If Not For Yahoo Boys, Who Else?
Over the last couple of weeks, there’s been much hoopla on the role of money laundering in the Nigerian music business, thanks to 9ice, Small Doctor, Junior Boy and others. This trend is disturbing but it mirrors the social malaise in Nigeria as a whole. Many children don’t know a doctor, lawyer qualified pharmacist or persons of other middle-class professions. But they know Dende et al – These Yahoo Boys are the new superheroes; cats who come from the neighbourhood and made it big. Much ink has been spilt on the degradation of Nigeria’s moral fabric, so let’s examine some of the business aspects that necessitates dirty money in the music business.
Music isn’t as profitable as many imagine, don’t let social media fool you. 98% of acts you see flossing aren’t getting money like that. Album sales are less than half of what they used to be, Soundscan data shows that sales have more than halved in ten years, from $542 million in 2006 to $200 million in 2016. The same is the case in Nigeria. The amount used to launch an act is not recoupable through one song and ‘investors’ will often take a loss before seeing profit, if it comes at all – Did EME ever recoup on Shaydee (as talented as he is?) Did YBNL make money off Viktoh? Chocolate City and Victoria Kimani parted ways, the outlay did not match the receipts and so on. Luckily, these are labels that have or had other profitable acts that allow losses to even out but the point remains. There are so many acts vying for attention as the industry grows, it’s almost impossible for an act to ‘blow’ now. How many real record labels exist in today’s pop space? One could argue that only Chocolate City and Mavin Records fit the bill. Two, for the hundreds of hopefuls who troop to Lagos every year in the hope of launching their singing careers.
This gap between funds and talent creates the perfect entry point for these so called Yahoo Boys and money launderers. Yahoo Boys have been known to expend funds without a care; they’re much like the party goers spending/spraying money in front of a Fuji singer for a chance to hear them sing their name. And they don’t have to report numbers – They can take the almost inevitable loss that comes with trying to ‘blow’ an act.
Much of the business concerning the Nigerian industry is still conducted on an ad hoc basis – producers (when they get paid) will either get paid in cash or from a random account; same goes for payment for any logistics – This gives ample room for anyone looking to wash funds to do so. The ‘label’ can draw up its own invoices for any amount and, because cash remains a legit mode of payment, illegal funds can be integrated with legal payment with no questions asked from the regulators or the bank. This way, funds are washed clean because they now have a verifiable source. Which law enforcement can verify the numbers reported by the ‘label’ in order to disprove that said funds emanated from the music? Given the need, the proliferation of the so-called ‘labels’ should not be surprising. You know them. They often have no website, no office, no real structure. It’s one Oga, his secretary/assistant and boys.
The market is ripe for the milking no matter what colour the money is – Legit or black funds. There are thousands of young people who are ignorant of what to expect from a label and what their own duties are in return. ‘Blowing’ is the aim, and what that takes in the Nigerian music business as is should scare any legit investor. SME loans, when banks actually give them out, have interest rates of between 25-40%. Many young people with the drive to actually start small labels don’t have access to Nigeria’s financial services. Even if the banks were willing, it is impossible to model a profit/loss making business plan due to the sheer unpredictability of the industry. What then are the alternatives? Who has the ready funds to grease the wheels and keep things running? Legit funds require accountability, which means numbers. By which metric are we going to arrive at those numbers? Who knows how many physical records any artist sells or how the streams are tallied across platforms?
Moral indignation is one thing but if not for this money, and these guys, how will the music get made? Who are the faces behind even some of the on the prima facie legit labels today, do we know? Nigerian music is a reflection of the larger Nigerian society, where systems and accountability continue to rot under the laissez-faire manner in which we conduct our affairs. Artists get a little bit of money for little to no predictability on what to expect from the sale of their music and in return, they’ll live with the whims and caprices of an amateur set up.
For all the ills of money laundering, that song you’ll pop champagne to at Quilox tonight, that you’ll hear on the radio or play at your wedding might not have been made but for the proceeds of (cyber) crime. Dirty money keeps you dancing and comes out clean, that’s the long and short of it.
*Yahoo boys are cyber criminals who engage primarily in internet fraud but this can include credit fraud.