Lagos — Last Tuesday, around 2 pm, I fell, for the umpteenth time, victim of the thriving thieving civilian gangsterism, that has turned Lagos, our Lagos to one veritable gangsterland.
I was about to join Constain roundabout from Abebe Village road, Iganmu (By law and long-standing practice, it is not a traffic offence to drive to Constain roundabout through Abebe Village road). Upon approaching the RELTEL Head office and imposing National Theatre building four hungry-looking young men who later identified themselves as staff of Lagos Mainland Local Government Area, Ondo Street, Ebute Metta (West) suddenly appeared from their hideout and ordered me to an abrupt stop. I quickly applied the brakes and the car stopped (had I known I would have sped off at a jet speed). Before I could guess what was happening two of the gangsters had forcibly opened the door of my car and hopped onto the seats. "De Law, you don commit offence, the gangster in front seat bellowed. "What offence?" I queried. "Pack well", he ordered. "No be here, for that place," he added. Anyway, that was the beginning of my travail. Soon we ended up in front of the gangsman, a young man in his late thirties with a protruding stomach who was sitting majestically under a shade, eating and fanning himself to his heart content. All my efforts to explain to him that I was innocent: that I had committed no traffic offence fell on deaf ears. "De law, go and pay N25, 000. Tinubu said we should be collecting N25,000. No begging. We will give you receipt", he thundered angrily. By this time my car was under their iron grip inside the compound of Olaleye Community Hall, Ebute Metta (West). Equally confiscated were the cars of numerous motorists, all co-victims of the senseless hot afternoon gangsterism. In front of me was a distressed man in his late seventies all the time busy clutching his phone to his ears probably calling his son to hurry up and rescue his daddy from oppression. Feeling pity for him I went to console him. But he couldn't be consoled. This man couldn't understand why a few touts could manhandle a respectable citizen of his calibre in a broad daylight.
Lagos State ought to be the centre of excellence, setting the pace for other states in good governance, environmental sanitation, responsible citizenship, and maintenance of roads and public utilities. But as you know very well, Lagos, the centre of excellence is fast becoming the centre of thieving gadabouts, an open haven for lazy loungers and loafing scalawags. It seems as if the whole street urchins and jobless people in Nigeria have made Lagos their abode to be waylaying innocent citizens along the roads and extorting money from them. In the past the nefarious activities of this category of jobless people were minimised. But today gangsters of all manner have practically overrun Lagos with their nefarious activities. You will see them openly parading the streets, highways and alleyways of Lagos in all sorts of colour-riot uniform- green, red, pink, yellow, blue etc- harassing, intimidating and towing vehicles at their whims and caprices just to extort money from innocent motorists and Okada riders. So, there is a terror of the uniform in Lagos. Some crooks don't even bother to put on any uniform at all. They just operate in the broad daytime in mufti. They behave as if they are the owners of Lagos. Some of them even falsely claim that they are working for Governor Bola Tinubu. This is simply unacceptable. They cannot be using the Governor's name in terrorising innocent citizens simply because they are looking for money. So, somebody must call the Lagos Mainland Local Government to order. Apart from giving Lagos a bad name this particular local government is systematically rubbishing the good work Governor Bola Tinubu has been doing in Lagos over these years.
The first assumption on sighting these local government urchins along the roads is that they are performing their constitutional functions-enforcing the procurement of radio, TV , truck bicycle licences or naming of roads and streets or regulation of out-door adverts, shops and kiosks etc. But alas they are not interested in performing these functions. They are only interested in harassing innocent motorists to extort money from them under one pretext or the other. Can you imagine packing your car in front of your house and coming out later to find out that some local council urchins have towed it to their hideout? The local governments in Lagos may be under severe pressure to generate revenue especially now that the federal government is still withholding their funds. Agreed, but there are many legal ways of generating revenue without resorting to self help or rule of force or at worst rule of the jungle. Any society bereft of the Rule of Law is heading for anarchy. Besides, it is trite that a local government or Task Force cannot enforce the payment of money through brute force. A local government thug has no right to tow any vehicle along the road without due process. Put technically, the powers of a local government or indeed any task force are unconstitutional to the extent that the liability of a citizen to be first invited for questioning was not determined before any independent tribunal. If a local government or a Task Force properly backed up by law feels that any citizen has infringed the law it should invoke the judicial powers of the state instead of taking the law into its hands.
The painful aspect of it, as I said earlier, is that these bad local governments in Lagos are spoiling the good work of Governor Tinubu. Lagos State, arguably though, is one of the best three States in Nigeria at the moment. But that high rating is being downgraded by the illegal activities of undesirable elements in Lagos. Right now the feeling one gets is that different civilian gangsters in Lagos are scrambling to get what they considers as their own dividends of democracy even if it means committing a crime. If this is true, it is ridiculous. How can these gangsters take joy in molesting innocent citizens or causing disorder and chaos in Lagos simply because they are looking for their so-called dividends of democracy? As I opined on this page on January 16, 2000 the greatest challenge facing the Tinubu administration is enthronement of physical order in Lagos. Agreed, Tinubu is retouching the roads, but disorder amidst good roads, flying bridges and skyscrapers is still a sign of underdevelopment. Lawlessness is a variant of environmental despoliation. Environmental sanitation, as Commissioner Tunji Bello knows very well, goes beyond disposal of refuse, cleaning of streets and gutters. It essentially includes ridding Lagos of street gangsters, dangerous street urchins and thieving local government touts. I agree that this is not an easy assignment. I also agree that the problem of civilian gangsterism in Lagos is a reflection of a deep-rooted national malaise. But it is one assignment that must be carried out if Lagos must continue to maintain its lead in the comity of States in Nigeria. If military dictatorship is evil, violent civilian gangsterism is a greater evil because, above all, it is a great threat to democracy itself. Without a sane civil society our hope and trust in civilian democracy cannot be complete.
The high incidence of civilian gangsterism in Lagos is a proof that democracy doesn't easily translate to an orderly civil society. Therefore, if members of civil society want peace and order to reign in the society they have to work hard for it. In that regard they should stop tolerating the illegal activities of area boys and local government thugs on Lagos roads. They should learn to put up civil resistance and solidarity against civilian gangsterism. They should not easily succumb to intimidation and threat. It is worthwhile for an aggrieved victim to spend time to enforce his/her fundamental right even if it means approaching the court for remedy. Public-spirited passers-by should assist in resisting illegal towing of vehicles on Lagos roads. The other day in Victoria Island, Lagos some kind-hearted passers-by prevented some councilmen from illegally towing the vehicle of a certain helpless lady. That was human solidarity per excellence. Finally, let's not forget that the major cause of civilian gangsterism is poverty. One of the ways of reducing poverty for the employed is regular payment of their salaries. If salaries are paid timely as and when due, I doubt if any local government staff will be willing to be recruited as a street gangster. Pity that many local council employees in Lagos have not been paid their salaries for about six consecutive months now. So, many of them are hungry. A hungry man is an angry man. I think the Federal Government should stop playing politics with people's stomach. It should, as a matter of urgency, release the funds meant for local government councils in Lagos to see if there will be less knaves and rapscallions on Lagos roads.