Flag of the Rogue State of GhanaInternet fraud and the modern day Sakawa

The untold Ghana story

Internet fraud or “419” is the act of defrauding unknown persons over the internet. Various modus operandi ranging from issuing of fake checks to using of falsely acquired credit cards to make dubious purchases. The schemes used by the 419ers seem to be growing every day with the influx of improved technology. The methods used by 419ers would be treated with a different write-up. However, this write-up aims at looking at the various forms 419 has pass through over the years.

The 419 scam originated in the early 1980s as the oil-based Nigerian economy declined. Several unemployed university students first used this scam as a means of manipulating business visitors interested in shady deals in the Nigerian oil sector before targeting businessmen in the west, and later the wider population. Scammers in the early-to-mid 1990s targeted companies, sending scam messages via letter, fax, or Telex. The spread of email and easy access to email-harvesting software significantly lowered the cost of sending scam letters by utilizing the Internet. In the 2000s, the 419 scam has spurred imitations from other locations in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, and, more recently, from North America, Western Europe (mainly UK), and Australia, the latter three mainly done by Africans. The number “419” refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code (part of Chapter 38: “Obtaining Property by false pretences; Cheating”) dealing with fraud. The American Dialect Society has traced the term “419 fraud” back to 1992.

Widespread of the knowledge that most business conducted over the net are susceptible to internet fraud, many business men/women have become extremely cautious of transaction on the internet. This knowledge led to the decline of the 419 trade. So steep was the decline that many perpetrators of 419 otherwise known as “Sakawa” sort spiritual guidance in their action. This action opened a chapter in the Sakawa trade. Most people who consulted spiritual guidance were given special rings to wear on a particular finger to be used during the transaction over the net. This ring allegedly possesses the power of charming a victim into succumbing to the whims and caprices of the fraudsters.

Spiritual Dimension

After the victims have been charmed, the perpetrators will then go on to make their demand which cannot be refused by the victims. Another spiritual dimension taken by Sakawa was used of caskets. Three or four people interested in cyber crime would contact a selected spiritualist who will make them sleep in a casket for a particular number of the days. In taking this journey, they would be made to understand that one of them would not survive the ordeal. The interested parties then play gamble with their lives as they definitely known one of them stands as chance of dying as a result.

After the incident, one dies as a result and the surviving persons then go on to become spiritually strong and they may use their spiritual strength to indulge in more Sakawa deals. Money immediately accrued form the death of the unfortunate person is used to organize a lavish funeral for the deceased.

Whereas the spiritual ring provides an added advantage to perpetrating of Sakawa, the casket method seems to be the most powerful as a result of the sacrifice of one human life made.

Provision of Conditions

Another spiritual approach was the provision of conditions as result for outcome or success or failure or Sakawa deals. One of the conditions which perpetrators of Sakawa are given is the abolishment of bathing. As long as the perpetrators remain without taking their bath the potency of the spiritual power would be at its highest efficacy. One of the news of this example making rounds is that a young man, who went for this type of method, went a great deal of days without taking his bath. On a very unfortunate day for this guy, his mother/sister just jokingly sprinkled water on this young not knowing the repercussions saying the son has developed an offensive odor. This marked the death of the young guy as he fell down foaming. The repercussions of the breach in this spirituality method can never be compromised. Certain conditions are prescribed for the practitioners. They are asked to eat from a refuse dump; search for old blood-soaked women pads from the refuse dump; walk bare-footed, others prevented from sleeping at night.

As the demand for the spiritual processes intensified, a new dimension to Sakawa was developed. Though totally not new, the used of the term “Sakawa” to refer to “blood money” or “quick money” evolved just recently when spirituality attached to internet fraud broke off to stand on its own as a new way of making money. The culprits are mainly the youth, who for want of a quick money generating venture go in for these means of making money. These people can usually be seen riding in posh cars such as Ford Expedition, Infinity, Crysler etc. which were bought with the money accrued from Sakawa.

Fraud & The Ghanaian Media Landscape

Daily Guide in its 1st May 2009 edition, reported that Nana Azumbi a.k.a Motia Father, a renowned Sakawa spiritualist has been busted by the police for allegedly defrauding people of various sums of money under the pretext of doubling it. His arrest has led to several interesting occurrences on the same issue within the media landscape.

For instance, Peace fm online reported that “A group of suspected Blood Money ‘SIKA DURO’ or ‘SAKAWA’ boys have been arrested by the Ghana Police at Mambo, a suburb of Greater Accra, following a tip off by some residents. PeaceFM sources say upon the arrest of the gentlemen, coffins and gallons full of blood and a girl of about seven (7) years old with her mouth sealed with cello tape was found in the room which is suspected to be their hideout.”

The current form of Sakawa has also taken several forms such as the use of caskets by the culprits to practice the illegal act. These culprits go about late midnight carrying caskets which have been fortified with magical powers to draw unto it the souls of innocent individuals who get frighten by the mere sight of a casket at midnight. So outrageous the new case may be, but people have really testified that it is true and real. In any case, what the solution may be is that upon sighting such a strange occurrence, one must be alert and not panic. Panicking is what the perpetrators require to make more money out of the untimely death of these unfortunate ones who may chance on this weird situation. The more   panic-stricken people come across the strange casket at midnight, the more money the perpetrators spiritually accrue  from their unwholesome trade. Reports have been received in several parts of Accra of the death of people who were alleged to have chanced upon the strange spectacle.

The Effects Of The Sakawa Movement In Ghana

According to oral tradition, epicentre of the Sika Duro/Sakawa practice can be attributed to Agona Swedru. At Agona Swedru, the houses of these practitioners are found in an ultra-modern village-Woraba Estate- on the Swedru-Agona Asafo Road around the Swedru Secondary School area. These people often meet at a popular spot – The Left Eye, situated on the Akora River at Agona Swedru, and the Nkubem spot in wealth exhibition bouts as to who possesses the most expensive cars; and who has the most liquid cash.

Currently, Ghana is ranked the 4th country among the world’s top cyber fraud (Sakawa) countries according to statistics on internet usage.

This was disclosed at the launch of Microsoft internet safety and security campaign in Accra. This obviously is not a good signal for a country which is priding itself as the gateway to Africa. The prevalence of Sakawa has scared foreign investors who most often than not have been previously duped when they contacted some locals in Ghana for business transaction over the internet.

An increased trend now is the active being played by children of school going age who are mostly cited at internet cafes indulging in the act. So bleak the future of these children that the Ghana Education Service had to step in. the GES called for the institution of punitive measures to combat the growing trend.

Ghanaian Challenges & Ongoing Fraud

Upsurge in the uses of cheap broadband services by internet fraudsters has posed a threat in the efforts of security services. The influx of mobile communication companies has made these internet services readily available to all. The perpetrators of Sakawa now operate their dubious activities at their various residences where the security agencies normally find difficulties in locating, unlike the past when these people are mainly arrested at internet cafés.

Due to the spiritual nature some Sakawa related cases, legal proceeding against arrested practitioners normally come to a standstill because of lack of evidence. Most arrested practitioner are normally charged with issues other the substantive one for which they were arrested.

Are There Solutions?

Nevertheless, the security agencies continue to make strides as far as Sakawa is concerned. Their continuous arrests of alleged suspects show that they are still committed to making Ghana safe.

The issue of Sakawa in Ghana (and now in other ergional countries) is one which requires a general consensus of all the stakeholders involved. There should be law set up by the law making agencies to streamline activities of all manner of persons who use the internet. Who knows what will follow the already worsen situation.

The current trend is showing a general increasing trend in the practice of Sakawa. If action is not taken, it will reach an epidemic level. It is better to cut the head of the snake whilst it is still

Credit: Richard Nii Abbey , from JoyOnline, Ghana

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