Profiling of techies in Nigeria setting bad precedent


Africa is a hotbed of talent with ambassadors across the globe embedded in technology firms building products used by millions. Nigeria is arguably one of the larger contributors to this talent. For every person plying their trade outside the continent and from ‘brain gain’ as others return home, there are thousands of others learning, building, hacking and upskilling, with the intent of joining the global workforce or starting something of their own from the Silicon Lagoon, with investors trained on the nations opportunities.

Nigeria is unfortunately infamous for the 419 scam, an advance-fee fraud scheme that led to the coining of the moniker ‘Yahoo Boy’ which has resulted in documented and undocumented sanctions on the business and social front. While these can be tolerated, a worrying trend has surfaced that if not checked will lead to talent flight, for those who can, to more accommodating countries and reduced attractiveness to capital as the risk profile is tipped to rise.

Following a social media storm, it emerged that a unit of the Nigerian Police Force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has been actively targeting, harassing and extorting young Nigerians who based on accusation are profiled as Yahoo Boys, from a mix of choice of clothing to the use of devices such as laptops. SARS seems to use the same script. Identify their target, make an arbitrary arrest and proceed to intimidate, while pressing victims to part with varied sums to earn their freedom.

The hashtags #StopRobbingUs and the slightly aged #EndSARS have alerted us to what is happening. Concerned and vocal leaders of the tech community in Nigeria have been swift to amplify the issue and even marshal funds that will be used to agitate for change and where called for, also offer direct intervention for those who fall victim.

While not everyone walks around with a laptop and hoodie, this age of gig and remote work has seen many upgrade to smart devices to enable them to access daily work opportunities from local and international platforms.


Therefore a cursory adhoc search may reveal income potential or affiliation and act as a trigger for further extortion.

It is not that difficult to imagine the same situation cropping up across Africa as over 400 hubs confirm the presence of a digital workforce. This is why we must sensitize our collective gut, support and pushback where we see injustice and criminal action.

Mr Njihia is the Head of Business and Partnerships at Sure Corporation | | @mbuguanjihia