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To Be or Not to Be a Yahoo, Yahoo Boy

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May 29, (THEWILL) – One day last December, Obinna got a call from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to report in their office in Ikoyi, Lagos. A single father of two boys, Leo and Joseph, he lives in one of the estates in Abesan a jogging distance from Iyana Ipaja.

Obinna (not his real name) is 62 and has lived with his teenage sons for years ever since he separated and eventually got divorced from his wife. Technically, he’s been a sole parent, seeing his sons through school and now preparing them, like most hopeful fathers, for university.

Their JAMB result wasn’t that impressive last year. Before the call came from EFCC, Leo and Joseph had been busy nonetheless, browsing with their Android or I-phones like most teens are wont to anywhere in Abeokuta or Asaba, Bauchi or Benin, Kaduna or Kano, Lagos or Lokoja.

Like some in their age bracket, the two brothers surf sites for musical videos from their favourite Nigerian artistes by day. It could be Adekunle Gold, Davido, Naira Marley, Phyno, Small Doctor, Timaya or Whizkid. But by night, they surf other sites that require more concentration, dating or randomly selected sites, sending out marriage proposals to American or European women desperate for union with Africans or anyone for that matter, what has now entered internet fraud lexicon as ‘love scams.’

On the day Obinna received the call from EFCC, they told him his two boys were in their custody. So, could he come around to Ikoyi and identify them as his sons?

“I thought it was a prank call at first,” Obinna told friends later. “But when I asked to speak with my senior son, the person on the line passed the phone to him. He was crying. That was when I knew it was true.”

How did two sibs end up in EFCC custody?

Both were invited to a birthday party by one of their classmates and good friend, Bolu. Venue? A hotel not far from their house in Abesan. The hotel itself is a popular hangout for youngsters like them, young scammers bound together by a common interest and mission: send as many love scams as possible and simply wait for positive responses from their victims.

Unknown to them the financial crimes agency had marked down the hotel as a convergence point for yahoo, yahoo boys, based on information and painstaking observation, Leo and Joseph honoured the invites. Along with the celebrant himself were a dozen girls and as many boys, all in their teens, some sporting short dreadlocks, one or two with tattooed biceps and nearly all of the boys wearing hoodies and sagged pants.

When a dozen EFCC officials stormed the hotel about 7pm that day, the chaps and their girlfriends were frolicking by the poolside bar sipping a cocktail of drinks and passing weed from hand to hand. In the ensuing confusion, Joseph quickly tossed his phone over the fence. Leo was not so lucky, and the rest of the boys, too.

Before loading them into their vans, the EFFCC officials freed the girls and then arrested all the boys, drove them to their Ikoyi office on Obafemi Awolowo Road. “I got the call from EFCC around 8.30pm,” Obinna recalled, “asking me to report at their office the following day.” He couldn’t sleep any more that night.

Obinna went to EFCC office the following day, and thus began a tortuous process of negotiating with the officers on how to free his sons from detention. “I was going to their office almost every day for more than a week, covering a distance of nearly 35 kilometres between Abesan and Ikoyi. It was not funny.”

Not funny, as well, was the self-indicting transactions found in Leo’s handset when the agents looked through. True, a handset is a private property no one else can access without your consent. But it is even truer that no teenager, however plucky he may be, will be courageous enough to stop gun-bearing security operatives from looking for incriminating evidence in his phone.

After much going back and forth by their hapless father and considering their age, the EFCC officials were not too keen on making a serious issue out of it, like charging the minors to court. From what Obinna told sympathetic friends, the lads were let go in the end but for an amount he wouldn’t disclose.

Imonina Kingsley of the University of Ilorin was not so lucky when a Federal High Court in Kaduna sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment for defrauding an Austrian of $1, 000. The inventive undergrad presented himself as gay to his victim who obviously is gay too. Imonina has been in the slammer since June 2012.

Resourceful Nigerian scammers have even looked beyond Nigeria to dupe victims. There was the numbing story of Achimota Mile 7 Police, Accra, busting 29 Nigerian yahoo, yahoo boys some years ago. Tipped off by observant neighbours, the police kept the building under surveillance. By the time they raided the pad, they met all of them home, working their laptops and phones.

They retrieved 34 laptops and 48 mobile phones from the suspects. Among them was Ike Ogu, 24; Ike Iduozi, 23; Blessing Adebayo, 25; Awudu Abdul Razak, 23; Daley Emmanuel, 26; Moses Madjaki, 30; Onaghnise Osahon, 24; Peter Andrews,25; Benjamin Akumeze, 25; Kelvin Osayi, 23; Oforufemi Adrigu, 25; Anthony Irughe, 22 and Kelvin Uche, 22.

The Achimota Mile 7 Police also netted Timothy Irughe, 22; Elvis Uzeogbu, 24; Owen Zakari, 24; Joe Steve Obozu, 29; Festus Owubu, 25; Abraham Femi, 24; Suleman Abudu, 25; Abraham Femi, 24; Age Michael, 25.

Peddling lies and falsehood is a specialty of yahoo, yahoo boys. But one of them, a third year student of an unnamed Nigerian university was not fibbing when he told an interviewer thusly: “I started online fraud in my second semester of 100 level [a session comprised of two academic semesters in Nigerian universities as an impostor via online dating. Then I looked for the profile of people that live in developed countries. But if it is in Nigeria, I look for people who live in places like Port Harcourt, Abuja [luxury suburbs].

“I always posed to them as a big man who needed a wife. Sometimes I posed to them on how my wife disappointed me and took away my property and children. All this is polished in a pitiable way with some pictures to convince them when I’m chatting with them. However, what I do mainly now is to transmit misleading information online for people to send their bank accounts details.”

In towns and cities across Nigeria today, there are so many Leos and Josephs, youngsters barely out of parental care looking to making fast money through fraudulent scam messages sent direct from their handsets or laptops to gullible victims abroad. Some call it hustling, others refer to it as cyber-begging.

The lure of addiction, psychiatrists like to say, is stronger than the pull of sobriety. In that sense, you could also surmise that, for yahoo, yahoo boys in Nigeria, the lure to make money at whatever cost is stronger than the customary progressive stages of development through school and then gainful employment in the private or public sector.

A regular excuse that has almost become a refrain by many of them is that there are no jobs even after graduating or, as one pointedly told THEWILL recently, “school na scam.”

The chap who told the newspaper that is 23, a low-level cyber-beggar living in Dalemo in Ogun state. Ideally, Jamiu, not his real name, should be a university hopeful. Apparently, he is not interested. These days, Jamiu hangs out with like minds in the hood, most of them in their twenties or thirties, all of them getting high by the hour on a cocktail of rectified spirit and stronger variants of weed like Colorado (N1, 000 a pinch), Skunk aka SK, Loud, Black Mamba, etc.

Mrs. Yemisi Olagoke is a Guidance Counsellor living and working in Osogbo, Osun state. Last August, she told a Punch reporter why young people turn to cybercrime, citing an instance of a boy she knew who was compelled to join internet fraudsters. “Many youths now also see internet fraud otherwise known as yahoo, yahoo as a way of life rather than engage in a vocation.”

Continuing, Olagoke said the rising phenomenon is also caused by “breakdown in values further compounded by adoption of dubious individuals as role models.” Olagoke herself was once a target “after she advised a neighbour who wanted to enlist his son as an apprentice under an internet scammer to not follow up with such a decision.”

Of course, the neighbour won and got his convert. Barely 20, the lad got a laptop after three months of apprenticeship. He is now on his own, like thousands of young Nigerians out there looking for easy prey to entrap – a lonely lady in London, Berlin or Bucharest, say, a trustworthy companion, girlfriend in Jos or Lagos, just to make it and then, what next? Show off!

Is it any surprise there is an increasing number of yahoo, yahoo boys now? It is no surprise that “celebration of wealth, particularly among politicians,” a commentator once said, “is a motivation for Nigerian youths to be involved in cyber-crime,” insisting further that “the Nigerian society celebrates wealth without questioning the source of the money.”

With their numbers increasing exponentially in Nigeria today, will the yahoo, yahoo boys fare any better than role models they see tooling around in marques and living in palatial homes? Some will, surely. Some others may not. Already, there are stories of some yahoo, yahoo boys swiping faeces with loafs of bread, taking public baths at T-junctions in the daytime, sacrificing more victims to pacify the forces they worship or even becoming mad in their quest for quick cash.

With money at the very heart of internet scam by some Nigerian youngsters, yahoo, yahoo is a phenomenon that is likely to continue for some time to come. So, you can be sure that, like Obinna, most parents will get that ultimate call from EFCC, something like “Hello, are you the father, mother of so and so? We have him in our custody.”