Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
They came from far and wide: East, North, South and West. Every tribe represented, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Idoma, Tiv, Ogoni, etc, to compete for attention with the natives. They are Christians, Muslims and atheists, united and bonded by drugs, prostitution, robbery and gambling.
Adults, children, women and men, security and paramilitary agents are all neck-deep in the consumption of the drugs, alcohol, patronage of prostitutes, participation in gambling and beneficiaries in stolen items.
The road into the area is as rough as the dwellers, yet it bubbles for hours without end. Measuring perhaps less than a square kilometre, the Kuje Lagos Street is debatably the most lively and roughest settlement in Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
In fact, any resident of Kuje who has not visited Lagos Street must be a reclusive person or a “born again” who does not care about his immediate enclave and environment. Lagos Street is a shanti, ghetto settlement for sourcing and enjoying everything that can put a smile on the face of the initiates.
Lagos Street, which earned its name from Lagos city, which bubbles 24 hours every day, is a world of its own. It is the place to shop and source for everything other than human parts.
In fact, it is a place of happiness and socialisation, especially for unprincipled and unreligious folk. Lagos Street is really a safe haven for all manner of drugs, Indian hemp, tramadol, codeine, ‘monkey tail’, ‘dindin’, concocted solutions, soft and hard liquor, foreign and local alcoholic drinks.
Stolen materials and other presumable antidotes to the excruciating economic difficulties in the country could be sourced there. It is an area where robbery operations are hatched, nurtured, executed and proceeds shared.
Disturbingly, Lagos Street, which has been as old as Kuje settlement, has gained notoriety as untouchable.
Predominantly filled with shanties without any befitting structure other than mud and thatched houses, indigenes, who are the landowners and the visitors, who are the suppliers of the consumable substances, have connived to resist every attempt to demolish the settlement.
Not even the combined efforts of the traditional ruler, the Gomo of Kuje, Alhaji Jibrin Tanko, the security forces and the area council administration could stop the activities bubbling at the small enclave. Suffice to say that every effort to put Lagos Street into more productive use has met stiff resistance.
For the settlers and those patronising Lagos Street, living in Kuje would have no meaning without visiting the joints. Morning, afternoon and night, Lagos Street provides abundant happiness and economic prosperity for a diverse group of people, so any attempt to demolish it means death to the land/shop owners and customers.
To the passers-by, Lagos Street, located opposite the Kuje Market, is just like any other settlement in the council. However, moving into the street, signs of what the area offers would stare you in the face.
About three houses into the rough and dirty entrance of the street are adjoining gambling shops, bubbling with all manner of betting activities. It is very common to see youths and adults alike engulfed in one form of betting or the other.
Pool papers litter the floor and gamblers deeply occupied in permutations sit on the long benches, while others engage the pool managers. Their faces are a mixture of happiness and sadness, joy and agony, characteristic of winners and losers.
After the betting shops come the shops to source for alcoholic and drug consumables. They have the same trademark of adults, children, Christians and Muslims flooding in and out to buy the commodities.
While the Muslims sometimes put on some disguise, the Christians do it with impunity. In fact, at a particular shop owned by an Igbo man, everything is under one roof for the buyers. Cartons of alcoholic drinks, ‘monkey tail’, solutions and empty bottles are conspicuously displayed.
On inquiry, one of the shop attendants told Daily Sun that the empty bottles are used to mix solutions. “We use them to mix hard solutions,” he announced in Igbo language, adding: “But the solution is not for everybody. It is prepared for those with strong head. (ndi isi ha karaka)
“We have ordinary ‘spirit’, monkey tail and mild alcoholic drinks for those whose head won’t take the mixed ones. But we also sell soft drinks,” he said, pointing at the two large freezers in the shop. “In case, you want to eat meat, we have dried fried and bush meat.”
Although there are seats in the shop, it is not a comfort zone for the ordinary. The stench of cigarette smoke, hemp and other fumes intermingle with the hard drinks to discomfort a non-initiate and scare them away from the place.
Shop after shop, there are potential sources of all ethnic drinks like ogogoro, burukutu, agbo, dindin and abortion concoctions. Those with small bags stapped across their shoulders don’t need much identification as sellers of hemp and other drugs.
But you would be in for a shocker to assume that the area is all about consumption of alcohol and drugs, as women of easy virtue would swarm around you at a corner of the street.
Dressed seductively in next to nothing, they come in different shapes, sizes, heights, structures and complexions, the sex hawkers would invitingly compete to seduce customers for “short time” or all-night rumps for fees ranging from N500 to N5,000, depending on the services to be provided and the type of customer involved.
Lodged in a red-light hotel, they provide endless services to men seeking to satisfy carnal needs. The hotel is also home to drug addicts. Marijuana is sold and consumed day and night with impunity there. It used to be the prime hotel in Kuje in the 1980s. It is today the hotel that has crashed many marriages and ruined many men.
“In those days, the hotel was bubbling, Fulani men would sell their cows and spend the whole proceeds patronising one prostitute after another. Spontaneously, fights would break out between the Fulani men and the prostitutes over missing huge cash.
“Nobody competed with the prostitutes in shopping then. They could spend hundreds of thousands of naira in a shop without feeling anything. They were responsible for the death of many marriages in Kuje then. They also wasted the future and fortune of many men. Although the main hotel has been partially demolished, other smaller ones have replaced it,” a businessman, Chidi, told Daily Sun.
To complete the cycle, there is a booming trade in stolen items in Lagos Street. People negotiating the prices of items like handsets with young boys and girls are common features. The gadgets are usually disposed of at give-away prices.
Lagos Street is certainly not the place to raise a girl-child or any child for that matter, as the level of assault and abuse is very high. Intermittently, quarrels would break out when those high on drugs or alcohol would attempt to touch the girls, usually on errands for their parents, in sensitive places.
According to a slum dweller, the security agents raid the area from time to time but, usually, it is for pecuniary gains. Periodically, there would be commotion announcing the arrival of the police, but the shop owners know what to do.
“If there must be arrest, maybe it would be those men that came to patronise the prostitutes. They would harass them to extort money from them and once they part with anything to secure their freedom, they would release them.
“Periodically, there would be shooting; they would harass the shop owners for the same monetary benefit. Some of them have become part of this place such that they even drink and harass the prostitutes for free sex. They can easily fish out new faces for extortion,” our source said in confidence.
Confirming the discomfort of the wider community on the nefarious activities in the area, the Gomo of Kuje, Tanko, expressed disappointment that government has failed to stamp out the slum and put the area to more productive use:
“The activities going there don’t befit the area at all,” Gomo lamented, “Lots of things happening there are uncalled for. I don’t know what to do about that place. There was no time I did not raise the activities of the place during our security meetings. But all my attempts have yielded no response.
“I don’t actually know the interest of government in that area, but, left for me, they should be cleared so that the place could be put to productive use. Coming from my palace, sometimes, I want to pass through there, I see them constituting serious nuisance.
“I would be glad if government clears that place. I would prefer you talked to the area council chairman to find out why such activities are still going on there. The operators are not indigenes but I also know that indigenes patronise them.
“There is no truth on the claim that the indigenes are resisting the demolition because our appeal is not the demolition but stoppage of the selling of drugs, alcohol and other activities going on there.” They must leave so that the structures can be utilised for other business.” he stated.
“There are lots of smoking, drinking and other nefarious activities there that have portrayed the community in a very bad image. Our immediate concern is to remove the illegal extensions along the road to make it wider.
“The presence of the prostitutes constitute nuisance especially to people coming to my palace. When the Minister of the FCT visited Kuje, we had to pass through there as the only shortest access road to Pacili. I personally appealed to the Minister to rehabilitate that road by demolishing the illegal structures to the road.
“I will not give up on that area and I will continue to present it during our council and security meetings until the place is sanitised. I am also concerned about the involvement of the security agents who connive, drink and smoke with them.
“There is no other drastic measure we can take because we cannot take laws into our hands. We can only continue to plead with the security agents as the only institution with the authority to deal with such situation.
“It is over 10 years now we have been trying to recover that area. What started as a relaxation centre has degenerated into something else. With the level of development in Kuje now, the activities in that area is no longer befitting. It has now become an eye saw.
“We will continue to battle for the evacuation of the area, believing that we will succeed by God’s grace.”