By Olubunmi Familoni
The ‘yahoo-yahoo’ phenomenon didn’t gain much recognition until the mid-noughties (c. 2006), with the decline of its older relative, advance-fee fraud, popularly referred to as ‘419’, which had reigned for most part of the nineties, and most of its top players such as Ade Bendel and Fred Ajudua going to dust.
With the advent of the internet and the world wide Web as a means of transacting business, the younger generation of fraudsters, some of whom had been apprentices in the 419 trade, broke away from their financial crimes forebears and began to form new, vibrant rings of streetwise boys who utilised the full potential of the internet, especially the electronic mail service provider, Yahoo (from which the name of the trade came to be coined), for their optimal profit.
Their ‘work’ didn’t begin to enjoy any proper boom until about 2007 when the ‘magas’ (the unsuspecting, usually white, victims of these financial scams) really began to ‘pay’ and these erstwhile insignificant young boys began to ‘shine’ as their economic status improved at an astronomical rate — they bought cars (the Toyota Camry commonly known as ‘pencil’ was very popular among this early set of boys to ‘hammer’; while Hummers were reserved for those who had scored bigger hits); they built houses (for themselves, for their parents, for rent); some rented high-priced apartments in such choice areas of town that seemed to have been gentrified specifically so that these nouveaux riches could contribute to the luxurious allure of the metropolis (just as in the nineties when their 419 forebears lived in clusters in the GRA of Lagos and other parts of the capital of the state, these new sets of moneybags also converged on such areas as Ojodu in Lagos, and Bodija in Ibadan — Ibadan and Lagos being two of the cities in which the business was enjoying the biggest boom in these early stages, even though this ‘prosperity’ soon spread to other parts of the Southwest, smaller towns, especially ones which were hosts to universities or polytechnics, most prominently Ago-Iwoye, as students of these higher institutions were the primary participants in the industry, carrying on ‘business’ alongside their academic pursuit, of course in most cases using the proceeds of this business to fund the pursuit. In consideration of their residency choices and patterns, it is also important to note that they were quite a gregarious tribe, moving and living together in large groups, inadvertently creating an economic impression of ‘localisation of industry’, which worked to their advantage, as ideas were shared more fluidly and regularly and progress made could be monitored, and mentorship was also easier in these circles; but as the industry grew in size and more boys joined in over the years, issues of loyalties and distrust began to seep into and break up groups, thereby ending the gregariousness of the Yahoo-boy tribe — you’re more likely to find a yahoo boy working as a ‘lone wolf’ nowadays than how they worked in packs in the early days); of course there were frequent cases of extravagance as well, where these boys, after a huge score, would buy the most expensive bottles of champagne in the club just to pour the bubbly contents on the floor or wash their hands with the drink, or just spray one another with it. And just as it had happened in the nineties, with the prominent fuji and juju singers of the period being infected with the excitement of the 419 boom and impressed by the flagrant display of wealth by its practitioners, and singing praises of these men in their songs — some even dedicating entire records to the praise of the 419 gods — so were the pop musicians of the noughties excited by the yahoo-yahoo boom and made songs to celebrate the ‘profession’ and its hard-working players, most popular of which was Olu Maintain who made a song ‘Yahoozee’ in 2007, which went on to become the biggest hit of the time, and even had a dance to go with it.
What followed was that something that should have been regarded as a crime came to be quite acceptable within the society, especially in the light of the economic downturn that the country seemed to be permanently suffering since the military era — these boys were providing for their families (putting food on their tables and roofs over their heads), they were setting up businesses and creating employment, spending so much in patronage of other businesses, such that they literally bought the love of the society that had produced them and should have frowned upon their work (instead, parents were proud of their car-owning and house-building sons, without necessarily investigating the source of this recent revenue).
But a particular organisation was having none of this rubbish. The EFCC was still fresh in its drive to stamp out corruption in all forms from every corner of the country, be it in government or the ghettos, and they began a rather showy clampdown on these boys, with quite dramatic raids on their residences: pulling up in brand-new white unmarked buses, pouring into the buildings housing these yahoo boys and kicking down their doors, peeling them from the front of their laptops and hauling them into cells. Curiously enough, after being held for hours, or days sometimes, these boys would be released without charge; hence there were at the time suspicions of the involvement of invisible godfathers, and accusations of the commission collecting kickbacks from the youngsters to facilitate their release, so the frequent arrests began to be seen as merely a means of revenue generation by the agency and didn’t do anything to deter the boys from carrying on with their jobs with impunity — a confidence bestowed upon them by the knowledge of the fact that they were untouchable by the law and were loved by the society, even by the church in some not so rare cases.
With the introduction of social media, we are experiencing a new wave of yahoo boys, the ones whose stories are being self-documented on Snapchat, and on Instagram, the official SI unit for the measurement of popularity in this generation. The modern-day yahoo boy has become not only a celebrity but also a superhero of some sort who saves lives from poverty by doling out money on Twitter or Instagram (which is usually just another means of showing how wealthy he is); he has also become a role model, as young boys aspire to be like him when they grow up (as seen in the video that had become popular on social media of the boy responding in Yoruba to a question of what he would like to be when he grows up, saying he wants to be a yahoo boy).
An extension of the conversation would be the exploration of the modern-day Yahoo boy into realms deeper and more labyrinthine than the internet known as ‘yahoo plus’.