Nigerian hip-hop songs celebrate a life of cybercrime
About ₦127 billion or $649 million is lost annually to internet fraud.
Along with its many benefits, the internet has brought the world a new risk—cybercrime. Cybercrimes are offenses that intentionally harm victims in various ways using telecommunications networks. One report estimates the global annual cost of cybercrime would reach $6 trillion at the end of 2021. It’s a major problem in Nigeria too. About ₦127 billion or $649 million is lost annually to internet fraud, representing 0.08% of the country’s gross domestic product. This makes cybercrime a threat to foreign direct investment and the socioeconomic development of the country.
Dr. Oludayo Tade, Researcher at University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Researchers like Dr. Oludayo Tade have previously examined the reasons that people—especially young people—get involved in cybercrimes. Corruption, poverty, and unemployment have been cited. But another aspect of the cultural context around cyber-criminality—and perhaps its attraction—is music.
He looked at three Nigerian hip hop songs to see how the lyrics portray cybercrimes. His study found that the lyrics present this criminality in positive ways. Hip hop musicians are very influential in Nigerian society, especially among young people. They can both reflect and shape social realities. Their framing of behavior can help us understand that behavior better.
Insights into the songs The three songs he chose to look at were: Olu Maintain’s Yahooze (2007), Kelly Hansome’s Maga Don Pay (2008) and Abolore Adigun’s Living Things (2017). While Yahooze represents the pioneer song which launched the slang term “yahoo-yahoo” (for internet fraud in Nigeria), Maga Don Pay represents a middle range song and Living Thing is more contemporary. These represent something of a evolution of cybercrime glamorization songs and are popular. All of these songs glamorize and justify cybercrime. The lyrics show it as a “way out of suffering,” a “game,” or “work,” with huge material benefits, rather than as a crime. Nigerian musicians (in particular the hip hop genre) enjoy patronage across political, social, and economic sectors of the society. Their followers see them as role models and are likely to be influenced by what their lyrics say. And what these three songs are saying is that cybercrimes are “business transactions” in which clever people dispossess the “Other.”
Olu Maintain’s Yahooze This hit song has over 3 million views on YouTube and won multiple awards in 2008. It tells listeners or viewers how busy a typical cybercriminal is. It also portrays them as people who deserve to enjoy the benefit of their “hard earned money” through a public show of success. The lyrics list what a fraudster can spend money on after a successful “hammer”, a vehicle like a Hummer, clubbing, expensive drinks, and womanizing: "If I hammer, first thing na Hummer, $1 million, Elo lo ma je ti n ba se si Naira (How much will $1 million be when converted to the Naira?). Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Boys dey hustle. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Gbogbo aye. Champagne, Hennessy, Moët for everybody; Ewo awon omoge (Look at the ladies), dem dey shake their body". The song justifies the spending of the cybercriminals on luxury items. It portrays them as hard working guys who “work” on weekdays and only have time for social activities on weekends.
Kelly Hansome’s Maga Don Pay Maga is a slang word for a person who is duped. This song, too, glamorizes cybercrimes and invokes the supreme being (God) in celebrating cybercrime success. By describing the defrauded as Maga or Mugun, it underscores cybercrimes as a success story: "Too much money, the problem now is how to spend it. Plenty dollar straight to Aboki to change it. I don suffer, every day and night, our boys dey for system (computer). Now I don hammer Baba God don bless me… Anything you want just name it cos my maga don pay, shout hallelujah. Mugun don pay, shout hallelujah… Moët, champagne, Hennessy… too much money!" The lyrics imply that a successful cybercrime effort receives the blessing of God. Since blessing is more important than work, no one will be able to change the success story of a cybercriminal who has been blessed.
Abolore Adigun’s Living Things The musician, known as 9ice, has a huge fan base at home and abroad. The song is worth analyzing because of the choice of the title, Living Things. As living things, human need for resources sometimes creates a competition for resource control. Success is often seen as outsmarting competitors and accumulating wealth. The cybercriminal here is conceived as a “living thing” with the desire to make money however they choose. Since there is no food for the indolent, only working people should “eat”. By equating cybercriminals with other working people, the lyrics recognize the innovative ability and drive of cybercriminals: "Human being, human being, we making money differently, differently. As a human being, human being, Ojo iku lojo isimi (We only rest when we die). Ah aha ah aha… Till date na my pay go, mo sise mo rere (I have worked and I have gains). Thank God is Friday, Kajeye gbagbe osi ooo… (We enjoy and forget poverty). When you see me coming, make way, make way, make way". The cybercriminal commands the respect of others, who must “make way” at the sight of the living thing. People unable to control things and be enterprising are considered dead beings. Crime is one way to be counted as a living thing. Influential Musicians possess the power to get large numbers of followers to identify with their worldview—including their take on criminal behavior. This could be a view that encourages cybercrime, or one that discourages it.
It’s therefore worth considering whether authorities like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission could partner with the Nigerian music industry on the need to portray cybercrime in a less positive way and improve awareness of the negative consequences of engaging in cyber-criminality.