The number 419 is a general and widely used term to connote criminal offence in Nigeria. The aim of this article is to seek attitudinal change of Nigerians and the world at large about the perception of 419-tag in Nigeria.
A tour around different vicinity in Nigeria is the likelihood that one will come across properties with the message such as “this land or house is not for sale, beware of 419.” But then, again, why the use of 419 to describe criminal offence? Upon further inquiry, it was discovered that 419 contains a Section in the Nigerian Criminal Code which expressly states the punishment for the crime committed in relation to advance fee fraud. “In Nigeria, the offence of making false representation or obtaining by false pretenses which suggests an element of dishonesty and deception is entrenched in Section 419 of the Criminal Code. In the Penal Code, 419 is called cheating.”
Also, regardless of one’s religious inclination, given the use of 419 as a criminal offence, a Scripture in the Holy Bible has been depicted to further illustrate the point. There is a reference to Psalm 41:9 which reads: “Even my best friend, the one I trusted most, the one who shared my food, has turned against me.” Taking this scripture literally, one cannot but ponder ‘will my best friend pull a scam on me?’ Not necessarily. For those who have experienced 419 scams, in most cases, there seems to be great knowledge of information of the victims by the perpetrator which the perpetrators makes use of to pull off the 419 scam which could have been provided by a trusted person or in another scenario, the perpetrators of this 419 scam provide a level of trust between them and their victims with which they exploit to pull off the crime.
The use of 419 to describe criminal offense related to advance fee fraud was popularized during the military regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, in the days of economic restructuring also known as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). Since then, it has been adopted as a national code but only to describe criminal offence which depicts a negative image at home and abroad. However, the aim of this article is to seek attitudinal change about the perception of 419 in Nigeria. In view of this, the above facts stated provided the use, meaning and origin which 419 represents in Nigeria and which has further placed a dent on the country’s image outside her shores.
In the light of the change of the agenda of the Federal Government of Nigeria, most importantly the Change Begins with Me Campaign and the current call about Restructuring of the country, the significance of this article cannot but be overemphasized. The founding father of modern Nigeria democracy, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, on restructuring stated that “there is the need to restructure our minds”. I strongly agree and I believe that one way to start is by repositioning what 419 represents in Nigeria.
Permit me to crave your indulgence, ‘What’s the country’s emergency line?’ Personally, I do not know! ‘Do we even have one?’ In respect to this, this article propose and advocate that the country’s emergency line be adopted or changed to 419 given that it is already a national code used almost on a daily basis but depicts negative image. This will be useful because of two reasons: one, it is a familiar number all over the country and if considered as an emergency line will be helpful to citizens and second, it will change the negative narrative and image 419 has on the country outside her shores.
Israel B. Ajao