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Transforming ‘Yahoo boys’ as ICT experts

By Babatunde Ayedoju

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The term ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ or ‘Yahoo boys’ is not strange to Nigerians. It is a term coined for youths who are involved in cybercrime. Most Yahoo boys are known to defraud their victims through impersonation, with a large chunk of them getting their preys from dating sites. They start relationships with unsuspecting victims who are mostly foreigners, and within the shortest possible time extort huge sums of money from them.

Some of them also embark on their illegal acts by hacking the phones, emails, and social media accounts of their victims and begin to extort money from friends and family members of such victims. One of the ways by which these scammers hack their victims’ accounts is by getting them to dial certain codes on their phones, and before the victim can say ‘Jack Robinson’, his or her money is gone.

Some of them are also known to be involved in rituals, which could involve human sacrifice, a practice known as Yahoo Plus. The victims in this case are mostly ladies.

From time to time, law enforcement agencies arrest these fraudsters called Yahoo boys and some of them end up in courts. There have also been some suspected Yahoo boys who met their Waterloo abroad. Examples are Ramon Abbass, also known as Hushpuppi, and Obinwanne Okeke, popularly called Invictus Obi.

The practice has been that the police or men of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrest a suspected Yahoo boy, detain him when necessary, and prosecute the suspect as soon as possible. However, a few days ago, a cyber security specialist, Mr Chidiebere Ihediwa, while speaking at an event in Lagos, said that EFCC should devise methods of re-orienting arrested educated fraudsters (Yahoo boys) to become information technology specialists.  He said that such a measure was better than making them languish in detention or undergo destructive dissolution and would be of great advantage to the nation.

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It should be noted that Mr Ihediwa was not the first person to conceive such an idea. January last year, while campaigning in Benin City, capital of Edo State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nigeria’s current president who was the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at that time, promised to transform advanced free fraudsters, also known as Yahoo boys, by creating technological hubs for them. He said that such hubs would make youths instruments for development.

He said, “I will convert Yahoo boys and make them useful by converting their talents and intellects to produce chips for industries. We can defeat poverty, ignorance, and homelessness. We know, we have the brain to do it. Trust me. I am an expert in finding the way where there is no way. I found a way to tame the Atlantic Ocean in Lagos and turn it into a money-making machine.

“Sociologically, we can make mountains, we can climb Kilimanjaro, we can defeat poverty. We will break the shackles of poverty, ignorance, and homelessness,” he added.

Likewise, in November 2022, the then Chairman of EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, during a meeting with Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre officials, said the anti-graft agency was set to rehabilitate Nigerians prosecuted for internet fraud.

Bawa who said that the rehabilitation would involve psychological approaches to morality and cognitive sanity, literacy skills, and work training, said, “I don’t derive any joy in the arrest, investigation and prosecution of thousands of youths in productive ages, the job must be done.”

Similarly, Taiwo Oyedele, Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms, suggested that touts, also known as area boys, could be trained for tax collection and paid decent salaries to forsake their old ways. Oyedele who spoke on Channels Television said that the idea of recruiting area boys as tax collectors was part of the implementation of tax reforms which should begin by March.

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Dr Salman Adisa, a psychologist, described both the idea of rehabilitating Yahoo boys into ICT specialists and hiring area boys for tax collection as good ideas, depending on how the matter is handled by the government. For instance, he said that if the government would rehabilitate Yahoo boys into ICT specialists, it should not be done by the EFCC because that is not part of their mandate; instead, the government will have to commit it into the hands of a specialized ministry or agency that has to do with social welfare.

“Recruiting area boys as tax collectors is also a good idea because it will reduce unemployment which has been responsible for misbehaviour among youths,” he added.

Likewise, Dr Mrs. Kemi Adebola, a sociologist, noted that both suggestions are good ways to absorb Yahoo boys and area boys back into society.

Her words: “After all, why do we have correctional centers? We have correctional centers so that people can have a change of mind. These Yahoo boys and area boys are part of the workforce of any nation and in sub-Saharan Africa, we have a growing youth population which should be a good opportunity for our economy to be revamped.”

Mrs. Adebola noted that we have not been able to tap into the potential of youths up till now because the government has not shown interest in examining what the youth population can contribute to economic growth.

She further pointed out that there are salient issues for the government to consider in this kind of situation. She said, “The only thing a sociologist will want to find out is, what mechanism is going to be used and how effective is that mechanism? When we put these youths in places where they are supposed to work, how are we sure they will do the work? How much can we pay somebody who has been earning millions from cybercrime? We may not have what it takes to pay them.

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“Likewise the area boys. For long, they have behaved like kings of the jungle. How do we tame them? At what point can we be sure they have changed, because at this point they will now have access to Government money,” she added.

On the other hand, Professor Simon Ehiabhi from the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, described the two suggestions as wrong. He said that Yahoo boys are involved in crime; therefore the government should either stop or discourage them.

The professor of history blamed the trend so far on the fact that the government has been slack towards the Yahoo boys and agencies of government have also been aiding their activities. He added that training Yahoo boys as IT specialists amounts to giving them the legality to commit crimes because they will now have access and codes to government information, and can use the government’s seal to defraud foreigners.

He further said, “A criminal mind has to be reformed and these cannot be reformed because of corruption in the system.

“Area boys are phenomena created by a failing state. They ought to be empowered with skills that can create jobs for them and help them contribute meaningfully to the economic growth of the country. Making them tax collectors will mean encouraging other youths to become area boys. If we have many area boys and tax collectors, who will go into other professions such as medicine, agriculture, and teaching?” He said.

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