It was a hazy Monday morning in 2019 when a social media content creator, Muna (surname withheld) got a message from a suspicious email address, asking her to pay the sum of $3,000 if she did not want to see her nudes online.
Apprehensive, she searched her heart just as she did her archive to ascertain who may be behind the mail.
She had just got off what she described as a toxic long-distance relationship with another content creator she identified with his stage name, Sharmuel, after dating him for nearly six years.
“We shared a lot of nudes. I have his and he has mine, so I did not think he would be behind the email,” she said in an interview with our correspondent.
She added that after a few months of not responding to the message, she got a follow-up email from the same address containing her nude photos which she claimed she only shared with this particular lover.
Muna also noted that she had blocked Sharmuel on all social media handles and deleted all pictures or memories of him on her phone and other devices.
She, however, confronted him with the claims that he sent the email, but Sharmuel said he would not have done that as, according to him, he also deleted memories of her before his phone was stolen.
Perplexed, she reached out to her friends who also had access to her phone, but they all denied having any involvement in the matter.
Another message from that address asked her to pay up the $3,000 in two weeks or risk having her nude in public.
“I was more than troubled. I took my phone to a system operator to format it back to factory setting. I wanted a clean slate. I am not a promiscuous person. I did not know what to do and I did not want to involve the police because, apart from the fact that the blackmailer warned me not to go to the police, I also knew that the police would first slut-shame me before they even begin to work, and this may take too long,” she added.
After begging the blackmailer to change the currency to naira and accept N200,000, she was asked to get the money in cash and go to Ojodu-Berger Bus Stop and give it to one of the e-hailing drivers who would be stationed there to receive it.
On that day, Muna said she carefully wrapped the N200,000 in an old newspaper, taped it and put it in a cellophane bag before taking it to the bus stop. At the bus stop, just by the market, she saw a delivery guy stationed there who approached her, asked her to give him the package and drove off.
She said she did not get another email from the blackmailers for months. Not even one to confirm that they had seen the money.
She was, however, shocked when she received her intimacy video on WhatsApp from a foreign number, asking her if she recognised the lady in the video.
Of course, she did. She was the one in the video.
She said she asked the person how he got the video and was asked to visit a website, where, not just her but hundreds of girls’ nude pictures and videos were published and available to the public for free.
I almost died. I had to open up to my parents before they would see it. I was asked to come home. We met a lawyer but there was nothing he could do. We traced the initial email back to that website and we sent them a cease and desist, which never got a response. The video was still on their site until we paid a hacker to take it down from there and through the help of Google, got it off the dark web,” she added.
Saturday PUNCH reached out to Sharmuel after an independent investigation by a hacker engaged by our correspondent linked not only his IP address to the poster of Muna’s nude on the website, but also a continuous engagement on the content in question, but he did not respond as of the time of filing this report.
Text messages sent to his mobile numbers were also not responded to.
Muna is one of the many victims of revenge porn.
Many persons, especially women found to be vulnerable, popular and have a lot of things to lose, are often times blackmailed and humiliated over nude pictures or intimacy videos they recorded, or did not know were recorded.
Some fall prey to the blackmailer by beginning to pay the sums requested by them. But, like all blackmailers, there is always no end in their continuous quest for more money.
Recently, a TikTok sensation, Esther (surname withheld), famously recognised as Buba Girl, appeared in a video that showed her in a private moment with herself.
In what seemed like a failed attempt to humiliate and slut-shame her, the blackmailer was alleged to have sent her the video, requesting that she paid a sum to get it wiped out.
Although it is not clear whether or not she paid the sum, as her account on TikTok and Instagram has now been made private, and a phone number said to be hers has remained unreachable by this reporter, the nude video has since gone viral.
Most of the comments on Twitter have been everything but palatable.
On Facebook, a user, Adaeze, commenting in a now-deleted post, called Buba Girl, a ‘shameless pig, who has no respect for herself and her family’, vowing to share the video far and wide until it got to her (Esther’s) parents.
Another user, Osas (surname withheld), whose profile shows her as a caterer and mother-of-two, said the Buba Girl got what she deserved, and should ‘go ahead and kill herself for being very stupid to have filmed herself in a private moment’.
Some other persons, however, believed that the TikToker leaked the video herself when she could no longer pay the money.
Many commentators asked for the video to be shared with them, as many blogs had the videos published on their websites for cheap clicks.
As of the time of filing this report on Thursday, the video had been watched 123 million times on one of the websites.
Our correspondent reached out to another female content creator close to Buba Girl, who claimed that the Tiktoker was blackmailed by a former lover.
“It must be one of her exes. She told me about it when the first threat came months ago. I am not sure if she paid any money because I told her not to pay anything because what she did was not illegal.
Filming one’s self while masturbating, from what the law says, is not illegal. I even told her to report to the police but I knew that there was nothing she could do. The blackmailer had to release the video, and she has been depressed. She is just trying to be strong. She only just became popular on Tiktok with her Buba comedy and content but this person just wanted to ruin her life,” the source said.
On the identity of the suspect, the source said she would not be able to disclose it as, according to her, Buba Girl, was “a grown-up woman who had the right to as many partners as she wanted”.
Surprisingly, on Wednesday, Buba Girl, who had over 500,000 followers on Instagram, in what looked like a response, posted on her story.
“All of us go dey alright las las,” she said in Pidgin English. This loosely translates to, “Everyone will be alright in the end”.
Hours after Esther’s video went viral, another popular TikToker with over 500, 000 followers, Molly’s intimacy tapes were leaked.
Efforts to reach her have been abortive, as she refused to speak when contacted on her mobile phone on the matter.
However, the video had garnered millions of views on several blogs. One of them had over 12 million views in just 16 hours of posting.
Most of these videos, Saturday PUNCH-employed hacker found, were traced to the same website that posted Muna’s nude.
A friend of Molly, who said she wanted to be identified only as Bailey for personal reasons, said she (Molly) was blackmailed.
She, in a chat with our correspondent, said a blackmailer on WhatsApp sent some of the videos to Molly and asked her to pay to get them deleted.
Bailey claimed that her friend paid the blackmailer for some months but got tired of paying, which made the person to leak the video.
“Molly is depressed right now. Some brands who had already started plans to work with her are pulling out. It is unfair what is happening to her. The government should intervene. This is an attack on all skit makers in Nigeria.
“The blackmailer said he/she had a lot of videos belonging to different popular Nigerians and could bring anybody down with just one click. Even me, as I speak, I am afraid. I am not that clean,” she said.
Saturday PUNCH had reported how a businessman, Kennedy, blackmailed a widow and two other ladies whom he had sexual relations with because he had hold of their intimacy videos.
The matter had since been charged to court.
Many celebrities, including popular musician, Tiwa Savage; on-air personality, Toke Makinwa; actors, Godwin Maduka and Empress Njamah; singer, Oxlade; and ex-beauty queen, Chidinma Okeke, and controversial cross dresser, James Brown, among others, had been victims of revenge porn.
Revenge porn and the law
Revenge porn refers to the distribution of sexually explicit images or videos of another without the person’s consent. It is a crime in Nigeria and the law frowns at it owing to the devastating effect it has on victims.
A lawyer, Muhiz Adisa, stated that it was immaterial that the explicit pictures or videos were taken by the victim or taken with his or her consent.
“What matters is that it is being circulated without the victim’s consent. To constitute revenge porn, the following must be established: there is an explicit picture or video of a person; those pictures or videos were shared; the victim did not consent to the circulation of the shared pictures or videos; the perpetrator intends to cause shame or embarrassment to the victim; the perpetrator shared the pictures or videos because the victim refused to grant certain requests and the perpetrator intends to get back at the victim (by way of revenge),” he said.
Revenge porn is criminalised in Nigeria under the Criminal Code Act and the Cybercrimes (Prevention and Prohibition) Act.
The code states, “Any person who knowingly sends or attempts to send, by post anything which; (a) encloses anything, whether living or inanimate, of such a nature as to be likely to injure any other thing in the course of conveyance, or to injure any person; or (b) encloses an indecent or obscene print, painting, photograph, lithograph, engraving, book, card, or article, or which has on it, or in it, or on its cover, any indecent, obscene, or grossly offensive words, marks, or designs; is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”
Aside from the criminal code, the Cybercrimes Act also criminalises revenge porn. It states, “Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network 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 he knows to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will, or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent: commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
Another lawyer, Mrs Selena Onuoha, urged victims of revenge porn to report to the police and file the case in court.
She said, “A person who happened to find his or her sexually explicit pictures or videos in circulation has some remedies under the law. However, it is imperative to point out that at the point of being threatened with posting pictures or videos online, the victim should inform the police. By engaging law enforcement agents, especially the police, the culprit or person in custody of the sexually explicit picture or video can be arrested and interrogated by the police to ensure the said pictures do not get into public view. This is based on the fact that sharing it in public view will amount to a criminal offence. Also, the very act of threatening to publish the explicit picture or video in itself amounts to the crime of blackmail.
Also, the victim may engage the services of a lawyer: By engaging a lawyer, the lawyer is able to work with the law enforcement agents by filing a petition or complaint which can subsequently get the culprit arrested and curtailed to ensure the private pictures or videos do not get into the public view.”
However, for cases where the posts are already circulated online, Adisa said the victims could file for an action for breach of the right to privacy.
He said, “The right to privacy is guaranteed and protected under the constitution. Thus, where A’s sexually explicit pictures are shared online by B, A can maintain an action in court against B to enforce a breach of his fundamental right to privacy.
“An aggrieved victim can also maintain a criminal action against the perpetrator of the crime under sections 170 and 24 of the Criminal Code and Cybercrimes Act, respectively.
“A civil suit can also be instituted by an aggrieved victim against the perpetrator in situations where the victim suffers as a result of the publication of sexually explicit pictures or videos.”
Also commenting, a front-end developer, Mr Adeyinka Olukayode, urged youths to be careful with their intimacy videos.
“If you must make videos for whatever reasons, please, be sure to delete them after whatever it is you want to use it for is done. The way the world is now is that once that video or picture is on your phone, it is open to attacks and one can do almost nothing when it gets to the wrong hands,” he said.