Immediately they set their eyes on him, they scrambled for him, the swarm of pushers. They carried their dark bags behind them, protecting it with their left hands.
“Bros wetin you want?” The young man who got to him first asked.
The rest backed off, withdrawing into the shadow to begin the wait for another customer.
“I have SK, Marlian Cush, Reph, Tutolin. Tell me what you want,” the peddler who called himself Nuhu explained.
“We still fit get you White Man and Neddle,” he added.
After the customer indicated his interest, the peddler requested a referral, stating, “We no dey sell for first-timers.”
“I want SK, one wrap,” the customer said.
The peddler then disappeared, as he later disclosed, to do some checks to ascertain if the customer was genuine or fake, for as he told him, they were wary of a Jew or ekelebe, that is, first-timer.
He returned a few minutes later with one roll of marijuana and another unwrapped blunt in hospital nylon. A wrap costs N300 while the unwrapped one sells for N500.
The customer bought the N500 weed.
For as long as the transaction lasted, the pusher stayed away from the light, keeping his face in the dark.
After the transaction was successfully concluded, the pusher who identified himself as Nuhu, became jovial, referring to the customer as ‘OG’––street slang for master, which implied that the customer passed the test.
“You were very calm, not nervous at all,” he said.
There is a prevailing theory that drugs are sold openly in the neighbourhood because the supplies come from military officers in the area. The customer tried to confirm.
Responding in the affirmative, Nuhu claimed this was the reason they operate with impunity. “We sell their products for them and they give us our cut. It is a case of law enforcers breaking the law. So, why should I care?” he stated.
The pusher felt satisfied with himself. Unknown to him, his customer was a reporter conducting an undercover investigation.
An enclave of illicit business
The encounter described is an every night routine at 31, Road Junction (or 31 Junction) in the Lagos suburb of Egbeda. Three roads––Gate Road, 31 Road Gowon Estate and Okunola Road––connect to the enclave in a T-Junction that is ever busy at evening and well into the night. An assorted crowd of suya buyers, car wash customers, beer drinkers, Shawarma consumers, football fans and lovers of Amala besiege the area in the evening.
The hub of the drug racket is embedded amidst legit businesses such as Mouka shop, Senators Shop (a fashion-designing shop), TK Unisex Salon (which provides a convenient corner for hiding and packaging of the merchandise) and Ammmyjay Hair Salon upstairs which serves as a watchtower from where the dealers can scan the areas around the junction, the three roads and their immediate surrounding. Other stores such as LG shop and TJ Stores on 31 Road and Easy Bars and De Lord’s store on Adenle Road serve as hangouts for patrons and pushers who want to smoke as soon as it is dark.
Consequences for residents
Mrs Agnes (surname withheld) who lives on Okunola road told the reporter she dare not send her daughters on an errand at night because of the activities around the junction. Some landlords, she said, had taken up the matter in the past. But “each time they found themselves helpless because there seemed to be no security agency concerned about it,” she stated.
“You can’t underrate the reach of these boys, the extent they can go to protect themselves. I won’t be surprised if they have guns on them,” she said. “They hardly run when they see a police vehicle on patrol or hear the sound of a siren, that is the level of confidence they have.”
She paused when her door creaked. Someone at the door requested for a lighter from the barman.
Continuing, she said: “That is the kind of thing I am saying; they have spoilt the environment for us. When I moved into this area, it was filled with natural air. Now the fumes from automobiles compete with smokes from these boys’ joints. They don’t only sell, they allow their customers to smoke around, some smoke there (pointing at the opposite street) because they think they are safe, while others smoke there (a place nearby) because they prefer to be with like minded people who also smoke.”
Indeed, the atmosphere was saturated with smoke. The air was heavy with the pungent reek of weed. A few figures could be seen in front of Mouka shop smoking. Others gathered by a kiosk, puffing into the air. Still, others sat on the car wash pavement and loitered on Okunola Road, all smoking. The street was further clouded by smoke from a nearby canteen. Residents have to live with the consequence of breathing in nicotine fume every evening.
In order to keep their activities clandestine, nearly all forms of illuminations on the street, both streetlights and shops’ bulbs, have been vandalized.
A shop owner in the area told the reporter he has warned his employees not to leave the security light on after office hours.
“When we moved into this area two years ago, we were experiencing theft of bulb every night till a friend told me that I should always switch off the security light and the theft stopped,” he stated.
At night, the vicinity of the T-junction is often in darkness, thereby making the surrounding of the Mouka shop a sanctuary for shady characters to conduct covert activities.
Another fallout of their activities is the stereotyping of residents of the neighbourhood as never-do-wells. Young people who ventured up and down the streets are often viewed with suspicion.
According to one of the shop owners, new faces can hardly enter the TK Unisex salon to have a haircut without being suspected. “You can’t also do a window-shopping at the LG shop without attracting accusing stares––’this weed smoker look’––from attendants,” he said.
Truth hidden in plain sight
Long-term residents of the neighbourhood, however, claimed nothing ontoward happen within their vicinity. Kunle Adefarati, one of the regular patrons at a hangout located at the junction, told the reporter he was born inside a room at 401 Road in Gowon Estate. On this night, he was nursing a bottle of Heineken.
For him, there is nothing extraordinary about the neighbourhood. “Around here, there is no status difference. Everyone is equal to every other person. There are no untouchables and there is no cultism here. Here is for fun-seekers only,” he asserted.
“Some people might be involved in illegal stuff, but that is part of the fun. I come around here and catch my fun without having to go as far as the Island or Surulere,” he declared and took a gulp from his bottle.
There is a claim that pushers have godfathers in the area. It is a difficult question to ask anyone. But the more you look, the more you see. At about 11 pm, a lone Toyota Camry was parked at the car wash area. The occupant, a local kingpin known as Akube, sat at the back seat, surrounded by his cohorts, all of them covered by a fumes from weed. Pushers at interval made their way to the car, to pay him dues.