1 September 2012

Nigeria: Cynthia Osokogu - a Fatal Friendship on Facebook

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Cynthia Osokogu, the only daughter of a retired army general, was allegedly murdered by two students with whom she struck up a friendship on the popular social media website, facebook. SAMUEL ABULUDE writes on how the tragic incident started out in cyberspace:

Social media are internet sites where people interact freely, discussing and sharing information about virtually anything under the sun using a multimedia mix of personal words, pictures, videos and audio.

On these web sites, individuals and groups create and exchange content and engage in person-to-person conversations. They appear in many forms including blogs and microblogs, forums and message boards, social networks, wikis, virtual worlds, social bookmarking, tagging and news, writing communities, digital storytelling and scrapbooking, and data, content, image and video sharing, podcast portals, and collective intelligence.

There are many well-known social media sites in cyberspace. The most famous include Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, LiveJournal, Wikipedia, Wetpaint, Wikidot, Second Life, Del.icio.us, Digg, Reddit and Lulu.

The use of this new communication platform is widespread in Nigeria as in other countries of the world for a variety of positive reasons. Facebook, for instance, is the destination of choice in cyberspace if you are looking for a long lost friend or seek new ones.

With over 955 million active users globally, facebook has virtually become a staple feature of life for many people across the world. Facebook was founded by an American student, Mack Zuckerberg, in 2004. However, according to May 2011 Consumer reports survey, there are 7.5 million children under 13 with facebook accounts and 5 million under 10 violating the site's terms of service

For all their positive deliverables though, danger lurks around these social websites as criminal elements also take to them to commit crimes. While many Nigerians only read about these cybercrimes online, it was brought home to us all on August 22, when the tragic story of Cynthia Osokogu broke.

Miss. Osokogu was a 24-year-old post-graduate student of Nasarawa State University and the only daughter of Major General Frank Osokogu (rtd).

She met one Nwabuzor Okwuoma, 33, who claimed to be a student of University of Lagos (UNILAG) through facebook and gradually a friendship ensued, albeit in cyberspace since both of them were hundreds of miles apart.

With time, Nwabuzo, who hails from Anambra State, invited Miss. Osokogu to Lagos on a business trip and reportedly paid for her flight ticket from Abuja to Lagos.

But according to the police, Nwabuzo took to facebook with criminal intent. Alongside his cousin, Ezekiel Odera, 23, an undergraduate of Anambra State University, Nwabuzo allegedly booked a room in Casmillo Hotel, Festac, Lagos for Miss. Osokogu, where the arrested duo prepared a chain, a cello tape, padlock and other bondage items to use on their unsuspecting victim. The alleged plot, according to the police, was to hold Miss. Osokogu hostage in that hotel room in order to rape and rob her of her belongings.

On July 22, Cynthia landed in Lagos longing to meet her facebook friend, Nwabuzo, in person for the first time, totally oblivious of the tragic fate that awaited her. Nwabuzo allegedly picked her up at the airport and drove the victim to the hotel where three packets of Ribena juice allegedly laced with Rohypnol have been placed in the booked room's refrigerator . Rohypnol, a sedative drug used in the short-term treatment of insomnia and for pre-medication purposes in surgical procedures, is also known as "the date rape drug."

For some inexplicable reasons, Miss. Osokogu only took a little sip from one of the drugged Ribena packs, which failed to knock her out as allegedly envisaged by Nwabuzo and Odera. However, this little setback did not in any way stop the duo from allegedly going ahead with their plans.

Nwabuzo and Odera allegedly pounced on the still conscious Miss. Osokogu, who, realising the trap she had walked into, reportedly resisted her assailants even in her state of half stupor. Taken aback by this, Nwabuzo and Odera allegedly snuffed life out of their victim by strangling her. The two undergraduates allegedly stripped Miss. Osokogu of her valuables and reportedly fled the scene.

When paraded before the Lagos media on Wednesday, August 22, Nwabuzo said he met Miss. Osokogu months ago through a cyber-group on Blackberry messenger and developed a relationship with her.

He said: "The lady was my friend and she came to Lagos on an invitation on 22nd of July after I paid for her flight. I took her to the hotel. I gave her a pack of Ribena juice, which had been injected with a drug I use on women that makes them dizzy and weak. I have used the drugs on four girls but it did not kill them. We wanted to make money from her but we did not find any money with her. I did not want her to see me escaping from the hotel, which made me to tie her and unfortunately she died."

Nwabuzo also confessed to staying in the hotel room with Miss. Osokogu for 12 hours but denied raping her. The police allegedly found packs of condoms in the hotel room.

The murder suspect said: "I stayed in the room with her for about 12 hours. We talked; I used a vibrator (sex toy) on her. I noticed that she did not drink all the juice and so the drug was not as effective as expected. I had no choice than to engage her in a struggle. I had to tie her so that she would not be able to follow me after robbing her".

While parading the suspects, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko, warned the public to be wary of dealing with friends they make on social websites as a lot of fraudsters are on the prowl in cyberspace using all kinds of gimmicks to defraud people in the name of friendship.

He said: "We want the public to be careful of how they use the social network in making friends. They ought to scrutinise every relationship and business dealings done on the Internet because fraudsters use this medium to hide their true identities and gain access to their victims."

Manko stated: "The suspects specialise in luring young ladies and robbing them. The young lady was found dead and chained in a room in the hotel. Someone notified the hotel receptionist and when the lady was found her identity could not be ascertained. A yellow card belonging to the victim was found in the hotel room and from the card the police called the immigration authorities and got her passport number and other details.

"Through CCTV footage, we discovered that two young men entered into her room. We were able to trace the suspects through the phone number that called the hotel."

The police allegedly found different items in the possession of the two suspects, including a brown bag, a suede black shoe, two sunshades believed to be Miss. Osokogu's property, two syringes, eight wristwatches, four different banks, one chain and padlock, one international passport, complimentary cards, over ten used and unused SIM cards as well as bags and various identification cards with different names.

Nwabuzo, Odera and two pharmacists who allegedly sold the Rohypnol to them, Orji Osita (32) and Maduakor Chukwunonso (25) were on Monday August 27 arraigned in court over the alleged murder of Miss. Osokogu.

Despite this tragic turn of event, users of social media who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend differed on their merits and demerits. For Chukwuma, a teacher in one of the schools in Lagos, the use of social media has been abused by Nigerians, especially the youths. He said in as much as social media has the ability to broaden knowledge, "it is now being used for deviant practices, including defrauding people."

Lamenting that "young boys and girls are now using facebook and other social media to defraud people across the world," Chukwuma said: "I think our youths should be banned from using social media until they are old enough to handle it. Most youths and secondary school leavers are turning to yahoo and facebook to dupe Americans and Europeans. The government should have a law that restricts the youths from using this platform until they are old enough. It is breeding a lazy generation".

But Ngozi, an undergraduate of Lagos State University, said she does not see anything wrong with the use of social media "as long as the users know what they are doing."

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