A recent EFCC raid on suspected internet fraudsters revelling at Club 57, a popular nightclub in Lagos, has brought the topic of internet fraud to the fore and raised spirited conversations across social media, particularly Twitter.
The EFCC, via its official Twitter handle, wrote in a tweet later on Friday morning, "Operatives of the EFCC early this morning raided Club 57 in Ikoyi, acting on intelligence report of activities of suspected Internet fraudsters."
"While some abandoned their exotic cars to evade arrest, some others resisted. 12 suspects were arrested, with 10 cars recovered,", he said.
Conversations about internet fraud are not new. Following Falz's remarks scolding the singer, 9ice for apparently endorsing internet fraudsters in his song, "Living Things", the subject was a major topic of debate on Twitter for days. Now again, for the umpteenth time, we're discussing why there are internet fraudsters to start with and the depth of their involvement in the Nigerian economy.
What's different on this occasion is that the conversation has quickly shifted from "We have too many internet fraudsters" to ill-advised surmisals like "Yahoo Boys bring money into the economy. Politicians steal money and take it out of the economy. Nigerians please who is justified". Another reason why Efe should stick to shouting Warri in his songs.
The question of whether internet fraudsters are justified in their actions and if the 'criminal' tag is a fair one has now dominated the conversation.
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Robin Hood or Robbing the hood?
Across the thousands of tweets that have been exchanged on the subject over the weekend, the major case that has been made for these internet fraudsters, or yahoo boys as they are also referred to, has been that they are a necessary evil, young hustlers who have amassed wealth on their own and in doing so have helped the local economy on a path that they chose because they had no alternatives.
To be fair, it's hard to deny the role that the economy has played in the emergence of internet fraud.
While it has mainly gained notoriety in the Internet age, the origins of Yahoo date back to a time when the main tools were a pen, paper, and a very vivid imagination.
As far back as the 1970’s, young Nigerian men would use false personalities to create long-distance friendships with ‘pen pals’ in better-off countries like the United States and England.
The 'trade' began to experience a boom in the 1980s and the 1990s when harsh economic conditions and the government's neglect of young people, both at home and in the diaspora, from the Shagari administration to Babangida's regime, led many young Nigerians to pursue fraud.
The version of Internet fraud that has earned Nigerians a reputation across the globe started in the final third of the 1990s.
By the 2000s when internet and mobile technology became more accessible, thousands of young men (and women) saw an opportunity to make quick wealth from wire transfers, love scams and the like.
Things are not the same
Yet, the circumstances are largely different now. While internet fraud has been romanticised in small, poor communities where yahoo boys have made it out of the doldrums to support their families, it has now become arguably the premier get-rich-quick scheme.
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A visit to the hubs of Lagos nightlife and you are likely to see them in numbers; young men in flashy, expensive vehicles, gold chains and the capacity to buy just about anything they set their eyes on.
They are nothing like the comparisons to Robin Hood they desperately try to inspire. Yahoo boys amass wealth by using advanced technology to steal funds from widows, businessmen and financial institutions.
Over the decades, they have created international networks that operate seamlessly in four continents. In doing so, they have earned Nigerians a sullied reputation as internet fraudsters that has been referenced in pop culture, on shows like "Atlanta" and "Two and a Half Men".
Yahoo boys are many things; victims of circumstance, hustlers, but we must not also leave the term, criminal out. There's is a choice, not a forced decision. For every yahoo boy, there are many other young men in the same shoes who chose the legal route.
If the glove or, in this case, the term fits, then it must be worn.