By Dele Sobowale
Work spares us from three evils: boredom, vice and need — Voltaire, French writer and philosopher.
Work is the great cure of all the maladies and miseries that ever beset mankind — Thomas Carlyle, English philosopher.
ON Sunday, December 27, 2019, I found myself in the taxi park situated at Sango, Ibadan, very close to University of Ibadan and the Ibadan Polytechnic. My old jalopy had inexplicably broken down after I spent a pleasant afternoon with two of my grandsons. From experience, I know that mechanics are difficult to find on Sundays anywhere in Nigeria. The only place is the nearest motor park. So, I did not wait for somebody to say “Let’s go there.” I went on my own.
I got more than I expected and learnt a frightening lesson about the damage large scale graduate unemployment is doing to us and the dangers ahead. The electrician who would attend to me was away on another problem. I had to wait. The wait was worth it and I must share my experience with our political leaders and fellow Nigerians. What we do with this information is up to us.
A young man came strolling through the park, not greeting anybody until he was called by the head mechanic. Everybody greeted him, welcoming him back to Ibadan. Asked how long he will stay, his answer was “If business is good in Ibadan; otherwise I move on.” The following revelations came after he left.
The young man, name withheld, had just been released from prison. There was a dispute regarding whether that was the second or third time he would be jailed at the age of about 29. He is a graduate from one of Nigeria’s leading universities (again name withheld) with a second class upper degree.
He faithfully completed his youth service in one of the northern states and then returned home to joblessness and the social stigma accompanying that low status. After writing hundreds of applications, visiting dozens of prospective employers, he finally landed a job with a company operating a Ponzi scheme – promising greedy and self-deluded Nigerians fantastic returns on their investments.
Six months after he started work, the Police raided the place and charged the operators for fraud. The chairman, who must have been tipped off about the raid, escaped arrest and vanished. The young man was the “manager” in the office and he was one of three employees caught, prosecuted and jailed. The poor man only got to know that what he thought was a God-sent job was actually a serious crime.
Prison life exposed him to more criminals than anybody can experience outside our “correctional institutions”. In fact, all prisons correct is the ignorance of those sent to jail about the various ways of profiting from crime. He returned about fifteen months after and very quickly joined a crime syndicate whose members he had met in jail.
Within a few days, he had money in his pocket. The good life – night clubs, spraying Fuji musicians, bedding girls at will, wearing gold necklaces, etc. – followed. Then, he was arrested again. But, it was not clear whether or not he was convicted. He disappeared from Ibadan for almost a year. He returned as the kingpin of his own gang – among who were Yahoo boys.
The survival of the unfittest
“The Devil finds work for idle hands.”
Let me move fast forward to arrive at the frightening aspect of this young man’s odyssey. He is now known to have taken under his wing several unemployed graduates of universities and polytechnics and he is training them. They now recruit new people and offer them “employment”. Thus, the young man is no longer the sole threat to society anymore; he is actively cloning himself by taking some of our sons and daughters who years after graduating from tertiary institutions are still roaming the streets in search of work.
It is quite possible that the young man and his “school for unemployed graduates” might not be the only one in Nigeria. Anyone who reads as many newspapers as I do will easily understand that once a social vice operates in one part of Nigeria which infects most peoples’ moral standing, it is most likely that there are others in other parts of Nigeria.
Is Ibadan now the yahoo capital of Nigeria?
Ibadan occupies a unique place in Nigeria’s tertiary education history. It was the site of Nigeria’s first university. Together with Obafemi Awolowo (formerly University of Ife), there was a time almost half of Nigeria’s university students were in the Ibadan/Ife axis.
It was also the Western regional capital. Unknown to most people, Ibadan is still within a short road trip from most federal, state and private universities in the South West. Unfortunately, Ibadan might soon become known as the epicentre of Yahoo operations in Nigeria. How did I reach that conclusion?
For health, too complex to mention now, I found myself since the middle of last year visiting Ibadan more frequently than before. Suddenly, I noticed a major quantum jump in the number of luxury cars on Ibadan roads. Most were driven by very young people. It was time to investigate. First, there was no evidence of rapid economic development in the city which could account for this phenomenon. So, where was the money coming from?
I added to my itinerary in Ibadan visits to various hot spots where the young gather for enjoyment – especially on weekends. My appointments were shifted to Fridays; after which I lodged in a hotel frequented by the Ibadan yahoo crowd. With eyes, ears and brain fully open, it did not take long to realise the source of the sudden influx of funds.
Second, I was not, therefore, surprised when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, started to make several arrests in Ibadan and most of the luxury cars vanished from Ibadan roads. But, by mingling with the Yahoo community, without disclosing my identity, it was clear to me that Ibadan has become a major hub in Nigeria and West Africa for all sorts of ways to defraud banks and their customers; to divert corporate funds and to cripple accounting systems locally and globally.
Third, the successes of the early invaders of private funds had attracted young people from all over Nigeria and even ECOWAS to Ibadan. They now share information about tricks which had succeeded and they have even formed several associations. Obviously, the youths of Nigeria have come to embrace the embezzlement of other peoples’ funds as a normal way of earning their living.
The unemployed who were once treated with contempt is now looking down on their colleagues working for banks and even oil companies. I have heard some proclaim that they can never again accept paid employment. “How much can they pay me which can match what I make now from Yahoo?” asked one of them one evening at a hotel near the Ijebu-Ode garage. Everybody around the table nodded in agreement. So, even a job, if offered now will be turned down in favour of living solely on crime.
Finally, I had a meeting with Governor Fashola of Lagos State during his first term in office. I have had an article published in The Punch titled Survival of the unfittest. I was then a Senior Lecturer and Consultant with the Nigerian Institute of Management, NIM, at Victoria Island. Living in Lagos Island gave me the opportunity to conduct some research into how Lagosians made their living. I was shocked to discover that close to 42 per cent of Lagosians lived either fully or partially on crime.
Fashola disbelieved it when told. But, a recent casual survey has revealed a higher percentage of Lagos residents living on criminal activities. Information Technology, IT, has increased the avenues for criminals to earn a living. Our future is bleak when more and more young graduates seek employment with criminals and now reject honest work even if offered.