The day after his 29th birthday in May, Olalekan Jacob Ponle posted a picture on his Instagram standing next to a bright yellow Lamborghini in Dubai.
“Stop letting people make you feel guilty for the wealth you’ve acquired,” he admonished, wearing designer jewellery and Gucci clothes from head to toe.
A month later, the Nigerian, who goes by the name “mrwoodbery” on Instagram, was arrested by Dubai Police for alleged money laundering and cyber fraud.
The most famous of the dozen Africans nabbed in the dramatic operation was 37-year-old Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, “hushpuppi” or just “hush” as he was known by his 2,4 million Instagram followers.
Police in the emirate say they recovered US$40m in cash, 13 luxury cars worth US$6,8m, 21 computers, 47 smartphones and the addresses of nearly two million alleged victims.
Mr Abbas and Mr Ponle were both extradited to the US and charged in a Chicago court with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars obtained from cybercrimes.
The two have not yet been asked to plead and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“I think there’s probably a certain arrogance when they believe they’ve been careful about maintaining anonymity in their online identities, but they live high on the hog and get careless on social media,” said Glen Donath, a former senior prosecutor in the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC.
It is a spectacular crash for the two Nigerian men who extensively documented their high-flying lifestyle on social media, raising questions about the sources of their wealth. They unwittingly provided crucial information about their identities and activities for American detectives with their Instagram and Snapchat posts.
They are accused of impersonating legitimate employees of various US companies in “business email compromise” (BEC) schemes and tricking the recipients into wiring millions of dollars into their own accounts.
On Instagram, hushpuppi said he was a real estate developer and had a category of videos called “Flexing” — social media lingo for showing off. But the “houses” were actually a codeword for bank accounts “used to receive proceeds of a fraudulent scheme”, investigators allege.
“Our value system in Nigeria needs to be checked, especially the emphasis we place on wealth, no matter how you got it,” the economist Ebuka Emebinah told the BBC from New York. “It’s a culture where people believe that results speak for you. We don’t place as much emphasis on the process and this has built up over time.” — BBC.