however, the offer appeals to the greed
of the target, who is initially asked to send some of his financial details and subsequently inveigled into sending
money. On some occasions, the targeted businessman has actually traveled to Nigeria to meet his partner, often
ending up badly beaten or extorted (Smith, Holmes, and Kaufmann 1999). In other instances, the businessman who
has lost his money is approached once again, this time with a promise that for a fee the person initiating the
contact will be able to recapture the funds (Smith, Holmes, and Kaufmann 1999). Rather than being twice shy,
the businessman, acting out of desperation or frustration, is drawn into a second scam and sends good money
after bad. Another variant involves the senders acknowledging that many offers like this are fraudulent but that this
particular one is legitimate in an effort to defuse suspicion by noting, at the outset, that such suspicion is
understandable.
The content of 419 offers has also become more sophisticated, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in obvious
ways. Facilitated by email, the senders can more readily present the offer as coming from a country other than
Nigeriaa strategy that, it is hoped, will give the offer greater credence. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Saudi
Arabia and Somalia, and even Britain, have been among the countries in which the proffered funds are supposedly
hidden. According to one report, sources for the letters include Sierra Leone, Ghana, Congo, Liberia, Togo, Ivory
Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Taiwan, and even Canada, Oman, and Vietnam.31 Moreover, in a recent
innovation more of the communications purport to be coming from accountants, lawyers, or bankers who
pretend to be acting as fiduciaries for the real dignitary in need of help.32 In addition, there appears to be a
growing tendency to feed off current or recent events such as the war in Iraq or the uprisings in the Middle East.
(p. 264) Nigerian fraudsters have been very active in Spain and in 2005, in one single case on the Costa del Sol,
320 Nigerians were detained. Although this might have had a temporary effect, by 2008 Nigerian criminals were
once again extensively involved in fraud schemes in the country. In April 2008, 87 Nigerian were arrested for
involvement in these activities (BBC News 2008). Two months later, in June, Spanish police arrested 52 people
mostly Nigerians in connection with an Internet fraud scheme believed to have yielded about 40 million Euros
from victims in the United States and Europe who were sent emails or letters informing them that they had been
selected to participate in a Spanish lottery. Subsequently, the targets were informed that they had won between
600,000 and 3 million Euros and were requested to pay administrative costs to obtain their winnings (AFP 2008).
Law enforcement successes, however, only reflect the tip of the iceberg and do no more than marginally dent what
has become an expanding business linked to identity theft and various kinds of Internet fraud (Ultrascan-agi.com
2009).
Nigerian criminals have also played an increasingly important role in the global sex trade and trafficking in women
to Europe. This expanded considerably in the 1990s as prospects for employment in Nigeria deteriorated.33
Moreover, there was a self-perpetuating quality to the trafficking business as the organizersare often women,
sometimes former prostitutes themselves, who have succeeded in making money and graduating to the status of
madams.34 Italy became the favored destination, but Holland, Britain, and France also witnessed an upsurge in
the problem. Threats against family members back in Nigeria are also used to keep them in line. The women come
primarily but not exclusively from Edo state (UNICRI 2003). For their part, the trafficking groups tend to be very
atomistic. Nevertheless, the manner in which Nigerian mamas (or madams) and prostitutes are allowed to operate
unhindered suggests that there has been some kind of agreement with Italian criminal organizations or that
traditional Italian mafia groups are not particularly interested in prostitution and consequently have left the market
open.

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If Italy has been the favored destination for women and girls, Britain has provided a market for young boys, and in
2008 the U.S. State Departments Trafficking in Persons Report identified an increasing trend in the trafficking of
African boys and girls from Lagos to the U.K.s urban centers including London, Birmingham and Manchester, for
domestic servitude and forced labor in restaurants and shops. Some of the victims are Nigerian, while others are
trafficked from other African countries through Lagos.35
It is evident from all this that Nigerian criminals combine flexibility of methods with an ability to operate in several
criminal markets. And partly because Nigerian criminals are not as overtly violent as many other criminal groups,
they do not draw the same level of attention and enforcement as, for example, groups from the Balkans and the
former Soviet Union. As a result of both domestic factors and their ability to operate in multiple countries Nigerian
criminal organizations are not going away any time soon.

(p. 265) V. The Current and Future Status of Nigerian Organized Crime
Organized crime and corruption has become deeply embedded in the economy, society, and politics of Nigeria and
is unlikely to diminish even though Nigeria has taken some important initiatives to combat organized crime. The
Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency has become an important regional leader in West Africa, while Nigeria
passed laws to combat corruption in both 2000 and 2003 (Opara 2006). In addition in 2002, the government
established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate financial crimes. Implementation
of these laws, however, has remained problematic, while the EFCC has faced considerable political obstacles as it
targeted members of the elite (Zebley 2011). And although law enforcement agencies have improved considerably
over the last decade or so, they remain underfunded and lack the sophistication, education, training and other
basic incentives as well as encouragement required to effectively check crime.36 Indeed, funding for Nigerian
law enforcement agencies and key anticrime agencies remains insufficient and erratic in disbursement giving an
impression of lack of commitment.37 In addition, political corruption is often matched by corruption in law
enforcement agencies. And even in those cases where policing is effective, problems in the judiciary provide
further opportunities for criminals to avoid justice. As the U.S. State Departments Annual International Narcotics
Control Strategy Report noted in March 2008: Attemptsto arrest and prosecute major traffickers and their
associates often fail in Nigerias courts, which are subject to intimidation and corruption. Asset seizures from
narcotics traffickers and money launderers, while permitted under Nigerian law, have never been systematically
utilized as an enforcement tool, but some convicted traffickers have had their assets forfeited over the years. The
number of major traffickers penalized remains small.38 The 2011 report was a little more optimistic, noting that
corruption and judicial inefficiency remained major impediments to effective prosecutions. (U.S. Department of
State 2011).
In other words, the impediments to the continued growth of organized crime are weak. At the same time, those
trends facilitating expansion remain powerful. Given the population growth and the high levels of unemployment
even among university graduatesit seems likely that during the next two decades Nigerias domestic and
transnational crime problem will continue its upward trajectory. The return to civilian government has done little to
reduce Nigerian organized crime, while the economy continues to exhibit major structural weaknesses. With a
burgeoning population amidst growing impoverishment, crime will be an increasingly attractive career path for
young Nigerians. Nigerian population growth will also strengthen the global presence of Nigerian criminal
organizations. Unfortunately, a somber prognosis of this kind is as compelling and inescapable as it is dismaying.

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Notes:
(*) The author would like to thank Letizia Paoli for her comments on an earlier draft of this chapter and Matthew
Clark for his assistance with the research.
(1) . Peter Chalk, Countering Nigerian organized crime, Janes Intelligence Review (1 September 2003).
(2) . Christophe Cornevin, "Strategic Police Officers Countering the Mafias, published as France Has Set Up
Special Unit To Counter International Organized Crime, Paris, Le Figaro, March 12, 2011, Open Source Center,
EUP20110314029004.
(3) . Chris Johnstone, Czechs Recruited by Roma Gangs for Slave Labor in UK published as Czech Organized
Crime Squad Reports New Trends in Human Trafficking, Prague, Czechposition.com, June 28, 2011, Open Source
Center, EUP20110628081021.
(4) . Alana Rizzo, East European Mafia and Other International Groups Infiltrated in Brazil Control the Lucrative
Drug Trafficking Market published as Brazilian Daily: International Crime Groups Control Drug Market, Correio
Braziliense Online, August 1, 2011, Open Source Center, FEA20110808020690.
(5) . Mustafa Abubakar, 2012. 1,000 Nigerian youths jailed in China for drug offences-Minister.
http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=152875:1000-nigerian-youthsjailed-in-china-for-drug-offences-minister&catid=1:news&Itemid=2.
(6) . Quoted in Phil Williams and Doug Brooks, Captured, criminal and contested states: Organised crime and
Africa in the 21st century, South African Journal of International Affairs, Volume 6, Issue 2, 1999.
(7) . George B.N. Ayittey, Africa in Chaos (New York: St Martins Griffin, 1999) p. 151.
(8) . Conduct of Politicians, Daily Champion, October 22, 2003, available from allAfrica.com.
(9) . Sufuyan Ojeifo, Commonwealth Group Ties Reprieve for Nigeria to Information Access, Vanguard, October
12, 2003, available from allAfrica.com.
(10) . George B. N. Ayittey, Africa in Chaos (New York: St Martins Griffin, 1999) p. 217.
(11) . Claude Ake quoted in Ayittey, Africa in Chaos (New York: St Martins Griffin, 1999) p. 217.
(12) . Rogers Edor Ochela, Nigeria: Blundering at 48, The Daily Sun, October 10, 2008.
http://www.eslnetworld.com/webpages/opinion/2008/oct/10/opinion-10-10-2008-002.htm.
(13) . US. Department of State, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 2008, p. 601.
http://www.state.gov.
(14) . Teemo Peters, quoted in Lisette Swart Look, Another E-Mail Promising the Earth, published as Report
Analyzes Activities of Nigerian Criminals in Netherlands, Rotterdam NRC Handelsblad (Internet Version-WWW)
November 21, 2007, Open Source Center, EUP20071121024003.
(15) . Budina, N., G. Pang, and S. van Wijnbergen. 2007. Nigerias Growth Record: Dutch Disease or Debt
Overhang? Working Paper 4256. Washington, DC: World Bank.
(16) . UNODC. 2005. Transnational Organized Crime in the West African Region, p. 5
http://www.unodc.org/pdf/transnational_crime_west-africa-05.pdf.

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(17) . Ellen Brennan-Galvin, Crime and Violence in an Urbanizing World Journal of International Affairs, Fall 2002,
Vol. 56 Issue 1, pp. 123146 at p. 141.
(18) . Schemes, Scams, Frauds, Nigerian Scams (2000), http://www.crimes-ofpersuasion.com/Crimes/Business/nigerian.htm.
(19) . Gary W. Potter and Bankole Thompson, African Organized Crime,
http://www.foureaux.sites.uol.com.br/crimeorganizado/african.pdf.
(20) . United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Transnational Organized Crime in the West African
Region (New York, United Nations, 2005) p. 15.
(21) . Antonio L. Mazzitelli, The Challenges of Drugs, Organized Crime and Terrorism in West and Central Africa,
Real Instituto Elcano, April 6, 2006, p. 9.
(22) . United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Transnational Organized Crime in the West African
Region (New York, United Nations, 2005) p. 16.
(23) . United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Transnational Organized Crime in the West African
Region (New York, United Nations, 2005) p. 18.
(24) . Lisette Swart Look, Another E-Mail Promising the Earth, published as Report Analyzes Activities of Nigerian
Criminals in Netherlands, Rotterdam NRC Handelsblad (Internet Version-WWW) November 21, 2007, Open Source
Center, EUP20071121024003.
(25) . Ibid.
(26) . UNODC 2008. Drug Trafficking as a Security Threat in West Africa. pp. 2324.
http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/Studies/Drug-Trafficking-WestAfrica-English.pdf.
(27) . UNODC. 2005. Transnational Organized Crime in the West African Region, p. 24.
http://www.unodc.org/pdf/transnational_crime_west-africa-05.pdf.
(28) . UNODC. 2005. Transnational Organized Crime in the West African Region, p. 24.
http://www.unodc.org/pdf/transnational_crime_west-africa-05.pdf.
(29) . Delio, Michelle. 2002. Meet the Nigerian E-Mail Grifters, Wired News (July 17)
http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,53818,00.html.
(30) . Vaknin, Sam. 2005. Nigerian ScamsBegging Your Trust in Africa. (May 25)
http://www.globalpolitician.com/2766-nigeria.
(31) . Vaknin, Sam. 2005. Nigerian ScamsBegging Your Trust in Africa. (May 25)
http://www.globalpolitician.com/2766-nigeria.
(32) . Vaknin, Sam. 2005. Nigerian ScamsBegging Your Trust in Africa. (May 25)
http://www.globalpolitician.com/2766-nigeria.
(33) . UNODC. 2005. Transnational Organized Crime in the West African Region, p. 27.
http://www.unodc.org/pdf/transnational_crime_west-africa-05.pdf.
(34) . UNODC. 2005. Transnational Organized Crime in the West African Region, p. 27.
http://www.unodc.org/pdf/transnational_crime_west-africa-05.pdf.
(35) . US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2008, p. 197.
http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2008/index.htm.
(36) . Iheji Chukwueme,. 2003. Task of Policing Enugu. Daily Champion (October 30) allAfrica.com.
(37) . U.S. Department of State 2008 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. p. 604
http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2008/index.htm

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(38) . U.S. Department of State 2008 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. p. 602.
http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2008/index.htm
Phil Williams
Phil Williams, University of Pittsburgh

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