419 denotes the offence of obtaining the property of another by false pretences. In Nigeria, 419 is commonly used to refer to the offence of obtaining by false pretence primarily because section 419 of the Criminal Code Act is the section that criminalises the offence in the Southern part of Nigeria; the expression ‘419’ has therefore gained popularity and acceptance among Nigerians.

It is therefore not unusual to see notices such as ‘Beware of 419’.’This house is not for sale beware of 419’.

This article will discuss the offence of obtaining by false pretence under the Nigerian Law.

The offence is criminalised under the Criminal Code Act and the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006.

The offence is committed when any person by any false pretence and with intent to defraud obtains from any person whether in or outside Nigeria for himself or for some other person; or induces a person whether in or outside Nigeria to deliver to any person; or obtains any property whether or not the delivery of the property is induced through the medium of a contract, induced by the false pretence.[1]

The offence is also committed when a person induces a person whether in or outside Nigeria to confer a benefit on him or on some other person on the understanding that such benefit has been or would be paid for.

The offence of obtaining by ‘false pretence denotes the offence of knowingly obtaining someone’s property by misrepresenting a fact with the intent to defraud that person.’[2]

The courts have stated that “in order that a person may be convicted of that offence it has been said hundreds of times that it is necessary for the prosecution to prove to the satisfaction of the court that there was some mis-statement as to an existing fact made by the accused person; that it was false and false to his knowledge; that it acted on the mind of the person who parted with the money; that the proceeding on the part of the accused was fraudulent. That is the only meaning to apply to the words, with intent to defraud.”[3]

The following elements of the offence have been identified:

1.         That there was a pretence;

2.         That the pretence emanated from the accused person;

3.         That the pretence was false;

4.         That the accused knew of the falsity of the pretence: i.e he did not believe its truth

5.         That there was an intention to defraud

6.         That the property or thing is capable of being stolen

7.         That the accused induced the owner to transfer his whole interest in the property.

Pretence refers to the misstatement or misrepresentation of facts with intent to defraud the complainant, the accused person must have made a statement (either orally or in writing) which was false and he must have known it to be false. A conviction for this offence cannot be sustained if the complainant is not shown to have been induced to part with his property based on the pretence of the accused person. The elements of the offence must be established before a court of law would convict a person of obtaining by false pretences.

The punishment for the offence under section 419 of the Criminal Code Act is 3 years imprisonment, but where the value of the property is one thousand naira or above, the punishment is seven years imprisonment. Under the Advance Fee Fraud Act, the offence is punishable with not less than seven years and not more than twenty years imprisonment.

[1] Section 1 of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006.

[2] OLUWASHEUN V. FRN (2016)  LPELR – 40768 (CA)

[3] IJUAKA V. COP (1976) LPELR- 1466