“They occupied an entire building. The landlord rented it out to them and everyone in the compound is a Yahoo boy… we call it Yahoo Boys Quarters.”
In one of the houses on Makinde Street in Mafoluku, Oshodi, Lagos State, not less than 30 young boys were seen cavorting, toting bottles of different brands of beer, and dancing to the tunes playing in the background. Enjoying the party with them was a score of girls presumed to be their guests. Passersby simply concluded that the occasion was a birthday bash. What was baffling was the way the teenagers were consuming alcohol which was rather reckless for their young age.
The teenagers have one thing in common. They were Yahoo Yahoo boys, a funky term for internet fraudsters. The event was their annual get-together to celebrate their successes, to compare notes on current trends of internet fraud and to agree on the most efficient modus operandi.
“They are Yahoo Yahoo boys. This is how they celebrate every year. Most of them are still in secondary school and yet you can see the type of cars that they ride,” said the commercial motorcycle operator who drove Saturday Sun reporter across the street, as he pointed at the fleet of exotic cars that littered the narrow street.
Mafoluku is a small community within Oshodi Local Government Area that is heavily populated by low-income earners. The neighbourhood was frequently rocked by violence in the past due to its huge number of jobless touts and their occasional battles to control levies paid by commercial transporters. The area was also notorious for robbery, especially burglary.
Mafoluku, in recent times, has enjoyed some calm and it appears to have become relatively crime-free. That is because it has gradually transformed into a Yahoo Yahoo haven where juvenile delinquents readily abandoned the more dangerous crimes and embraced the newfangled internet fraud career.
Although, in Mafoluku, Yahoo Yahoo boys are easily spotted at joints during the day, or in their various lairs embedded in residential areas, after years of police raids of business centres, these brigades of net fraudsters have become more adept at escaping scrutiny and are increasingly difficult to track. With cheap mobile data, they can operate from anywhere.
Why I chose that path
At a popular hangout in the neighbourhood, the reporter, in the course of the investigation, was lucky to share a table with one of these young Yahoo brigands. The young man, who gave his name as Omoniyi and his age as 19, was a dropout of one of the colleges in Mafoluku who was introduced to scamming by a friend.
Unaware that he was conversing with a reporter, he freely gave a comprehensive insight. “While I was in Class 4, I attended a birthday party organised by my senior. It was a big one, though none of his family members was there. The celebrant was just 15 years old. I was told that he was a Yahoo Yahoo boy.
“My parents are very poor, and could barely feed us. My father has three wives and 14 children, all of us living in the same compound. It’s the survival of the finest. It was then that I realised how my stepbrothers suddenly became rich. I learnt how to do it, all I needed was to buy a phone and connect Facebook and Whatsapp. This was how I started and I am satisfied with the progress I have made.”
He, however, declared: “I do not wish to take it any further, because I cannot do what they (Yahoo Yahoo Plus boys) do.”
The reporter feigned interest and requested more details, prompting further revelation from Omoniyi: “As for Yahoo Plus, if you want to go further in this business, you need the help of a native doctor. They will tell you what to do. The most common is that of underwear and used condom. I pity prostitutes because they are always the target, although, some of them are wise; they also have charms and they will never allow you to take away used condom.”
He continued: “If they successfully take a lady’s panties, she will automatically become barren or sick; gradually, her condition will worsen until she dies. Here in Mafoluku, girls don’t spread their panties outside anyhow.”
How then do the Yahoo Plus boys operate? The reporter asked.
Omoniyi replied: “We rely on secondary school girls––buy them an expensive phone and they will open their legs.”
The rest is simple according to him. “You simply dope her drink so that she will not know when you remove the used condom or use tissue to clean her private part.”
Declaring, “I am not part of them,” he outlined his own mode of operation, which is strictly preying on women and women he befriended on Facebook or Whatsapp.
“It is easy to get phone numbers of people nowadays. All you need is to belong to a Whatsapp group, and you can access all the numbers. A lot of men and women are vulnerable, especially the men. I use the picture of a female model as my display photo and start chatting with men. There are a lot of nude pictures on the internet that you can download and forward to them as your real picture. Without seeing you, a lot of them would send money to you. Once they send, they will keep sending until they are tired.”
Continuing, he mentioned a more risky mode of operation, which is stealing people’s SIM card or ATM cards.
“The risk is that some of these boys will come with stolen ATM cards and before you know what is happening, police will arrest you. The easiest way is to attend big clubs and make friends with society women. They are very careless with phones and ATM cards. All you need is to ask them to allow you to make a call with their phones. You will dial a code that will give you automatic access to their phones even after you have returned the devices. They will lose money and no one will suspect you.”
These methods, he claimed, “are safer than killing someone because of money. I cannot do it.”
The teenager, by his own assessment, has not done badly in the Yahoo trade.
“With the little money that I have made, I have rented a flat for my mother and sibling,” he avowed, “Life is better and I pray that God will not allow them to catch me. I pray that I will get enough money and start my own business.”
On how he manages to evade police arrest, Omoniyi said: “They (police) know us. As long as you cannot provide an identity card to cover your back, they will assume that you are a fraudster, but my cousin is a soldier and anytime they catch me, I’d call him. They know me in this area. So no one disturbs me.”
The party witnessed by the reporter earlier was organised by one of the Yahoo boys.
“We enjoy organising parties every week,” Omoniyi affirmed. “The one you are talking about could be a birthday party organised by one of us. Even if the police should come there, it’s a party and they can’t arrest anyone. We also have an association, the aim is to help one another in case of police problem, but if anyone is arrested over the death of anyone, we will not come to his rescue. Yahoo Plus is an individual decision,” he said.
Parents in Mafoluku are worried about the growing trend. A petty trader, who introduced herself as Mama Seyi, condemned the rise in the activities of these young fraudsters. Ironically, she also claimed she had no qualms if any of her sons or grandsons were to make a fortune by such means.
“I am a poor woman who can barely afford to pay for a room in this area. If I am lucky to have a son who is intelligent enough to deliver me from poverty, why should I ask what he does for a living? Every other boy in this area is a Yahoo boy, and I will be happy that my son is not an armed robber.”
She said further: “I believe the reason they are not disturbing them is simply that they are not robbers. Crime in Mafoluku has reduced because of Yahoo Yahoo activities.”
Another parent, Iya Shehu who lives close to Ayogu, another notorious Yahoo haven, complained that they hardly sleep at night. “They occupied an entire building. The landlord rented it out to them and everyone in the compound is a Yahoo boy. It is not a secret; we call it Yahoo Boys Quarters. They organise parties till late at night almost every day. There are gunshots most of the time. Police would storm the house and arrest them, but in less than 24 hours, they would all return.”
Iya Shehu wanted the police to raid the neighbourhood and force the landlord to evict his Yahoo tenants.
She said: “I had to send my two sons to Sango to live with my mother because I am scared that they will abandon their studies. When I caught my 10-year-old son with an expensive phone, and he said it was given to him by one of the boys, I had no choice but to relocate them.”
According to her, “in my compound which has so many tenants, you dare not spread your underwear outside. It will just vanish. We are afraid of these boys. The most annoying part is that they are mostly teenagers.”
Another parent, Mr Nwosu, called for an emergency cleansing of the area.
“I am a businessman. I am proud to say that I have trained so many young boys. But in recent times, it is now difficult to get an apprentice. The last set that I admitted turned me into one of their victims. Before I realised what was happening, they have gained access into my accounts and stole from me. It is a terrible situation. Our youths are now lazy.”
He highlights another deadly dimension of Yahoo Plus. “The most alarming of their activities is the new style of ritual killing. In my area, there is a brothel nearby. Some of the girls kept missing and because they do not have any known address, no one is looking for them. They will only make noise and cry.”
Nwosu sounded an ominous note: “It is dangerous to raise boys in this area.”
According to him, “Secondary school boys are now part of them. You need to visit these areas when they organise parties. They have a very strong association that no one dares them when they gather. You will even see security men dressed in police and army uniform. I guess they are fake or on illegal duty.”
Nwosu, too, avowed that the development, as malodorous as it is, has led to a drop in crime rate in Mafoluku. “In the past two years, no one has come to knock on my door or break into my house while asleep. I guess they are now making more money defrauding people,” he said.
How they fund security
Saturday Sun learnt that most security men posted to the Mafoluku axis, especially policemen, do not pray for transfer.
A source said, “It’s not a hidden thing; police, army, civil defence and the recent neighbourhood watch operatives are on their payroll. They are not even ashamed of it. They walk into their joints in broad daylight and collect their money. Once in a while, they raid the area, arrest the young boys, take them to the nearest ATM point and make withdrawals. Those who are able to settle very quickly will be released at that point. Those who failed to do that are dragged to the nearest detention point. If you doubt it, go and sit around the airport junction, early in the morning or late at night, especially on Fridays.”
A policeman who spoke on condition of anonymity did not debunk the sharp practice, but rather blamed the government for failing to fund the police. “Take time to visit the police stations within this axis. They all lack operational vehicle. We do not get sponsors from the community because 90 per cent of the residents are very poor. They cannot afford to take care of themselves and their children. These boys are the ones who indirectly help the police to function, and most importantly, haven’t you noticed that violent crime has drastically reduced? If they don’t have any other source of livelihood, these boys will start breaking into people’s houses and the police do not have enough manpower to checkmate them.”
On claims that police deliberately allow them to continue their activities with impunity, “it is not true,” he refuted. “No policeman or security agent will put his career at risk because of these ones. The current Commissioner of Police will not take it lightly with anyone who is indicted in that respect. That is why every officer is very careful. If such a thing happens, then the policeman is on illegal duty.”
He concisely explained why police are impotent in Yahoo cases. “We know that they are out there, but without any proof, you cannot arrest them. Those that were arrested and charged to court are released in less than a week. They come back and continue from where they stopped. We are doing our best. It is not only in Mafoluku, but it also happens everywhere. Nigerians just have to be alert.”