Hushpuppi and Nigeria’s Reputational Challenge

As with corporations, the reputation of a country matters considerably. In a digital age where information disseminates quicker, the opinions and attitudes of an increasingly engaged global public are influenced whether negatively or positively by the qualities and characteristics portrayed of a particular country.

Rooted in global public opinion, national reputation refers to the “collective judgment of a…country’s image and character” and is shaped by perceptions of a people, government, foreign policy and cultural outputs.[i]Not only does a good reputation foster an enabling environment for the exercise of influence or the pursuit of strategic objectives, it can in itself constitute a source of influence as with military and economic resources, thereby, placing the management of national reputation at the heart of international relations, public diplomacy and strategic communication.

There is no gainsaying that Nigeria’s global reputation has suffered tremendously in the past few months, due in large part to the conduct of some Nigerians in the diaspora. In what can be considered a further dent to the country’s batteredglobal reputation, Nigerians woke up to news headlines on June 29, 2020 announcing the arrest of Raymond Abbas, popularly known as “Hushpuppi”,in a coordinated raid comprising the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dubai police, and Interpol, on suspicion of cyberfraud, money laundering, hacking and scamming amounting to £352million.

Until his arrest, Abbas resided in the luxurious Palazzo Versace in Dubai and portrayed himself as an “influencer” for global brands, and a real estate developer, garnering 2.5 million Instagram followers in the process.

News of this nature is all too familiar to Nigerians and the global community, who in recent years have grown accustomed to the involvement of Nigerians in cybercrimes. In August 2019, the FBI indicted 80 people for cybercrimes amounting to $46 million in what was described as the “largest case of online fraud in US history”, of which 77 of them were Nigerians.[ii] Even more alarming was the arrest of ‘international business tycoon’, Obinwanne Okeke alias Invictus Obi, for offences also bordering on computer and wire fraud. Until his arrest, Invictus Obi was the head of Invictus Group, a company with subsidiaries in Nigeria, Zambia and South Africa. As US authorities reported, Okeke who four years ago was featured on Forbes 2016 ‘30 under 30 African entrepreneurs’ defrauded Unatrac Limited a subsidiary of Caterpillar of $11million, a crime for which he pleaded guilty.

“The action of a single Nigerian is not the action of all Nigerians” reacted GarbaShehu—a spokesman of President Buhari—to the arrest of 77 Nigerians in the US.[iii]Whenever news of this nature breaks, Nigerian public officials are quick to distance the actions of a few from the greater number of Nigerians whom they often describe as hardworking and honest. In a tweet reacting to the arrest of Hushpuppi, the Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa affirmed the negative impact these arrests are having on the image of the country but was quick to add that “fraud does not represent who we are as Nigerians” and that Nigerians are “hardworking, dedicated and committed”.

While these reactions are designed to dampen perceptions of Nigerians as fraudulent people as well as minimize the damage these reports may have on the country’s global reputation, thereis no gainsaying that Nigeria’s position as one of the most corrupt countries in the world with an internal political dynamics that is characterized by serious developmental deficits, internal security challenges and pervasive poverty makes them appear contradictory. Moreover, these arrests may be the most notable in recent years, but the practice of Nigerians engaging in schemes designed to defraud foreigners’ dates back to the 90s, thus revealing the extent to which cybercrime is a scourge in the Nigerian society.

As John Campbell, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria rightly affirms, “there is little question that Nigeria is damaged by its international reputation for fraud. It contributes to the reluctance of international investors to acquire Nigerian partners”.[iv] This is in line with Garba Shehu’s assertion that “it is a big scar on all [Nigerians] who go out of this country and are seen in this image that these our brothers have created.”[v]What is clear is that the involvement of Nigerians in cybercrimes and the wide media coverage this receives in no small way dents the country’s image, thereby undermining the brand—a country known for its entrepreneurial and innovative drive, as well as the source of a diverse array of cultural outputs that resonates well beyond Africa—of the country and by implication its ability to influence through attraction.

The Nigerian government has pledged to enact new laws to address this problem but the sufficiency of this approach remains questionable, especially when existing legal frameworks have done little to combat pervasive corruption in all sectors of the country. Rather, the Nigerian government may want to consider a two-faced strategy, which on the one hand addresses the domestic circumstances that drive Nigerian youths to commit cyber crimes such as pervasive inequality, youth unemployment, systemic corruption and dilapidating educational institutions. On the other, the government may want to contemplate externally oriented strategies geared towards foreign publics or audiences.

This may take the form of projecting to foreign publics the concrete steps that are being taken domestically to address this issue while also showcasing honest and hardworking Nigerians that have successfully established brands with global appeal. Also, successful Nigerians in the diaspora like Kelechi Madu, the first black Canadian Minister of Justice, may be showcased to help substantiate some of the assertions of government officials that Nigerians are hardworking and honest.

The absence of consideration for these policy prescriptions appear to suggest that Nigeria’s external political strategy is yet to come to terms with the changing dynamics of global politics where military and economic might are no longer the only determinants of a country’s global standing. Through cultural, social and political values countries may shape the hearts and minds of not just global publics but also governments. Unlike most developing countries, Nigeria disposes of a vast array of soft power resources including a budding entertainment industry made up of movies, music and comedies. Also, its companies, mostly banks, are amongst the most admired brands in Africa. These resources may form the basis of a public or cultural diplomacy strategies geared towards enhancing the image and reputation of the country and altering the attitudes of foreign publics towards Nigeria.   

[i]Wang, J. (2006).Public diplomacy and global business.Journal of Business Strategy 27(3): 41–49.

[ii] Epstein, K. (2019, August 23). Fraudsters tried to steal more than $40 million in one of the biggest online scam cases in U.S. history. Washington Post.

[iii] Austin, R. (2019, August 29). ‘The misdeeds of a few’: Nigeria speaks out over $46m fraud case. The Guardian.

[iv] Campbell, J. (2019, September 27). U.S. Arrests Celebrated Nigerian Entrepreneur for Fraud.Council on Foreign Relations.,seven%20of%20them%20were%20Nigerian.

[v] BBC News. (2019b, September 23).Letter from Africa: Why Nigeria’s internet scammers are ‘role models’.

Fidel Abowei
Fidel Abowei
Fidel Abowei is an independent consultant and a PhD Candidate at the Center for Security and Intelligence Studies, University of Buckingham. Twitter: @Drfmab