Sextortion: A new cybercrime criminalising Nigeria, by Matthew Ma

“In Nigeria, sextortion often goes unreported and unpunished due to the prevalence of stigma, fear, and shame surrounding the issue. Many victims of extortion are reluctant to come forward and report the crime due to the potential backlash or retaliation they may face from the perpetrators or the wider community. Furthermore, the lack of trust in law enforcement agencies and the judicial system also contributes to the underreporting and under prosecution of extortion cases in Nigeria. As a result, sextortion has become a pervasive problem in the country, with many individuals and businesses falling victim to this crime on a regular basis.”
Imagine a scenario where you wake up one day and realise that your phone or computer has been stolen or, worse, hacked. Suddenly, the thought of your personal information being used against you becomes a reality, and you feel helpless. What is even more terrifying is the realisation that the hacker does not want anything sexual from you. Instead, he wants cash to delete the photos or other sensitive information that he has about you. This kind of situation is not only distressing, but can also be financially damaging if not handled with care.
Sextortion is a growing cybercrime, with hundreds of people becoming victims every day.
Yet, despite the increase, there has been little action taken in Nigeria to prosecute the extortionists. We begin with the question: what is sextortion? Sextortion is a unique crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your nudes and private videos if you don’t grant them sexual favours or pay them. The name was coined to suit the act, and it has long been a crime most criminal justice systems worldwide are beginning to pay much attention to. It is a category of sexual exploitation in which victims are threatened that their private pictures and videos will be released to the public if the victim fails to meet the demand of the blackmailer, which is usually the payment of some amount of money.
The sad news is that blackmailers and extortionists are a greedy set of people who will never stop asking, even if you pay them. They will always keep coming back with requests upon request with the same threat of releasing the victims’ private content if their demands are not met.
There are various kinds of sextortion, but in this article, I will analyse two types: traditional and financial sextortion. Traditional sextortion occurs when a victim is threatened or blackmailed into providing more sexual imagery. The predator threatens to share their nude or sexual images with the public. Hence, traditional sextortion is motivated by sexual reasons or to exude power over a victim. Financial sextortion occurs when a predator demands money or a gift in exchange for keeping their sexual images private. In other words, financial sextortion is a type of blackmail in which the perpetrator uses threats and intimidation to extort money from their victim. In most cases, the danger of sextortion relates to the distribution or publication of intimate content of the victim. Different from traditional sextortion, financial sextortion is purely monetary and has nothing to do with sexual gratification. According to a recent analysis, financial sextortion is on the rise. Currently, as many as 79 percent of predators seek money rather than additional sexual imagery.
The skills these individuals use in carrying out this crime are developing a false rapport with the victim, secretly recording explicit videos and messages during chats, using multiple identities to contact the victim, pretending to be younger or a member of the opposite sex, hacking accounts to steal sexual images, threatening to expose someone if the victim refuses to send pictures, visiting public social media profiles to find out more about the victim, accessing the victim friend list, and searching for other personal information that may harm their victim’s reputation.
In their first contact with a victim, predators often send friend requests and approach them with compliments or flattery; they may also promise a romantic relationship. They start what appear to be genuine conversations to strike up close friendships with their victims. Sometimes, these criminals offer them something they value, such as the possibility of a modelling contract, online money, cryptocurrency, and gift cards in exchange for a “quick picture.” Some even hack into computers to unearth sensitive material. The predator then threatens to expose the material if the victim refuses to comply with their demands. They may also threaten victims by falsely claiming to have explicit photos that they intend to distribute, or they may threaten to harm the victim, other people, or things the victim cares about. These criminals commonly make first contact with a victim on one platform, then ask them to move to a second or third platform that uses encrypted messaging to make tracking their crimes more difficult. Then, they record and preserve entire chats and videos. They may also visit public social media profiles to find out more about their victims.
In recent times, Nigerians have witnessed a rapid increase in financial sextortion, with young, single, and married women being the most common targets. Some notable names in the Nigerian entertainment industry have battled with sextortion at one time or another. The most recent case happens to be a former signee of Mavins Record, Tiwa Savage, who saw her sex tape leaked on the internet. The development has seen Nigerians question the singer and lament over the probable effect of the sex tape on her son in the future. Tiwa Savage, in her reaction, accused the person behind the leak of planning to bring her down, which she claimed was not achieved because of her approach to the issue. A talented Yoruba singer, Salawa Abeni, 2020, revealed in a post on her Instagram account that an individual who claimed to have her nude pictures had threatened to release them on the internet if she failed to play along with his demands. On April 1, 2020, the singer took to her Instagram account to share the pictures herself. The singer pleaded with everybody out there to be very careful as the current situation has made people very desperate.
Another celebrity who has suffered the cause is a media personality, Toke Makinwa, who claimed that she was blackmailed with her purported nude photos, which she said were photoshopped. Makinde took to her Instagram account to share pictures of herself to stop the plan of the person being blackmailed. The media personality in her post blamed the blackmailer for making her release the edited and false images at a time when people should be spreading love and kindness instead of blackmailing. A former housemate in the Big Brother Naija reality TV show, Anita Natacha Akide, popularly known as Tacha, on April 21, 2020, said to her lawyer that someone was trying to blackmail her with her nude pictures, which she said were photoshopped. In 2017, another famous singer, Little Doctor, was caught in a video on Snapchat, thoughtfully stroking her private parts in front of the camera. He, however, claimed that his phone was hacked, and the hackers displayed the masturbating pictures on Snapchat for people to see.
Social media users reacted differently to a trending nude video of the famous Nigerian TikTok influencer Esther Raphael, widely known as “The Buba girl.” The influencer became a trending topic after a video of her engaging in explicit self-pleasure, otherwise called masturbation, went viral online. The intimate video was alleged to have been leaked by some people who gained access to the video through the reality star’s boyfriend. It was discovered that Esther sent the private video to her boyfriend, trusting it would only be seen by him. However, her boyfriend allegedly recorded it with another phone and shared it with other people who later used the video to blackmail and threaten her. The blackmailers released the video when the TikTok star refused to give in to their demands. The video has continued to generate mixed reactions from social media users since it made its way to the internet. While some condemned the TikTok content creator for the incident, others offered words of encouragement to her, urging her to stay strong during this challenging time. Fans of a famous actress, Moyo Lawal, took to social media platforms to air their opinions about a video that showed her having sex with an unidentified man. The video, which went viral, showed the faces of both the actress and her partner on a bed in what seemed to be a hotel room. In the video, Moyo Lawal can be seen in her birthday suit while enjoying some fun time with her lover, who was recording their escapade. Moyo Lawal’s video caused a stir online as many criticised her for allowing a man to record a tape of her. The actress vowed to take legal action against those who leaked the private tape on social media without her consent. The stories of these celebrities are just a hypothetical example of many women in Nigeria who have encountered similar experiences in real life. A number of women surveyed by Transparency International said they have been forced to offer money in exchange for their nude pictures.
Why is sextortion in Nigeria often ignored, unreported, and unpunished despite its widespread occurrence? Until recently, sexual extortion was never discussed or recognized as a distinct problem. Instead, the victims were blamed for making videos of themselves and storing them. One of the reasons why people tend to blame the victim of sexual extortion is that it helps them maintain a sense of control over their own lives by distancing themselves from an unpleasant occurrence. This way, they can confirm their own invulnerability to the risks associated with the situation. By blaming the victim, they can convince themselves that they would not have ended up in the same problem had they been in the victim’s position. It is a way of reinforcing the belief that they are in control of their destiny and that they are less likely to be victims of unfortunate circumstances. However, it is essential to remember that blaming the victim is never justified, and it only serves to perpetuate harmful attitudes and behaviours towards those who have already suffered. The issue of extortion is further complicated by the obstacles that prevent people from reporting it and obtaining proper redress.
For instance, in Nigeria, victims of extortion often fear reprisals or retaliation if they report the crime, especially if the perpetrators hold positions of power or influence. Additionally, the legal process for prosecuting extortion cases is complex and time-consuming, discouraging victims from seeking justice. Moreover, some victims are not aware of their legal rights or the available resources to seek help, further compounding the problem. All of these factors make it challenging to address the issue of extortion effectively in Nigeria.
It wasn’t until August 2023 that two Nigerian men were extradited to the U.S. to face charges in a sexual extortion scheme that authorities say prompted the suicide of a 17-year-old Michigan high school student. The justice department said Samuel Ogoshi, 22, and his younger brother Samson Ogoshi, 20, of Lagos, were flown to the U.S. and were expected to appear in federal court in Grand Rapids. The Justice Department said they were charged in a four-count indictment with the sexual exploitation of minors and causing the death of Jordan DeMay, 17, who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in March 2022 after the defendants allegedly tricked him into sending explicit photos of himself and threatened to share them with friends and family. Samuel faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison if convicted, and Samson faces a minimum sentence of five years. In May, the men were indicted by a federal grand jury in Michigan.
On July 20, a Nigerian judge ordered both Ogoshis to be turned over to the U.S. to face the charges in the indictment. On August 3, the Nigerian Solicitor-General signed the final surrender order, authorising the U.S. to bring the Ogoshis to West Michigan. The charges include Count 1, which charges Samuel Ogoshi with Sexual Exploitation and Attempted Sexual Exploitation of a minor resulting in death, as well as the death of Jordan DeMay. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison. Count two charges both men with conspiracy to sexually exploit minors by causing the minors to produce child pornographic images that the defendants then used to coerce the minors. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison. Count three charges both men with conspiracy to distribute child pornography for sending child pornography images to minors, as well as their families and friends. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison. Count four charges both men with conspiracy to commit stalking through the internet for engaging in this sextortion scheme as it relates to both minors and young adults. The charge has a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The grand jury alleged that the defendants bought hacked social media accounts and used the accounts to pose as young women to lure teenage and young adult males into sexual chats. One of the accounts used was an Instagram account bearing the username “dani.robertts”, which communicated with Jordan DeMay shortly before his death. After initiating chat conversations with the victims, the defendants collectively used Google and other online applications to research information about the victims, including where the victims lived, where they went to school or worked, and who their family and friends were. The grand jury alleges that the defendants then solicited their victims to produce and send sexually explicit images of themselves. Once the defendants received sexually explicit photos, they created collections that included the sexually explicit image alongside other pictures of the victims from social media, including images of the victims’ school, family, and friends. The defendants then threatened to disclose the collections to others, including the family, friends, and classmates of their victims, via social media unless the victims paid money.
The grand jury alleges the defendants engaged in the extortion and attempted extortion of more than 100 people. In Nigeria, these individuals would have managed to evade justice and avoid facing the consequences of their actions. However, thanks to the tireless and collaborative efforts of both US and Nigerian law enforcement officers, these men were finally apprehended and brought to the US to face justice. This successful operation is a testament to the power of cooperation and highlights the importance of international partnerships in the fight against crime.
In Nigeria, sextortion often goes unreported and unpunished due to the prevalence of stigma, fear, and shame surrounding the issue. Many victims of extortion are reluctant to come forward and report the crime due to the potential backlash or retaliation they may face from the perpetrators or the wider community. Furthermore, the lack of trust in law enforcement agencies and the judicial system also contributes to the underreporting and under prosecution of extortion cases in Nigeria. As a result, sextortion has become a pervasive problem in the country, with many individuals and businesses falling victim to this crime on a regular basis.
Similarly, survivors and victims of sextortion chose to remain silent because of the negative consequences that could result from reporting the incidents. Moreover, women in Nigeria continue to endure repressive gender inequalities fueled by patriarchy, which at times gives extortioners the audacity to continue with their behaviour even when the law says they should be arrested. Nigerian law prohibits acts of sextortion in the 36 States of the Federation. The provisions of the Criminal Code Act in chapter 33, specifically from section 373 to section 376, provide for the punishment of 1-2 years for the offence of defamation, while sextortion or publication of a defamatory matter with the intent to extort the victim carries a punishment of up to 7 years imprisonment. Section 376 of the Criminal Code Act provides thus: Any person who publishes, or threatens to publish, or offers to abstain from publishing or offers to prevent the publication of defamatory matter, with intent to extort money or other property, or with intent to induce any person to give, confer, procure, or attempt to procure on, or for any person, any property or benefit of any kind, is guilty of a felony and is liable to seven years in prison. Similarly, section 23 (2) of the Cybercrime Act, 2015, in synchrony with the provisions of the criminal code, provides as follows: Any person who knowingly makes or sends other pornographic images to another computer by way of unsolicited distribution shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction shall be sentenced to one-year imprisonment or a fine of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira or both. Also, section 24 of the Cybercrime Act further provides that any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter from computer systems or networks that is grossly offensive, pornographic, or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be so sent, or commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7 million or imprisonment for a term of not more than three (3) years or a fine and imprisonment.
Even though these laws criminalise sextortion in Nigeria and empower victims to report offenders to the authorities, many victims are unwilling to report the abuse and even deny that anything has happened if identified and contacted by law enforcement. In addition to the threats and coercion, victims often feel as if they have done something wrong and will be punished by parents or prosecuted by police if their actions are discovered.
Today, sextortion has unfortunately become all too common in Nigeria. In recent times, it has spread its tentacles beyond the urban areas and has even found its way into rural villages. It is disheartening to see that even young people are not immune to this menace and are actively involved in it to make quick money. This trend is quite alarming and needs to be addressed urgently to prevent its harmful effects from further deteriorating the already fragile social fabric of our communities. The pursuit of a sextortion-free Nigeria is, therefore, an urgent matter that requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. Unfortunately, the current state of the Nigerian justice system does not have the necessary capabilities to tackle this problem effectively. One of the reasons for this failure is the lack of an adequate legal framework to prosecute offenders. This issue makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute offenders. In addition, the lack of infrastructure, resources, and training has made it difficult for law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations and prosecute offenders. As a result, victims of sextortion are often left helpless and without any recourse for justice. The Nigerian justice system must be adequately equipped with the necessary tools and resources to effectively address the problem of sextortion and provide justice to the affected individuals. Another significant challenge in combating sextortion activities is the lack of awareness and education among the general public regarding the dangers and implications of this criminal practice. This lack of knowledge makes it easier for perpetrators to carry out their unlawful activities without much resistance or intervention from the victims and the law enforcement agencies. It is essential to educate people about the different forms of extortion, such as cyber sextortion, phone scams, physical intimidation, and the ways to prevent and report such incidents. This will not only help in reducing the number of extortion cases but also empower people to take proactive steps to protect themselves and their assets from such threats.
One other contributing factor in the failure to prosecute extortionists is the use of modern technology to perpetrate sextortion. With the widespread availability of smartphones and other digital devices, sextortion has become much easier to carry out. Perpetrators can easily use social media, messaging apps, and other online platforms to coerce their victims. Law enforcement agencies often lack the technical expertise and resources to combat this trend effectively. The lack of support from the community and law enforcement agencies also exacerbates the problem. In some cases, victims are even blackmailed into paying more money to prevent their images or videos from being seen as evidence by law enforcement officers. To effectively combat sextortion in Nigeria, a multi-pronged approach is needed. First, there is a need for the development of a comprehensive legal framework that explicitly addresses sextortion. This would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute offenders. Secondly, there is a need for more public education and awareness about the dangers of sextortion. This can be done through campaigns, workshops, and other forms of advocacy. Thirdly, law enforcement agencies need to be equipped with the necessary technical expertise and resources to combat sextortion effectively. This includes training in digital forensics and cybercrime investigation.
That brings us to another significant point. We need to establish a non-judgmental space where victims feel comfortable sharing their experiences. A safe environment where individuals can come forward and discuss instances of online coercion, even if they have already engaged in the activity, is crucial. Therefore, promoting prevention and awareness is vital in ensuring online safety. Honest and open discussions about online risks are necessary, and victims must feel supported and validated. Hence, law enforcement officials must investigate and collaborate with partner agencies to remove any shared images from online platforms. The internet has revolutionised the way we connect with people, enabling us to communicate and interact across the globe with ease. However, while the internet has brought us closer as a society, it has also become a breeding ground for malicious individuals who seek to exploit innocent users for their own gain.
These predators and criminals use various tactics, ranging from phishing scams and malware attacks to social engineering and cyberbullying, to harm unsuspecting victims and steal their personal information. Therefore, it is important to stay vigilant and cautious when using the internet, and to take necessary precautions to protect ourselves and our online identity. There are several ways to fight against sextortion. One of the most effective ways is to promote education and awareness about crime. By educating people about the signs of extortion, we can help them identify and report any such incidents.
Open conversations between law enforcement agencies, victims, and their families can also aid in addressing this problem. Providing non-judgmental support to the victims is crucial as well, as it can help them cope with the trauma and seek justice. It is important to ensure that victims of abuse or any other form of mistreatment are aware that they do not have to suffer in silence or isolation. They should know that they have access to a variety of resources that can provide help and support. Whether it’s counselling, legal aid, or emergency shelter, there are many organisations and individuals who are dedicated to assisting victims in need. By reaching out to these resources, victims can not only find the help they need but also begin the process of healing and recovery. It is crucial that we all work together to spread this message of hope and support to those who need it most. While education and awareness are essential, we also have partnerships with other agencies to investigate and respond quickly to reports of sextortion.
As a helpful and fair assistant, we recommend taking precautions to ensure personal safety. One way is to adjust social media privacy settings to ‘friends only’ or ‘private’ to prevent unwanted contact with potentially harmful individuals. Turning off location settings is also advisable to avoid revealing one’s whereabouts. It’s essential to advise against sharing location information with online acquaintances. Additionally, it’s crucial to encourage the public to report any information they have about individuals with suspicious sexual exploitation tendencies.
Finally, it is essential for the church to take an active role in supporting individuals who have been subjected to sextortion. The traumatic experience of being extorted can leave individuals feeling helpless, vulnerable, and alone. Thus, the church can play a crucial role in providing emotional support to those affected. This can involve offering a listening ear, counselling and other forms of support that can help victims cope and recover from the trauma. Moreover, the financial implications of extortion can be devastating, particularly for individuals who may not have the means to pay the demanded amount. In this regard, the church can offer financial assistance to help victims recover from their financial losses. This can involve providing loans, financial counselling, or even donations from the church community to help those in need. Legal guidance is also an essential aspect of supporting victims of extortion. The church can offer legal assistance to victims to help them navigate the legal system and ensure that their rights are protected.
This can involve connecting victims with lawyers who can provide pro bono legal services or legal aid organisations that assist individuals who cannot afford legal representation. The church must connect victims with relevant authorities to ensure that justice is served. It can also act as a mediator between victims and law enforcement officials to report the crime and bring the extortionist to justice. By taking a proactive stance against extortion, the church can help protect vulnerable individuals and communities and promote a safer and more just society.
Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

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