Okowa Raises Alarm Over Emergence Of Nigerian ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ Athletes In US


LAGOS AUGUST 26TH (NEWSRANGERS)-The President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Tonobok Okowa, has expressed concern over recent cases linking Nigerian athletes to fraudulent activities in the United States, The PUNCH reports.

US-based Nigerian long jumper Mercy Abire, 28, currently faces the risk of a substantial 20-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, popularly known as ‘yahoo yahoo’ in local parlance, in the United States.

Abire and two other Nigerian athletes — reigning African Games men’s 100m champion Raymond Ekevwo and former teen sensation Aniekeme Etimwere — were indicted over wire and mail fraud in the US as her conspirators.

According to a statement by the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Mississippi, Abire transferred over $100,000.00 to co-conspirators through her US bank account between November 2018 and April 2019.

According to the court documents and information presented between 2018 and 2022, Abire and her coconspirators used online romance scams, online charity scams, and other types of fraud to defraud victims of their money.

“The money received as a result of these scams was then transferred between the conspirators, and ultimately, much of the money was transferred overseas.

“Between November 2018 and April of 2019, Abire herself transferred over $100,000.00 to co-conspirators through her US bank account,” read the documents.

The long jumper is expected to be sentenced on August 30, with the maximum jail term being 20 years.

In response to the troubling trend, Okowa told The PUNCH, “It’s very unfortunate that this is happening. Children of nowadays, a lot of them are all about this ‘yahoo yahoo’ trend, I don’t know what they are doing.

“The truth is, if anybody goes out there as a Nigerian, not as an athlete, and they commit crime, both in Nigeria and outside Nigeria, they are liable for it, so it is up to them. Let them deal with the authorities in the country wherever they are.”

Former Technical Director of the AFN, Sunday Adeleye, echoed Okowa’s sentiments, stressing the importance of education and discipline in curbing the trend.

“If someone has a criminal tendency,  what can you do as a federation? They pass through us just briefly. We start training some of them while they are kids but some of them join when they are already old, so what do you do?

“We just have to keep talking to them and trying to see how we can make them understand that this is not the right way to go and then maybe training and education is very important,” Adeleye said.

Adeleye attributed the prevalence of the trend to a wider societal problem in Nigeria and called on the government to take decisive steps in addressing this menace.

“It’s a ‘yahoo yahoo’ trend, it’s all over Nigeria, it’s not a hidden thing. It’s something that’s happening everywhere right now in Nigeria, and then the government must really step up in terms of seeing how we can curb this menace because it’s already a big menace in the society,” Adeleye stated with concern.

Double Olympic silver medalist Falilat Ogunkoya told The PUNCH that only lazy athletes would engage in criminal acts to make ends meet.

“Why will an athlete that is a public figure do that? It’s very wrong,” she told The PUNCH.

“There is nothing that can push an athlete to do something that is wrong; an athlete needs to work very hard to get the rewards. I am sorry to say this, but I think she must be a little bit lazy with her work, that is why she was looking for an easy way out.

“Athletes like her need to learn from some of us who competed for Nigeria and made it through our hard work. I am very proud to say that I was a very clean athlete and one of the top athletes in Nigeria during my time. Few athletes are willing to put in that work now. When they work very hard, they will reap the results.”

Deli Aliu, the 2003 African Games 100m gold medalist, said Abire might have succumbed to peer pressure.

“It is basically bad influence, maybe she was influenced by peer pressure, and it is possible that she was not aware of the consequences of what she was led into, a lot of factors could have caused it,” Aliu said.

“I know for certain she is not that kind of person. I knew her before she travelled, so, I know that kind of attitude was as a result of peer pressure or bad influence.”

The 47-year-old retired sprinter added that internet fraud could be prevented among the athletes if they were supported financially by the federation.

“That kind of situation is beyond the AFN, they can only take care of things that happen on the tracks but I feel like they can still encourage the athletes by supporting them on-and-off the tracks.

“I think that will really curtail stuff like this, because some athletes will tell you they need money to prepare, they need money to do this, but I think if the federation can support the athlete year in, year out, that will help eradicate cases like this.”

Abire’s case is not the first time a Nigerian athlete will be indicted for fraud in the US.

In November 2022, former African 100m champion Raymond Ekevwo, four other Nigerian athletes — Anikeme Etim, Emmanuel Ineh, Toluwani Adebakin and Mercy Abire — and Zimbabwe’s Ngoni Chadyiwa were indicted by the USA district court for the Southern district of Mississppi eastern division, Forest County for committing mail and wire fraud.

The then 20-year-old Ekevwo ran 9.96 to win the 100m gold at the 2019 African Games in Rabat, Morocco ahead of Arthur Cissé of Ivory Coast (9.97) and another Nigerian, Usheoritse Itsekiri (10.02).

He was also a member of Nigeria’s bronze-winning 4x100m relay team to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Last August AFN head coach Seigha Porbeni told The PUNCH lamented the damage quick money syndrome had done to Nigerian athletics.

“Some athletes as they are arriving at the national camp, the first question they ask is ‘how is our allowance, we have other things to do to make more money, you people should not waste our time here.

“In one year, we have lost about four to five best potential athletes due to this quick money syndrome, they now see the sport as a recreation thing to pass time,” Porbeni said.


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Posted by on Aug 26 2023. Filed under National, Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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