That Life May Go On

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Youths at the venue of the NDLEA recruitment test in Port Harcourt

Nigerian youths adopt various strategies including crime in order to survive the harsh economic environment in the country

|  By Ishaya Ibrahim  |  Feb. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

AFTER failing in three attempts to pass the Unified Tertiary and Matriculation Examination, UTME, the qualifying examination for  university admission,  Felix Ugbe, {not his real name}, has changed tactics to make sure he passes this year’s UTME which incidentally, would be his fourth.  To achieve this, Ugbe has located a special centre in Oko, Anambra state, where he was asked to first do all he could to make the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, post him to that centre where he will pay for guaranteed high scores without sweat.

A suspected pick-pocket
A suspected pick-pocket

But one hurdle before Ugbe is how to find an accomplice that will help him execute his plan.  This has been his major preoccupation now. In the last one month, he has been calling and asking friends if any of them knows how the deal is done. As at press time, he has not found any accomplice that would assist him in the plan.

People like Ugbe, are the reason some youths who consider themselves specialists in fixing exam grades for lazy students are still in business.  A number of them who make a living from fixing exam grades are not even afraid or ashamed to say it. For instance, the streets of Lagos are filled with enticing adverts of examination malpractice consultants who promise specific grades for their clients. One of such adverts in Ikeja, Lagos State, reads: “Exams made easy. 7 credits in SSCE and WAEC and 280+ guaranteed at Citadel Academy. 08022974109”.

Another person who is in the same business feels that the best way of getting his own clients is to advertise on the internet telling people to call him: “If you need a special centre where you will write and clear all your papers once and for all call me. It is free of charge, you don’t pay anything to anybody. We are doing this to help students so that they too can help others tomorrow. My brother, don’t blame me, our politicians pass through the same malpractice before they got there. ”

A cart pusher
A cart pusher

Of course, politicians are partly to blame for the level of decay in the educational system which has now given rise to the business of paying for grades.  But the neglect of hard work as a means of achieving success has accounted for many of the unethical practices among young people. Examination racket is just one of the odd things young people do to survive.  Chibueze Ezugwu, guidance and counselor and deputy director of Global Agenda for Total Emancipation, GATE, an HIV awareness outfit, said: “The cause of all these is because youths are looking for an easy way out. Those special centres are still the offshoot of corruption in the system.” According to him, there is collusion between exam authorities and the owners of the special centres because corruption has permeated every system. “The problem is with the parents because they always set standards for their wards. In order to achieve the standard, anything can happen. The same thing goes for those writing external exams. Most of the parents today want their children to make their papers at first sitting and also want them to study medicine, law, engineering and other professional courses. And they will go to any length to make it happen. So it is a vicious circle, everybody is involved – the parents are involved, exam regulators are involved and the students are involved. What makes these centres special is the money people pay to pass exams. These situations have reduced the urge of the students in reading their books”, Ezugwu said.

Apart from exam malpractice, another way young Nigerians, make money to survive is through internet fraud, known as 419 and now popularly referred to as yahoo-yahoo. Many victims of internet frauds have committed suicide after losing all their life savings to the fraudsters. However, since more people are aware of this crime over time, young people involved in internet frauds have now resorted to the use of juju to facilitate the swindling of their targets. The juju-enhanced fraud is called yahoo-plus.

President Goodluck Jonathan promises fresh air for the youths
President Goodluck Jonathan promises fresh air for the youths

A repentant yahoo-yahoo boy, who pleaded anonymity, explained the various strategies used in conning their victims. “The whole thing about yahoo-yahoo is to present false information to victims who could be either Nigerians or foreigners. Mostly, foreigners are the majority of the victims because of their naivety of such falsehood and easily fall for the deceptive game.” he said.  Recounting when his group conned a Swiss with the picture of a sexy and pretty lady, the repentant internet fraudster said the picture was sent to the man’s mail as if the beautiful girl sent it herself, claiming to be a Nigerian ex-beauty queen.

He said the man became interested and established a communication with the supposed beauty queen. Shortly after, the man exchanged phone numbers with the yahoo-yahoo boys believing he was dealing with the supposed beauty queen. Unknown to the Swiss, the fraudsters got a lady to frequently answer his calls for them. After the yahoo-yahoo boys sufficiently aroused the interest of the Swiss for his dream lover, they started requesting for funds to enable the lady arrange for a visa and pay for her flight to meet him in his country. He fell for the trick and transferred money to the fraudsters.  After withdrawing the money, the yahoo-yahoo boys blocked further contact with him.

This trick and many others used by the yahoo-yahoo boys have become known all over the world. This is the reason that the boys have gone spiritual.  “Herbalists are consulted to use their spiritual powers to make foreign and Nigerian victims fall for their antics. The charms come in different forms like rings, concoctions, calabash, amulets and other spiritual articles which demand rituals to be performed after days of interval. In some cases, body parts of children are demanded for the rituals.

Young Nigerians scooping oil from a broken-pipeline
Young Nigerians scooping oil from a broken-pipeline

The repentant fraudster said that the reason many young people take to dangerous means of making money is because it offers them quick wealth. For instance, he said, a number of the yahoo-yahoo boys own houses in Lagos, drive flashy cars, and are admired by their friends and family members because they are rich and can afford to give out cash whenever a request is made to them.

Augustine Bola Adegunloye, a seer, and the Egbeji of Nigeria (leader of Nigeria’s herbalists), admitted that he had prepared charms for many yahoo-yahoo boys in the past and that many were still approaching him for spiritual consultations. Adegunloye stated that young boys are into illicit businesses because they earn a lot of money from it. “When some of them come to see me, they lodge in expensive hotels and lavish a lot of money,” he said, adding “I regretted doing what I did to help them in the past.”

The rising cases of crime as a means of livelihood for the youths are not unconnected with the unemployment problems in the country.  On January 21, this year, the International Labour Organisation, ILO, released its 2012 unemployment report which showed that a total of 197 million people in the world were jobless as at last year, with young people being particularly hard hit. The report also added that unemployment figures will increase this year with the bulk of it coming from sub-Saharan Africa where already, 77 percent of its workers are said to be in what is called “vulnerable employment.”

In Nigeria, the unemployment situation is double digit. According to official statistics, 23 percent of the general population is unemployed while youth unemployment is ranked at 40 percent. There are others who believe that the unemployment situation in Nigeria is worse than that and is so serious that some youths have turned themselves into praise singers for ‘big men’, during occasions just to make some money from them.

Making money by all means
Making money by all means

Such youths keep tabs of what and where ceremonies are taking place and who and who are to attend. In some cases, they even extort money by force from their targets. Praise singing is an age-long practice which is gradually assuming a violent dimension. For instance, in 2005, Lobi Stars and Nasarawa United were tied in a premier league match in Makurdi, Benue State. After the encounter, Daniel Amokachi, chief coach of Nasarawa United, had a nasty experience in the hands of some youths who wanted to extort money from him.  They swarmed around him like bees and wouldn’t let him off until another set of youths intervened and saved him from the crowd. But that was not all. The same youths formed a barricade around his car in a bid to make him part with money. Amokachi had to throw a bunch of N100 notes in the air before they let him go.

Last year, Eldee, Nigeria’s musical maestro, also had a difficult time in the hands of such youths during the fuel subsidy removal protest at Ojota, in January last year. He came to the venue of the protest to show solidarity with the protesters only to be held by some youths who wanted to extort money from him. In the process, one of them forcefully removed his shirt and made away with it while the others insisted on getting N10,000 from him.

Another scene played out at the Ejigbo township stadium in Lagos, during the Lagos edition of STAR TREK. The artiste, who came to perform that night, had to be smuggled out of the stadium in disguise because some youths had mounted a road block at the gate, demanding money from performing artistes before they could be allowed to leave the arena.

Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda
Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda

Many other youths have taken to kidnapping, cultism and oil bunkering as a fast way of earning a living, irrespective of the negative impact of their crimes on the image and economy of the country.  In June last year, Mutiu Sumonu, managing director of Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, said Nigeria lost five billion dollars annually to oil theft. Similarly, kidnapping which many youths see as a quick way of making big money, is driving away potential investors from Nigeria thereby worsening unemployment situation in the country.

Another criminal way some young people make a living in Nigeria is by pick-pocketing. Those who are in it have so perfected the business to the extent of removing valuable items from the pockets of unsuspecting members of the public with ease. Their victims, who are usually left stranded after the act has been committed, often wonder how the theft happened without them noticing it.

There are also young people who either out of genuine interest or trick, make money from travellers at motor parks. As soon as a vehicle is set to depart, a young man will introduce himself as a pastor and then pray for God’s travelling mercy for the passengers. At the end, he will distribute some tracts and ask for free donations to support his evangelical mission. He prays for the donors before moving to another vehicle to do the same.

Street hawkers
Street hawkers

Some other youths who look physically fit, have also turned to begging as a way of earning a living. For this category of Nigerians, who often look neat and speak fluent English, they would accost passersby by and lie that they have either been robbed or have lost their transport fare and needed assistance.

For Ebongabasi Ekpe-Judah, a sociologist and author, the urge of some youths to make quick wealth by any means is linked to the moral decadence in the society. He said the church, which ought to serve as the moral voice of the society, is not doing much in that regard. “Many of them praise people that give high donations and offerings without caring to know the source of such donations,” Ekpe-Judah said. Moreover, he added that prosperity preaching by some pastors without emphasis on the right source of wealth, has lured many youths into illicit ways of getting money. He stated that a particular denomination which he would not mention its name, believes it is a curse to drive an old car. He said for the country to move from the present situation, the church and political leaders must inculcate high moral values in the society. He also suggested that the society should begin to condemn wealth obtained under questionable circumstances.

Hawkers on the highway
Hawkers on the highway

For Ezugwu, corruption is the root cause of incessant quests among youths to make money without hard work. “Corruption has permeated all strata of the society and the recognition of merit and honesty is diminishing every day.  The only way out is for government to start promoting the values of merit and hard work among youths.” he said.

But not all youths break the law in their attempt to earn a living. A number of them still work hard by hawking all manner of items on highways, cleaning windscreens of vehicles or helping in carrying luggage for people. During the rainy season, some get paid by carrying people across flooded areas or washing the feet of people or their shoes which become dirty after wading through mud. For instance, John Oromosele has been selling gala, a popular snack on the Berger point of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. He said he makes a profit of between N1,000 and N1,500 every night, chasing motorists with his gala. “The job is risky but I am used to it. At least, I make some money to take care of myself”, he said.

A typical poster advertising exam fraud
A typical poster advertising exam fraud

There are many young Nigerians who want to work to earn a living by descent means. They expect their leaders to formulate sound policies that would address their unemployment and economic uncertainties. Tackling youth unemployment has been a promise many governments in the past had made without fulfillment or commitment. President Goodluck Jonathan has also promised to tackle the problem. For this reason, he has formulated the Youth Empowerment With Innovation in Nigeria, YOUWIN. The programme is designed to support innovative business plan of young people by making them entrepreneurs. But so far, only 1,200 YOUWIN applicants have benefitted from government monetary grants which, in the estimation of many, is only a little drop in a mighty ocean.

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