Don Dee as he is fondly known in the Somolu area of Lagos, is quite an intelligent young man. A graduate from the Olabisi Onabanjo Univeristy, Ogun State, the 34-year-old, who refused to disclose his real name when our correspondent met him through the help of a very close acquaintance, said that failure to find a job three years after leaving school pushed him into cybercrime popularly known as ‘Yahoo yahoo’ in many parts of Nigeria today. In the five years that he had been into this ‘business’, DD as some prefer to call him, told Saturday PUNCH that he had made quite a fortune, establishing a few investments and significantly scaling up his living standard.
“Within the first five months I started this work, I bought a Honda Accord car mostly known as Baby boy,” the 34-year-old said proudly as two of his trusted allies in the ‘business’ walked into the tiny but heavily air-conditioned bar of one of the hotels in the area that has become their home. “Since that time, I have used several cars and done a lot of good things for myself, siblings and even parents from what I have made from this hustle. It’s been tough but we are making the money,” he added, as all three men smiled with some sense of pride and fulfillment.
But as much as the bucks have been rolling in for Don Dee, it has not been all rosy. Unlike in the past when he painted the town ‘red’ with his ill-gotten wealth, winning over new followers for himself by the minute, he has been forced to change his mode of operation today as a result of the increased onslaught on Internet fraudsters by law enforcement agencies in the country. For instance, despite boasting of two exotic rides – a 2015 Acura ZDX and a 2016 Lexus RX 450h, the 34-year-old now has to rely on commercial transportation especially taxis ordered through mobile applications to move around town during the daytime. Night time is the only period he rocks his ‘machines’ these days, he revealed painfully.
“This is part of the strategy many of us adopt these days just to avoid attracting undue attention to ourselves especially from SARS operatives and other law enforcement agencies constantly on our trail,” the 34-year-old said, clenching his fist as if ready to crush a foe’s skull. “If you drive these big cars during the daytime, you’ll only be inviting these people to come after you and make life difficult for you. But at nighttime, the harassment is very low, so you could move around peacefully with your flashy car even though you still have to give the regular tips to policemen who are on the road,” he said.
Apart from largely relying on public transportation to meet up with important appointments during the daytime nowadays, the young man also keeps away all expensive items like jewellery and also appears as simple as possible to avoid giving himself away as a ‘Yahoo’ or ‘Gee boy’ as some prefer to call them. In addition, the hotel Don Dee and his friends live in is said to be owned by a retired military officer, thereby making the place a fortress and very difficult for other law enforcement agencies to burst and make arrests. Though accommodation there is more expensive than in most hotels in its class, patrons like the ‘Internet hustlers’ say the peace they experience at the place compensates for every other thing.
“I have a house in town but I hardly go there for security reasons,” the young man continued. “The SARS guys would always get that information and come after me just to collect money. It is for that reason that I and my guys stay in this hotel because they cannot come in here to pick anyone. They know the man who owns this place and won’t dare to come in here,” he added boastfully as one of the other two men signalled a hotel staff to deliver a bottle of a popular brand of whisky, an energy drink, small bucket of ice and a few glass cups to the table where the friendly interaction was taking place.
But surprisingly as it sounds, Don Dee and his gang are not the only ‘Yahoo boys’ that have devised new tactics to escape the prying eyes of law enforcement officers constantly on their trail, they are among a growing list splattered all over the country that have mastered different and ingenious survivalist strategies to stay ahead of the chasing pack.
For example, apart from also abandoning his rented apartment in the Anthony area of Lagos to live in an hotel reportedly guarded by military men contracted by the owner in nearby Mende, a small community at the base of Maryland, a sprawling neighbourhood in the heart of Lagos, Taiwo or Tee Money as he is widely known within his circle, hardly rides his 2015 Toyota Camry fondly nicknamed ‘Muscle’ in local parlance during the daytime so as not to fall into the hands of “enemies” as he described law enforcement officers like men of the Special Anti Robbery Squad. While narrating what the experience of the last few months has been as a ‘Gee boy’ especially with the increased war waged against people like him by government agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the 28-year-old told our correspondent that he has had to tone down on his flamboyant dressing and lifestyle to avoid being easily marked and arrested. Before now, Taiwo moved about with at least two expensive mobile phones each costing around N300, 000 and other items needed to aid his ‘business’.
“For several weeks now, I have not been going out with my expensive phones and other mobile gadgets because that would easily expose me as a ‘working boy’,” the young man, who our correspondent also met earlier in the week at the hotel he lives through the help of a close contact, said. “Once those gadgets are noticed on me by those SARS operatives or even normal policemen, they would want to stop and check through them and that could easily expose me.
“I have a good car but as a result of current development, it is safer to drive only at night when most roads would be free and one can apply some speed to avoid any sort of tracking.
“In fact, since EFCC and SARS increased the tempo of their search on us, I have had to cut my hair low and avoid wearing clothes that would even make you suspect me to be a ‘Gee’ in any way. If you knew the way I dressed before and now, you’d realise a whole lot of difference. This is necessary just to avoid giving yourself away to these guys who are really ready to mess up anyone caught nowadays,” he disclosed.
The 28-year-old told Saturday PUNCH that his apartment at Anthony had been raided twice by law enforcement officials following tip-offs by some individuals, hence his decision to move in permanently to the hotel he said promised relative safety and comfort – two very important elements to the success of any ‘Yahoo yahoo’ business, according to him.
“Without peace of mind, you can’t do well for yourself in this line,” Taiwo cut in sharply. “You need to be safe and comfortable for you to be able to hit it big in this ‘game’. And that is why many of us stay in secure environments to operate. Though it strains the pocket, it is the best way to avoid unnecessary harassment from those on our trail,” he added.
While the likes of Don Dee and Tee Money have abandoned their rented apartments to become permanent guests in hotels guarded by soldiers contracted by owners in an attempt to avoid EFCC and SARS raids, a handful of others yet to hit it big from the fraudulent act have equally devised their own formula of staying ahead of the chasing pack.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH revealed how most of those in the ‘business’ have abandoned neighbourhoods notorious for cybercrime like FESTAC, Ajao Estate, Egbeda and Ilupeju for less fancied areas especially in developing towns like Ikorodu, Ayobo, Iba and even Mowe in Ogun State just to avoid being noticed and possibly arrested. To further conceal their identities, these guys have learnt to keep very low profiles in those places – unlike in the past when their screaming lifestyles announced them to neighbours and people around such localities.
“I had to move to my cousin’s place in the Igbogbo area of Ikorodu two months ago when raids by law enforcement agencies became a regular thing in Ajao Estate where I have my house,” Josh, one 30-year-old, who told our correspondent that he has made over N20m from cybercrime since coming into the ‘business’ in 2016, said. “As a result of the way most of the ‘Gee boys’ at Ajao used to display their wealth, we became a target for law enforcement officials who just want to extort money from us. I had to run down to my cousin’s place after two of my very close friends were arrested.
“Nobody knows me here or even what I do. My cousin is the one using my car for now, he works with a bank while I use taxi or even commercial bus if I need to go out just to avoid any sort of suspicion that can cause problem for me.
“It has not been easy coping in this environment considering where I was coming from but I have learnt to adapt so as not to expose myself unnecessarily.
“This is the only thing I have been doing to sustain myself since graduating from the polytechnic after failing to find a job. Since 2016 when I started, I have made over N20m but I am willing to stop and do something legitimate if I can get a good job. Until then, I will hold on to this as much as I can,” he stated.
Beyond moving into hotels guarded by military men and also relocating to developing towns in border communities between Lagos and Ogun states, most ‘Gee boys’, according to Saturday PUNCH’s findings, have also found a safe haven in a popular government-owned housing estate on Victoria Island where many apartment owners have responded to the demand created by these clandestine migrations to rent out their tastefully-furnished flats to guys in this category at very high prices. These service flats, our correspondent discovered, are given out at between N30, 000 to N35, 000 per day. They are very comfortable and require guests to only move in with their clothes – just like in a hotel.
“My cousin who is a ‘Yahoo boy’ puts up in one of those flats with five other friends due to the comfort and relative safety of the place,” Frank Idemudia, a car dealer based in Ogba, told our correspondent during a recent encounter. “He initially told me that he was lodged at a hotel in VI but when he sent the address to me, I was confused, because I was wondering how a hotel would be inside that estate.
“Eventually when I got there, I realised it was a flat that the owner had equipped like a hotel and rented out to them. The place was very comfortable, Everything was there. Later, my cousin told me that the six of them contributed to pay the daily charges and that they preferred to stay there because nobody could come and burst them there unlike normal hotels in town where they could be easily discovered.
“I was really surprised because I never knew that these guys have taken their operations to this level. Only God knows other tactics they’ll soon be adopting to avoid the law enforcement officials who are after them these days,” he said.
This new trend, according to Saturday PUNCH’s findings, has found its way into other housing estates between Victoria Island and Lekki where many flat owners now lavishly equip and rent them out to ‘Yahoo boys’ desperate to escape the prying eyes of law enforcement agents. These guys pay good money to enjoy the relative comfort and safety of those places.
“Many big ‘Gee boys’ live in these ‘home hotels’ in posh estates in VI, Lekki and even Ikoyi because they feel that it would be difficult for any police officer to harass or arrest anyone there. The general feeling is that once you reside in such places, you are considered to be from a wealthy background and are into legitimate activities, so there is hardly any sort of suspicion.
“In recent months, I have had a number of these guys approach me to help them get ‘home hotels’ on the axis because they were tired of having to run from SARS operatives all the time,” a housing agent at the Maroko (Sandfill) area of Victoria Island, Kunle Ololade, told our correspondent. “In fact many people who own apartments in those places have been catching in on this situation to make good money,” he added.
Coming under intense scrutiny in recent weeks by law enforcement agencies and public opinion leaders across the country, ‘Yahoo boys’ are increasingly finding it difficult to operate openly despite crafting ingenious means to avoid being noticed. For example, on May 11, 2018, operatives of the EFCC raided a popular night club in the Ikoyi area of Lagos, whisking away about 12 Internet fraudsters with their exotic cars following an intelligence report.
That same day, the anti-graft agency also arrested six suspected Internet fraudsters also in a secluded apartment in the Kubwa area of Abuja. According to the spokesperson for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, the operation was carried out by the advance fee fraud section of the commission following an intelligence report.
“Surveillance was carried out and the identity and location of the fraudsters who specialise in defrauding innocent citizens both within and outside the country through internet was identified,” he said.
In March this year, the Cross River State Police Command announced the arrest of three Internet fraudsters with charms, which they used in defrauding and dispossessing victims of money and other valuables.
Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Hafiz Inuwa, said the young men confessed to belonging to a syndicate that uses charms to hypnotise potential victims.
That was not all. In April 2012, an undergraduate of the OOU, Olasaidi Dare, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for cybercrime following his arrest by the police. Two months after that period, a Federal High Court in Kaduna State sentenced one Imonina Kingsley to 20 years imprisonment for defrauding an Australian national. While condemning the act, the EFCC that year said it secured the conviction of over 288 persons for similar crimes.
Troubled by the new tactics now adopted by ‘Yahoo boys’ to evade arrest especially relocating to coded areas within Lagos or completely outside the city, an Assistant Police Commissioner, Yomi Shogunle, in a recent post on his Twitter page, said that there was no longer a hiding place for those in the act.
“To all Yahoo Yahoo Boys relocating from Lagos State because of fear of going to jail over financial crimes, you can run but you can’t hide. The long arm of the law will catch up with you anywhere you run to as long as you indulge in illegal activities,” he had posted.
Also urging stiffer punishments for cyber thieves, Chief Executive Officer of 360group, Noble Igwe, called on the EFCC and other law enforcement agencies to spread their searchlight to other businesses used as decoy to perpetrate such crimes.
In a post on twitter, Igwe, who has since drawn the ire of others, said, “Record labels, estate/ property business, car selling business are all major 419 /fraud fronts in Nigeria.
“EFCC needs to have a waiter stationed at every nightclub within Lekki and VI. Online stores and stores on Admiralty/Fola Osibo in Lekki are used for money laundering.
“Armed robbers on Instagram are regarded as ‘G boys’ but in reality, theirs is a different type of stealing.
“People steal and then turn around to blame the government for making them criminals. Anyone that defends a criminal is a criminal and while we have a list for people advocating rape culture, we should also have one for such people. An armed robber is an armed robber. You are a thief armed with a computer.”
Though there are conflicting accounts on the origin of cybercrime or ‘Yahoo yahoo’ in Nigeria, analysts say the trend gained momentum in the early 1990s, booming in the following decade after the arrival of cheap, affordable Internet in most parts of the country. The failure of many youths to find jobs or other legitimate means of livelihood fuelled the crisis, luring many in this category into the illicit trade of scamming, according to sociologist, Sandra Ekanem.
“Beyond the advent of cheap, affordable Internet, it is the failure of the society to provide jobs that would have engaged idle minds that triggered ‘Yahoo yahoo’ and other crimes we now face in this country.
“Even though having no means of livelihood is not an excuse for engaging in criminal activities, it is a huge contributory factor the society must address to solve this problem,” she said.
According to latest statistics, over 30 million youths across the country are said to be unemployed and without any means of livelihood. Experts say if this is left unaddressed, there could be bigger problems in the days ahead.
“Statistically, Nigeria has a youth population of about 67 million, aged between 15 and 35 years. Forty two per cent of these young people don’t have means of livelihood while only about 20 per cent have more than secondary certificate.
“What these figures are simply saying is that majority of the youths in our country find it difficult to make ends meet, which is very dangerous for the society,” Director-General of Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute, Prof Danladi Matawal, said recently.
In addition to providing jobs for the country’s teeming unemployed population, experts also urge the tightening and enforcement of existing laws as a way of curbing cybercrime. But while government is being awaited to act, those in the illicit trade appears to be perfecting new ways to escape their crushing rod.
Source: Punch Newspaper