An EMP in Lagos

UPDATE: More here.

ORIGINAL POST: Seriously, I get this weird feeling someday people might just be willing to support something like a sequestration of Lagos from the Internet, or some sort of EMP that would knock out all the computers there, creating a hardware shortage and making it difficult for Nigerians to replace their computers… maybe even getting other nations to forbid export of computers to Nigeria.

Lagos at sunrise. Image is a Creative Commons image from Wikipedia; click on the image to link to the attributions!

Then again, how much spam comes from Korea? No, really. Maybe that EMP was a  bad suggestion.

The other night, some Nigerian scam artist like the kid mentioned in this article hacked the email account of someone I know, who is overseas for the present, and got me onto chat. Told me basically this sob story, except it took me a little longer to realize it wasn’t my friend. And it took me a lot longer to finish telling the scammer what a piece of shit he/she is.

The one thing I didn’t realize was that this was a Nigerian scam, though later I noticed it was documented here. I assumed at first that my friend somehow had ended up in London and mugged, and the scammer was using her computer to scam people. Had I realized it was a Nigerian scam, I wouldn’t have bothered berating the person, partly because, well, it’s a national sport in Nigeria, and because really, is scamming gullible non-Nigerians any more criminal than colonial exploitation?

Well, hmmm. Yeah, it is.

It’s criminal because it messed up Nigeria in the long term. It messes up the country because of the normalization of criminal activity, of course, but also because the rest of the world will not tolerate it forever. Eventually, a load of Nigerian IPs will either end up blocked, or else the whole national internet infrastructure will have to get licensed.

Or Nigeria will simply have that reputation, and nobody will want anything to do with the country in legitimate enterprise. The Nigerian government is aware of this, of course: they complained when Sony alluded to the world-famous scams, as discussed here. But they can’t do much about it, one supposes, and they’re not really inclined to either, one feels sure, given the fact that, from what I’ve read, government officials usually just deny these activities actually go on. The raids are something akin to the anti-prostitution raids in Korea: they’re enough to make it look like someone’s try to get something done, but they’re far from enough to actually stamp out the practice.

So the reputation persists, and the world sees that tarnishment just the same. It may not matter much in the short term — who’s lining up to invest in Nigeria anyway? — but in the long term, one wonders if this isn’t going to be something people lament. I suppose it depends on how much of a shadowy world network develops out of what Bruce Sterling called, in his book Tomorrow, Now the New World Disorder — those failed and rogue states that just don’t, or won’t, or can’t fit into the New World Order. Indeed, this makes for a much better imaginary enemy than “terrorism” since a Cold War is much more imaginable with this network of states… and they will, sooner or later, network. Once the Russian scammers and the Nigerian scammers and the Chinese hackers hook up and start running lessons for the rest of the world — giving scammer tutorials to North Koreans, for example —  then we will see something very interesting develop… won’t we?

In fact, the reputation conundrum I mentioned above is the kind of situation in which South Korea finds itself; although foreign films aren’t exactly censored so heavily anymore, most media distribution companies aren’t particularly interested in distributing DVDs  here since everything is getting downloaded instead. They give South Korea a pass, so everyone (including people who would pay for DVDs) end up either having to pay for foreign versions of those DVDs (made to run in different zones, so you have to break the [stupid] law to play them), or else, well, you do the natural thing, and just download them like everyone else. Except of course, try downloading a copy of Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool. Maybe it’s possible, but it’s not easy. (I had to order my copy from Yesasia or Amazon, I can’t remember. It was more expensive than it should have been, and more of a pain in the ass too.) This is, however, also why films are sometimes released in Korea more quickly than they are in some other places, like Japan: since the DVD market is negligible in Korea, distributors want to make what they can off the box office.

While the South Korean government is making gestures at dealing with the problem, I can assert that my students still mostly laugh when I ask them when the last time was they paid for a CD. Some do buy music online,  but almost everyone pirates more than they buy… not that I find this particularly objectionable, of course. People in some places can borrow music from friends, or from the library. That isn’t something we’d consider piracy. That said, I think a lot of people don’t feel they need to buy the music they like and listen to a lot; that’s what an atmosphere of piracy cultivates — a no-conscience-necessary attitude. And like the “scamming is just a game” attitude that seems to exist in at least some segments of Nigerian society, that is going to take a long time to eradicate… if it’s even possible to do so.

(Or desirable… but that’s another question. I do happen to think it is desirable that people feel they should buy creative work they like and use a lot — and I do so myself, preferring of course for most of the money to go to the artist and not the record company, schlerotic gang of scammers that I think they are — but I’m sure others could or would argue against that idea.)

Sooner or later — and it might have happened already — the reputation hit that Nigeria will accumulation will make proper development illegal. But you know, it’s not beyond understanding how and why individual Nigerians are doing this. It’s not hard to understand, if you look at the shape Nigeria is in.

Though according to, and this is worth noting, forms of the now-familiar Nigerian scam have been going, by postal mail, since the 1920s at least!

It’s so much of a national pastime now that there was a major hit song some time ago (a little after the turn of the century) called “I Go Chop Your Dollar”, about scamming people out of their money. The lyrics?

I no suffer no be small
Upon say I get sense
Poverty no good at all, no
Na im make I join this business

419 no be thief, it’s just a game
Everybody dey play em
if anybody fall mugu,
ha! my brother I go chop em

National Airport na me get em
National Stadium na me build em
President na my sister brother
You be the mugu, I be the master

Oyinbo man I go chop your dollar,
I go take your money and disappear
419 is just a game, you are the loser I am the winner

The refinery na me get em,
The contract, na you I go give em
But you go pay me small money make I bring em
you be the mugu, I be the master…
na me be the master ooo!!!!

When Oyinbo play wayo,
dey go say na new style
When country man do him own,
them go dey shout: bring em, kill em, die!

That Oyinbo people greedy, I say them greedy
I don’t see them tire
That’s why when they fall into my trap o!
I dey show them fire

Aparently the singer is some kind of comedian in Nollywood, and this was a song from the soundtrack of a film celebrating the 419 scam “business.” Notable is the word mugu, which is used to describe what we’d call, in the English I speak anyway, the “mark” of a scam — the person being scammed — though I’ve read that mugu has the connotation of someone who takes orders. In any case, here’s the video:

Pertinent to SF, Charlie Stross published a truly hilarious story in Nature a while back in which is not just hilarious, but also a wonderful suggestion as to why the Fermi Paradox might not really be actual silence out there. You need to be able to access the Nature website, but the link gives publication info if you can’t get in, so you can find it in a library. (I can’t remember if it got collected anywhere else.) Good fun.

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