Although police authorities and park officials say it is safe, touts and petty criminals still reign at Abuja's notable park
A bespectacled elderly man walks briskly into the giant park located in the centre of the nation's capital. His hurried steps point to the fact that time is of essence. In his right hand he clutches a leather bag its bulky nature obviously another pointer to the fact that he is about to commence a long journey. In the twinkling of an eye he is surrounded by a formidable but restive group of young men.
The group looks ferocious: all with bloodshot eyes, a few with scrawny looks of slight tinge of hunger, one is puffing hard on a withering stick of cigarette clamped firmly between blackened teeth defiantly oblivious to the harsh rays of the mid day sun.
The would-be passenger is soon lost in the midst of flying hands and heads. They apparently all have one mission. And that is to deprive the man of his luggage. They hardly find out where he is heading to as they all struggle to drag him to their individual temporary employers, bus drivers awaiting passengers to convey to different parts of the country.
His frantic cry is lost in the crescendo of noise at the entrance of the park. If he is lucky he will escape with a few scratches and rumpled garment. He may even have his bag intact and some of his valuables.
But if he is unfortunate he may regret ever visiting the park because in the horde of young men tugging at his arm for patronage lie some with evil intent, petty criminals whose aim is to deprive hapless passengers of their property.
One of the parks where residents and visitors tread cautiously as far as the FCT is concerned is the city's central park, Jabi (Utako) park. A visit to the park will reveal why this emotion is strong amongst a cross section of residents.
At the entrance on daily basis are innumerable youths whose only source of income is the stipends that come out of their 'jobs' as touts for the interstate drivers. As soon as they see a potential customer approaching they all make a mad rush for the vehicle conveying the passenger. Many drivers have lost the use of their side mirrors due to the frantic dash by these youths to extricate the customer.
Other drivers have equally lost valuables in their vehicles as it is not uncommon for the young men to push their torsos into the vehicle in an attempt to market their services. But of most concern to residents appears to be the infiltration of the ranks of these young men by petty criminals whose sole aim is not to get the passengers to use their services but to rob unsuspecting commuters. In a jiffy a potential traveler may soon lose his valuables in the crush of bodies that approach him or her for patronage.
A resident, Bako Usman not real name, suffered such a fate recently when he went to the park to secure a bus space. In an attempt to evade the circle of young men who had approached him at the entrance he lost his valuables including money he had intended to use as his fare. The trip obviously had to be put on hold after the assault.
A female veteran journalist had a sordid taste of the activities of the young men when a pick pocket deprived her of her hard earned cash and some valuables right in the centre of the park. She was however lucky she was not assaulted but the experience left deep scars on her emotions for weeks on end. Many more have had similar experiences at the park but quite a few have taken it up with the relevant authorities.
A few weeks back security operatives under the auspices of the State Anti Robbery Squad, SARS carried out a raid to rid the park of criminal elements. At the end several dangerous weapons including cudgels, knives and cutlasses were recovered from different parts of the park.
Also seven suspected park touts, who allegedly parades themselves as transport union members in order to harass and rob innocent motorists were arrested in an early morning raid led by divisional police officer, Chief Superintendent (name withheld), after 'serial distress calls from members of the public about touts molesting car users, impounding their vehicles, forcefully removing vehicle plate numbers, extorting money from motorists and seizing car keys.'
A commuter, Lanre Sani said only gullible people get robbed by these miscreants. 'They know those they can attack. When your face shows you cannot be taken for a ride they leave you immediately. But if you show fear they pounce on you,' he tells Sunday Trust.
But others like youth corps member, Abdulusman Joseph who is travelling to Zamfara via the park believes not all persons have the stout heartedness of Sani. He calls on the park authorities to reorganise operations at the park so that everyone who patronises the park may have a sense of safety. The same opinion is shared by another passenger who simply identifies himself as Mangher but he adds quickly that he has never been attacked ever since visiting the park.
FCT Police commissioner, Adenrele Shinaba however assures residents that the police is aware that there are several black spots across the city where criminals operate at will but adds that these have been adequately covered by security operatives. He tells Sunday Trust that the command is winning the war against criminalities in the city. 'We are going to sustain the victory over criminals. Right from the day I assumed office I made my mandate very clear. That is I cannot cohabit with criminals.
They have no option but to leave because I must ensure that residents of the FCT can sleep with their two eyes closed... our officers patrol all these spots and virtually every part of the city to stem the activities of hoodlums. The present IG emphasizes high visibility of police presence in the country.'
A senior official of the road transport union at the park who craves anonymity says the park is always working round the clock to douse the activities of criminals in the park. But he attributes the problem to the multiplicity of different unions at the park and the lack of a central coordination of all of them. In addition he says the union had succeeded in limiting the activities of the touts and miscreants at the entrance of the park.