When he first learned, in detail, about internet fraud and the people we call ‘yahoo boys’, Bola* didn’t need to ask too many questions before taking his place.
Yahoo boys have become a challenging part of Nigerian society. Their fraudulent activities, profligate lifestyle and the schemes pulled by international syndicates have made them the focus of anti-crime agencies in Nigeria and around the world.
On the other hand, they support entire families and industries by bringing millions of illegal dollars into the local economy.
Bola was not poor in the Nigerian sense of the word. It was his desire for something extra; an escape from the insecurity that plagues every other Nigerian that directed his strength to international dating sites and falsified documents.
Unlike many of his peers, he seems to understand his trade for what it is.
Under the condition of anonymity, I spoke with Bola about what it means to be a yahoo boy.
1) Did you join because your lifestyle was that bad, or it was just an easy escape?
"It's not that simple. So when I first got interested, I was doing pretty okay. My parents gave me an allowance so even if I was broke sometimes, I could expect money in like a week. You understand?"
"But that kind of money is not what we’re talking about. You can’t compare 5,000 naira that I was spending in a week to how much I can make from one transfer now. The thing is I just thought about back then, and I saw that even after leaving school and getting a job, you can never make enough in this country."
"So after you get a job, what happens? You suffer for a while and get a promotion, the suffering continues. It was not that my lifestyle was bad, I just chose a better option."
2) Is it all just smart schemes or is there jazz involved?
"This your question sha. It’s different for everybody. And it depends on what you want to do. When I first started working, I learned dating. That one takes skill, you have to know how to talk to a woman, do all the right things and make her love and trust you without seeing you."
"Then you start to pull all the schemes. But its hard. Some boys support their own work with jazz (slang for 'voodoo' or 'traditional fetish practices'). Like you’ll see some yahoo boys with gbere (a trail of ritualistic incisions made on a person's skin) or some bracelets or special water."
"Some people do more serious things, like they have to bring animals or sleep at the baba’s house and do some things. But in everything, it is just support for the work that you’re doing. If you don’t have a client or account that you’re working with and you now do jazz, you can’t say you’re doing g-plus (slang for internet fraud backed with voodoo). ."
3) Is it a healthy lifestyle?
"What do you mean, is it a healthy lifestyle, guy? Everyone knows what they are doing. Yes, it's a crime, but all of us in this country are criminals lowkey."
"I know what you’re trying to say but most people that are doing legal jobs spend the entire day working and even when they get home, they have more work to do. And it's not even as if their hands are clean."
"Is it not someone that just said a snake swallowed money? How many Yahoo boys have 38 million naira?"
"I don’t go through that kind of stress."
"I can work when I want to work and sleep when I want. I don’t report to any boss. It’s my own personal business."
4) Do you think magas still exist?
*maga is the derogatory term used to refer to foreigners who fall victim to internet fraud schemes
"Everybody is a maga my guy. If I tell you something is for sale at a cheap price of 300,000 and you say yes, you want to buy."
"I go to my guy, buy it for 100,000 naira, paint it and sell it to you, you’re my maga. That’s the problem; when people say maga, they think yahoo boys scam only old white people. But work has advanced more than that."
5) Is it all yahoo boys that engage in fetish practices?
"No now. There are boys on the street that are just hustling, doing dating or bombing and collecting 100 dollars. Those ones are not even thinking about jazz. You people usually think all yahoo boys have money and it’s a lie."
"There are yahoo boys that can’t even feed themselves. The thing is that when you work to a certain level and you’re frustrated or you’re making money and you want to step up, boys usually go to a baba or alfa (an Islamic scholar) to boost their hustle."
"Another thing is that, you know those boys that walk in cliques and they have bastard money, they usually have a particular fetish thing that they do but you have to join their clique and swear an oath before they can teach you."
6) What do you think about people’s perception of yahoo boys?
"I don’t care, except for my father and my mother. This country that we live in is full of fake people that have a holier-than-thou attitude. When they’re talking, they will curse yahoo boys, but when we give them money they don’t say no."
"If Yahoo boys were not in Lagos, half of the clubs and cinemas would not function. The money we spend in this country helps so many people. I’m not saying I don’t know what that what I’m doing is a crime. But nobody is holy."
7) Will you ever stop?
"I don’t know bro. This hustle can be rough sometimes. You don’t have rest of mind as a working boy. You can’t take your phone out. In Lagos, if the police see you looking fresh, they automatically call you a yahoo boy.
I don’t want to live that kind of life when I have a family. My dream is to go legit and invest the money. Or I’ll just go to Southie (slang for “South Africa”)".
*Name has been changed in line with individual's wishes to protect privacy