“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
(A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
Where do I start on this issue of Insecurity in Lagos? I believe my personal experiences tell the story much better.
On 24th January 2012 I was on my way to work in Ikoyi. Traffic had built up on Osborne Drive, the road leading to the 1st gate of Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi.
My windows were wound down with the radio turned on, the time was 8:05am. Suddenly, a short dark figure walked to my side of the window. He had a hard face, smelled of weed and wore dark clothes. It was so surreal, he showed me a gun and asked me to hand over my phone…”the two phones, pass am now or I go shoot you”
I was stunned…I calmly gave him my two phones, a BlackBerry and an iPhone 4S, a gift from my wife just the week before. He then asked that I give him my wedding ring. By this time I was coming out of my dazed state and I said firmly “No”. At this time he became brazen and pointed the gun at my head and said he would blow my head off I didn’t give it to him. I removed the ring and gave it to him. All this time traffic had not moved and every other car around had passengers viewing me being robbed and doing nothing.
He then asked for money…I said firmly “I don’t have any money”. At that point, he must have guessed he had gotten a good enough heist from me and calmly walked across and jumped the embankment to the other side of the road.
Traffic moved and I drove on…..sad and confused at what just happened. Other drivers pulled up beside me with their pathetic sounding words saying “sorry” and looking helpless. It didn’t even occur to me to drive into the Dolphin Police Station to report what just happened.
I drove to work, blocked my lines and began the process of trying to get my life on a semblance of balance. At work I was advised to still report the incident at Dolphin police station. I did that on my way back home and my treatment by the Police officers there is a tale for another day…needless to say they didn’t seem to feel any rage or need to right the wrongs but were busy asking why I hadn’t reported the crime at the time of occurrence!
Fast forward to 24th February 2012 and this time I was on the way to work near Ketu, not too far after Motorways on Lagos-Ibadan express on the way to the Island. Time was 6:32am. This time I wasn’t alone, I gave a ride to my neighbor who works on the Island.
Windows wound down again (eye roll), traffic had built up and we were on the fast lane where I was on. Another short dark devil comes to the side of the car demanding our phones, brandishing a gun. This time traffic moved and I was already stepping on the gas….the guy threatens to shoot if I don’t step on the brakes. My neighbor goes hysterical pleading with me not to drive off and hands over his phone as I also hand over mine (or so I thought, I later discovered my BlackBerry never left the car).
The dude asks for money and I told him it was in the boot…he then calmly walks into the darkness. We drive off. I had just been robbed exactly one month after the first robbery. I cannot describe how I felt. The last time I told as many people I could about the robbery so they could protect themselves. This time I told only my wife, my boss and 2 close friends, determined not to be pitied by anyone.
You may wonder what has led me to write on this insecurity issue today: Just yesterday on my way to work, at the same spot at Ketu, I saw that same guy try to rob a lady in a Honda Civic. I was on the middle lane this time, windows up and I could have minded my business and driven off. I stopped the car and start honking my car horn…other motorists who saw the robbery happening were honking too, though not in solidarity to confuse the robber as I was doing but to get me to move on! It’s so sad how uncaring we have all become.
The robber panicked and jumped into the bushes and the woman drove on. I pursued her and flagged her down. As luck would have it, the robber had continued using the BlackBerry phone of my neighbor after he robbed us on the 24th of February. My neighbour added him on BBM and had saved his pictures and that of his girlfriend.
When I went to meet the woman she was shaking and sweating, we calmed her down and commiserated with her and she said the same guy had robbed her earlier in the year! This time he could only take her ring and her “small phone” (Most Lagosians know what this means). We showed her the pictures of the robber and she positively identified as we both did as well.
I took her email address and told her I would email her the pictures, requesting her to report the incident at Ketu Police station, showing them his pictures. Well this morning she called me to tell me her husband would go report the robbery. Apparently she just relocated to Nigeria from Canada in December 2011 to work in an A-list secondary school in the Maryland/Anthony area. Since she had now been robbed twice in 2012 he daughters are begging her that they need to return to Canada.
I consoled her and begged her to keep faith, let’s pray the Police would do their job I said.
The Crime rate has become alarming in Lagos especially. This past week a colleague’s friend was rudely shocked to find that his wife, Jumoke, had been kidnapped. Yesterday the kidnappers finally made contact, demanding N15 million as ransom. In February, a friend of mine Dayo Fagade was robbed on Falomo bridge of his phones…his windows were up (take that sermonizers! The classic and painful reproach I kept getting after being robbed is to blame me for not having my windows up.)
Robberies and kidnapping are on the increase and it’s not the fault of the victims. What exactly is happening? What has snapped? I remember tweeting in December that the combination of the Lekki Toll charge, impending fuel subsidy removal, Cashless Lagos and increase in electricity tariff would create social disequilibrium.
Once the middle class was threatened with less spending power, the stagnated “trickle down” effects of their disposable income dwindling would deprive the poor of money they had begun to depend on. With reduced income, crime rate would increase I intoned with the remnant of knowledge from my Sociology electives back in University of Ibadan.
I never knew I would become a victim of this deadly prophecy. With January came fuel subsidy removal and there was clear disequilibrium. Prices have gone up and have refused to come down. I posit that if not for the quick end of the extended strike, the poor would have soon begun a house to house attack on the rich and middle class. Call me an alarmist but I believe it.
I don’t have police records but I know for sure the crime rate in Lagos has gone progressively higher since January 2012. The question is what are we all going to do about it? One clear thing I believe we must all do is to genuinely step up citizen intervention when we see a crime being committed.
If you are in traffic and you see a robbery being done by a lone robber, please lets all begin honking our horns! If nothing it can cause the robber to feel several people are all after him and he may take off. If it’s possible to get down to intervene and you are trained in such “arrestive” arts like Judo, Tae Kwando etc please don’t stand by doing nothing. I will give a caveat though, safety of self should not be jeopardized yet I challenge us to show more courage. These robbers are men like us!
All that is well and good but what can the Police and Lagos state governments do? We need better Police response to reported crimes. I will follow up on the incident of the lady that was robbed as much as I can, hopefully the Police will not less us down.
The call for Local or State police is also clearly coming to fore. With a neighborhood police team around Ketu area, picking up the robber with these pictures of him we have would not be so hard.
On the whole, my charge to us all is to believe there “IS” something we can do….let us not resign to fate and powerlessness, evil will persist if good people continue to mind their own business. Until their business is rudely disrupted by a bandit as well…
Idiare Atimomo writes from Lagos where he works for a telecoms company. Follow him on Twitter, @id49ja
[image: Flickr/Anders Sandberg]