Johnson Obot saw the other side of Lagos recently. A private taxi operator, the 38-year-old father of four was raised and bred in Orile, a sprawling area in the city. Though a native of Akwa Ibom State, Obot understands everything about Lagos, including the local Yoruba language, which he speaks flawlessly.
But according to Punch, the young man, who has lived his entire life in the coastal city, was treated to one of Lagos’ unpalatable recurring features last Friday. While driving along the popular Ikorodu Road – one of the longest expressways in the state – to pick up a passenger that had called for his service at Ojota, Obot on getting to Iyana School/Ile-Ile area, met two young men in traffic. The guys stole from him using a simple trick.
“As I headed towards Ketu from Mile 12 to connect Ojota where a passenger that had called earlier was waiting for me, I encountered traffic around Kosofe bus stop that morning,” the 38-year-old said as he narrated his bitter encounter during a chat with Punch correspondent. “On getting to Ile-Ile, a guy waved me down, telling me my vehicle had slightly hit someone’s car.
“While still talking to him through the window of the driver’s side and wondering how I could have hit somebody’s car without knowing about it, one of his accomplices stole my two phones from the front passenger seat. Before I understood what was happening, the two of them had disappeared.
“They crossed to the other side of the road and left with a waiting motorcycle. There was nothing I could do, I just watched in amazement.”
A very careful and security-conscious person, according to him, Obot said the incident happened on a day he decided to wind down his window for a few minutes after turning off his car’s air conditioner to conserve petrol and also take in some fresh air. But in Lagos, especially in traffic, that is an expensive thing to do.
“Of course, I have heard about cases of robbery in Lagos traffic, I thought that era was gone, I never knew it was still happening.
“In fact, if I had known that this was still happening in places like Ikorodu Road, I would have been more careful. My smartphone is what I use to get bookings from customers, and losing it has affected my work a lot. I am trying to get money to buy a new one,” he said, expressing bitterness.
While the two guys used a simple trick to steal from Obot in traffic, the one that was applied to ransack Dele Bamgbose’s car in the Mile 2 area of the city, was quite sophisticated. Returning home from church on the afternoon of Sunday, November 11, 2018, together with his wife and two-year-old son, the insurance broker had no inkling of what laid in wait as he took the Mile 2 Bridge to connect the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway enroute Ijesha where he resides. Trying to wriggle his way out of the traffic, the 40-year-old was ordered to pack at a corner of the road by a young man wearing a brown uniform. He thought the man was a law enforcement agent. He was wrong. He still lives with the regret.
“Even though I have never seen that kind of uniform in my life, I was compelled to park at a corner of the road after the man ordered me to do so because I thought he was a traffic official,” Bamgbose said. “Two other young men in mufti soon jumped into the car, one in the front and another at the back where my wife and son were seated. They immediately flashed their guns. We were all shocked.
“It was at that moment that I knew we had fallen into the hands of robbers. They collected my phone, wallet, ATM card and wristwatch while my wife’s handbag and jewellery were also taken.
“They then ordered me to wind up my glass and quietly drive off or else they would kill me and my family.
“Surprisingly, all these went on with other people driving by and walking past my car. The guys robbed us in a way that nobody could suspect anything terrible was going on.
“After they went away, I drove off as quickly as I could. The shock could have made me lose control of the wheels if not for God’s grace upon me that day. My wife and I have yet to get over the incident,” he said.
Two days before Bamgboye’s experience, Betty Iroha, a 27-year-old single bank worker in the Yaba area of Lagos also had her own bitter taste of this growing menace. Encountering traffic around the Onipanu end of Ikorodu Road at about 6.00am that morning on her way to the office, the young lady, who had recently moved from Aba, Abia State, to Lagos upon landing the bank job last February, ran into a gang. With no law enforcement officer to take them on in sight, the hoodlums became wild. Smashing the rear seat window of her car, they made away with her handbag, laptop, mobile phones and shoes. The gang was ready to cause her more harm if not for some other motorists, who mustered the courage to confront them, forcing them to flee the area.
“Only God knows what those guys could have done to me if the other drivers on the road hadn’t stopped to scare them away,” Iroha, who is happy to be alive and unhurt from that incident, told our correspondent. “In fact, I was lucky not to have been injured by the window they broke. The particles of the broken glass splashed everywhere; I could have been seriously injured.
“Everything happened very fast. I ran into the traffic at Onipanu and before I got to Fadeyi, I was attacked.
“At first, I saw two guys walking across the front of my car; I didn’t suspect anything because everybody was going about their businesses.
“Within the twinkle of an eye, one of the guys used a hammer to smash the rear seat window. Out of shock, I was forced to apply the brake, hitting my chest against the steering wheel. While still trying to gather myself, the guys took everything they found in the back seat, including my shoes and phones.
“I wished I could disappear at that moment. I was so afraid but was praying in my heart for them not to rape me. It was a very terrible experience for me.”
Though not an entirely new problem, robberies in Lagos’s endless traffic snarl appears to be gaining momentum these days, especially with Yuletide fast approaching. Places like Marina, CMS – Costain Bridge, Maryland, Gbagada, Idumota – Eko Bridge, Ikoyi Bridge and Third Mainland Bridge are other places notorious for this type of crime. Criminal elements, devising all sorts of strategies and tricks, are inflicting horror and untold pains on their targets. While many of these hoodlums mostly attack motorists, whose car windows are wound down while stuck in traffic, some others have become daring to the extent of going about with tools that aid access into securely locked vehicles. Road users, who have sometimes proved too stubborn for these thieves, have been severely injured – a permanent reminder for such individuals of their gory experiences.
Arrested traffic robbers
For example, Jide Abogunde, a businessman based in the Iyana-Ipaja area of the state, is still nursing injuries he suffered two months ago at the hands of robbers while in traffic at Oshodi – a part of the city notorious for all manner of crimes. Heading home after the close of the day’s business at his shop in Anthony Village, the 34-year-old, while struggling to wriggle his way out of the heavy traffic that had built up due to a fallen petrol tanker, fell into the hands of some thieves. But a tough person himself, Abogunde slugged it out with his attackers. By the end of the muscle flexing, the young entrepreneur got three stab wounds in his neck and hand. He is lucky to be alive to tell his story.
“I still find it hard to believe that I survived that attack,” he began as he recalled his near-death experience during a chat with our correspondent recently. “I am alive today only through the mercies of God.
“I never knew those guys were with dangerous weapons, otherwise I would never had struggled with them. I thought they were without such things, so I told myself that I was not going to let go without fighting.
“As the first guy attacked me asked for my phone, I tried to hit him with my car but the other one came from behind him and stabbed me in the neck. He stabbed me two more times in quick succession as I tried to control the car and fend them off. I became weak at that point as I had begun to bleed heavily.
“The hoodlums eventually took my phone and wallet before running away. The other car owners saw everything but were too scared to come down from their vehicles to help me. It was a military man driving by that rescued and took me to the hospital otherwise I could have died on the road that night.
“I am still nursing the stab wounds; they have yet to fully heal. My parents have been very worried, they are afraid, they don’t want me to drive in Lagos again,” he said, his eyes reflecting the sort of agony he’s had to deal with since the incident.
Indeed, the growing spate of traffic robberies is coming despite various measures reportedly adopted by the Lagos State Government and police authorities to tackle the menace. While for sometime it appeared as if the battle had been won, events of recent days have proved otherwise. Worried by the situation, the Lagos State Government on Thursday, November 22, 2018, said it had come up with a viable solution to tackling the traffic problem especially as Yuletide approaches.
According to the state government, the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority will extend its operations from 5:00am to 12:00am daily as parts of the strategy.
Commissioner for Transportation, Mr. Ladi Lawanson, while making the announcement, said after a closed-door strategic session chaired by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, it was resolved that there was a need for a new solution to the problem.
“Without a doubt, Lagosians know have been going through some hardship which has been occasioned by the gridlock we have in the Apapa area.
“All we are going through now is approval process that is required to activate the solution,” he said.
Also adding his voice to the argument, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said adopting an innovative approach was the best way to get a solution for the city’s traffic problem.
“If there is a road you are travelling on and it has four lanes where there is traffic, and you have another four lanes opposite that is empty and moving, why can’t we think through a solution that in the morning or whenever the traffic builds up, let’s create additional two lanes from these four lanes that is empty.
“All we need to do is to look at how we solve issues around enforcement and management of it. That is, where is the entry point and where is the exit point of the road. So, the solution is, when the road is blocked, extend this one to be six lanes and the other free two lanes to ease the traffic.
“You can solve all these problems without even building some of those things that can take you one or two years to build.
“It is not that this will solve all the traffic problems, but we can design quick fixes, which is similar to the model that we use in some of the toll plazas,” he said.
According to Sociologist, Fidelis Nwafor, the state and federal governments must improve the condition of roads in Lagos to further reduce the rising spate of traffic robberies in the city.
He said without free-flowing traffic, motorists would be stuck on the road, exposing them to attacks by robbers.
“Most of our roads have collapsed abysmally and shockingly works have stopped in some of the construction sites, leaving the heavy-duty equipment to block the road.
“I think that the state of roads in Lagos have to be significantly improved for us to be able to tackle the menace of traffic robberies. If the roads are smooth and we drastically reduce traffic, these attacks will reduce,” he said.
A security expert, Donald Akaeze, told Saturday PUNCH that indeed, crime rate around most parts of the world usually soars towards the end of each year especially as Yuletide approaches. He said that in addition to being alert and not indirectly attracting the attention of robbers while in traffic by display valuables carelessly, individuals while seated in vehicles must ensure that they wound up windows to a level that would make it difficult for such miscreants to easily penetrate. Speaking further, Akaeze advised residents to avoid going about with too much cash and expensive valuables when not necessary as according to him, those are the things robbers are looking for at this time of the year.
“Individuals while seated in vehicles in traffic must find ways to protect themselves. They have to stay alert and ensure that they wind up their car window so that they don’t attract these thieves.
“I know these guys are still able to break such windows even when they are wound up; in most cases, their first choice is always those not wound up.
“Also, people should avoid going about with too much cash or expensive items they don’t have much need for at that particular time. These robberies are inevitable on most of our major roads today but we can minimize what we lose if people try not to go out with all their priced possessions all at once.
“While stuck in traffic, motorists must always make use of all their mirrors to ensure that they have an idea of all that is going around them. That way, they’ll be able to prepare ahead in case of an attack.
“If eventually they fall into the hands of these hoodlums, people should stay calm because panicking will rather escalate things.
“It is also necessary for people to have the emergency numbers of the police and other security agencies so that in cases of danger, they can quickly call the attention of these law enforcement officers to it,” he said.
Spokesperson for the Police in Lagos, CSP Chike Oti, however, said the police had intensified the use of patrols in every corner of the state, especially on major roads to tackle traffic robbery and as Yuletide approaches. According to him, they have made several arrests and would continue to make life difficult for all those trying to cause unrest in the state.
“We are aware of the massive construction going on all across the state and the influx of people coming into Lagos at this time to either stay with relatives or purchase various items in the markets. This has contributed to the heavy traffic across the city.
“However, the police is trying to tackle this problem as evident in the number of arrests they have been making in this regard, however, they cannot be everywhere.
“The command has made contingency plan for this situation and we are dealing with it seriously. The Riders Unit of the Police have been deployed all around the city to tackle banditry during traffic. This has been yielding tremendous results,” he said.