Like a jabof tramadol to an already frenzied mind, the extension of lockdown by 14 daysin Lagos, Ogun and FCT announced by President Muhammadu Buhari triggered anorgy of riotous robberies in parts of Lagos and Ogun State Monday night. Theangry mob of cultists, Area Boys and endless hangers-on on hearing theextension took to the streets with madcap fury. They broke into shops, homesand turned motorists into their cash-dispensing machines, a kind of human ATM.
I was outMonday. Duty always calls for the journalist, especially if you have to providecontent for international media in addition to your primary duty. The immediatepast week, there were cases of violence on the fringes of Lagos, particularlythe parts bordering Ogun State. Irate youths openly brandished dangerousweapons in a show of force. They broke into shops in broad daylight and evenrobbed residents of food and money. Theywere chiefly after food and money, not luxury items. Angst mixed with fearpervaded Lagos. The suburbs were on edge. Social media was agog with dayrobberies across these towns on the precinct of Lagos. The police knew about itbut strangely chose to play the possum.
The LagosState Commissioner of Lagos, Hakeem Odumosu, made a television appearance todebunk the reported cases of robbery. He dismissed it as mere supremacy clashesamong rival cult groups. Lagosians were not impressed with his submission onTV. Yes, there could have been occasions of rival cultic clashes. This is notnew in Lagos, Port Harcourt and other parts of the country where different cultgroups often engage in a show of force to protect their spheres of influence.But not on this occasion. What happened in Lagos penultimate week and whichgained a sudden traction Monday night was beyond cultic clashes. It was a totalbreakdown of law and order, a burst of social discontent that brought to thefore the deep-seated suffering among the masses. This Covid-19 lockdown hasbrought out the beast in us (Apologies to Fela Anikulapo Kuti).
Mondaynight, just after President Buhari finished his address (which I monitored onradio), I drove through a cauldron of angry mob. Armed with cudgels, machetesand other dangerous weapons, they took over the road leading from Ajao Estateinto NNPC/Ejigbo chanting “two weeks is too long”; “We are hungry”; Sanwo-Oluwe need food”. This group was ‘friendly’except for a few who banged on every vehicle crawling in the artificialgridlock they created that moment. Somehow, we managed to meander out of theirmidst only to run into the real ‘hungry and angry’ mob, this time insideEjigbo. They were already robbing passers-by and breaking shops. I quicklycalled police control room. A male voice answered promptly. I had barelyfinished narrating the incident when he intoned ‘we are aware. Our men are onthe way’. I was relieved at least that something was being done by the police.I managed to find my way out of the horde of wild young men after parting withsome cash and a forced winsome smile to mask my rage at their vile behaviour.
To mypleasant surprise, a patrol team of policemen landed at the scene, siren baringwith a whiff of professional security showmanship forcing the growing army ofcriminals to disappear to only God knows where. I commend the Lagos police fortheir prompt response to the distress call and much more for their comportmentwhen they spoke to the people that had gathered round to express their fears.The police spoke hope to the people. They were very reassuring with theirwords. They even commended the various people that placed distress calls to thepolice control room. They urged the youths in the environment who hadconstituted themselves into a vigilante to continue but with a warning not toseize the occasion to perpetrate crime in any form. And throughout that nightand every other night since that day, the police had always complemented thelocal vigilante.
As it wasin a part of Ajao Estate and Ejigbo, so it was in Agege, Shasha, Igando, partsof Surulere and other suburbs of Lagos. Landlords and tenants now keep vigil,mounting sentry in their neighbourhoods. In an earlier essay on Covid-19, I hadprojected an upsurge in crime and banditry as a major spin-off of the lockdown.
Without adoubt, Nigeria needs to lockdown, adhere to basic coronavirus management ruleslike self-isolation and social distancing but such lockdown ought to have comewith a human face, a carefully thought through social security regime thatwould answer to issues of hunger, low cash density and other issues of needs. Thereought to be a critical need assessment of the people by government. Theso-called social security scheme of the Federal Government which was supposedto dole out N5,000 to the ‘poorest of the poor’ is exactly what it is: a poorlyimplemented national scam that has now become a national embarrassment even tothose who are supposed to manage it. The minister of Humanitarian Affairs, DisasterManagement and Social Development, Sadiya Farouk and Mrs Maryam Uwais whoshould be advising President Buhari on social investment matters have sufficiently advertised their incompetenceand total lack of understanding of their duties and how they ought to dischargesuch duties. And we really can’t blame them for bungling a good scheme.
The stategovernments ought to fill the gaps left by the failings of the duo. In Lagos,the Babajide Sanwo-Olu government has done a terrific job of trying to managethe Covid-19 pandemic but it needs to do more to rein in the Area Boys andother garrison of criminals in the state. These are young men who feed dailyfrom motor parks, from extorting Danfo drivers, from selling tickets at garagesand imposing all manner of fines on commercial motorcycle riders and tricycleoperators on a daily basis. Suddenly, you take the food from their mouth. Theywill react and the reaction is the rage on the streets of Lagos, the insecuritythat throbs the state.
The LagosPolice Command has no excuse not have subdued the terror gang styled OneMillion Boys or any other gang of goons terrorising residents in the state longbefore now. How can urchins from gangsterland wax so bold in Lagos? Who isarming them? Are there moles in the police fold working with them?
Security inLagos is at a tipping point. And there has to be a meeting of minds. Sanwo-Oluand Odumosu must provide answers to the many questions Lagosians are asking.They must rise to the occasion and assuage the fears of the people. If it meansputting more men on the job, paying special allowance to security personnel atthis time or giving them more equipment (vehicular, arms and ammunition), let’sdo it. We cannot abdicate the Lagos space to criminals and miscreants. Leadershipmust engender hope not fear. Lagosians are no longer sleeping with their twoeyes closed. This is not a good report for both Sanwo-Olu and Odumosu. Theymust prove they really care. And the time is now.