Following the Covid-19-induced lockdown now in its third week, crime, especially broad daylight robberies have been on the increase, with citizens living in fear and having to stay awake night and day to ward off of marauding attackers in Lagos and environs. Medinat Kanabe and Dorcas Egede report.
A Week into the initial two-week lockdown announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in Lagos Abuja and Ogun State, Mustapha, popularly known as Daddy Kareem, went out to get bread and akara for his family at the bus stop at Oko Afo along Badagry Expressway. It was about 6pm and the man, an electrician, who had not gone to his Mile2 workshop for over a week because of the lockdown had delayed his children’s lunch till evening, so that they could eat and sleep.
He had barely left the point where he bought the items, when a few boys between ages 16 and 18 years walked up to him and asked him to buy akara and bread for them.
Mustapha told them politely that he didn’t have any money on him and that what he was carrying was his children’s dinner but they insisted and even offered to follow him to his house to collect money for their own akara and bread if he wasn’t going to release the one he had bought.
“I looked around but everyone ignored me. It was as if they were telling me to give the boys the food with their eyes, so I thought for a second and released the food to them,” he said.
When he got home, his family had to make do with drinking cassava flour for dinner, as according to him, “I was too scared to go to the bus top to buy another meal and I could not send any of my children. Since that incident, I have made it a point not to leave my house or send my children out on any errand once it is 5pm – at least until after the lockdown,” he added.
Mustapha’s story is just one of several other broad daylight robberies playing out across Lagos and Ogun states since the commencement of the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Virtually everywhere you look, young boys have taken to the streets to rob people of their valuables just to buy food to eat and survive the lockdown.
Their activities, mode of stealing and what they take from the crime scenes point to the fact that they are hungry boys or family men who just want something to eat.
On one of the social media platforms recently, a lorry loaded with yam and other foodstuff heading into town from the Mile 12 food market was waylaid and almost looted bare. The boys did not hurt him, but to scare him, they threw stones at his vehicle, forcing him to stop before making away with what they could – perhaps to feed for the day.
In another instance, a commercial yellow bus laden with the popular Agege bread was assailed by a horde of humans and the loaves looted freely.
Many victims who spoke to The Nation said the boys who stole from them only took food, while those who demanded money stated that they were hungry.
According to Innocent Chukwu who runs a foodstuff shop at Cele, Alaba, the boys broke into his shop and stole rice, beans and garri.
“I think they noticed that I had restocked my shop that day and because it was a Sunday I went back home to relax only for me to receive a call from someone that some boys had broken into my shop and stealing my food items.
“I didn’t leave my house because I knew that I was powerless and neither did I go to the police because they will not be of any help. I simply allowed them to take whatever they wanted and leave. The next day, I went to fix my shop, but I have not restocked since then. Once my stock finishes, I will wait until everything goes back to normal before buying anything.”
Arinze, another foodstuff seller says he has not opened his shop for days out of fear. When this reporter called him on phone, he said he heard what happened to his colleague, Chukwu and decided to stay at home until the lockdown is over.
“I came to my shop on hearing what happened to that man at Cele and packed my foodstuff to the house. It is better that my family feeds on them than those touts who call themselves omo onile (land owners),” he explained.
Another family man, name withheld, who also experienced robbery said they carted away his flat screen television from his sitting room during the day.
“I just stepped out of my house to get something and before I got back, someone had removed my flat screen television. I didn’t lock the door because I thought I thought I wouldn’t be long gone, but like magic, I came back to meet a vacant wall. My flat screen television was gone.”
He blamed the stealing on the lockdown as he said that boys are hungry.
“At Shibiri, another community along the Badagry Expressway in Lagos, the boys’ mode of operation is to wait for people to go out, sneak in with blades to cut open window nets, enter apartments, and then steal whatever they could,” another source said.
A journalist who took to social media to narrate his ordeal at the hands of robbers has also blamed the stealing on the lockdown.
He said: “Haven’t been online for sometime as I became a victim of the fallout of the lockdown measures of the Federal Government. I was robbed at gunpoint and dispossessed of my phone, wallet, ATM card etc. But I am grateful to be alive.
“Please be careful of ‘lonely areas,'” he counselled. “As an essential worker, I was on duty, heading towards the Ojota bridge to connect Maryland on my way to Ojuelegba, when I saw two young men standing apart at the side of the bridge end that leads to the expressway to connect back to Maryland. Thinking they were stranded passengers, I didn’t even give them a thought, but a towing vehicle dragging a trailer right in front of me slowed my speed. Suddenly one of the men rushed to open the passenger side of the car and before I knew what was happening, the other guy stood in the middle of the road pointing a gun straight at me like you see in movies. As I was about to come to terms with the situation, a set of guys wielding weapon of different sizes and shapes (guns, machetes, axes, knives) pounced on me from the driver’s side, threatening to unleash all manners of terror on me if I didn’t do their bidding. They asked for money, phone, laptops, my car key while at the same time making efforts to open the doors which were securely locked. All through the operation, which lasted less than five minutes, no vehicle was in sight. Luckily, I managed to leave the scene alive and with my car, unscathed. Whatever they had stolen would be recovered or replaced with time. Meanwhile, the police were at the other side of the foot of the (Ojota) bridge ‘enforcing the restriction order.’ So, if you have been trying to reach me without success, here is why.” He wrote.
Interestingly, these hungry boys’ siege and reign of terror is not limited to Mainland Lagos, as they have been sighted in Lekki Phase 1, stopping cars and begging for money to eat.
A source who gave his name as Michael said, “They are not as violent in Lekki Phase 1. What they do is surround your car and start begging for money. They also carry signs saying, ‘We are hungry, give us food, we have no work etc.’
“My fear is that sooner than later, they will start entering people’s homes and forcing them to part with their valuables. It’s just day 15, we still have about 13 days to go,” he said.
Michael, who said he does not support what the boys are doing, however said what is playing out is not unusual, as people are really suffering.
Meanwhile, a source around Aiyetoro in Ogun State told The Nation that over 100 boys were seen robbing people off their valuables on Aiyetoro Bridge.
“I don’t know how many routes those boys use or even their number, but I believe they were up to 100. Some people reported that they were operating on Aiyetoro Bridge as at 7:00pm on Sunday. I also learnt that they went to Iyana-Ipaja on Saturday, but the people repelled them, so they returned on Sunday afternoon. I learnt that two of them were killed that day,” she said.
She also said they had information that the boys were heading towards Ayobo.
“I asked a guy on my street, Gbenga and he told me that as at 8:00pm, they got information that the robbers were coming to Ayobo. This information quickly spread and boys in the area mobilised and got battle ready.
“I also learnt that the robbers are from Agege, and that they call themselves Awawa Boys. Their strength is in their number, and they move in tens and hundreds. If they are entering a compound, they do so in tens, so you don’t have a way of overpowering them. Their weapons, as I heard, are acid and blade. Because of this, all the routes into Ayobo are being manned by residents and the neighbourhoood watch, all wielding machetes, knives, daggers and hammers.”
Meanwhile, when the Police and its SARS operatives came to Ayobo, residents still refused to leave the streets. “Two vans were on ground, patrolling with the Area Commander, who was calling for reinforcement. The police tried to calm the residents to go into their houses, that they were in charge; but residents were too afraid to leave their safety in the hands of the Police, so they stayed put.”
Iya Gbogbo, a woman in the neighbourhood told The Nation that she didn’t sleep a wink the night before. “We were outside till 4:00am. We couldn’t sleep. We were informed that robbers were coming to Ayobo and that they had started operating at Aiyetoro Bridge as at 7:00pm on Sunday, 12, April. The suffering in this lockdown is too much. We’ve not had light since lockdown, and as I speak, they have sent February bill, even though we do not have light,” she said.
When The Nation contacted the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Bala Elkana, he said, “Yes the boys were on the street during the day time begging for food and money but our patrol is on and the order is ‘sit at home’. Agencies of government responsible for distributing palliatives are reaching out to them. If they are not at home, how will they reach them? Besides, sitting at home is important for them.
“We have identified patrols and our surveillance teams are all over, watching and ensuring that people sit at home and not on the street, so that some of them will not take advantage of that to rob people.”