[UNDERCOVER INVESTIGATION] ENABLERS OF CRIME, CORRUPTION (I): In Nigeria, Notoriously Venal Clerics Are Plugs For G-Boys

“Anyone who is not fortified, who lacks spiritual backing should forget about being successful in cyber-fraud ‘business’. I don’t want to know who that person is. As long as they don’t have a place they run to, or what they use in the morning and night, they should forget it!”

These are the words of Ustadh Yusuf Zakariyau Adediran, the Vice-Amir (Deputy-Leader) of An’waaru S-Salaam group in Nigeria, when I went undercover and posed as a ‘G-Boy’ for a meeting at his Babalawo-like cubicle in Meiran, a township south of Lagos on 12 June, 2022.

Zakariyau’s ‘Ustadh’ title is used for a religious tutor who has graduated from an institute of higher Islamic learning. However, his ‘office’ was an antithesis of his publicly-known religious posture as it was bestrewn with local eggs, alligator peppers, whole-grain wheats, and some traditional items.

‘G-Boys’ (an alternative name for ‘Yahoo Boys’ or ‘Yahoo Yahoo’) are young men who defraud people (mostly non-Nigerians) on the internet. The term is a savvy name for a Nigerian cyber fraudster. It could be a picker, loader, hacker, swindler, and sometimes cruelly, money ritualist (feigned as ‘Yahoo Plus’).

In March 2023, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) report for 2022. Thousands of people throughout the world still lose their money – huge sums – to cyber criminals.

Since the passage of the Cybercrime Prohibition Act in 2015, ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ has become a criminal offence in Nigeria.

From proceeds of their illicit activities, fraudsters acquire cars, own homes, and live large.

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commision (EFCC), created in 2003, has been the nemesis of ‘Yahoo Boys’. Persons involved in the crime and their accomplices risk years-long prison sentences.

Going by communiques by the EFCC carefully reviewed by this journalist, the data of alleged ‘Yahoo Boys’ arrested across Nigeria by the anti-graft agency between 2022 and March 2023 totals 214.

*These statistics do not include ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ trainees detained by the commission, as they are novices. It is understood that a good number of them have yet to independently initiate frauds and scams.*

Unscrupulous ‘Alfa’ Has ‘No Problem’ Providing Spiritual Support for ‘Yahoo Boys’

Weeks earlier, I had orchestrated correspondence with Ustadh Zakariyau Adediran via the popular social networking service, Facebook. Using a pseudonym, Amao ‘Biodun, coined for the purpose of this investigation, I opened a Facebook account in April 2022 and chatted with a few clerics, introducing myself as a ‘Yahoo Boy’.

Ustadh Zakariyau shared his contact with me and asked that I call. Upon calling, we agree to meet one-on-one. And there we go!

He welcomes me into his ‘office’, a few pleasantries follow, then straight to business.

“How is it? What’s going on?” he quizzes. I respond that it has not been easy.

“You should say what exactly is happening so that I can know what I will rest my findings on,” he replies.

He then asks if I have a legal job. My answer: “Just as I’ve explained to you (by means of phone), the dating one [romance scam] is what I do. Overtime, it became unstable. Now it’s appearing as if I’m not skilled.”

He quizzes further: “Do you see clients at all?” Client in this context means a prey-cum-victim in different parts of the world.

I answer in the affirmative but add that considering lately they are unresponsive; I have to explore alternatives. I inform him that some ‘clients’ suddenly stop responding to me online.

“Why I ask is that people’s levels are different. Some are in moderation. It’s not like they don’t get money but it’s not up to what they are supposed to be getting.

“Some people will say they don’t get at all. That’s why I’m asking. Because there are different situations,” Ustadh Zakariyau says.

According to him, these days, fraudsters “code” and won’t disclose that they are backing up their internet scam activities with spiritual support from clerics.

The cleric states that the magnitude of the spiritual inclination of people involved in ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ will determine the responsiveness of their clients and their own success, describing the internet scam business as currently “very competitive”. In his words: “Oju lasan ko ni won fi n shey ishe yin. Eni ti koba ti ni nkan lara, kolo gbagbe [There is no way one can excel in ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ without fortification]”.

He cites the case of ‘his boy’ who he often helps to “bori” (spiritual cleansing). His ‘boy’, Ope, is an undergraduate of the Lagos State University (LASU).

I present myself as a tertiary institution student too, aged 22.

“There is this youthful customer of mine, I work for him; and help him undertake oblation. He does oblation and spiritual cleansing a lot. His name is Ope, a LASU student. His mum’s house is over here [pointing down south]. I work for him and one of his friends,” Ustadh Zakariyau says.

Ustadh Zakariyau speaking to the undercover reporter at his ‘office’

Spiritual Consultation to Help ‘Yahoo Boy’

Back to the main business. ‘Alfa’ requests for my given name and my mother’s. I mention my fictitious name, ‘Biodun; and give my mother’s as Amoke.

He tells me to make Niyyah (the intention in one’s heart to do an act for the sake of God). I do this and make an offering of N1,000. Thereafter, he asks me to stretch out my hands, dips his rosary in, mutters some words on it, and spends about three minutes checking God knows on a sandy tray.

Among his advice to me following his ‘consultation’, are to avoid travelling inter-state for the time being, stop wearing black clothes as “it doesn’t align with my star”, and quit living with my parents.

I had told him that I reside in a rented apartment with my mother in Orile Agege area of Lagos.

“The revelation I received says you should leave that place. You will not be able to achieve anything tangible in life where you are; you should leave there.

Ustadh Zakariyau (with the microphone) at a religious function

“Write down today’s date. Whatever I say will always remain the same wherever you go and consult. Tell them an Alfa (cleric) told you this. Don’t call me a man of God if it is not the same,” Ustadh Zakariyau brags.

The truth is that it is total delusion from the ‘man of God’. I do not live with my mother, neither do we live in a rented apartment in Lagos or anywhere: we live separately, and in our own properties.

At intervals, he pauses and draws some lines with his index finger on the sandy tray, then comes up with an advice after throwing a poser.

He proceeds. “You have what we call the ‘spirit of blocking’ in you. You need to appeal to your Creator so that you can get to your destination quickly. Where you are heading to is not far.

“You should not be lacking because your star is good and your wealth is close. But your efforts are not enough, that is why things are not smooth for you.”

“I Have Been Dealing With ‘Yahoo Boys’ Since The Days of Café”, Alfa Opens Up

Once upon a time, Nigerians didn’t have easy access to the internet.  Cybercafés were the destination to browse on a computer, with customers charged per minute or hour.

They were popular in the late 90s down to about 2012.

“I’ve been dealing with ‘Yahoo Boys’ since the time when it was not even as common as what we have nowadays; during the days of internet café,” Ustadh Zakariyau boasts like Beowulf. “Some of the boys I work for do appreciate God through me, but most of you neglect us and run away once you become rich. And it is not my habit to get upset.  Once they apologise, I accept their plea, and move on.”

He recalls a monarch in Ajah area of Lagos who is the appreciative and altruistic type, and he’d like me to imitate the traditional ruler. He says “irorun igi ni irorun eye” [a Yoruba adage which means a bird’s peace depends on the peace enjoyed by the tree which harbours it].

“There is an individual I usually prepare spiritual work for in Ajah, he is a monarch. He has never been to this place, I am the one who takes local concoctions to him. Why? Because he treats me so well.

“It’s not like I’m idle, but once you are good to me, I can do anything for you. I arrived from a journey on Friday. I have been away since Monday.

“Once I check something for him, it is authentic. He is a very nice person who does not deprive me of money. I do not have money issues with him. At periods when he is not financially buoyant, that is understandable.

“Even if he does not give me money, I’ll still conduct findings for him. I’ll tell him I’m bringing things to him. Then he will receive it from me. Within three to four days, I’ll get a bank alert. He’ll say to me: ‘Alfa, God has performed miracles’. But if he is stingy, will I go as far as Ajah? He is a traditional ruler, yet relates with me utmost respect,” he avers.

Ustadh Zakariyau’s description of his preferred ‘customer’ brings to mind the case of a self-confessed international fraudster, Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, who two Islamic clerics painted a picture of as kind and generous towards them.

Hushpuppi | PHOTO SOURCE: Hushpuppi/Instagram

Imam Rasaq Olopede of Madrasat Ridwanu L’Hai-L-Arobiyat Wal Islamiyat, Imisi-Oluwa Mosque, Lagos, said in his 8 October, 2022 letter to the US District Court for the Central District of California that he had known the convicted felon for 15 years as a frequent donator to the mosque.

In another letter to the same U.S. court, also in October 2022, Hudu Abdulrasak of Madrasatul Ahlul-Bait Islamiya, Maiduguri, Borno State, paid glowing tributes to Hushpuppi for his “philanthropic gestures”.

Why do cyber-fraudsters have a generous disposition towards certain clerics? Marouf Rafiu, also an Ustadh, has the answer.

“A ‘Yahoo Boy’ cannot just wake up one day and give me a car or huge money if I am not his backer,” Rafiu says, adding that “it is those Alfas that work for them that they gift cars. There must have been a deal between them.”

“My Cousin is Into Cyber-fraud, I Back Him” – Islamic Cleric

Ustadh Zakariyau makes reference to his cousin who he discloses is into cyber-fraud.

“When there were challenges, I told him to come here, from Ilepa (in Ifo area of Ogun State). He thought he would be living here but I told him he can’t stay. ‘Look for a friend’s place to stay’. And you know you guys that are into ‘Yahoo’ make friends with each other easily.

“I prepared things he’ll use. He uses them here in my office. Once he’s done, he departs. What this is pointing out is that he can’t take ‘the work’ elsewhere because if he did, it will be ineffective. He will bathe with it here, or if it is concoction, he will consume them here. He will then leave. In about three days, I’ll get the message from him saying ‘my brother, I just got some money’,” Ustadh Zakariyau recounts.

Way Forward

The cleric goes on to suggest that I undertake atonement as soon as possible. This, he says is necessary, to destroy the “blocking” in my life.

My name and my mother’s, as well as our home address will be used for the atonement by 1 am of any day, according to him.

By 4:30am, he’ll help check if it has been spiritually accepted. Then, I’ll give alms to the needy.

After that, he says he will conduct some findings on the type of ‘work’ that is suitable for me to use. Afterwards, he’ll take me to the river for a spiritual bath.

“It is because you have “blocking”, that is why your ‘clients’ avoid you. You will bathe in the river; your body will be thoroughly cleansed. You will make supplications. Every hindrance and obstacle will flow away.

“Once you’ve made supplications, you will come back here and I will give you some ‘work’. This is what you will use at home; at night. Then you will see what God wants to do. We’ll see if you will receive money or not,” he says confidently.

I inform him I’ll not be immediately available for the atonement and sacrifices but will let him know when I’ll come.

This is the first of a three-part series. You may read Part II here and Part III here.

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