Analysis: The Boys in White Agbada

By Sunny Awhefeada

My wife and I were guests at a wedding reception recently. Instead of the occasion being a moment to go down memory lane to ours which took place seventeen years ago and enjoy the ceremony with the music, dance, food and drinks that came with it, the event held the entire audience spellbound as a looming social tragedy confronted us all. The initial conviviality that welcomed guests into the beautifully decorated hall, the joy and laughter that rang out at seeing old friends and the superlative performance of the Master of Ceremonies (MC) soon took the back stage in our consciousness as younger people, mostly male, between the ages of sixteen and thirty trooped into the venue. Dressed gaudily, dangling keys of expensive automobiles, donning weird hair styles, “the boys in white agbada” as the MC called them walked in with a swagger. They caused a stir as they walked the length and breadth of the reception hall. All the eyes in the hall stared at them as the MC sang their praises! Since the hall was already full to capacity, the MC started announcing with emphasis, “please, make space for the boys in white agbada to sit. Ushers get chairs for the boys in white agbada to sit. The boys in white agbada should not be made to be angry. They are here to perform wonders with naira! Get them chairs to sit. Don’t let them get angry and leave with all the naira they brought here.”

The “boys in white agbada” are Nigeria’s infamous yahoo boys who ply their fraudulent trade on the internet. My earliest encounter with the word “yahoo” was many decades ago in Jonathan Swift’s satire and adventure novel, Gulliver’s Travels. I am sure that most people of my generation and even the older ones also had their inaugural encounter with yahoo in Swift’s novel. The yahoo were an anthropomorphic race that got denigrated in the novel for it to achieve its satirical goal. For today’s generation, “yahoo” is a web services provider that became a global hit with the unimaginable development recorded in ICT. As a mailing medium, it deposed the post office and made communication between continents a matter of seconds!

It bridged gulfs and made communication fast beyond comprehension. It came with many advantages, but it also birthed a monster in cybercrime which metamorphosed into the “yahoo boys” phenomenon in Nigeria.

Many of the boys engaged in “yahoo” in Nigeria never heard of Swift and his difficult to read novel. Many of them cannot even spell the word “novel”. To them, “yahoo” is an online way of life that spins forth dollars, pounds and euro. It is cybercrime powered by fetish. The victims, mostly Whites, are hypnotized into parting with huge sums of money through online transactions.

A publication, by The News magazine some years ago, gave a holistic view into the activities of yahoo boys. The publication depicted the fetish and reprehensible acts involved in the crime of “yahoo”. Sadly, the boys do not see it as crime, but as a way of getting even with the Whites whom they claimed not only colonized Africa, but exploited the continent. Many of the yahoo boys also set out to contest the social space with ostentatious politicians.

The yahoo phenomenon has become very disturbing in the last ten years as it has assumed a horrendous level. There are many frightening stories of the impacts of the fetish deployed on unsuspecting young girls. It is alleged that much of what goes into the potency of yahoo fetish comes from the female anatomy. There have been many instances of child abduction for yahoo. Parents have also been victims in the hands of their sons involved in the act. The menace which has become a dangerous urban culture is ubiquitous in tertiary institutions and it is already permeating the secondary schools. The boys are easily recognizable by their appearance and they show off very brazenly. They own big and expensive cars. You find them on the streets, at the mall, at parties, on our campuses and even in the church where prosperity pastors celebrate them and shower prayers upon them not minding if they were just returning from the babalawo, dibia or marabout!

We now hear that they have started setting up “training institutes” through which they recruit other young boys and groom them in the art of cybercrime. Of course admission into the “training institutes” is free. All that the new initiate needed was a laptop, the ability to dress like a social misfit and a heavy dose of ruthlessness. Headed by a veteran yahoo boy called master or boss, a rented apartment serves as their base and the boys can pay any amount no matter how high for rent. Thus one usually finds a cluster of young boys undergoing yahoo apprenticeship in many residential areas especially in southern Nigeria and in towns where there are tertiary institutions.

The yahoo boys, despite renting posh apartments, also spend a lot of money on hotel bills and drinks. They invade boutiques and once inside other customers can’t come in. Many of the boutiques in town owe their existence to patronage by yahoo boys. They also cavort with beautiful girls on whom they lavish money. They drink and wash themselves in the choicest and the most expensive cognac usually supplied in “a casket” accompanied by “siren”. The cost of each mobile phone some of them carry can pay a session’s fees of a student in Nigeria’s most expensive private university. The yahoo boys see themselves as the big dogs of society and they are growing in number.

Certainly, a bigger socio-economic and even political crisis lay ahead if the yahoo menace is not curbed. Many of them now purchase all sorts of academic degrees as they build their financial empire. What stops them from invading the political space tomorrow and take over the reins of power. Remember, Nigerian politics is really not a game of numbers, but money. Oh, money is actually about numbers too! There are already instances of some of them gunning for political offices. More will follow and should they deploy the commitment they put into internet fraud into politics then Nigeria would be in for another wahala.

It is unfortunate that the menace is becoming cancerous and intractable before our eyes. The yahoo boys are now seen by many as role models. Since joblessness has made nonsense of the acquisition of tertiary education many young boys now see yahoo as the way to prosperity and declared education as a scam. The primitive acquisition of wealth by politicians whom the yahoo boys now rival is another causative factor. There is also the influence of popular culture as expressed in Nollywood and Nigerian music which have become corrupting media. My colleague, Aghogho Agbamu, captures it more forcefully, “{t}he deviant youth culture of street-ist ideology has recently been powered by the easy money of internet fraud, and more influentially, the lyricism of the pervasive music emanating from this culture”.

The collapse of value that has led to the glorification of wealth is another contributory factor for the entrenchment of the yahoo culture. Mothers now borrow money to buy laptops for their sons and even take them to pastors for prayers to enable the yahoo engagement flourish. Today, there is a yahoo boys’ mothers association! What about the law enforcement agencies that should combat the menace? They are deeply involved. The police and EFCC officials (Magu Boys) extort the yahoo boys and in some cases make good friends with them and even get hired as escorts. Many law enforcement agents are on the payroll of yahoo boys so they live above the law. Many bankers and business operators act as conduits for “the boys in white agbada”.

Back to the wedding reception! The “boys in white agbada” left the reception since there were no seats for them. Someone predicted that they would return for an after party. But their apprentices and a few gbogons stayed and what followed was a disturbing naira rain. Many guests took their leave in protest. The few who stayed a bit longer did so in deference to the parents of the new couple. Mouths were agape and eyes dilated as naira rained and erotic dance rocked the hall. Guests shook their heads in disapproval with arms folded across chests. But, it is not enough to remonstrate in silence. Something should be done to tame this monster before it is too late. That was how cultism took roots in Nigeria. Yes, something should be done before it is too late!

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