Heart of Arts

“Cut Soap For Me!”, By Toyin Falola

Toyin Falola

 

Yams do not sprout in amulets.

– Wole Soyinka

It is important to foreground that Nigerian society is still widely laced with traditional beliefs, practices, and other locally influenced religious practices like those seen in churches that use religious paraphernalia in their worship system. Spiritual symbolism and materials cannot be entirely separated from these practices, as different items are often administered to serve certain purposes. When one understands this, the genesis of the statement “Cut Soap for Me” becomes clear. There is a practice of voodoo baptism or head washing in traditional and other religious circles to either attract good tidings to a person or shield them from evil spirits and attacks.

In Nigeria, juju baptism became prominent among the supposed “modern youths” to attract luck. However, it became a practice among Yahoo Boys who defraud Nigerians and foreigners, especially through social media platforms. The average aspiring Yahoo Boy patronizes religious institutions to get “soap” for voodoo baptism, with the intent to hypnotize or curse victims into doing their biddings. This is one of the many spiritual steps they take to progress from “Yahoo Yahoo” to “Yahoo Plus.”

Defrauding strangers of their hard-earned money is fast becoming a culture and a normalized trade in society. There is evidence of some security personnel corroborating these practices in the name of hunting down “scammers,” as these fraudsters are locally called. In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ranked Nigeria as the 16th affected by the menace of cybercrime. The international community was thrown into the pool of surprise when the case of Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, dominated the public discussion. Hushpuppi was accused of defrauding his ignorant victims of about $24 million. Unfortunately, Nigeria is fast becoming a discothèque of thousands of Hushpuppies flaunting their ill-fated wealth at every instance they get and buying items at outrageous prices.

Without effective measures to curb it, the public display of unexplained wealth has become normalized. Sadly, instead of condemning this act, the public applauds it, creating a euphoria that drives the perpetrators to progress in their malicious acts and advance their manner of display. To cause “oppression,” they intentionally take up their “E Choke” and “Who Dey Breathe” behaviours and rub their regrettable idiosyncrasies on the face of all that form the fabric of Nigerian society, subjecting young and hardworking citizens to self-doubt. The matter is made worse by uncensored musical and video content that glorify fraudulent activities by proliferating the usage of their registers.

“Cut Soap for Me” has literally become a slang to request that these perpetrators share their diabolic magic. However, the statement has progressed from requests for the secrets to voodoo to the general space whereby people jokingly ask to be taught the process or secret of one’s success. A Nigerian professor has accused me of using juju to write, begging me to lead him to my so-called voodoo man at Iwo to make the same potent magic. Eighteen hours of work a day was reduced to juju power! “Cut Soap for Me”  could be an honest expression, sarcasm, or a retort to one’s failure and attempt to find a lasting solution. Whichever way, the underlying factor is that there is a representation that some have and some do not.

Despite knowing the criminality of an act, what would make a person resort to it? If a fraudulent act is criminal and socially unwelcomed, what would make one ask another, “Cut Soap for Me?” Greed, failure, and the realization of the impossibility of fruitful efforts are tormentors that plague the mind and push people to seek a way out. They are the demons capable of fraying social norms indoctrinated in the consciousness of an average person through their process of maturity. Unfortunately, no one needs a hunt to find where the nation has failed its citizens and sentenced its youth to the valley of helplessness.

The nation has failed in almost all ramifications, leaving the people’s hope bare in the cold of poverty, insecurity, and a corrupt system. When the child of a supposed affluent father begs to join the mendicant’s trail, it means that either the father is no longer in affluence or the child has been abandoned. Regretfully, Nigerians are in the two situations; therefore, they must find escape routes. In a nation with only a 33 percent employment rate and only 40 percent employed youths, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank, one should not be surprised at the increasing number of “soap” users and those aspiring to do the same. It is pitiful, but it should be expected from a failing system that has refused to “cut soap” for its citizens, leaving both old and young in despair.

Expectedly, there will be consequences in the face of all the social imbalance and hardship citizens face, social decadence, including fraudulent festivals of fraud that have gained international notoriety. Where there are discouraging situations like those faced by the Nigerian youth, there is a need to reenact social values to keep them in place. Unfortunately, the institutions in the best position to reenact these values are struggling to survive. The family institutions, which should serve as the primary forte of social values, are crumbling either in the face of modernity, distractions from the need for survival, or marital dissolutions, leaving children to make early adult decisions. Religious institutions auction God’s works and miracles, celebrating the rich without minding the source of their wealth. Institutions have been stricken by bribery and corruption, producing kleptomaniac politicians who become role models for potential fraudsters. The systems have refused to “cut soap,” and it is only logical that one looks elsewhere.

In a situation where it seems like the nation and social institutions gang against people’s success, one cannot help but become desperate. When desperation is the case, discretionary approaches potentially take three natures: legal, illegal, or both. For those taking a legitimate approach to success, the statement “cut soap for me” is an expression of amazement at how others have succeeded despite discouraging odds, and also serves as a request for pointers on how to successfully climb the ladder of progress. The illegal approach makes one ask to be trained in the trade of unscrupulousness to either succeed or remain uncaught or affected by the authorities and society.

Credence must be given to the culture of “we rise by lifting others” that is fast becoming the reasonable response to the honest requests of “cut soap for me.” Nigerian youths might be many things, but they value connectivity and spread the ropes of opportunities to one another. There is evidence that the youths have been able to project one another, especially when they are in need. A common example is the intentional creation of trends and crowdfunding for individuals who announce their talents, trade, or unemployment on social media and other means. The statement thus becomes a positive confession of readiness for honest toil projected at bringing good tidings.

It is important to know that despite the odds, the conditions of the nation, and the delay in results, there is dignity in labour. Spiced with consistency, the right strategies, and the creation and maintenance of connectivity, it is not rocket science that a developmental process would materialize, and when the world throws lemons, the youth must learn to turn them into lemonades. While “we rise by lifting others” has been a positive response to positive intentions, it is also a positive response to negative intentions. From the “cut soap for me” of fraudulent Yahoo Yahoo to that of Yahoo Plus, extending the circle of menace, cyber-fraud or whatever appellation used to describe it, is a mere pronouncement that one has lost faith in a possible future, escaping into an illusion of success without process. This explains the increasing rate of ritual killings in the country in an attempt to sacrifice one for the progress of others. These individuals have forgotten that “yams do not sprout in amulets,” thus no matter the soap or a bath serious enough to turn black to white, the strokes of luck would end, nemesis would catch up, and the pods of reality would soon be ripe to show helplessness and gnashing of teeth.

Like Wole Soyinka had stated, “Don’t take shadows too seriously. Reality is your only safety. Continue to reject illusion.” To say that the Nigerian government has been totally quiet about the predominance of cyber fraud that is taking notable international reputation is to subject oneself to unnecessary oblivion. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) arrests and activities of these perpetrators get reported, with a surprising number of suspects reported almost every week. On June 9, 2022, the EFCC was reported to have arrested 140 suspected Yahoo Boys in Ikorodu, Lagos. On August 14, 2022, two clerics were arrested alongside the fraudsters who had employed their services.

Despite these reports, the problem has not subsided. The best explanation for this is that either there is a wrong approach to solving it, or there is no full understanding of the situation.

The Nigerian government’s approach to this problem is like cutting the branches of an intruding tree; they will keep growing. Either the tree is cut off with its roots, or one settles for recurring growth that robs one of peace. Arresting perpetrators is attacking the problem from the surface; it only makes them smarter and more cautious. The Nigerian government and society must attack the issue from the source. The government must be ready to tackle social issues capable of neutralizing and frustrating the honest efforts of individuals, provide a friendly environment for small and medium-sized businesses to grow, reform government institutions that discourage attempts to succeed, salvage dwindling standards of living, and increase the nation’s employment rate. At this point, there will be enough “soap” to go around in society.

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