James Ojo Adakole
It was a day that stood between life and death for them. At exactly 2:00a.m on June 12, occupants of No. 5, Fatimo Okanlawon Street, Oke-Odo, Agege Local Government Area of Lagos State were woken abruptly by a ferocious rattling at the main entrance of the house, a 10-room apartment. The violent sound from the main entrance door suggested something unusual was imminent.
While Nigeria was humming with activities for the celebration of the newly announced Democracy Day by President Muhammadu Buhari in honour of the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, they were battling for survival.
Daddy Esther, a tenant in the house, now fully alerted, but half-frozen, whizzed himself from his bed and propped against the door leading to his room, trying to demystify the unfolding occurrence. Within a blink, the main entrance door had been axed down, followed by a gaggle of dreadful footsteps advancing.
Then the assailants, a group of teenagers, christened ‘One Million Boys’ by some and ‘No Salary Boys’ by others, clutching well-charged, glowing torchlights, flashed them directly into the eyes of each occupant to conceal their identities. After this, they began their looting spree from the first room and continued uninterrupted as they ransacked the apartments. On getting to Daddy Esther’s room, they used axe to destroy his door, swarmed in before dispossessing him of his valuables.
Daddy Esther narrated his ordeal to Sunday Sun: “I was at home sleeping that day till around 2:00a.m. Suddenly, we heard a sound from the entrance door, followed by footsteps. So, when they came in, they started with other rooms. I was anxiously waiting, perplexed. So, when they finished their operations, they entered my own room, packed my phones and my ATM cards and left. Before they came to our own house, they had first robbed a house in the opposite street where I have a brother. They still robbed about two houses at Abisoye Street when they left a deep cut on the head of the son of an elderly man known as Alfa because they didn’t yield to their demand for money.”
Also speaking, Mummy Abey, another occupant of the house, narrated her experience of the robbery to Sunday Sun thus: “Those who attacked us did not cover their faces. However, we could not recognise them because heavy rays of light from the torchlights they were holding were penetrating our eyes directly considering it was in the night. What I noticed was that they were all young boys, there was no adult among them. If I should assess them, I would say they were probably within the age range of 15-20 years. They collected phones and money from my own room and then continued to other rooms. That is what they did throughout all the rooms in this house.”
Mummy Yetunde, another victim of the unfortunate incident, also recounted her encounter with the deadly group of boys that night. She toldSunday Sun that “Our own room was by the left; when they have robbed the other rooms, they entered our own too. They collected money and phones from my husband and I. As you can see (showing our correspondent damaged doors in the house) we are trying to fix the doors axed down that night.”
Many residents of Lagos State, especially those in Agege and Abaranje areas, are living in fear of being attacked by the deadly group who often swarm unexpectedly on roads and streets, pilfering shops and dispossessing residents of their valuables.
Findings by Sunday Sun revealed that bags, phones and money top the list of items the group requests anytime they go on raid.
During such raids, it was gathered that those who refuse to drop their valuables would either have their hands cut off with cutlass or beaten severely. Aside raiding the streets and dispossessing residents of their valuables on roads, the group also engages in robbery at night.
One decision, many regrets
When Mrs Kofoworola Babajide was moving into a new apartment with her family to Olakunle axis of Abaranje in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State, her excitement knew no bound. Having lived in noisy and hectic areas of Lagos for years, she assumed her new area, which on the surface appeared calm, was the paradise and tranquil environment she had longed for years many years.
Unknown to her, she was moving into a den of terrorists. Since she packed into her new place, she has been living in fear for being attacked suddenly by the ‘One Million Boys’ group terrorizing the area.
“We lived inside the busy areas of Lagos before, but decided to come into perceived cool area such as this to have rest from the stressful lifestyle in those areas. We lived at Iyanapaja before moving to Egbeda, then we decided to come to this area and rest. Unknown to us, there is nothing like rest here. This place is worse, compared to where we come from. There is no rest at all. I see this place as a village, yet there is no rest. I’m fed up with this area already,” she told Sunday Sun, wearing a grimaced face.
Close shave with death
Before Mrs Kofoworola moved with her family into their new residence, she had heard of the atrocities perpetrated by the ‘No Salary,’ a group of street urchins mostly between the ages of 12 and 20 years. However, such snippets of information about them appeared like mere fairytales to her until she had an encounter with them on March 18, 2019; when they stormed her shop along Olankunle Street.
Her words: “It all happened on March 18, 2019. The boys, mostly children were more than 50 in a group. Some people call them ‘One Million Boys’, others call them ‘Descendants of Caesarea.’ They are also known as ‘No Salary’ group. They have different kinds of name. That very day, I was busy with my phone, oblivious of happenings around me. Suddenly, one of them came from behind and snatched my phone. I was dragging the phone with him. These children are really small, and seeing that, I thought I could withstand them.
“As I was doing that, I looked up and discovered other members of his group were holding dreadful, well-sharpened cutlasses. Sensing I was proving stubborn, one of them darted towards where I was, his face filled with rage and horror. Paralysed by fear, I managed to run away, and that singular act saved me because I would probably have been butchered to death by now or been deformed. While I was trying to escape into the inner room of my shop, one member of the group stretched the cutlass in his hand, which ripped the plastic chair I was sitting down on into two equal halves. I was really sad because I bought the phone newly. Since then, I have been managing a small phone because I cannot afford an expensive phone again. Even before I got that one, I suffered. They didn’t touch any other thing in my shop aside that before they swarmed out of my shop.”
Aside that occurrence, Mrs Kofoworola also had other encounters with them. She narrated to Sunday Sun: “Aside the experience in my shop, I also met them one day on my way back from church. As we advanced Olakunle road, I saw people running in different directions. It was later that we were informed that we should run. Only God saved us otherwise; we would have probably been knocked down by vehicles driving at full speed to also escape the looming attack.”
Speaking on their mode of operation, another resident of Lagos State who had an experience with the group, but preferred anonymity said: “If a member of the group is offended by anyone, such member will notify other members of the group who would then come subsequently and unleash terror on the person. Even if the person in question is aged. I remember being in a vehicle one day, one of them deliberately trudged along the road, defying the oncoming bus which l boarded. To my surprise, the driver, didn’t utter a word, which is unusual. After passing that spot, I then asked the driver why he didn’t frown at the little boy’s attitude. The driver flashed a grin and asked if I was new to the environment. He said had he attempted to bully or beat the boy, he would have to suffer in the hands of other members of his group when they reappear.”
Narrating her experience further, she said: “I also met them around Customs area close to Ikotun in the night. They had robbed various tricycles and other passers-by before the tricycle I boarded got to the spot where they were. Unfortunately, the tricycle screeched to a halt immediately we got there, refusing to move again. My heart was jumping inside my chest as I screamed ‘Jesus save me’. Luckily, the tricycle roared back to life, drawing their attention, which made them to dart towards us. But for the driver’s wit, I wouldn’t know what would have been our fate that day. One thing about them is that once they get wind of police or other security agencies advancing, they will zoom off immediately, so it’s been difficult tackling them.”
Also speaking, Mrs Bola a resident of Abaranje said: “Those children, it is like they often assemble themselves as street friends, then before you know what is happening, they have been initiated into the group. There are people from Igando, Abaranje among other neighbouring communities among them. They have become a terror for people in this area and a nightmare for us too, dispossessing residents of money and bags along major bus stops. Most times, they operate within Customs and C&S bus stops. That is where they raid people, including drivers of phones, bags and other things. Most of their operations are carried out in the broad daylight. They would storm shops and pilfered any item on sight while they also collect money and phones from the shop owners.
“Recently, we heard they were advancing towards our street from Ijegu area and in the twinkle of an eye, the whole street has been emptied. Everyone had to close his or her shop to run home for fear of being attacked or robbed. That is the kind of situation we are into presently here. They have not really come to our area, but we are dying of fear already. One of my neighbours recently fell victim of their raids while returning from her workplace. She was disposed of her bag and phone. Thank God she wasn’t macheted in the process.
“The funny thing is that most of these children are less than 20 years of age. We have among them 12-15 years. Children you cannot imagine engaging in such act are in the majority of the group. Sometimes, you hardly believe your eyes when you see them, because they are too small to be engaging in such heinous activities. What most of us do nowadays is that anytime we are returning from work, we ensure our important valuables are not kept inside the bag because once they attack you, the first thing they demand from you is the bag. Anyone who has nothing to offer will receive the beating of his life if such person is lucky, otherwise, he would be severely brutalized with machetes.”
Residents who spoke with Sunday Sun appealed to the Lagos State government to beef up security in the area.
Kofoworola told Sunday Sun that “if children of such age can be this bold to the extent of causing panic, then there is something they rely on. Everyday, you will hear stories of their havoc from one street to the other. We really need government attention to address this situation.” When contacted, Chief Lamidi Hassan, the Baale of Abaranje decried the unceasing activities of the group in the area, disclosing that his palace is being flooded on daily basis with people who had horrible experiences with the group.
He told Sunday Sun: “It is true that those boys are terrorizing our area. They are ‘No Salary or Descedants of Caesare Children.’ They have been robbing people on these roads for long now. The police have been up and doing too. They respond whenever they are called upon. But the problem is that most of these boys are full of wits too and that makes it difficult to easily track them. It is up to a month now since they started this menace. We are tired of entertaining complaints of various kinds from residents of this community. Women whose husbands were brutalised after being robbed as well as others have been coming to us to report. We are trying to channel more energy into the fight against these assailants. Already, we are partnering more with the police. The Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) group here too has joined the fight against them. The local vigilantes, as well as the entire community are also joining in the fight now. With this synergy, we hope to rid this area of their activities soon.”
Also speaking, the Youth Leader of the community, Chief Sikiru Rasheed, said: “We have gone through a lot over this issue. We are even tired already. We don’t know how and where they usually come from. All we know is that they often pop up along the road, numbering up to 70 and 100 and start raiding passers-by. We have invited the police several times and they have equally tried their best, but the situation still persists. We have done several jingles on radio to create government attention about the situation. It just seemed these measures are not enough. We are tired and sick of the whole thing. Whenever we hear they are coming, the whole community will be at alert, from the chiefs and the residents, but they don’t come when you expect them. This has made it difficult to apprehend them. The government should please come to our aid.”
On his part, Hon. Awoleye, the Chairman Temidire Community Development Association (CDA), Oke-Odo, stressed the need for more local efforts against gangsterism and cultism among communities. He stated that government’s efforts could only yield desired impact when done in collaboration with community efforts.
Narrating how the group has been disturbing his area, he said: “Those little children troubling the streets, they are called Awawa kids. It has been long they have been disturbing these area. They often come down here from Agege and sometimes to meet their friends here. Since two weeks ago, there have been frequent cases of robberies in various homes from Olowe down to Oremeji streets among others. There is nothing we can do other to plead with government to augment efforts of the communities. As far back as 2012, the then Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola said we should engage the services of local securities, but some people due to their nonchalant attitude didn’t heed the advice and that is actually affecting them now. The police are trying but their response has not been as expected. We need them to be more active in combating crimes. The problem most times is that innocent citizens are often arrested when such cases arise.”
The Lagos State Police Command spokesman, Bala Elkana, a Deputy Superintendent (DSP), who confirmed the development in a telephone chat with Sunday Sun, disclosed that 39 suspects have been arrested by the Command’s recently launched Operation Crush from the affected areas in the state.
Enjoining residents to desist from cultism and gangsterism, he urged parents to guard their wards, warning that those who failed to do so would have themselves to blame if such children are apprehended.
His words: “We have about 39 suspects arrested so far from the affected areas. About three areas of Lagos were affected actually. This is from the Operation Crush that we launched recently. We launched Operation Crush and we got this number of suspects. It is a total clampdown on cultists. Until we completely crush them from Lagos, ranging from thuggery and gangsters, we won’t rest. Then we are moving beyond law enforcement to also engaging the community. This is because we have children that have parents and relations within where they are operating. So, we are bringing traditional rulers on board, religious leaders, landlords, parents and schools on board to see how we can bring an end to this menace of cultists and gangsters in Lagos State because they are twin brothers. So, we are looking at how we can completely curb the problem beyond just charging them to court.
“If you look at the record just within the last few weeks, we have about 39 suspects in an operation, and we have arrested over 500 suspects this year alone. Since we launched Operation Crush and other similar operations going on in different parts of Lagos, activities of cultists and gangsters have gone down. Then we have been holding aggressive campaigns. Just last week, we had a campaign on End Cultism and Drug Abuse organised by the Command in collaboration with Police Committee Relations. We walked round town and engage schools just to create awareness and discourage young ones from engaging in cultism. Because they are looking for those they will recruit, so we are telling the young ones the negative effect of it because it won’t end well if they join them. So, basically, we are moving beyond law enforcement to awareness creation.”