Uncovering Patterns In Complex Investigations Is No Match For Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)
Since 2003, the work of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) — governed by a Chairman, who is the Chief Executive and Accounting Officer appointed by the President [i] — has led to the prosecution and conviction of many high-profile individuals engaged in corruption, including Nigeria’s highly placed law enforcement officer, chief executives of several banks, and governors. However, despite these successes, ever-rising workloads, complex and far-reaching cases, and limited resources pose a challenge to the EFCC and its various teams across 15 offices to work quickly and efficiently on investigations.
The EFCC’s Digital Forensic Section, which falls under the Forensics and Crime Laboratory Services Directorate, is a case in point. But Geoffrey Uzoma Okolorie, who heads the unit, is pushing hard to meet the challenges by increasing efficiency in the department, expanding the team’s use of modern tools, including Digital Intelligence solutions from Cellebrite, and providing staff with more specialized training. (Digital Intelligence—the data collected and preserved from digital sources and data types (smartphones, computers, and the Cloud) and the process by which agencies access, manage and obtain insights from this data to more efficiently run their investigations.)
Pursuing A Mission To Stamp Out Economic And Financial Crimes In Nigeria
Corruption and organized crime have plagued Nigeria for decades. By some estimates, unscrupulous government leaders pocketed more than $400 billion between 1960 and 1999, before the West African country became a democracy. The country’s abundance of natural resources — namely, crude oil and natural gas — has been a factor in much of this criminal activity. Nigeria’s corruption problem is so severe that the country is at risk of losing nearly 40% of its gross domestic product (GDP) within the next decade.
“[EFCC’s mission is] to rid Nigeria of economic and financial crimes and to effectively coordinate the domestic effort of the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.”
Other major crime challenges for Nigeria include criminal groups, which are heavily involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, kidnappings, and racketeering, and whose activities often have international reach. The country has also been a hotbed for cybercrime since the early days of the Internet. Nigerian cyber criminals are infamous for their use of advanced fee fraud or “419” schemes, so named for the section of the Nigerian penal code that they violate. The estimated annual financial loss due to cybercrime in Nigeria was roughly US$800 million in 2018.
Against this backdrop, the EFCC has been working for nearly two decades to help the country stamp out crime and build a better future. Its mission is “to rid Nigeria of economic and financial crimes and to effectively coordinate the domestic effort of the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.” The law enforcement agency was established in 2003 following the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) identifying Nigeria as one of 23 countries non-cooperative in the international community’s efforts to fight money laundering.
Struggling To Manage And Make The Most Of Ever-Growing Volumes Of Digital Data
Today, the EFCC not only investigates fraud within the borders of Nigeria, but it also combats cross-border fraud in cooperation with the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) and the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which recently signed an upgraded Memorandum of Understanding. The EFCC also often partners on investigations with law enforcement agencies and organizations like the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the National Crime Agency in the United Kingdom, the World Bank, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
“This challenge [sorting through large amounts of data] is eliminated by the deployment of the Cellebrite Pathfinder solution that is designed with artificial intelligence (AI) to automate digital evidence analysis.”
The EFCC’s Digital Forensic Section, based in the agency’s headquarters in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja, with presence in the zonal offices of the agency, plays a crucial role in many of these investigations, examining mobile phones, computers, and storage devices. The eight-person team, led by Okolorie, uses tools like Cellebrite UFED to access, collect and preserve data from recovered devices in economic and financial crime investigations. They create reports specifically for the investigators who provide the devices for examination.
Okolorie says his team could do more with more resources — tools and facilities — to keep pace with the mountain of cases and growing volume of data they face. They receive on average at least two cases per day, which may sound manageable until you consider how many devices might be involved. “We have one case right now with 10 mobile phones because each person involved in that case has more than one phone,” Okolorie says. “And one recent case submitted to us by another law enforcement agency requires us to examine 54 laptops.” Often, many of the devices are locked, which adds to the challenge, he says.
“…In spite of the challenges facing the laboratory, I’m optimistic that with current effort towards cloud data investigation and the use of analytics, the team will be repositioned to collect data from different sources and present it in a diagrammatic manner that tells the story in a simple way.”
Even with tools like Cellebrite UFED for accessing, collecting and preserving data from digital devices, the Digital Forensic Section is battling to keep up with their workload because of the size and scope of many the cases that cross their desk.
With regard to some of the limitations facing the laboratory, Okolorie explains, “That in spite of the challenges facing the laboratory, I’m optimistic that with current effort towards cloud data investigation and the use of analytics, the team will be repositioned to collect data from different sources and present it in a diagrammatic manner that tells the story in a simple way.”
Planning For The Future: Automating Digital Evidence Analysis And Creating A Data Bank
Okolorie’s sense of urgency about expanding resources was expressed on two interrelated issues: “First, the need for policymakers to keep appreciating the value that digital forensic investigation can bring to general investigations. And second, for the message to be passed along to investigators to take advantage of the enormous potentials available.”
Consequently, Okolorie says agency heads will be “eager to invest the desired funds to build up the human and infrastructural capacity … to contend with the enormous crimes that need to be investigated and can be solved using digital forensic capabilities.” He explains that the Digital Forensic Section is challenged in the following ways when working on large, complex investigations:
- Lack of speed — “Highlight the need to improve the turnaround time,” says Okolorie. “As of today, even if we don’t take on new cases and we had six months to focus on our current workload, I’m not sure we’d be able to get rid of the backlog we have.”
- Device complexity — Okolorie and his team are often hampered by the sheer number of different devices they need to examine for any given case. Accessing, collecting and preserving digital evidence from “the latest devices from China” or dealing with broken devices are often obstacles to overcome, Okolorie says.
- Analysis and correlation of data — Many criminal cases require the need to establish relationships between multiple parties under investigation for intelligence purposes. To achieve this, the right tools to sort through mountains of digital data are necessary. “This challenge is eliminated by the deployment of the Cellebrite Pathfinder solution that is designed with artificial intelligence (AI) to automate digital evidence analysis,” Okolorie says.
In addition to ramping up with analytics as soon as possible, Okolorie says he aims to create a “robust data bank” that includes information on every mobile phone or other device that comes into the lab. “We should have a backup of this data,” he says. “From my intelligence experience, you never can tell when you will need to use it again or how it will help you solve future cases.”
“[There is] the need for policymakers to keep appreciating the value that digital forensic investigation can bring to general investigations.”
Okolorie adds, “I think having this data bank, and using analytics, will help us to solve a lot of cases in Nigeria. We can establish relationships with previous cases that may not be related directly to a case we are currently investigating. We can begin to develop patterns.” He stated that the insight investigators could glean from the data bank would be especially useful for money laundering cases associated with drug- and human-trafficking-related crimes, which generally involve a lot of players and are often international in scope.
Making The Case To Move Beyond Traditional Digital Forensics Skills
Okolorie has worked in law enforcement for over 15 years and joined the EFCC as an operative in 2006. Originally, he had studied to become a microbiologist, but realized after earning his degree that his experience in the medical field, and his analytical mind, would be a strong fit for digital forensics. After several years of training, Okolorie joined the EFCC’s Digital Forensic Section.
“I want my team to have more and more experience using different tools, so they are adequately prepared with the appropriate tool to crack a particular nut.”
In 2015, Okolorie was tapped to head the Intelligence Unit within the agency. The job involved handling sensitive intelligence involving human trafficking, money laundering, and drug trafficking.
Okolorie says his experience working as an operative and then leading the Intelligence Unit project broadened his exposure to Cellebrite’s DI solutions. He says because he’s seen firsthand what Cellebrite’s technology can do, and how much it can help investigators to work faster to uncover digital evidence, he’s passionate about the agency equipping his team with more of Cellebrite’s tools.
Okolorie also looks to connect his team with more training in the future, “I want my team to have more and more experience using different tools, so they are adequately prepared with the appropriate tool to crack a particular nut.”
As is the case with the technology investments he’s advocating for, Okolorie must work hard to get buy-in and funding from policymakers to support his vision for more specialized training for his team. And he must do that while guiding his staff in their day-to-day work, including helping them with extractions, developing reports, and managing his own caseload, too.
He says he is particularly passionate about helping investigators to solve cases revolving around the dignity of human beings, threats to life, corruption, and fraud in general. “Anything involving the unjust treatment of any human being — I will do anything within my ability to prevent it or assist in the investigation,” he says.
[i] Note: As of October 2020, the future of the EFCC is in flux. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is working to “unbundle” the EFCC and create a new body, Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency. The move is reportedly designed to increase transparency and accountability associated with the management of recovered funds by anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria; it follows the suspension of the EFCC’s former acting chairman in July due to allegations of corruption, including embezzlement. See “Buhari moves to unbundle EFCC, ICPC, sends bill to create new agency,” Business Traffic, October 14, 2020, and “Buhari Suspends EFCC Chair, Magu,” The Daily Trust, July 7, 2020: https://dailytrust.com/breaking-buhari-suspends-magu.