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THE ESSENCE OF THUGS ON THE STREETS OF LAGOS?

By Prince Ifoh
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Few days ago, I boarded a commercial bus heading for Ojodu Berger from Ogudu. I sat on the front seat beside the bus driver (perhaps it was for my learning). We got to a certain bus stop and some passengers alighted. Two other people also boarded our bus. We were about leaving the park when a thug (agbero) - a violent looking young man - halted our bus and gave the driver a list of fees he must clear before leaving the bus stop.

The thug started in the preferred Yoruba language: "Wa a san owo booking (booking fee), owo ero(passengers fee), owo olopa (police fee) ati owo lastma (Lastma fee)." Each of these fees, according to him, was a hundred naira (N100), and it meant our bus driver was to pay four hundred naira (N400) at that spot.

At first, we thought it to be a joke (especially the police fee). But when the thug started dismantling some essential parts of the bus - even breaking off the side mirror and removing the wiper - we knew it was no longer funny. I could observe from the pitiable look on the driver's face that he hadn't made enough money for the day as to spare
such amount. Besides, any responsible father toiling all day to fend for his family's needs, especially in today's Nigeria, would find it difficult to part with such wholesome amount unreasonably.

The thug was so engrossed in his dismantling duty. All incessant pleas from the passengers in the bus fell to deaf ears. He was so scary and violent that no one could call him to order. Somehow along the line, someone provided the money and we were allowed to leave.

At that juncture, the national consciousness of many was aroused, and asking certain questions became pertinent.

What is the essence of having thugs on our streets?

Can we say Lagos is a "developed" state when her children are road side touts and street thugs?

In the face of rising global insurgency, isn't the Federal Government seeing the existence and growth of street thugs as a threat to our national security?

When these young men don't get stress-free monies anymore, won't they opt for terrorism?

Lest I forget, the thug mentioned "owo olopa" (police fee, for police officers stationed at the bus stop). Do the Police now have another medium of extorting innocent Nigerians? Are they using thugs to exploit the same people they should "safeguard"?

By "owo lastma", the thug implied that LASTMA officers in the environs would get a share. I thought LASTMA's sole duty was to manage traffic? Do they have other roles? Are they to also manage transporters' earnings?

All these goes to show our level of civilisation (poor social organisation). And funny, the government isn't acting like they want a better Nigeria (Lagos).

It is easy to remember Lagos of the 1990s. Touts were everywhere, acting as though they were the only citizens of the mega city. They fought destructively at any given opportunity, and even left some innocent Nigerians at points of death. It continued until Buba Marwa's"operation sweep" was introduced. “Operation sweep” was a joint police and military venture that helped reduce Lagos' notorious crime rate. They arrested thugs (agberos) and cleared them off our streets and roads. Area Boys behaved themselves as they were roundly beaten when caught in illegal and immoral acts.
They were forced to legally labour for their daily breads as many of them were employed by different government parastatals - within the state. During these years, Lagos was a serene environment – where everyone behaved like a gentleman. Area boys were gentlemen.

However, as soon as Buba Marwa's military government was replaced by democracy in 1999, the next governor - Bola Ahmed Tinubu – reinstated those thugs. Thugs - whom Marwa had shown the path to individual progress and national development - were this time, given excess liberty and the authority to misbehave. A burning question worth asking here is, "did the ex-governor see reinstating those thugs under the guise of NURTW as a means of employing them?" Of course, it can only mean one thing to an expatriate; in Lagos, playing politics with security isn't frowned upon.

Before Marwa's gubernatorial reign was Colonel Olagunsoye Oyinlola - who turned a blind eye to thugs' violence. After Marwa were Tinubu and Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) - both of whom have failed to eradicate extortionists (agberos) in Lagos. The latter - a learned colleague - enjoys prominence as one of the best incumbent governors in the country. No doubt, he is. But without squarely tackling thuggery and assaults (misdemeanours) in Lagos – perhaps because of sentimental or political affiliations - governor Fashola must know that he has an unfinished duty, and he's way far from realising the 'mega-city' ambition.

It is commonly said that part of the money collected (or extorted) by these thugs are sent to the government as "internal revenues". Does that mean I could form a partnership with Lagos state government as long as I can violently and notoriously raise money? Indeed, we have heard so much. No wonder Lagos and agbero are synonymous. But who says there are no better (orderly) ways for raising internal revenues? Why should the government value internal revenue more than the welfare and lives of the citizens? These area boys fight, injure or even kill innocent Nigerians on daily basis, yet they escape adequate punishments via the intervention of their "area father". Won't it suffice to classify such stained-money as bribe, rather than internal revenue?

Fashola's government has shown that it can make and enforce laws to the core. Shouldn't a government that prides itself as being progressive work to see that these urchins are off the streets?

Nowadays, in some parts of Lagos, many young boys hope to become a thug in a major bus stop. They feel it is an assured way of making money without having to stress yourself. After all, the "chairman" just sits somewhere whilst his "boys" go hustle for money from innocent Nigerians. With the mandate to extort money by hook or by
crook, they can violently attack anyone. Gradually, these young boys metamorphose into street urchins, then hoodlums, and finally to area boys. At this point, they could easily become robbers or terrorists.

A society of thieves and terrorists; is this the kind of society our politicians envisage? If we continue to play politics with every crucial problem facing our society, what will be the hope of our children in the future? We must understand that no prosperous nation anywhere in the world encourages thuggery (and agberoism). Hence, for
our national interest, it is wise we contribute towards the eradication of hooliganism in our entire neighborhood.

The number of thugs in Lagos has continued to increase. In 2007, their total number was estimated over 35,000 by a member of Lagosstate judiciary. After seven years of an authorised and uninterrupted reign, anyone could rightly guess their present combined figure. Have we all folded our hands in anticipation of the day they will exceed
one million?

The commando-style of operations of these thugs always keeps me wondering for how long Lagos' government will continue to feign ignorant of this anomaly. Lagosians will like to know why the government has continued to defend the interest of area boys – despite the killings and assaults. More worrying is the fact that the
Lagos-agbero syndrome seem to be spreading gradually to some other regions of the country. Wouldn't it be ideal if the government curtails excesses?

During the formal inauguration of Lagos State Security Committee, Mr. Fashola emphatically stated that area boys will be dealt with once and for all. However, with the continued presence of touts on major roads in the city, it is difficult to ascertain the sincerity of the government in the exercise.

It won't be a hasty generalisation if one says that area boys are responsible for more than 50 percent of violent crime in most parts of the state.
In Sawmill - Gbagada, last Wednesday, more than ten innocent Lagosians were seriously injured due to a machete-duel between area boys. When do we see the end of this?

We urge the government to help make our environment peaceful and secured - by properly eradicating thuggery.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Prince Ifoh and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."