Traffic Robbers Take Over Lagos Highways
IT is no longer news that motorists and road users in the ever-busy centre of excellence are going through a very difficult spell. Asides the soul-sucking, unending traffic snarls that have overtaken most of the highways and inner roads and left traffic controllers bewildered, traffic robbers and robbery have been added to the unfortunate scenario.
The situation has completely got out of hand and no single day passes without several reports of robbery in traffic being recorded. In the past, these dare devils attacked their victims early in the morning or very late at night or when victims’ cars break down in lonely spots. Today, these robbers have graduated to stealing at all hours of the day, brazenly brandishing all manners of dangerous weapons, and in some cases, inflicting bodily harm. The saddest part is that they operate in a carefree manner, unhurriedly, as if they are aware nobody would stop them. And really, there seems to be no one stopping them.
Just last week, popular actress and presenter, Iretiola Doyle, revealed that she was attacked in traffic at Town Planning Way. She had to get her hand stitched after the attack. Her vehicle was vandalized and she was dispossessed of her belongings.
Her experience is what many Lagosians go through on a daily basis. Most people are afraid to leave their homes in the mornings and are even more afraid to go home at night.
Joy Eshikenha works on the Island and lives on the mainland. She told The Guardian that after falling victim twice to traffic robbers, she decided to leave her car at home and resume taking public transport. A few weeks after the decision, she was attacked, last week, on the road linking Costain and Eko Bridge in broad daylight by a gang of machete and gun-wielding robbers. According to her, she and two other men jumped from the bus into a ditch.
Frantically, she started calling the Lagos State emergency numbers. She received no answer till the robbers came to where they were and snatched her phone away. She was thankful that she wasn’t harmed. But she was bitter that the state government is apparently not doing enough to curb this ugly menace.
‘It is as if these robbers had marked me. I have been robbed three times within the space of a few months. Am I the only one on the road?’ she asked bitterly.
Twitter user, Mrs. Olufunke Ayodele, narrated how a hawker robbed her colleague at gunpoint earlier in the week. The hawker had been persuading the victim to buy his wares. When she refused, he showed her a gun placed under his carton of goods and ordered her to roll her glass down. He robbed her of her phones and laptop and strolled away quietly, looking for his next victim. The poor woman was shaken but there was nothing she could do.
So many people have fallen victim to robberies in this manner and due to this, the Lagos State police have banned hawkers from plying their wares in traffic. On Wednesday, this reporter witnessed some police officers in hot pursuit of such hawkers at Oshodi. The officers urged motorists not to patronize them, saying, ‘they are the ones that rob you’.
These thieves are presently holding Lagos hostage with their nefarious activities, inflicting pain and robbing motorists blind. The Guardian gathered that they have a ‘headquarters’ from where they operate and are deployed every time to major roads. Hiding under the guise of being traffic hawkers and beggars, they have in recent times rendered security operatives ineffective and put Lagosians in a state of perpetual misery.
The state Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, who made the disclosure about the den of traffic robbers, at the command headquarters in Ikeja, said they sifted the information from arrested traffic robbers. The most susceptible Areas are Ijora, Mile 2, Onikan, Costain, Eko Bridge, Third Mainland Bridge, Mushin, Obalende, CMS, Oshodi Oke and Isale, Iyana Oworo, Obalende, Bonny camp, Muson Bridge, Apongbon, Maryland and Cele.
As these routes are perpetually active with traffic, they have become fertile and lucrative hunting grounds for the robbers, who most times smash windscreens and side windows of motorists and make away with valuables.
Motorists are fed up and have cried out that the police are not doing enough to curb this menace. Mr. Yemi Agboola recounted how he was robbed at Iyana Oworo last week while returning from work -a few feet away from some policemen! They didn’t come to his help and neither did other people tha t were around him. He added that everyone just faced his or her business and left him to his fate. He is still very bitter and believes that had the policemen been effectively patrolling the vicinity as they were supposed, the robbers might have been deterred.
Many motorists now pack pepper sprays and knives for self-defense. But in many cases, before one can pull out the spray or the knife, the robbers have overwhelmed the victim.
In a media chat with journalists, Fatai Owoseni said the Rapid Response Squad of the Lagos State Police Command has arrested over 20 such traffic robbers in different parts of the state. As part of measures to counter their antics, the CP said the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, has plans to provide a police helicopter for Lagos.
He said: “Note that some of those guys (traffic robbers) have moved from the traditional areas. They only cash in on the opportunity of a breakdown of vehicle and since these criminals are mobile, they just do a stint and disappear. It’s a challenge for us to nab them because we cannot predict when you will have a breakdown and traffic will build up immediately.
“But that is not to say that it’s insurmountable because some of them that have been arrested have given us useful information.
They have a headquarters from where they are sent out. And that is why we have also resorted to working under the disguise of selling pure water and gala.”
Continuing, he said: ‘You will agree with me that there are many patrol vehicles everywhere. Once there is traffic, there are policemen moving up and down. They are often in motorcycles. But because of lack of discipline, motorists don’t allow them (the police) to move between vehicles. The policemen are called traffic monitors and last week we injected about 20 of them. You find out that rather than go and make a U-turn, they drive against traffic so that they can monitor things. But Nigerians don’t understand that. Even if you make a distress call to the police, because the road is blocked, it’s a problem getting to those areas. There are other measures we are taking that I can’t say, so it won’t jeopardize our operations.”
Owoseni admits that he receives alerts of traffic robberies on his twitter handle daily, so he is not unaware of the situation. He insists that the situation is improving compared to what was obtainable in the past.
A visit to the Third Mainland Bridge shows improved police presence. But other flashpoints are yet to witness increased security. Places like Apongbon and CMS still strike fear in the hearts of many and the police need to station its officers there. Oshodi, which improved a few years ago, returned to the old days. Pickpockets, bag snatchers and robbers now have a field day on the bridge and below. And despite the presence of the Mosafejo Police station beside the motor park, crime is gradually rearing its ugly head in the area.
On Thursday, last week, a woman in a Toyota Corolla was robbed on the bridge, a few feet from where the police officers parked their vehicle. The police have warned that lone occupants of vehicles are susceptible to attacks and have therefore advised that as much as possible, motorists should avoid being alone.
The truth is: traffic controllers also have a big role to play as many motorists observed. These robbers need the cover of traffic jams to operate. If there is free flow of traffic, robberies would reduce drastically.