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In Lagos, Soldiers Battle Area Boys

Posted by By Godwin Ifijeh on 2005/05/27 | Views: 910 |

In Lagos, Soldiers Battle Area Boys


By now, Lagos street urchins popularly known as Area Boys must have realised their folly in daring the lion's den.

By now, Lagos street urchins popularly known as Area Boys must have realised their folly in daring the lion's den.

They had on Monday attacked a soldier for daring to ask them not to collect money from the driver of a vehicle he boarded. The hoodlums, who used bottles and knives on the soldier, beat him into a state of coma, drove a knife into his stomach and had his liver pierced with the knife before colleagues, who ran out from other vehicles, could rescue him. The touts equally descended on other soldiers, beat and injured five other ones, three of them equally very severe to set the stage for what has now become a war on the Area Boys by soldiers.

Three of the six soldiers now lying critically ill in a hospital are now on danger list even after undergoing a number of operations.

Until last Monday, the boys, who are in their tens and twenties, had operated lords, extorting money daily from commercial motor cycles, buses, trucks ferrying goods, people setting up new buildings or renovating existing ones, and traders as if Lagos was their colony.

The boys, whose origin cuts across the states of the Southern part of the country, particularly those of the South West, South East, Edo and Delta, but were all born in Lagos and speaks Yoruba fluently, operate with the backing of some godfathers to whom they make returns.

At bus stops, motor parks and even on by-pass roads, the touts voluntarily carry on with their collection of money without hindrance. They not only molest and beat up drivers and conductors of vehicles, who resist giving them money, they at other times they damage or confiscate their side mirrors, seats and other parts that could easily be detached from such vehicles or shatter their windscreens.

For Mrs. Morenike Adebayo, a trader on the Agege-Motor Road, Oshodi, it is time government acts and deal decisively with the menace of the touts once and for all. The Areas Boys, according to her, do not give them breathing space.

"For those of us selling along the road, they collect N20 in the morning before they allow you to spread your wares and another N20 in the evening before you leave. Failure to give them that money means you will not be allowed to sell the following day. They are the ones who allocate spaces for people to sell, if you move into any place without their consent; you are promptly chased away.

"From the way they operate, apart from their godfathers, who are always at the background, and they make daily returns to, they appear in most cases to have the backing of the Iyalojas (Market Mothers). This is because some of them even serve as body guards to them," Mrs. Adebayo alleged.

On the part of the commercial bus drivers, Tunde Oloko, who operates on the Oshodi-Mile II Expressway, said they at times feel like not continuing with the business anymore as they virtually work for the touts.

"At every bus stop and park on that road, you lose as much as N200 to the boys per trip, there is no way you can dodge not giving them the money. If you don’t do that, you risk being attacked and getting your glasses broken or your side mirrors confiscated by them or your conductor, being thoroughly whipped.

They don't fear anybody, even when you have a policeman or soldier in the vehicle, they still insist on collecting money from you, ignoring the security agents even where they appeal to them to leave you. Those boys are notorious, government must act now and put a stop to their menace," Oloko argued.

In the same vain, Yemi Odubela, Executive Officer, Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA), expressed disgust at the activities of the boys, stating that they had not only become a menace to free flow of traffic in the Lagos metropolis, they had become a nuisance to the economic progress of the state.

According to the LASTMA boss, the boys forcibly disrupt traffic flow so that they could collect money from commercial bus drivers caught up in the hold ups. Odubela, who explained that the Governor Bola Tinubu Administration was thoroughly fed up with the activities of the boys, said they had on many occasions attacked and chased away his boys while controlling traffic to hinder traffic flow so that they could carry on with their business of money extortion from commercial vehicle drivers.

The unhindered bold operations of the boys had given the impression that they had the backing of the state authorities. Those who hold this view believe that it was a way of compensating them and their godfathers for their contribution toward the election of Tinubu as governor of the state. Further reinforcing this line of thought is the fact that since the state government came to power in May, 1999, it has only be mouthing its intention to do ‘something’ about their activities without action.

Added to that, months after the state government announced that it has built a vocational/rehabilitation camp with millions of naira for the boys at Ita Oko Island, not one of them is known to have been taken there. When the state governor went on an inspection tour of facilities at the centre early this year, he announced to the relief of Lagosians that it would clear the streets of the Area Boys, who would be taken to the Island, where they would be rehabilitated and made to acquire vocational skills. But that has not come to pass months after. In fact, nothing is even heard about the project anymore.

However, an official of the state government, who chose to remain anonymous, told THISDAY on Tuesday that the government had not abandoned the project. The official, who said, government was putting final touches to facilities at the centre and working on the logistics, denied that the operations of the boys had the backing of the government. He said their votes or support made no impact in the election of Tinubu, as they were probably not up to 5,000 involved in the act, he said the police was to blame for the problem.

According to him: "There is a law against touting in the state, the police have chosen not to enforce it for whatever reason best known to them. Find out from the police if they had ever arrested and prosecuted a tout and the state government asked them to release him.

However, there are those who argue that their collection of money from vehicles have stemmed their involvement in such criminal activities as robbery, pick pocketing and stealing." As things have turned out, Monday's clash with some soldiers in Lagos may prove the death nail on their coffins.

Until Wednesday when commercial activities returned to the busy and densely populated Oshodi community, uneasy calm descended the area all through Tuesday with soldiers and policemen taking position at strategic locations in the locality and beyond.

People passing through the area were made to raise up their hands while vehicles kept off the roads. The market too was closed as traders kept away, and had their shops under lock and key.

The soldiers further extended their presence to the Oshodi-Mile II Expressway, Mile II, Bolade, where they allegedly molested innocent passersby, Maryland and all other known areas on the mainland where the Area Boys operate freely, extorting money from commercial vehicles and motor cycles. They were out, scouting for the Area Boys to avenge the attack on their colleague and to flush them out once and for all.

Some soldiers, who were believed to be from the Ikeja Army Cantonment, had on Monday clashed with some of the boys in the Lagos suburb after they allegedly stabbed a soldier earlier in the day with bottles. The late evening fracas, which saw about a dozen vehicles, including commercial buses burnt, vandalised and glasses shattered, left commuters comprising people returning from their work and business places stranded.

They also did not spare the office of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the area. This was after they injured six soldiers, three of whom, including the earlier one attacked by the hoodlums, were now on danger list in hospital.

Attempts to get the army to comment on the incident were in vain as the Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Col. Mohammed. D. Yusuf's telephone rang all through without being answered, but Lagos State Police Command Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Bode Ojajuni, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), denied reports of any loss of life in the incident. The police spokesman, who said calm has been restored to the area, stated that the police were investigating the cause of the matter, as there were many versions of what actually led to it.

According to him, immediately the police got reports of attempts by some people in military uniform to barricade the Oshodi-Mile II Expressway, they got in touch with the Army authorities, who told them that they were not in the know of such action. The authorities, he said promised to move in to ascertain what the situation was.

The police, according to him, later restored law and order to the area, maintaining that there was no death from the incident. However, by Tuesday night, the army authorities were said to have ordered the withdrawal of the soldiers from Oshodi and the neighbourhood.

But that order appeared not to have been immediately heeded as soldiers, bearing machetes and other dangerous weapons were still seen in mufti up till late Tuesday night, searching for the boys at Mile ll. On the Lagos-Badagry Expressway up to Orile, the soldiers were said to have apprehended a number of the boys at Oshodi. It was not clear what they did with them, having taken them away. There was strong opinion in the area that they may have eliminated them since they were out on a vengeance mission. But they disproved that notion when on Wednesday they handed over 63 Area Boys in their custody to the police.

However, flowing from that Tuesday’s action of the soldiers, the boys were completely out of sight in the metropolis on Wednesday.
There was a general feeling of joy among Lagosians on the soldiers’ determination to flush out the boys once and for all.

A group of market women had on Tuesday staged a solidarity demonstration at Oshodi for the soldiers. The women, who denounced the touts, charged the state government to cash on the situation and ensure that an end is put to the activities of the boys in the metropolis.

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Joel Efiong(Calabar, Nigeria)says...

This is a great piece. The examination bodies should hire you as ICT consultant.

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Sunday Mbe(Kaduna, Kaduna, Nigeria)says...

ULIMASI means' GOD,THANK YOU' not THANK GOD.

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Sunday Mbe(Kaduna, Kaduna, Nigeria)says...

The name ULIMASI is from the UTUGWANG tribe in OBUDU local government area of CROSS RIVER STATE in Nigeria.

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Okfold(Sobe, Edo, Nigeria)says...

I want the meaning of female owan name Ekeke (Edo state)

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Toluwalase Samuel Olufemi(Ijebu, Ogun, Nigeria)says...

Authority belongs to God, once He decrees it is final and binding