Reactions have continued to trail a video shared by the popular microblogging platform Instablog Naija. In the video, a lady, who by her poise and words appear to be an advanced fee fraudster or Yahoo girl in street parlance, was disciplining one of her erring apprentices, a young boy, probably in his teens.
What was most shocking wasn’t the young Yahoo matron, it was the fact that she already had even younger apprentices learning under her and already making money (enough to even lodge in hotels and ‘carry women’ of their choice).
According to the young mama, she took the boys from the streets, fed them, put clothes on their backs, bought them phones and taught them how to make money off the phones as scammers.
This has caused widespread reaction. For one, the boys seemed like minors, implying the lady was exploiting them. Secondly, she is exploiting them by using them to run an illegal business—a crime.
Some of the most vociferous outrages against this came from players in the Nigerian tech space. The battle line is always drawn between players in this space and players in the Yahoo space. While this may be so, to many other observers, this line is only a blurry thin line and crossing over from one side to the other is only a matter of intent, not any real morals, principles or ethics.
But tech bros are always ready to emphasize that line. This was perhaps what led Nigeria’s famous developer, Hack Sultan, to rubbish the lifestyle projected in the video:
“This is the HK (headquarters) and way of life some people are on twitter defending, boldly saying yahoo people build HKs to support others. This is the life of crime from a very young age they’re defending and calling hard work,” he said in response to the video.
While the Sultan was very much on point, someone else was quick to point out that his position failed to recognise the realities that make the Yahoo life more appealing and more gratifying at the moment than the tech life.
Responding to Sultan, Victory Egboka, the content lead at HappyVibes, a startup which describes itself as the Uber of Happiness, pointed out that if only the big tech gurus that have arrived could support young talents the way the Yahoo matron did, perhaps fraud wouldn’t be much of choice to them.
“This is not a defense but how many tech gurus can take in 5 young boys, feed them, cloth them, just as this lady does. Then buys them gadgets, teaches them the tech skills and how to get clients to work for. Perhaps take some % off their earning for a period of time?”Victory Egboka
This was a response that spoke a thousand times. There’s no denying that tech leaders and major players have established mentoring and coaching programs to help develop tech talents. One great example is AltSchool, the biggest tech school in Africa. AltSchool doesn’t just offer various tech courses, it also awards degrees and helps its talent land tech jobs upon completion in one year.
Furthermore, tech leaders hardly pick people with no basic skills, basic source of upkeep, or basic digital equipment off the streets to mentor and take care of them. Mentorships are usually for budding techies who have demonstrated sufficient skill and promise in a tech field, as well as doing well enough to handle basic needs.
Yahoo offers more instantaneous and more basic gratification. The only way tech could match Yahoo in that regard is if tech adopts the same system. It is the same system that has kept the Igbo apprenticeship surviving to this very day and becoming one of the largest incubators and seed funding sources in the world.
See also: Tech not Yahoo: Nigerian techies talk about the uneasy relationship between internet fraud and tech
Is poverty really the underlying driver towards tech and Yahoo?
Nigeria is a country of poor people. Last week, Steers reported that only 3.7 million out of over 200 million Nigerians could afford to spend N7,000 daily. The majority of us aren’t that privileged, with about 133 million of us living in multidimensional poverty.
This means that 133 million people are willing to do anything to feed themselves today. Many of them do not care how legal what they need to do is; they just want to do it and release themselves and their families from the pangs of hunger and deprivation.
These ones are ready and willing fodder for the Yahoo business. Indeed, parents have been known to surrender their children for grooming to become Yahoo boys.
The point has often been made that poverty isn’t the main driving force behind fraud but greed and the desire of young people to get rich quickly and live the life. While this might be so for some, it will be difficult to make it a blanket statement because lack has also been known to push people into crime and lawlessness.
Ultimately, the major difference between Yahoo and tech might just lie in the skills required for both. The truth is, the major skills required to become a Yahoo fraudster are deceit, identity theft, impersonation etc, not necessarily any core digital skill.
The digital skills mostly employed are basic and are just the facade behind which the manipulator hides to pull the strings and fleece unsuspecting victims.
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