Panic, gunshots and machete wielding have become the order in many Lagos and Ogun communities as residents defend their neighbourhoods from marauding robbers in the wake of the lockdown declared by the Federal Government
The scenes had the trappings of war at nightfall in the neighbourhoods of Abule Egba, a Lagos suburb, penultimate Friday. There were bonfires at junctions as irate residents wielding machetes, cudgels and other war-like weapons shouted “Wey dem? Wey dem? (where are they?)”
The anxious residents had been told that some robbers were sighted around the area, hence they came out to search for them and possibly engage them in showdown. They went in one direction towards the Agbelekale end of the Ekoro-Command Road and returned minutes later to announce that the hoodlums had bolted on sighting them from afar.
“We won’t allow any group of boys to make life unbearable for us because we are not the cause of COVID-19 and their own lack of money. We are more than prepared to ward off robbers or hoodlums from turning us into their victims. We keep vigil every night; we are ever ready to defend our hood,” said Adebayo, one of the youth armed with a kitchen axe.
A few metres away from the scene, some youths armed with cutlasses, pestles and knives at the Omi-Ata bus stop also scurried the adjoining streets for the hoodlums, who they referred to as the One Million Boys. The residents’ effort at securing their neighbourhood was buoyed by some traders and other concerned residents who donated liquor and food items to those keeping vigil outside.
“We are in a killer mood. Let the hoodlums bring it on and we will show them the stuff we are made of. All of us are bearing the pains of the lockdown amid scarcity of money and food, yet some miscreants have been attacking and making attempts to rob us.
“The law enforcement agents are not usually prompt at protecting us. That is the reason we have chosen to protect ourselves from the heartless boys. Today is the third time they would make attempt to violate our street, but we are capable of containing them,’’ one of the residents said.
Robbery attacks have risen in the neighbourhoods in the wake of the lockdown in the two states to curtail the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Apart from Abule Egba, other affected neighbourhoods in Lagos are: Ajao Estate, Alakuko, Meiran, Iju, Agege, Alimosho, Alagbado, Aguda, Surulere, Ijeshatedo, Mosan, Ipaja.
In several parts of Ogun State, distraught residents have continued to organise themselves into a vigilante group to defend their neighbourhoods in places like Ayede, Ilepa, Ijoko, Ifo, Ibogun, Itori, Gudugba, Ayepe and Agbado communities in Ifo and Ewekoro Local Government Areas of Ogun State.
”We have bought machetes and guns to repel the hoodlums. We keep vigil every night because the hoodlums have sent letters that they are coming again anytime soon. My gun is usually by my side and Iam ready for them,” a community leader in Ayede area of Ifo, Adesanya said.
Residents explained they had taken the decision to defend themselves from robbers and other criminal gangs because of the ineptitude of security agencies, who mostly arrive long after the hoodlums must have left after wreaking havoc.
“What we owe ourselves is security of life upon which we can hope for tomorrow. Therefore, we shall continue to defend ourselves from bandits,’’ a resident of Meiran, identified simply as Anthony, said.
Agony of housewives
However, most of the women were not at ease with their husbands’ participation in vigilante assignments. They fear that their husbands were being exposed to danger in the course of securing their communities.
Many housewives expressed fears about their husbands not receiving adequate training in combating criminals before joining other residents in the neighbourhood to participate in vigilante services.
A housewife, who identified herself as Ijeoma, said: “Why won’t I cry? My husband does not have any security training. He does not have any weapon. Is it with bare hands he would confront hoodlums?
“If something happens to him while confronting the hoodlums, who will take care of our children?
“If my cries would dissuade him from going to join them, I will cry and even shed blood because I don’t want to be turned into a widow overnight.”
Another housewife, who gave her name simply as Esther, said she hid the key when she discovered that her husband wanted to join the community’s security team.
She said: “When it was time for him to go out, he searched for the key to no avail. I even joined him in the search for the key so he would not suspect that I was the one who hid it.
“As we were searching for the key, the other people kept banging the gate and calling him to come out. When they saw that he was not coming out, they moved to another building to bang their gate.”
The communities’ resort to self-help, it was learnt, stemmed from the seeming inability of security operatives to solely contain the criminal gangs whose names range from ‘One Million Boys’ to ‘No Salary’ and ‘Awawa Boys’, to name a few.
Checks made by our correspondents revealed that community leaders have resorted to moving from house to house to draft adult males into the unstructured vigilance groups.
Walls of raging fire from burning tyres billowed from the corners of most streets all night as landlords and their tenants stood combat ready to crush the robbers dominated by underage boys.
While applauding the efforts put up by the communities, some residents said they are not comfortable keeping vigil to combat hoodlums.
A resident of Igando, who gave his name simply as Bayo, said: “As a Christian, I don’t attend vigils because I don’t toy with my night rest, but I now keep vigil as I have been forced to become a night guard without any training or weapons to fight.
“There was anxiety, especially on Monday when President Muhammadu Buhari extended the lockdown by 14 days. Every shop in our area closed immediately after the announcement was made because fears were rife that the broadcast could worsen the security situation.
“True to the fears expressed by the people, we thereafter heard that the criminal gangs were at Idimu, moving towards Igando. This made us to go into our houses so early.
“Around 11: 30 pm, we started hearing bangs on gates with cutlasses menacingly dragged on the ground. Many of us were half dead as this was happening. I ran to the toilet more than 10 times within five minutes. We later realized that they were community members.
“Against my wish and thinking, they said I must join them in securing the community. I pleaded with them, pretending that I had been sick for some time, but they refused. The leader said he was sick too and that we should all manage to do it.”
Also sharing his experience, another disturbed resident, Tunde, said: “I was shocked when they asked me to join the vigilance group. I wondered how I would secure the community when I don’t have a gun or even ordinary cutlass to confront the hoodlums.
“All I have in the house is a knife that can only cut onions or soft fish. Is that the kind of weapon used to secure a community? I reluctantly followed them, believing God that the hoodlums would not strike while I was outside securing the community.
“My wife was crying when they came to call me to be part of the vigilance group. She was pulling me back as I moved to go out of the house. I had to promise that I would not stay more than 30 minutes outside.
“When I returned after about two hours, she got angry with me and vowed to stop me from further joining the vigilance group.”
Checks further revealed that the proliferation of vigilance groups has brought about a sharp rise in demand for weapons such as Dane gun, machetes and others needed by the people to defend themselves against criminal elements.
“We were asked to contribute money for the community to purchase sufficient weapons that residents would need to defend themselves if robbers come. Apart from the money for weapons, some community members have also been buying or providing money for guys to buy hot drinks that will help them to be well charged for the task,” a resident said.
Another resident, who gave his name as Nnamdi, feared that such weapons could end up in wrong hands if care is not taken.
He said: “That is actually my concern. We may end up having bigger problems than we can handle after the pandemic because weapons are being acquired and circulated in the guise of preparing to secure the communities.
“This is what happens during elections and we all are well aware that such weapons don’t get retrieved from the people they are given to.”
We are sliding into anarchy -Abubakar Tsav
A former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubarkar Tsav, in a telephone conversation with our correspondent, feared that the country might be sliding into anarchy with the proliferation of arms and vigilance groups.
“We are gradually sliding into anarchy. If everybody is armed in this country, it will be like America where you can go to any gun shop and buy a gun.
“Many of these people have no licence and you cannot trace a gun to any particular person. They will use it to kill and we are sliding gradually to that level. It is very, very sad indeed.
“The government should try to increase the number of security personnel. There are many graduates who are looking for jobs; recruit them, arm them and deploy them to villages to secure the people. But the government is not doing this. The money they should spend on all these things, they steal it. It is the fault of our government and politicians as a whole.”
The robbery attacks, according to the former Lagos police chief, are very dangerous and “I don’t know why those youths are taking the actions they are taking. This confinement is for the good of the general public.
“This virus we understand does not move by itself. It takes someone to carry it and transfer it to another person. If we don’t mix, we will be able to kill it.
“If there is general outbreak as it is in America, Italy and others, all of us will die in this country, because we don’t have the necessary equipment to look after ourselves. I think people should have understood all these things and behave very well.”
Continuing, he said: “Another thing is that there is absolute poverty in Nigeria. The politicians have made us poor. The ordinary people have to go out to earn a living.
“Some unemployed graduates ride motorcycles to earn a living every day. Now you come and confine these people. Where are they going to get money to live on?
“Another issue here is that our traders are exploitative. They have jerked up prices of goods since this problem started and people are suffering.
“People who are rioting are doing so because they have no means of surviving. We have no social security. Government does not care about ordinary people. If there is increase in salary, it is not implemented.
“Public officers are stealing. A governor will steal all the allocations in his state and government will not do anything. This anti-corruption war is not functional. These are the implications.
“May be the rioters are justified, and may be the government is justified because they are doing all this in the overall interest of the country. But how will people survive?”
The spokesman of the Lagos State Police Command, Mr Bala Elkana, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), has advised communities engaging in vigilance duties to desist from acts that could compound the fears of the people.
Speaking in a telephone chat with The Nation, Elkana said: “We are working closely with the landlords associations and also the community leaders, the CDS.
“We are working together in the spirit of community policing. We will not discourage communities from participating in their areas, but it has to be done in a civilised way.
“It has to be done in a way that we will not create more problems in the name of solving one.
“These young men that stepped out, it will be good we identify who they are. Leaders of communities should at least verify them and say yes, these are our people, so that they are not infiltrated by hoodlums.
“We don’t want them to be displaying arms and burning tyres and creating more panic. That is just the concern.
“Some of the complaints we are getting is that some of the people securing communities are now stopping vehicles on essential duties, asking them to pay money before they pass because they are the ones protecting their communities.
“That is unacceptable. Definitely there must be guidelines. They are not police officers and may not understand the nitty-gritty of policing and must work under supervision.”
Reacting to allegations that many divisional police officers’ mobile numbers circulated online are not reachable, Bala said: “Telephones are powered by service providers and sometimes you have service failures, particularly when you have high traffic on those lines. Like in the last few days, the traffic was so massive.
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“Somebody will be trying and it will not be connecting because the line is still busy. Within those moments, you see people calling us to say that the line is not going through. I tell them the lines are busy and that it is not only their calls; the calls are coming massively.
“People should understand that, that was exactly what happened. Even on my lines, calls were coming every second right from that moment. Power banks are in my pockets; if one is down, the other one is working to make sure the lines do not go off.
“When there is emergency, you have to wait because all the calls cannot enter at the same time.
“If you have gone round, you will see how calm the places have become. All of those panics were aggravated by social media reports and videos.
“Seeing police patrolling all over the areas reassured them the more. Deploying all our tactical teams out there also gave Lagosians more reassuarance.
“Then you also followed the news that the IGP has also helped by deploying some special forces to come and join our team on the ground to give more reassurance to the people.
“That confidence has been built. He didn’t even stop at that. He deployed a DIG who has arrived and fully coordinating activities. So, you see a lot of calmness everywhere.
“That alone reassured the people and they are relaxed. A lot of people couldn’t sleep because of fear and not because they were under attack. They will say armed robbers are on our street, but when you get there, you will not see anything.”
Reliving his experience with a caller, he said: “When we were at Agege Roundabout, a man called to say that armed robbers had taken over Agege and that they had broken into all the shops and houses, collecting valuables and raping women. We asked him where exactly at Agege that was happening and he said at Agege Market.
“Unfortunately for him all of us were at Agege Market at the time he was calling. We called him and said sir, where are you now, he said ah, I dey around now. We said but we are at the place you just mentioned, where are you? He said ‘ah, Oga, I dey Osun. Nna for social media I read am.’
“Imagine somebody in Osun helping to spread falsehood as if he is from Lagos. Let us verify the source of information before we press the forward buttons.”
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