Nigeria has a very bad image abroad. When a nation has a bad reputation, there will be collateral damage and the first casualty is patriotism. Because a bad national image casts a dark halo on the citizens, they will not want to identify with their country. The image subtracts from their intrinsic worth. They are thus forced to rely on their personal equity in different situations and they soon begin to question the value of their country to them.
Our national identity cannot augment our valuation as Nigerians because of the negative reputation of our fatherland. This is because our primary output as a nation is apparently advance fee fraud, not oil; our systems and institutions are deemed malfunctioning and corrupt. Our passport is thus a liability at customs checkpoints and the innocent are banded with criminals.
This generalisation takes a toll on patriotic sentiments. Citizens don’t idolise a nation that subtracts from their worth, or shuts the door of opportunity against them, or makes them a pariah at international borders. And when a Nigerian succeeds, he feels he did it by himself and despite his country. Thus, he owes his nation no allegiance.
Are we by this article justifying lack of patriotism? Of course not! Nigeria suffers from four image afflictions (in my line of work we call them ‘brand eroders’). They are corruption, online credit card fraud (cybercrime), fundamentalist terrorism and kidnapping. These constitute the ordinance against the country.
The four can be broadly categorised into two classes — the violent class and the economic class. Kidnapping and fundamentalist terrorism belong to the violent class. They tend to play grandly on the national stage; but cybercrime is the most democratised of all. It is a huge retail enterprise, precisely because the barrier to entry is low. A cyber criminal can run his operations entirely from a business centre. Anyone with a modem and a computer, or smartphone can launch into business. And it has gone industrial. There are now cybercrime factories — rows and rows of young men and women in huge spaces, dedicated to online criminal pursuit on computer notebooks.
The damage to the nation has been incalculable. The problem with cybercrime is that while other crimes are domiciled within Nigerian borders, cybercrime is a global phenomenon. We are systematically being shut out of the global economic system because of the activities of these aberrant cyberpreneurs. Today, Nigeria is not listed on the drop down menu of Paypal, the global online payment platform. Neither can we shop on Macy’s, Target, J.C. Penney and Marks & Spencer, to name a few. We can’t even buy antivirus software for our computers. Kaspersky shut us out. We are suffering from economic blockade, not unlike Iran; it’s just that ours is the market-driven variety. If truth be told, a 419er is an economic terrorist. He is waging an economic war against his country.
Our young men and women cannot access cheap finance through credit cards for their business start-ups. Even our debit cards are not accepted by international merchants! Once the transaction originates from Nigeria, a virtual steel door clamps down. Those who take the risk of online transactions from Nigeria put us through such strenuous processes it defeats the very purpose of online purchase. And our internet transactions are being routed through South Africa, with the attendant consequences on national sovereignty.
The elites have found a way round the credit card blockade. They simply travel abroad and use a foreign merchant card. They take care of themselves, but how myopic!
For one, the youths will become more desperate and take ever more unwholesome routes in pursuit of opportunities; our negative image is thus reinforced by an army of disenfranchised youths. Two, they will hate those that are privileged and their sense of rage will morph into other criminal activities against the privileged. Three, they will lose faith in the maternal instincts of the nation, after all, the nation is not helping them. Four, as those who succeed by devious means flaunt their ill-gotten wealth and invariably take up the political positions they bought with their loot, a signal is sent into the generational pool that ‘making it’ through criminal device is the way to go. Five, the youths will become a dangerous arsenal in the hands of the wrong commander-in-chief. When you extinguish hope, there is nothing left. Six, crime becomes normative, expected and required. It becomes an affirmation of basic humanity.
What should be done? How can we redeem our image and remedy the situation?
We need a four-pronged strategy: eliminate, repair, discourage, prevent.
We must eliminate cybercrime factories. Government must erect an equivalent anti-cybercrime factory full of hackers, trackers and servers to fight online criminal pursuit. It is a national security risk. And by the way, setting up this factory will provide employment to many of our computer science graduates. If we are serious, we should see a major drop in cybercrime within nine months.
We must also activate a discouragement strategy. First we must pass the cybercrime bill before our legislators. We must prosecute criminals under the law and make an example of cyber criminals. With the passage of the law, we signal to the international community that we are serious about curtailing cybercrime.
Our repair strategy dictates that we mend our relationship with the international merchant community. We need to undertake economic diplomacy. The amount Nigerians spend abroad annually gives us economic clout. It can be leveraged.
But prevention is always cheaper than cure. We need to re-orientate our youths and create opportunities for them.
In addition, our school curricula must reflect our realities. We need to teach our kids to create jobs rather than waiting for jobs.
Religious organisations have a role to play too. Government must partner with them.
And parents have a role to play too. As do our teachers. We must be worthy examples to our children.
Society is dynamic. We will never reach a point in which cybercrime is non-existent. The image of nations is not defined by the absence of negatives. It is determined by the positive exertions of its government and citizens.
• Alder is a brand strategy consultant. He wrote vide email@example.com