Not Too Young to Scam: The Worrisome Story of Adolescent ‘Yahoo Boys’ in Ogun State

Olamide is only 17 years old, but not only does he have a lot of internet fraudsters in his circle of friends, but he is also considering trying his hand on the line of work too. For now, he helps his mom by hawking oranges, sold in packs of three or four. From morning till dusk, he chases after car owners who occasionally drive by the mini-campus of Olabisi Onabanjo University, a state-owned institution located in Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State.

But, like many youths of his age group in this community—including his immediate elder brother and countless students at his school, Methodist Comprehensive High School—he may not be sweating it out on the road for much longer.

“If I am introduced to it, I can do it too,” he says straightforwardly, referring to cybercrime. “I am only afraid of the dangers involved.” Explaining, he says he is both scared of getting arrested by the police and uncomfortable with the use of body parts and female underwear for rituals, as is now customary.

Another student of Methodist Comprehensive High School, Opeyemi, says the majority of the student population are engaging in online fraud one way or another. Some of his colleagues, aged between 15 and 18, were recently arrested after they drugged a relative and took him to a native doctor to enhance their business. Seeing how young they were, the doctor had notified policemen who then laid an ambush.

Students of Methodist Comprehensive High School are not the only ones that engage in the criminality; there others. Another one whose name pops up easily during conversations about yahoo plus (the combination of cybercrime and rituals) is Fowoseje Comprehensive High School. These students, townspeople say, are ill-famed for exhuming body parts from a nearby burial ground and selling or otherwise using them for personal gains.

Nigeria is notorious all over the world for an advance-fee scam, also known as 419 (derived from the country’s criminal code) or the ‘Nigerian Prince scam’. According to the Nigerian Communications Commission, the country ranks third globally in cybercrime, coming after the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

With combined youth unemployment and underemployment rate of 55.4 per cent engulfing an enormous 24.5 million people, many young Nigerians have sought refuge in illegitimate means of making money including cybercrime. The practice is, however, more prevalent in some communities, compared to others. Ago-Iwoye is one of such communities, alongside neighbouring towns such as Ijebu-Ode and Awa-Ijebu.

Residents say the internet fraudsters, more popularly known as “yahoo boys”, are not difficult to recognise, considering their clubbing and gambling habits, as well as lavish, showy lifestyle. They also typically sag their trousers, wear black clothing, and have their skin tattooed. It is said that the best cars in town are driven by them—at times raced recklessly, and they own a good number of the finest houses around too.

Some do not bother attending school, and those who do are infamous for truancy and nonchalance. One automobile mechanic with a workshop in Ijebu-Ode who spoke with this reporter says the rise of cybercrime is responsible for youth apathy to work as an apprentice.

“Nowadays, young boys do not have enough patience for this kind of work,” he laments. “They are either rushing into the commercial bike-riding business or yahoo yahoo.

Since the young yahoo boys cannot withdraw huge sums of money without raising eyebrows, they either connive with bank tellers to cash their loots or use proxies known as ‘pickers’ — elderly persons or business owners who are more likely to transact in huge sums.

Managers of hotels, such as Limelite and Dominion, are one of those profiting largely from the menace. Their prices are on the high side as the vast majority of their customers are internet fraudsters, who lodge there for safety and to socialise.

Certain landlords are also known to lease their apartments exclusively or mostly to the boys; and then there is a growing concept that has come to be referred to as “yahoo mechanic”, “yahoo traders” and so on. These mechanics and vendors transact mostly with yahoo boys, and get paid triple (or more) what their counterparts receive from other residents.


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