16 May 2018

Nigeria: Yahoo Boys and Nigerian Popular Culture - the Glorification of Fraud

Our outrage knows no bounds whenever we're faced with the ugly truth about ourselves and our society. Where is our outrage when the perpetrators of evil in this country literally get away with murder? From the "lazy youth" to the "fantastically corrupt" comment, there have been no short of confusing reactions to statements which although unpolished or unguarded hint at issues we all know exist in our country.

In Nigeria, virtually all levels of society have excused some form of illegality and attempted to cover this up with ethno-religious sentiment or support for one's kin. Allegiance to pastors and tribe are worth more than love of country or empathy for one's fellow man who suffers the injustices condoned by figures of authority and their blind, mindless followers. Listening to the radio, one is frequently assaulted by lyrics which shamelessly condone or encourage corruption and the systematic greed and oppression which defines our social practices.

Systematic greed and oppression

I'm not one to encourage banning suggestive content such as Big Brother, etc., because everyone is free to "look" or "unlook" according to his or her personal choices (we're all adults and in the case of children it's up to parents to either block such channels or to have the necessary conversations with their children to provide them with both knowledge and guidance). However, I'm always intrigued by the message behind our songs and movies: many seem to either glorify mindless acquisition or fraud in one way or another. After all, the only way one can move from a face-me-I-face-you on the outskirts of Lagos to a luxury penthouse on the island in under five years, outside of winning the lottery or a secret, unexpected inheritance, is through yahoo yahoo or other illegal activities.

Tiwa Savage's new songs states: "If you want to touch my body you must pay me money", publicising the commercial nature of sex/romantic relationships in Nigeria. Can you imagine the outcry in the US if Beyoncé's lyrics were to suggest such a form of prostitution? Here, empowerment is almost a bad word. Where is the "lazy youth" outrage brigade now? Aren't they offended that most female songstresses' lyrics in Nigeria claim women only practise sex for favours?

Virtually every song on the radio is about "alhajis" on private jets counting dollars. Nowhere is independence, work or emancipation of any kind mentioned. So, why are we offended about being called lazy or corrupt if that is what we ourselves profess? After all, these "alhajis" or "big boys" aren't making money legally; what they're doing is round-tripping, foreign currency manipulation, financial fraud, government contract scams and corruption.

It was reported a few days ago that a popular club on the island was raided, ending in the arrest of 12 suspected yahoo-yahoo boys. A Twitter user commented by urging the EFCC to investigate the proliferation of luxury boutiques, high rises and entertainment brands which often act as fronts for illicit activities.

As with everything in Nigeria, some agreed while some didn't. The more we investigate the more we'll find virtually no industry in Nigeria is free from connections to either government corruption or 419. It's an ugly truth we are yet to fully either accept or grapple with.

Some of the so-called richest and most popular faces in the entertainment industry, for example, are alleged accomplices or accessories to fraud. It's an open secret that many real estate agencies, property developers, restaurants, luxury boutiques and even record companies in the entertainment industry are willing conduits for dirty money.

In fact, it's often alleged that many luxury high rises which periodically spring up are connected to individuals suspected of embezzlement. Many people know this and a good number don't see anything wrong with it. We are caught in a terrible catch 22: because today's modern materialistic society confers humanity only on those who can consume, who can buy goods, the quest to own things is tied to our idea of not just self-actualisation but legitimacy as human beings.

However, in a society where basic needs are not met (education, health, clean water or food), not only is being poor a death sentence, it is a trap one must escape at all costs.

Business acumen

To escape, one must either steal (if one cannot naturally oppress due to one's status or connections) or cheat the system (and therefore indirectly kill the dreams and possibilities of others just like us). Nigerians are trapped in a dog-eat-dog society and impunity is the name of the game: almost everyone is willing to play and take their chances.

Until we develop institutions with swift punishments regardless of who is on trial, until we reward hard work and long term thinking our popular culture will continue to tell our youth to do what they must to survive because it is what works.

After all, many of the examples of success in our society are people who made their money through dubious means. We've all heard one story or the other of people who started out life as drug kingpins or hired thugs ending with an incredulous "and look at them today".

Many of these people at the top of the social pyramid are aided by the media in white-washing their antecedents. Then, some clueless people celebrate their "business acumen" or "strategy" and we wonder why young people in this country are made to feel that honest work isn't their best option.

Evans

THE alleged kidnapper whose story enthralled the nation reportedly often cries during his court appearances, further proof that we have little understanding of actions and their consequences: we've become so used to impunity that we never seem to be able to believe the party is over. "What have I done to you people," Evans cried, on camera. The greatest looters, killers, kidnappers, etc., in Nigeria always believe they are being "persecuted" when they are on trial.

They forget the pain their victims went through and so does the average Nigerian when he or she asks "is he the only one" or "there are others committing the same crimes". However, one aspect of Evans' statement should remind us of the terrible conditions in Nigerian prisons (all the more reason why politicians fight tooth and nail to escape justice).

He said "they have been beating me, no good food. Let me face my trial alive; why do you people want to kill me?"

This is in stark contrast with the careful treatment and favour accorded to senators, politicians and other high-profile men and women who are "invited" to show up and tell their side of the story (they often don't), a strange privilege given the gravity of the accusations.

The Senate only seems to come alive when its members are in jeopardy (no matter the evidence against them) but no serious prison reform legislation to benefit the majority of Nigerians is ever advertised.

Uche Secondus

THE National Chairman of the PDP ironically recently mentioned human rights abuses in Nigeria. But he seemingly focused on the rights of politicians (rights to what, you might wonder; to evade questioning?) The PDP keeps branding Senator Melaye and others' "travails" as "harassment" without ever answering these questions: Are these apparently evidenced based accusations made by the EFCC true and how can this be determined without a trial?

Evans and others like him don't have the luxury of stalling trials based on legal manipulations and support from powerful forces. Evans might believe he is being persecuted but the police and the law went ahead with their duty regardless.

Why are things different for political office holders? According to Mr. Abe, "a senator should be treated with civility. Let him be taken to court in a good manner and not like a common criminal". Mr. Abe isn't advocating for the average Nigerian not to be beaten up when he is arrested. "Common criminals" have no rights in Nigeria.

So what is a "lazy youth" to do except dream of becoming a senator?

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.

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