At an event in Lagos some months ago, someone mentioned without facts that 4 out of 10 Nigerian young men are Yahoo Boys, a consciously-provocative term used to stratify cybercriminals. Word on the streets is that this isn’t the first time Nigeria is dealing with fraud culture, many years even before the internet existed, grown-up, educated and illiterate men and women, who specialized in using fax machines to defraud unsuspected foreigners and Nigerians was the thing.
Experts and world leaders believe there’s a striking similarity between 20th century China and present-day Nigeria. A decade ago, Made in China was to many people a signature of dubious quality. Fast-forward to today, China has made rapid progress to become the world’s second-largest economy as well as the world’s workshop. In Nigeria, many young people are reacting to the economic malaise by resorting to cybercrime, which has given the country and its people a bad reputation globally. Nigeria has gained ill repute for being the haven of online fraudsters, or what is known colloquially as Yahoo boys. However, the same technology that enables cybercrime in Nigeria is also the very tool that is changing the lives of millions of young people in the space.
The growing number of Nigerian creatives and software developers isn’t free from reckless police operations and unwarranted searches in densely populated regions. For instance, Yaba – a suburb particularly known as a cluster of innovators, programmers, and startups as well and a major educational district harboring high school students, undergraduates, dropouts and camouflaged scammers has become a playground for law enforcement officers, forcefully extorting yahoo boys and other dwellers, with intimidating remarks and actions. The spurious force hasn’t just been patrolling with intents on curbing vices, they are also indicting innocent students and young professionals for personal gains.
Last week, a team of writers and visual directors from More branches Media was flagged down very close to the office in Lagos, without search warrants or proper identification, they asked that all bags and the car be searched, with undertones of threats. It took the self-aware team of journalists and creatives 15 minutes to convince SARS that they were working professionals, after presenting equipment, company merchandise, and online presence to the uneducated officers. While this is a case of a team that stood strong to defend themselves, we must also acknowledge the thousands of upright young men and women out there expressing themselves in the ways they want, only to mishandled by criminals backed by the law because they own smart devices.
It’s the same thing with Tolu Yussuff, an entrepreneur and remote developer with More branches who shuttles between Lekki and Surulere every week. He was accused of wearing dreadlocks and upon that, he was arrested by the anti-cultism unit. This harassment didn’t end until Tolu was taken to the police station and his family had to intervene.
Intervention here is bail that is free but not-so- free, usually ranging from 10,000 naira up to 250,000 naira.
In cases where the victim is found faultless, the next way to go is incrimination depending on dress code, hairstyles or weed. While many have called on the government and anti-graft agencies to oversee the operations of policemen turned muggers, numerous social campaigns and movements for the emancipation of squeaky-clean Nigerians and in-depth focus on perpetrators of cybercrime have sprung up, but nothing good has come out of the strives – which leave men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, otherwise known as SARS or raiders unrelenting in molestation and brutality targeted at innocent citizens.
Now, startups and businesses in Lagos are taking it upon themselves to protect their workforce from the savagery. Bankole Oluwafemi, a media entrepreneur, together with printivo – an online printing company are canvassing for more workplaces to help their staff navigate everyday life by uniformly assigning ID cards so that the potential victim is recognized as a member of a larger, legally recognized entity with rights to possess laptops, phones and other things every human deserves to own.
It makes sense for Usable, forLoop, Devcenter and other developer collectives (Google Developer Groups etc) to come together under an umbrella body (or even by themselves, but that’d probably have less impact) registered with the government and say: “These are our people, we can vouch for them” – Akindare Okunola (Techcabal)
While this is a great initiative in the fight against the injustice, it is very important that the federal and state governments take the protection of well-meaning citizens and students sternly. As we wait for things that never happen in Nigeria, don’t forget to get yourself a valid ID, it’s not a guarantee to boycott the police or raiders, but it’s the best option for a collective of people fighting for themselves.