By Babatunde Ayedoju
It is no longer news that after so much hesitation and procrastination, as the Buhari administration was about handing over to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Federal Government finally took the bold step and removed fuel subsidy. The moment President Tinubu hinted during his inaugural address on May 29, that fuel subsidy was gone, the pump price of premium motor spirit, also known as petrol, soared nationwide.
The hardship brought by the fuel subsidy removal, which both the government and well meaning Nigerians had anticipated, necessitated the introduction of palliative measures by the Federal Government to cushion the pains that Nigerians are going through. Thus, in the last four months, the word ‘palliative’ has featured prominently in the daily conversations of the average Nigerians more than ever before. With the introduction of palliatives by both the Federal and state governments came modalities of how to ensure that these packages got to the targeted population.
Unfortunately, criminally minded individuals have taken advantage of the programme of the government to defraud unsuspecting Nigerians by coming up with fake links on social media for people to click and “palliatives.” Actually, this sad trend dates back to the previous administration when the dust of fuel subsidy removal was just gathering.
In April, a link asking Nigerians to register for “post-petroleum subsidy palliative” went viral on Facebook and Whatsapp. The webpage had the title “Fuel Subsidy Removal Palliative Portal” and it included pictures of Nigeria’s Finance Minister at that time, Zainab Ahmed, a queue at a filling station and the logo of Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning. There was an application form on the page asking for respondents’ personal details, including their contact details and local government of residence.
The Ministry of Finance had to issue a statement denouncing the fake website and warning the public not to fall for such a scam. Unfortunately, more of such fraudulent links have gone into circulation since the fuel subsidy was removed. One of such links was posted on WhatsApp asking individuals to click and check if they were eligible to receive the Federal Government’s palliative to 50 million Nigerians.
The message read: “Welcome to Fuel Subsidy Removal Palliative. Check now if you are among the 50 Million Nigerians to receive Fuel Subsidy Palliative from the Federal Government of Nigeria. https://shtnar.com/Fuel-Subsidy-Palliative.” A very similar one also read thus: “Welcome to Fuel Subsidy Removal Palliative. Check now if you are among the 50 Million Nigerians to receive Fuel Subsidy Palliative from the Federal Government of Nigeria. http://victoriousme.life/Dqw7dx/FS-REMOVAL-PALLIATIVE.” Another example was: “_Good news!!!_ FG have approved N8,000 funds to 12 million Households for six months in Nigeria. apply Now !!! http://victoriousme.life/vSwBex/FG-8000-Household-Fund.”
However, such fake links did not try to associate themselves with the Federal Government alone, as even some states were used as well. For example, in August, Governor Abdulrahaman Abdulrazaq of Kwara State approved payment of N10,000 fuel subsidy removal palliative to civil servants in the state and undergraduate students who were indigenes of the state as well. After the approval, the government released a registration portal for students, while that of the public servants was to be paid to their personal accounts. The government said that the palliatives for students could be accessed through the portal https://scholarship.kw.gov.ng/palliative.
Unfortunately, fraudsters released a fake portal around that time, seeking to dupe unsuspecting members of the public. The message which gave three stages for application and human verification tasks read: “1.Share it with 5 groups or 15 friends on WhatsApp (Click on the “SHARE” icon below). 2. You will be redirected automatically to our “WITHDRAWAL LINK” page after the GREEN verification bar is filled. 3. You will receive a confirmation Email/SMS Within 24 hours After Successful Application” Compared with the original portal released by the government, this fake website did not provide any eligibility criteria for registration; the government’s registration procedure involved five stages but that of this fake website had only three. Above all, while the government added that eligible applicants had between August 7, 2023 and midnight August 30, 2023 to register, the fake website did not give any registration timeline. Even Lagos State was not spared as Lagosians received their own scam message on Whatsapp that read thus: “WELCOME TO FG 5BN NAIRA LAGOS STATE PALLIATIVE. Check now if you are among the Lagosians to receive this Palliative from the Federal Government of Nigeria. CHECK NOW https://lnkbitz.com/FG-5BN-LAGOS-STATE-PALLIATIVE.
Likewise in Ogun State, there was a fake website set up by fraudsters asking indigenes to log in their details and receive palliative funds from the Federal Government. Chief Economic Adviser to the Governor, Mr Oladapo Okubadejo, had to issue a statement where he notified residents of the state that the website did not emanate from the state government.
He also warned the public against imputing their details into the website, to avoid falling victim of fraud. Commenting on the trend, a sociologist, Dr Mrs. Kemi Adebola, from the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), opined that people have become inhuman in the course of battling with the hard times that have bedeviled the nation. She noted that some do not even mind defrauding their family members, adding that fraud has become a means of survival for many.
Adebola said that to overcome this menace, the biggest role has to be played at the individual level, adding that the average Nigerian must be careful not to fall into the hands of fraudsters. she also said that at the societal level, there must be continuous sensitisation on how unsuspecting Nigerians can guard against being swindled.
Meanwhile, Joshua Amupitan, a clergyman, said that though he was aware of the fake links that went into circulation, he did click on any of them because, according to him, “I know there’s no free cheese in a mouse trap. If it were true, media outlets would publish it.” John Odeyemi, an ICT consultant, said that he did not and could not have clicked on any link like that because he knew that those links were not from verified government websites.
According to him, a verified government website ends with “.gov.ng” or “.org.ng” Funmilayo Ayedoju, a business woman, said that though she received a couple of links like that, she simply ignored them as usual, because she knew that they were from scammers who wanted to hack into her account. On the other hand, Paul Isah, an agriculturist, stated he did not receive any of such links but even he did, he still would not have responded, knowing that they were from scammers.