Money is undoubtedly the primary motivation for internet fraudsters, not just in Nigeria but all over the world. Nevertheless, it is a different case in my country. Internet fraud which is popularly known as "Yahoo-Yahoo" is now a norm of the society.
My heart saddens whenever I read any headline that resonates with youths being indicted for this "Yahoo-Yahoo" of a thing, per se. I’ve always lamented that internet scammers have become role models for so many Nigerian youths.
On an average, almost every Nigerian knows at least two yahoo boys in their communities or a popular one on the internet. Most Nigerians are used to being a die-hard fan of anyone that spends lavishly and displays unexplainable wealth on the Internet which has no root — or a kind of wealth that is not genuine.
This is evident in the way young people drop comments on social media posts of popular yahoo boys in the making. You’ll see comments like "God make u bigger", "Bless me zaddy", "God wey bless you go bless me", "Show me the way boss", and all sorts of ridiculous and nonsensical phrases that exalts crime. As a country, it is no surprise that we’ve normalized crime.
When I was much younger, anyone who is labelled "419" is usually ostracized. But today, it’s a different story. A yahoo boy is someone loved by most people and he is even seen as a rare philanthropist. This is crazy.
The world is being governed by simple principles. Money is an exchange for value. In such a way that if you give me something, then I get you paid for that thing. Both of us walk away feeling gratified. Any money taken from another party without permission is a crime. It is as simple as that. As a country, I feel we’ve lost the simple understanding of money.
Come to think of it, these guys justify fraud because of the slave trade that took place in the past 3-4 centuries. In ancient times, the Hebrews were slaves to the Egyptians, to the extent that almost every Egyptian had a slave. But that doesn't mean the Hebrews should do things against the Egyptians to get revenge in today's world, No. That is history. Any money taken from someone without full consent or money that is not given willingly is a fraud.
A typical yahoo boy never, ever works alone. It is rare if he lives alone. He is always with his crew or "bandits", if I may say. He needs his amiable comrades around him to pull off a successful scam. The document forger, the international call router, the hacker/tech wizard, the bank account frontperson, and a lady who possesses smooth talking abilities. This is very common whenever they want to carry out a romance scam. It is very complex. Most of these scammers have outside connections too, like the picker (the one that redeems gift cards), and those that provide internet tools to carry out a successful scam.
Under the Nigerian constitution, In order to curb the menace of Yahoo boys, Nigeria enacted the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act of 2015. The law is very comprehensive, prescribing severe punishment for identity theft and impersonation, the two devices of Internet scammers. It prescribes seven years in jail or N5 million fine or both, as the penalty for anyone who is convicted of impersonation to defraud any person.
Well, the N5 million is not a problem for the top dogs in the game. They’ve made much more than that in this scamming activity. There is a very popular saying in Nigeria which goes "All case na settlement". This insinuates that there is a backdoor to justice in such a way that you can settle law enforcers in financial terms to escape justice. This is pathetic.
As a matter of fact, you’d consistently find cases of Cybercrime in the headlines almost every day. But, This is Nigeria. Even the forces are so corrupted to the extent that cases like these die during the stages of interrogation. The most corrupted of all forces are the SARS operatives, a subdomain of the police force.
We often find a lot of them in our neighborhoods, always moving around with minivans. Some of them even know these fraudsters well and they have a formula of spotting them with their mode of dressing. Dressing doesn't necessarily determine if one is a fraudster or not, it doesn't.
But these guys will grab you and throw you into their vans and start questioning you to the extent that you might want to lose your mind. They’ll suppress, abduct, rob, and convict you of charges you know nothing about. They don’t even care who you are, especially when you use an iPhone. Oh, sweet Jesus. God forbid you come in contact with these legalized criminals. But you might be lucky they free you soon enough, that is if you have contacts in high places. Remember, “If” . Once again, This is Nigeria.
Fortunately, these legalized criminals have been stripped off from convicting any case that deals with Cybercrime and fraud. The Federal government declared that they should only handle crimes that resonates with only kidnapping and robbery. But the big question is are they going to do so? Till today we still find in our communities hunting for yahoo boys. As a young person, your prayer every morning should be not coming in contact with these bad guys. I repeat, this is Nigeria.
Though the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has been doing its best to deal with Internet fraud. This is apparent in the way they've uncovered some gatherings named "Yahoo School" in different parts of the country and how they've immensely brought a lot of these boys to book and made them face the full wrath of the law.
Not all Internet scam victims are lucky enough to have their money back. This illegal act has destroyed countless lives and communities and has forced them into a life of poverty.
Where I would like to dive into is the next generation of internet fraudsters. The ones aspiring and perspiring to be the next Ray Hushpuppi. All they dream all day is to wear expensive clothing apparels extravagant enough to afford some people’s mortgage and cruise a Bentley Bentayaga or even a Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Wow! Big dreams I see.
I don't see any crime in dreaming big at all. To attain any amount of success, one must start dreaming about it before it comes to reality. But dreaming of being the next Aremo Gucci, Investor BJ, Baddy Oosha, or dreaming of not dying young like Agbalumo is a very ridiculous idea.
You see, these young teenagers ranging from 14 - 18 years will be the next generation of Internet fraudsters. And guess what, they’ll be more dubious than ever. These young folks are ready to do anything to get wealth. It is evident in the ways they reason about getting money and the posts they put on social media. These days all I see are gibberish and mischievous posts from young people on social media such as:
- "Ma foor if land finish, we go buy house"
- "Hustle do your friend no go use emoji cover your face"
- "I trade my sleep for slips"
- "10k na small change na... owo Igbo"
- "Enugbe enugbe but we sha Dey sort bills"
- "If dem no give us key to the door we go fly window"
- "While men sleep transactions were going on"
- "Ogun owo is allowed"
- “We cashing this year, On God"
- “Paste your Verizon, iTunes cards for instant cash out”
- “Firstbank currently hot and bursted, send me dm for instant iTunes buying"
- "Respect who get, fear who never collect"
They even go on to give themselves names like "Kunle wire wire", "Young pappi", "Investor Olu", "Young pounds", "Kunle funds", and all sorts of absurd nicknames like that.
When it's their time to start scamming big, we will all suffer it as a nation. As of today, Nigerians have been blacklisted in some countries around the world. They now see every one of us as scammers.
I’ve seen young people lamenting about the fact that when they apply for foreign jobs, they get blacklisted when they find out later that they are from Nigeria. This even happens on popular freelance websites like Fiverr and Upwork.
These children will come for us, they will eat us all!
They are ready to scam anyone to get money. Not just international scams, local scams too. Yahoo boys now create fake online stores to strip you off your money. They even fake calls saying they’re calling from the bank. A lot of people have fallen victim. This is pathetic.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to one of those young boys in my neighborhood. So, I asked him about his work, he said it wasn’t going well as before. I went on to ask him what he plans to do, he stylishly told me "Yahoo Yahoo is not bad", in Yoruba. I was furious, like what would make him think like that. So I asked the boy why he thinks the police and other forces chase them around, he couldn’t talk. Still, I was awed. Anyways, I talked to him like any responsible adult would do hoping he’ll move in that path.
As a country, we have the highest number of smartphone users in Africa. That implies that we're the powerhouse of telecommunications in Africa. We need to start teaching these young folks on how to use the technology they possess properly.
We also need to brainwash these young folks off this Yahoo-Yahoo syndrome. We need to inculcate what is right in them and make them understand that the intention of getting rich quick is a very ridiculous idea.
But all these comes down to the government. Yeah, the government. If our government had always created opportunities and platforms for youths to thrive in, this Yahoo-Yahoo syndrome wouldn’t be rampant like these.
To be honest, Nigeria cannot solve this problem easily. Not even with regular arrest of these criminals, that will have little or no effect. This strategy is a mere diagnosis of the symptoms but does not focus on the illness itself.
By 2025, over a hundred million Nigerians will be living in extreme poverty (Statistics by National Bureau Of Statistics). As of May 2020, over 40% of the total population in Nigeria is classified as poor. In other words, 4 out of 10 Nigerians live below $2 (N950 as of today). This is extremely horrifying.
With so much poverty in the country, it is clear that there would undoubtedly be a certain percentage of citizens going into a life of crime. In an effort to fully live the Nigerian dream (which is to have money by all means), the men and women of this country have become online bandits robbing people of their hard-earned money.
A long-term solution to combating Internet fraud is by reducing the country’s poverty rate. When more Nigerians are above the threshold of poverty and the minimum wage is raised to meet the financial demands of the time we live in, we may be seeing a decrease in illegal activity including Internet fraud.
Another issue that has helped internet fraud grow is unemployment. According to the Minister of Labour, the unemployment rate is about 33% in 2020. This is equivalent to one-third of the whole nation. There are not enough jobs to meet up with the rate at which our population grows and it is obvious there are not enough jobs to accommodate the number of graduates we produce annually.
The government needs to start creating jobs for citizens, we need to start leveraging on the skills of young people. Nigeria is a country full of talented people, you know that right? We also need to start using our natural resources to drive the economic demands of the people. Step by step we would prevail over this menace.
A comprehensive reorientation of our principles needs to take place to properly deal with Internet fraud. We have to bring back on the esteem honesty and hard work and do away with the mentality of unnecessary materialism and get rich rapid schemes.
To deal with and counter Internet fraud Nigeria has to play a long game. To get rid of this national threat, poverty, unemployment and excessive materialism have to be tackled excessively.