…We even have unrepentant ex-prisoners among us here –Traders
By Lawrence Enyoghasu
LAGOS computer village is the Information Communication Technology (ICT) hub of Nigeria, arguably, West Africa. It is located in the heart of Ikeja, the capital of Lagos State and about 3.8km to the governor’s office. Its closeness to the seat of power notwithstanding, the magnitude of crime committed there daily is unimmaginable.
Hardly would a day pass and one would not see someone falling victim of market hoodlums. It has become normal to see somebody shedding tears on streets of the market. If the person is asked, his or her story will not be different from that of a victim of armed robbery or a con man.
These thieves and connen have different modus operandi. Some of them have mobile shops, barely the suze of a stool or a briefcase. The briefcase is placed on a two-feet stool and opened in a way to enable potential customers have a full view of the products available. Others will just approach a potential customer and advertise his goods with a whisper. “Do you want to buy or sell phones?, they ask as they walk towards you.
Market in a residential area
The miscreants are able to carry out their criminal activities without being caught because of the setting of the market. Apart from the thousands of people that visit the market everyday, Computer village houses about 150 plazas, structured like residential apartments. It also has about six major entry and exit points. From Ogunbiyi community gate, the popular Otigba Street is on the right, ditto Olayemi Street. At the junction, there is a police post before Oshitelu, then Oremiji and Purple Street. Each of the streets have at least one exit.
Litany of woes
One of the victims, Lekan Jimoh, who was robbed in one of the dark spots on Oshitelu Street narrated his ordeal to Saturday Sun. The 25-year old student of IbadanPolytechnic who was in Lagos on holiday, visited the market to purchase a mobile phone for his grandfather. On the fateful day, his uncle gave him N50,000 for the phone and his transportation back to school, Lekan headed to computer village. Little did he know that he would fall victim of organised crime.
“I was in the market to buy phone for my grandpa. As I got to the entrance of the market, a guy in blue jeans approached me. He asked if I wanted to buy or sell phone. I told him I wanted to buy. He asked me to follow him that he had a place where I could buy phone of any variety. I followed him, and he took me to a shop.
“The place was relatively quiet but you could see people doing business and exchanging money, so I felt I was safe. He took me inside one of the shops and asked me to make my choice from what was in the showglass. I didn’t see much variety so I didn’t bother to ask. I told him that I didn’t see anything. He asked me about the type of phone I wanted so that he could get it for me. I told him I wanted a Nokia phone with big screen and buttons that an old man can operate. He asked me to sit down, that he was going to get it for me. As I sat inside the shop, some men approached me and asked me some questions; I explained to them why I was waiting. They said I was one of those who come to the market to steal from shop owners. As I was trying to explain myself, things got worse. I ended up being stripped of what I had on me. When I tried to shout, they threatened they would report to the police that I stole from their shop,” he stated.
Lekan was conned. He could not have raised the alarm because everybody present seemed to be aware of the scam. He was later escorted out of the market.
Ahmed Olanipekun was a victim of organized pick-pocket. He was lured by those who use their fingers to draw customers. They would stay under umbrellas, and on sighting a potential customer, they would signal to the customer, Rather than talk, they would tweak their fingers as if they were typing.
Anytime Ahmed thinks about his encounter, he wish he never visited the market. Cursing, he narrated his encounter in the market. “Mine was a case of organized pick pocket. I was in the market to purchase a fairly used computer and repair another hard disk. I was trying to negotiate with a guy. My computer hard disk had crashed the previous day. As I tried to bring out the disk from my bag; I exposed the little cash that I had on me in the process. Afterwards, I continued to negotiate with the guy who called himself Wale. I met him on Oremeji Street. When he saw the money on me. I saw some guys pacing up and down behind me. I was not aware that my bag was being ransacked. That was how I lost close to N80,000. My tears were endless.”
Another victim, Seun Oriade was a victim of dummy product purchase. Though he was aware that he was buying a stolen product, he never expected to be axed. He paid about N90,000 for an Iphone 6s, a product that is worth twice the amount, if not more.
“I tried to pay them with my ATM card through a POS. Unfortunately, the POS was not working. The boys followed me to the bank where I could withdraw the money. I withdrew the cash, handed it over but the boys did not give me the product I paid for. When I got to the bus, I decided to open it, what I saw was an empty pack filled with flat iron. It weighed the same as the original phone. When I returned to the shop, it was empty nobody knew the men I transacted business with. Although they told me that I was buying a stolen product and I should be quick before police swoop ed on the place. One of them called Uche Omo Nna,” he narrated.
Leadership vacuum worries traders
Like Lekan, Ahmed and Seun, many unsuspecting prople have been robbed in the market. The shop owners have continued to lament and wail for help from different levels of government. There might have been cases of organized crimes in the market, the market itself lacks organized leadership. Saturday Sun gathered that in the last 10 years, the market had no authorised umbrella body to help curb the menace in the market.
In the absence of organized leadership for the umbrella body called Computer and Allied Product Dealers of Nigeria (CAPDAN), the market settled for alternatives. They set up plaza heads to see to the security of the plazas. Since the robbers and conmen are not within the plazas, they have limited right to query their activities.
According to the chairmen of one of the biggest and premier plazas, POWA Shopping Complex, Mr Jerry Onyemaechi Mba, what happened to Lekan and others were not new. He went further to narrate an encounter which involved a policeman. He said the policeman was duped and it became a hell for them. He disclosed that that and other incidents made government to bring a police post to the junction of Olayemi street. He added that things might have been rough due to lack of security but street trading which is rampant in the area encourages robbers and fraudsters, adding, some of these bad boys are ex-prisoners or motor park touts.
“The setting was not primarily designed for a market. Computer Village was imposed on a residential environment. In essence, the market accommodates all manners of people and that brings about different challenges. We have the challenge of security. Just of recent, government brought a police post to the area. Usually, there are robbery cases. The issue of street trading, which is common here, makes the market untidy and movement difficult. This in turn increases the crowd and encourages theft. The number of miscreants in the market is countless. They terrorize and perpetrate all manners of criminal activities and these do not give the market a good image. They scared away potential customers.
“The umbrella body that is supposed to clean up this mess is not effective. As I am talking to you, there has been no CAPDAN in place for more than 10 years. We have not had a body regulating the activities of the market and that has created a vacuum for anybody to behave anyhow in the market. The market accommodates school dropout, ex-prisoners and hoodlums. They have all come to survive here which makes them desperate to do anything for it. They steal; pick pocket and sell dummies to eke a living,” he narrated.
In the same vein, Mr. Henry Ezeilo, Chairman of Crystal Plaza, said in his 10 years of doing business in the market, the market had never been organized.
In his words: “There are issues of pick-pocketing and armed robbery in the market. These things have affected the traders. A saint will enter the market but leave the place in with tears that we have to help with transport money sometimes. Other times you will see people selling fake items to customers. Let me put it like this, these bad boys sell bad phones to innocent customers. Even some of them will approach you as if they want to buy and runaway with your phone. I believe if we have an association, all these things would be curbed. When there is an effectve body in the market, law and order will be restored. We know them and they know themselves.”