Saving the Nigerian youth from the Yahoo-Yahoo scourge
Allow me to weigh in a bit on the Tech and “Yahoo” boys’ conversation, lest we risk becoming a generation of reactionary young people with zero will to do the hard things required to solve hard problems.
Having conversations like this on Twitter can be daunting, especially when there are a lot of grey areas. I’ll start off by saying that, as a 17-year-old teenager from Ikorodu, the only thing that prevented me from getting into “Yahoo” was because I couldn’t afford a laptop.
Not morals, not religion, not convictions. If someone had introduced me to HK then, maybe I would have been on a much different path—one that leads to “Tunde wire. This desperation became deeply rooted. In my heart due to the many nights I watched my mother go to bed hungry.
Things are a lot more intense now, as mothers are taking loans and plunging themselves into massive debt to buy laptops for their sons to start doing “Yahoo”. This is not hearsay. To them, it is a worthy sacrifice, as it could be their only ticket out of generational poverty.
To really understand this Yahoo boys scourge, we need to get off our Twitter high horses and feel the pulse of the streets. We can’t keep complaining about the effects without addressing the underlying cause. Dismissing it as just greed or theft lacks depth and is too inconclusive.
It’s a crime, no doubt, but it’s easy to be judgmental about crime when you live in a world privileged enough to be removed from it. The streets have taught me that everyone has different notions of right and wrong and what level of crime they’re willing to participate in.
I’ll use Ikorodu as an example, as it is home to me. If you randomly select 20 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 in Ikorodu, I can assure you that 80% are already into internet scams, and the remaining 20%, given enough time, will eventually give in to peer pressure.
This is honestly how bad things currently are. The journey of most Yahoo boys doesn’t begin in adulthood; we lose most of them between the ages of 14 and 18. The gap years between finishing secondary school and gaining admission into university are where they’re most vulnerable.
This is where they get recruited into networks popularly called HK (Hustle Kingdom). Every HK network has a “mentor” who houses 10–20 boys for months and teaches them the ways of phishing, dating scams, wire fraud, etc. The mentor empowers them with a laptop and the internet.
There are thousands of HKs scattered across Lagos, Warri, Benin, Port Harcourt, and Ibadan, especially. Go to any hotel in Ikorodu at night and see for yourselves what these boys have become. In these groups, the lifestyle of using drugs and flaunting wealth is nurtured.
The more desperate ones advance into Yahoo Plus, a more sinister level where they resort to rituals, sex with blood relatives, etc. A boy, a laptop, and his dreams are reduced to a desperate life of survival fueled by insatiable greed. This is our collective failure as a society.
What can we do differently? Two years ago, my mentor, Johnson Abbaly, called me and said he wanted me to be involved in a project called the” Smartan House” in the slums of Ikorodu. The idea behind this was to create a parallel culture that rivalled Yahoo Boy culture. Our own HK.
The Smartan project was successful. We realised that the best way to steer the hearts of young people away from internet scams was to create an enabling environment where they could be influenced by their own peers, just like in Hong Kong, but this time grounded in a quest for building real skills.
The number one reason why there’s an alarming proliferation of Yahoo boys with no end in sight isn’t just because of greed or poverty; it’s the lack of deliberate mentorship and guidance. These young people have fire in their hearts and a strong will to succeed against all odds.
This zeal can be channelled differently. The real consequence of internet scam culture is not just how it ruins our reputation on a global stage; it’s that we’re losing the battle for the minds of the future work force of our country in thousands to a crude system like HK.
You can’t tell young people to have great dreams and aspirations when their experience of the world and the opportunities therein is confined to the limitations of their environment. Their only perception of success is one egbon adugbo that bought Benz from doing Yahoo.”
One of the teenagers from the Smartan project travelled to South Africa two days ago on a full-ride scholarship to the African Leadership Academy. Many of them have now gained important tech skills and are seeking internship opportunities.
The founder of Future Africa, Iyinouluwa Aboyeji, recently visited them at the Smartan House in Ikorodu. He was so impressed by their brilliance that he gave them a job to work on a proposal, which they delivered with excellent precision. This is how much they got paid for it: (N650,000)
The model is simple. 1. Go to public schools, go to the streets, and find 50 Yahoo boys between the ages of 14 and 18. 2. Bring them into the Smartan House for 8 weeks. 3. Assign them to a mentor who can devote 2 hours weekly for 2 years to guide them on their new skill path with stipends.
Of the 50 boys we taught chess to during the Oshodi Underbridge project, at least 30 of them had been involved in internet scams at some point in their lives but failed. There’s a clear pipeline from failed Yahoo boys to becoming an Area boy.
One of those underbridge boys is Ayomide; he was a former Yahoo boy as well. He recently spoke at the Babcock University United Nations Model Conference. A product of the Smartan House who now writes code and knows he has so much more to offer the world.
Just a few months ago, Ayomide was just another random street kid working as a bus conductor and living under the Oshodi Bridge with no hope of a future. Today he created his own web page and online store using HTML and CSS. We’re creating a new story for the African child.
Trevor said in his book that crime succeeds because it does the one thing the government doesn’t do: it cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for young kids who need support and a helping hand. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn’t discriminate.
We’re starting a new cohort of Smartans in September; this time we’re bringing in 50 Yahoo boys into the crucible. You will see their progress in real-time.
We need mentors, and we need funding. You can donate here: Lightfield House, 0058931737. Access bank. We can scale this.
Tunde Onakoya is a Nigerian National Chess Master and coach who founded Chess in Slums Africa in 2018. He is driven by the conviction that chess can serve as a powerful educational tool to improve young lives and foster a new generation of intellectuals, even among underprivileged communities.His non-profit organization, Chess in Slums Africa, leverages the game of chess as a means of social intervention, bridging the gap between disadvantaged children and their aspirations. By providing tuition-free education, learning resources, and mentorship opportunities, Chess in Slums Africa is creating an inclusive future for every African child.
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