By Bayo Olupohunda, February 9, 2016
I had a very scary recent experience in Lagos. The encounter has come to confirm my fears that many Lagos neighborhoods are fast spiraling into a state of anarchy while the law enforcement agents are either complicit or helpless in the face of this unfolding lawlessness. I had gone for a traditional wedding ceremony somewhere in Ilaje, an area of Lagos which borders the cult-infested Bariga, notorious for gangland wars. I had had my misgivings. But given my relationship with the celebrant, the traditional Nikkai was one event I could not have declined. My apprehension was also deepened by recent reports of cult-related violence in that part of Lagos. To avert being caught up in a gang war that has come to define one of Lagos most dangerous neighbourhoods, I had planned my quick getaway in advance. I had decided it was easier and safer not to drive.
Ilaje, the venue of the event, is a Lagos settlement on the bank of the lagoon. Named after its original settlers, the riverine Ilaje people are mostly immigrant traders who had logged timber across the lagoon for a wood trade that has spanned ages. Thus, over the years, a large scale but mostly unorganized timber trade has developed along the bank of the lagoon bordering Bariga, Shomolu, Ifako, and Akoka. The majority of the inhabitants live in shanty houses built on stilt on the lagoon. On land, the commercial activity had prompted an indiscriminate influx of people living in mostly unplanned neighborhoods. In Bariga, Shomolu, Ifako and Ilaje environs the reality of the chaos confronts you so starkly that it was glaringly obvious how the area has become a crime hotbed. The roads are narrow and dilapidated. Many houses are derelict and without facilities, the human and vehicular traffic is so dense that people are almost colliding into one another. Young people sit around smoking weed without a care.
Bariga and its environs are the perfect example of urban chaos. A burgeoning youth population, mostly jobless, in a neglected neighbourhood is a festering ground for violent cultists.
The party began in earnest, and, before long, what I had feared came to pass. I did not notice it at first. As the guests were seated, all hell soon broke loose. Two groups of boys smoking weed freely had appeared at the venue. They demanded that the celebrants settle them. They came up with an amount that the bride’s family could not put together. They then proceeded to disrupt electricity at the venue. They also demanded money from the leader of the band crew. When he argued, they beat and tied him up. The whole place erupted into chaos as the boys started beating people up and snatching valuables. As the violence intensified, I melted into the crowd and stood at a safe distance. There was no use to act as the hero because even the three policemen hired to provide security had melted away.
I had also learnt that the Ilaje police station was close by. The SOS message sent to the station was not honoured.
It was a scary experience. The boys were heard boasting that even police cannot stop them. In the midst of the violence, the bride and groom were quickly taken out of the venue. The event was later concluded in the bride’s living room.
I left the venue feeling angry and outraged. How can cultists be allowed to unleash violence unchallenged in a city like Lagos that has the full complement of law of enforcement agencies and a government in place? It was instructive that while the outrage was going on, a police post was nearby. Even when a message was sent to the police, they refused to show up. By refusing to protect law-abiding residents in distress, the police have showed themselves incapable and powerless in carrying out their duty of protecting lives and property.
What happened at the event in Bariga is the big picture of what Lagos residents are facing today. Everywhere one turns in the city, cult gangs are unleashing violence and generally making lives unsafe for the people. But Lagos has always been on the grip of violent criminals. Street urchins, hoodlums, or so-called area boys have made living in Lagos a scary experience.
In another encounter with Lagos hoodlums, I was once caught in the middle of a violent fight when two cult groups in Ijora Badia decided to extort money from the organisers of an art event meant to harness the potential of disadvantaged or ghetto kids. The Caucasian artists were harassed while the police escorts barely managed to escape with injuries. It was a shame. The police would later shift blame to cover their incompetence.
The surge in cult-related violence is a dangerous trend that needs to be addressed with all the attention it deserves. How can a global melting pot like Lagos be allowed to come under the violent grip of violent cultists? Where are the law enforcement agents? Nowhere seems to be safe as residents sleep with their eyes open. Areas where cult activities have surged in the last few months include Bariga, Ijegun, Satellite Town, Shomolu, Onipanu, Bariga, Onipanu, Ketu , Ojota, Okoko, Amukoko and Lagos Island.
The activities of cult groups have become a common feature in these areas. It would be difficult to spend two weeks without recording incidences of cult clashes. Unlike what was obtained in the past, the university campus is no the theatre of cult clashes. The streets of Lagos have become the battlefields. The clashes are said to be caused by fights over money, supremacy, and tussle over girlfriends. During such fights, the cultists who brandish guns, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons take over the streets, seeking who to kill. Residents of these flashpoints now live in fear because their safety is no longer guaranteed.
How did Lagos streets become the theater of gun violence? It’s said that rusticated students of tertiary institutions first started the practice in the late 1990s. These students, who were expelled for various gross misconducts, exported cultism to Lagos neighbourhoods. Now, virtually all the campus cults have off-campus wings in many Lagos neighbourhoods. They include the Buccaneers Association of Nigeria, aka Buccaneers, Neo Black Movement of Africa, aka Black Axe, Supreme Eiye Confraternity, Supreme Vikings Confraternity, aka Aromates and Mafites.
The Ambode administration must come down hard on cultism in the state. The surge in cult violence, coming on the heels of violent robberies and carjacking that gripped the state at the inception of this administration, must not be allowed to further disturb the peace of residents. No resident deserves to live in fear. While I commend the governor for improving the security infrastructure with the provision of equipment to the police, I also say cultists must be apprehended and prosecuted. Cultism and other related violence is a social problem that must be addressed by creating an environment encouraging job creation for youths who have found solace in crime. In the long term, parents and guardians must instill moral values in their children and wards.