'Sakawa' scare: Educationist fear doom for thousands of schoolchildren
Authorities of the Ghana Education Service (GES) have called for an emergency national response to salvage the future of hundreds of schoolchildren who are increasingly being lured into the phenomenon of 'sakawa', the Internet fraud that has gained notoriety in the country lately.
Among other interventions, the authorities called on metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies to enact bye-laws that would bar children of school age from going to Internet cafes to engage in 'sakawa'.
'Sakawa' is not helping us as a country. It's a big worry to us. We need the support of religious bodies, schools, the media and everyone to address this problem," the Director of Basic Education of the GES, Mr Stephen Adu, told the Daily Graphic last Monday.
It is not clear when 'sakawa' began in Ghana but the cyber fraud, which is akin to the notorious Nigerian '419' scam, is believed to have taken deep roots in Agona Swedru, from where, like an epidemic, it spread to other parts of the country in no time.
Enquiries !Dade indicate that mainly in the ghettos of some of the major towns in the country such as Kumasi, Koforidua, Sunyani and Accra, 'sakawa' is becoming a major cause of pupil truancy involving many schoolchildren aged between 12 and 18 as they abandon the classrooms for Internet cafes.
It is a cyber crime linked to occultism and the modus operandi of those who engage in it includes the use of their victims' credit cards to purchase items including expensive vehicles and household items on the Internet which are subsequently shipped to Ghana.
Sometimes the operators pose as females, manage to secure relationships on the Internet with male foreigners and subsequently discuss the possibility of marriage with them. But after convincing their victims to send them money for visa and other travelling documents to join them abroad, they hit a jackpot and abscond.
In posing as females, the 'sakawa' operators download female images from the Internet and send them to their victims. In other circumstances, they request female Internet cafe attendants or other girls to engage their victims in telephone conversations.
Interestingly, the 'sakawa' business does not come so easy and cheap but with various forms of risk. After taking delivery of parcels from the post offices and courier companies, having succeeded in their deals, some of the 'sakawa' boys are confronted by gangs who lurk around the post offices seeking for successful operators to either deprive them of their parcels or share the booty with them.
Apart from that turbulence in the business, 'sakawa' is also cloaked in spirituality, as some' of the operators allegedly use 'juju' to cast spells on their victims for successful deals.
Some of them allegedly sleep in coffins for three days, while others sleep at the cemetery, all in the quest to acquire supernatural powers to under-gird their operations.
In Accra, teachers and school authorities in some of the most affected areas, including Nima, Maamobi and New Town, told the Daily Graphic that the phenomenon was undermining the academic progress of the children.
They spend an average of eight hours at Internet cafes every day, either searching for foreign victims to swindle or browsing for pornographic materials which they download onto their mobile phones.
The heads of Nima One and Nima Two Junior High schools, Mrs Leila Mumuni and Mr Kofi Buabeng-Nkrumah, respectively, confirmed that there was a high rate of absenteeism in their schools.
They also confirmed receiving reports from parents and neighbours about the involvement of the children in the 'sakawa' business.
Mr Buabeng-Nkrumah, however, asserted that the absenteeism could also be attributed to other socio-economic factors, including circumstances that compelled the schoolchildren to fend for themselves, not just their involvement in 'sakawa'.
The two school heads were unanimous that the high rate of absenteeism was affecting the academic performance of students.
Out of the 269 junior high schools (JHS) in the Accra metropolis which took part in the 2007 Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), Nima One JHS placed 268th, while
Nima Two JHS placed 269th.
The performance of the two schools improved marginally in the 2008 BECE, with Nima One placing l'35th, while Nima Two placed 267th.
Some of the schoolchildren, the Daily Graphic gathered, spent whole nights at the Internet cafes, browsing to make a 'catch' of a victim.
From primary, JHS to senior high school, the schoolchildren either divert their course to school or abandon the classrooms at break periods and in their school uniforms throng the Internet cafes to engage in the 'sakawa' business.
“They visit the cafes anytime, but many of them come in their school uniforms around 8 a.m. and leave around 5 p.m. Some of them come around 9 p.m. and leave around 9 a.m. the following day," an Internet cafe owner, Mr Abdul Latif Mohammed Iddriss, confirmed.
Information gathered by the Daily Graphic indicates that the 'sakawa' business has proved so lucrative to the extent that some of the schoo1children have bought expensive cars out of their "booty".
"Schoolchildren between 15 and 18 now, own cars. Some of the cars they buy cost between GH¢ 10,000 and GH¢30,000," Mr Iddriss said.
According to him, it was very difficult to keep the schoolchildren away from the cafes "because if you sack them others will accept them".
Mr Adu, who is also the Director of Secondary Education at the GES, said addressing the problem transcended the scope of school authorities alone and called for a national intervention to curb the phenomenon.
He said some of the schools had put in place measures to ensure that students did not engage in 'sakawa' but added that it was very difficult to monitor their movement after school.
For his part, the Accra Metro Director of Education, Nii Okaidja Djnsey, described the involvement of students in 'sakawa' as morally reprehensible.
While stressing the need to sensitise people to the 'sakawa' business and a review of rules and regulations in schools to enhance discipline, he called on district assemblies to enact bye-laws that would check schoolchildren from engaging in the practice.
"They (the 'sakawa' operators) give the cafe attendants and the girls big money when the deal is successful," Mr Iddriss pointed out.
Many of the youth in Nima, Maamobi and New Town are said to be engaged in the 'sakawa' operation.
"Business has been very good because the cafes are always filled," Mr Iddriss, who is also the President of the East Ayawaso Internet Owners Association, admitted.
On Thursday, April 9, 2009, a day before Good Friday, there was drama at the Taifa Community School in Accra as teachers and schoolchildren fled helter-skelter after detecting what was said to be a 'sakawa' ritual in one of the classrooms.
A dead lizard tied with red cloth bearing the inscription 'sakawa' was left hanging from the ceiling of the classroom, confirming widespread rumour that the 'sakawa' operatives were deep into spirituality.
For some of the operators, the price to pay for acquiring such spiritual powers is to have a sore on the body, which may not be visible because of one's dress.
Some of the suburbs noted for 'sakawa' are also noted for producing budding footballers, but sources say if one sees a young person with a bandaged hand or leg in any of those communities, one should not just take that person for a footballer because he may be covering up a 'sakawa' sore.
For some adherents, the price to pay for spiritual powers is to enter their cars backwards while others are forbidden from giving monetary gifts directly to beneficiaries. The benefactor has to find a way of dropping the money for the beneficiary to pick.
Alarmed by the situation in their communities, the Nima Maamobi Neighbourhood Watch Group, in conjunction with the East Ayawaso Internet Owners Association, organised a stakeholders' meeting at Nima recently to find ways of dealing with the problem.
Addressing the meeting, the Nima Divisional Police Commander Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Angwubutoge Awuni, warned that the police would raid any Internet cafes that allowed children to browse pornographic materials.
He said the Internet was more of a blessing than a curse but that the 'sakawa' business was having a negative influence on schoolchildren.
He called for a national crusade against the cyber crime, adding, "We all have a responsibility to take care of our children."
He said Internet cafe owners should not be solely concerned about making money, pointing out that they had a responsibility to check schoolchildren from engaging in 'sakawa' and browsing pornographic sites.
The Secretary of the Nima/Maamobi Neighbourhood Watch Group, Mr Mohammed Sakibu, said investigations conducted by the group confirmed the involvement of schoolchildren in the cyber fraud.
He underlined the group's commitment to promote security, education and development in the area, adding that it would help check the increasing spate of cyber fraud among the youth.
A traditional medicine practitioner, Togbui Amuzu, has described the involvement of the youth in the 'sakawa' business as an abuse of the opportunities offered by globalisation and information and Communications Technology (ICT).
Deeply concerned by the phenomenon, he walked to the offices of the Daily Graphic to condemn his fellow traditional medicine practitioners who were in league with the youth in the 'sakawa' practice, saying they were equally guilty of greed.
Credit: Edmund Kofi Yeboah
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