Armed robbery and other serious crimes are pretty commonplace in Lagos. Virtually no day passes without reports of the activities of criminals given prominence in the media.
Even by such standards, last weekend's mayhem in Lagos and parts of Ogun State that border Lagos was not an everyday occurrence. The sheer number and spread of such criminal activities threaten to crown Lagos with the dubious honour of being the nation's crime capital.
Armed robbers and petroleum pipeline vandals wreaked havoc on residents and travellers as well as public installations as they attacked their targets.
At one grim end, officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) who were on duty to put out a raging fire at the corporation's huge Mosimi depot at the Arepo village section of the network near Lagos, were attacked by the vandals. Reports said that three NNPC were killed.
At another end, Lagos State capital Ikeja's busy Allen Avenue, was the scene of another violent attack, as armed robbers targeting a commercial bank gunned down three policemen on foot patrol. In the same incident, a commercial bus driver was also killed.
That same day, another gang of robbers attacked private operators of bureaux de change in the Oke Koto area of Lagos, making away with an estimated 50 million naira in local and foreign currencies. A policeman was killed during the robbery operation, although according to the Lagos State Police Command, he was only a passerby at the time.
Indeed, the pipeline fire was apparently started by the vandals two weeks earlier after they breached it in order to steal fuel. The fire has been raging since, with the criminals brazenly refusing access to NNPC technicians to put it out. Casualties have not been provided, but local residents claim they number in the hundreds, victims mainly being people who had come to scoop petrol that had been gushing out without control.
There were similar cases of armed robbery in other parts of Lagos during the period, prompting the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar to complain that the Lagos State Police Command was not doing enough to curb such incidents.
The spate of attacks also galvanised the state government to take action. The state governor, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, barely twenty-four hours later, presented a fleet of 114 vehicles equipped with surveillance and other security gadgets earlier donated by 57 local and area development councils to the police to aid the effort at combating crime in the state. IGP Abubakar was at the presentation ceremony.
"We cannot pretend that all is well with the kind of robbery incidents recorded in Lagos on Sunday", Fashola noted. He challenged the police command to rise up to the occasion.
Abubakar was similarly forthright, calling the incidents an 'embarrassment' to the Nigeria Police Force.
"We can't fold our arms and allow a few criminals to terrorise residents", Abubakar said. "Policemen must be seen and felt on every road and street in Lagos...The story of yesterday should not repeat itself".
These are reassuring words; they should be backed up with commitment to make them stand the test of time.
The bulk of Nigeria's economic investments is in Lagos; as the hub of the nation's economic activities, security challenges could threaten its stability and the flow of direct foreign non-oil investments, which could have negative effects on the economy as a whole.
Therefore, the burden of addressing the security issues should not rest with the Lagos State government and the local and development area councils alone. The federal government should also provide funding to sustain the state government's initiative.
This of course is not the first time that the state government would provide vehicles to the police; virtually all state governments do the same. The problem has been their maintenance. The police are particularly notorious in the misuse of such facilities, which depreciate or get missing only after a few weeks. Some are commandeered by senior officers and taken off security duties to perform domestic errands. The IGP must put his foot down and demand a stop to the practice. The state government also needs to be allowed some input into monitoring the deployment and usage of the vehicles in order that the people's security and their property, for which they were procured, are safeguarded.