It was like a scene from a typical Nollywood movie. The setting was the ever busy Ojodu-Berger axis of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. It was in the evening and traffic was expectedly heavy. Vehicular movement was almost at a standstill. The intermittent outpouring of rains complicated the situation for motorists and commuters. This, coupled with the irritating blaring of horns by obviously agitated and exhausted motorists, gave rise to a feeling that hell was already let loose. Suddenly, in the midst of the whole confusion, a skinny teenager, obviously using the sale of ‘gala’ to conceal his actual mission, dipped his hand into the dash board of one of the vehicles that was trapped in the gridlock. With the dexterity of a professional thief, he made away with a cell phone and wallet stuffed with cash. The whole episode did not last for more than 30 seconds. It was so quick that it left both the victim and other motorists and commuters in the gridlock deeply bewildered. Before anyone could say jack, the boy had dashed to the other side of the road and vanished into thin air. Welcome to the world of Lagos traffic robbers!
In recent time, there has been an upsurge in the incidence of traffic robbery in Lagos State. The barefaced audacity with which these criminals perpetrate their evil act has become a source of great worry to commuters, motorists and residents alike. Some of the hoodlums who carry out the act occasionally place themselves on both sides of busy Lagos roads and attack unsuspecting motorists. Their mode of operation varies, depending on the exigency of the moment. Sometimes, they could bang on the vehicles of unwary motorists in order to lure them out of the car before pouncing on them. In some other instances, they knock at the glass of any car of their fancy to raise a false alarm of either a punctured tyre or that of a leaking fuel tank. The idea is always to ensure that motorists are tricked out of their vehicles or left off their guard to pave way for their dastardly act. However, the criminals could even be more daring as to break side glasses of vehicles, rob with unimaginable boldness and leisurely walk away as if nothing has actually happened. Everything usually happens in a twinkling of an eye such that the victims are often left baffled and speechless. The hooligans, who are mostly youngsters, target female victims mainly because women’s resistance is usually very feeble in such situations.
Major routes where the dastardly act has become more widespread include Mile 2 –Badagry Expressway, Iyana-Ipaja/ Agege, Ikotun-Egbe road, LASU-Iyana Iba, Gbagada- Oworonshoki- Ketu routes, Ijora, Oshodi Oke, Ojuelegba, Murtala Muhammed Airport Road, Ojota, Ojodu-Berger, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway among others. In most cases, traffic robbers, who operate in a commando fashion and in broad daylight, take advantage of the typical Lagos traffic gridlock which often hinders free flow of vehicular movement to rob commuters and motorists, sometimes at gun point, of their valuables. Some of the criminals sometimes pretend to be beggars in order to fool their victims. One aspect of the act that is quite worrisome is the fact that victims are often left on their own to deal with their plight. Other motorists and commuters, out of fear of being molested or shot by the hoodlums, often stay put in their vehicles to mind their own business. The typical African brother’s keeper tradition amounts to nothing in this matter.
Many have linked the fresh trend in traffic robbery to our country’s current harsh socio-economic realities, rising unemployment, inflation, breakdown of societal values, moral decadence, drug abuse among others. Naturally, in discourses that concern such anti-social issues as traffic robbery, the tendency is always to blame the police for incompetence and slackness. But, the truth is that the police like every other state’s institution are a part of the larger society and as such are not immune from the fallouts of major societal challenges.
Our country is currently grossly under-policed. Therefore, expecting the Nigerian Police Force, which comprises less than 400,000 men and officers, to efficiently contend with rising wave of criminality in the country, amounts to expecting the devil to embrace the gospel. The present policing ratio of 205 police officers per 150,000 people in the country is grossly inadequate.
The current situation, therefore, brings back to the fore the contentious issue of the imperative for state police. The current trend where the Police Commissioner in a state will have to take orders from Abuja concerning security issues is quire complicated. Ironically, almost all the governors in the country are investing heavily in the various police commands in their states. In Lagos State, for example, the government in the last 15 years has invested billions of naira on the state police command as well as other security organs in the state. In fact, one of the earliest tasks of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was to meet with individuals and corporate organisations that made commitments of over one billion naira in cash and kind towards ensuring a safer Lagos.
Now, does it not amount to double standard that a governor bears such a huge responsibility, which in the first place should be that of the federal government, only for the system to turn around and deny him unhindered control of the same institution? It has been argued in some quarters that state police is nothing but a recipe for anarchy. The reality, however, is that the present centralized police structure has, over the years, been subjected to limitless abuse by the central authority. Nigeria is too large and complex to be policed centrally. In an ideal federal system, the issue of state police should not be a contentious matter. In order to enhance security in the country, the issue of state police must be urgently addressed.
Meanwhile, motorists and commuters in Lagos are advised to always be on alert and keep valuables out of sight. They should always lock the doors and wind up glasses of their vehicles at flash points. They should also shun buying things in traffic for safety consideration. They should be wary of ploy by miscreants who raise false alarms on the road with the intent of dispossessing them of their valuables. Everyone is a stakeholder when it comes to security concern. An effective public security cannot be guaranteed without the active involvement, participation and support of every segment of the society because public security is the responsibility of all individuals, groups, communities, organisations and other units that constitute the state.
—Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.