Friday, May 18, 2007


CITY UNDER SIEGE

This piece cost me three thousand naira to write and a lecture from the street school of experience. My car had displayed a niggling problem for a while, deciding to flat-line in the most unbelievable places for no reason at all, so my mechanic, Martin (in Lagos, they make house calls) and I decided we’d trouble shoot.

We left home early in the morning, laspapi in the driver’s seat, air-conditioner on, Fela Anikulapo Kuti calling the Nigerian Head-of-State, Obasanjo, names on the car-deck... All was well with the world. The car, with a mind of its own, decided not to flat-line, behaving itself impeccably.
Martin, probably lulled into a false sense of security suggested we drive to the island (I live in Surulere and we’d been making large circles in this area). So off to the island we went, climbing the famous eko bridge.

It was 9am.

We were at the centre of the bridge when the car died. I was confident, ignoring the curious stares of other drivers as Martin got out and raised the bonnet, peering under the hood, spanners in hand. The best dressed car-mechanic I know, I was never alarmed if he was around. I got out too and looked around in the heavy traffic as Martin pondered.

I had no idea where they came from. They were about eight men, and they looked as mean as sin. “Give us our own”, they said in vernacular. I explained nicely that the car was experiencing difficulty and how could I do that if it wasn’t moving. The lead guy had blocked my door, leaning on it so I couldn’t enter and the demands continued. They wanted money or there’d be hell. Other drivers cautiously bye-passed us. I didn’t get the full gravity of it, still trying to explain as they snarled and dribbled from the mouth around me. One kept a close eye on the chain around my neck and probably having no idea of white gold, let it be where it lay. It was a few minutes after nine in the morning.

I knew I couldn’t give these marauders money because everything I had was in a wallet (all eleven thousand of it) and to bring out that wallet would have been suicidal. After a while, the lead guy said he wanted to give me advice as we spoke the same language. According to him, it would be better for them to help push the car down the bridge to one of the roads on the side, as even if I paid them, other groups would come and “ask for theirs” then others still would come and “obtain” (street slang for dispossessing me off all my property). I thought it best to yield to good advice to prevent being “obtained”. As I got into the car so they could push, I heard one bray not to let my mechanic back into the car. Effectively, they had a hostage.

They quickly cleared space for me as they pushed, the lead guy seated on the car bonnet as we descended. At this time, I quickly brought out my wallet, removed three thousand naira and stuffed the rest into the back pocket of my jeans. The guy on the bonnet looked at me as I did this, re-assuring me with signs through the windscreen that all was well and I need not fear. When he looked ahead to shout out directions, I removed the money in my back pocket and stuffed it on top of the sun visor just above the windscreen.

Then I used the momentum of the push and tried to start the car, using the second gear, and the “las-mobile” magically roared to life and surged forward. One thing though, my mechanic was firmly ensconced between the other gang members and I couldn‘t leave him behind. As they caught up with me, I heard the original eight snarling and warning off others, more wolves who had smelt easy prey and were running determinedly to join the kill.

I thought to myself, “I’ve been had. This is a quiet spot removed from the eyes of the public. I‘m alone here.”
As more feral members joined, fiercely asking where their share of the loot was, the lead member came to my window to push them away from direct contact with me. I hadn’t seen a single weapon but as I looked at a particular fellow by my window, I knew I was inches away from being slashed. I handed three thousand naira to the alpha-thief who bellowed in primeval tones, “This is not our money, this is not our money. Our money is ten thousand naira”. The others began to jostle, getting more menacing, and I yelled at him, “don’t we speak the same language?” (again that appeal to tribal lunacy), “come into the car, come into the car, let me talk to you”. Without thinking he got into my front passenger seat and the quick-thinking Martin slid into the back seat and locked his own door as members of the gang yelled again in Yoruba, “Don’t get into the car with him”, “Don’t let the mechanic get in, don’t let him get in”. As I turned to plead with the lead guy, engine still running, one put a hand into my side of the car and from nowhere had my wallet in his hands, rifling through it. That caught the attention of the leader who jumped out of the car, racing to the guy with the wallet. I believe the gang leader felt the best way to get all I had was not through brazen force as had already commenced. I yelled, a cross between anger and fear, snatched my wallet back from the guy by the window who had removed all the money in it (about one hundred naira in small notes), still pondering whether he had done well or not and careened off, my foot flat out on the accelerator, willing the car not to die, Martin on the back seat, holding on for dear life.

I hit the main road to Ijora and turned into it at 60km an hour and then took a sharp right to the back entrance of the Arts Theatre where I was stopped by a police check point. Martin and I, adrenalin flowing, got out of the car to tell them what had happened and the policemen commiserated with us. They were far removed from the spot and knew the gang would have dispersed. As we stood by them, Martin again looking into the engine which had decided to fail us afresh by the policemen, one cop in particular told tales of horror. Of a man who had been pursued by robbers on the very road we were on and had been saved by a police patrol van when his car got stuck, of robbers laying in wait for drivers by the theatre’s back entrance at night… Just before we drove off, the policeman tapping a rifle he described as just issued, spoke about their lack of weaponry, the fact they had no stun guns etc to incapacitate hoodlums (what wouldn’t I have done to have had one capable of frying the brains of the gang leader when he was howling, “this is not my money”). And a point I will never forget- the policeman said, “people complain about the police but forget that we sometimes rescue them”.

Well, I can say this, if the under-paid, and ill-equipped motley crew called the Nigerian Police didn’t exist, it would be over for us all, truly. Anarchy would reign in our country. Sometimes it looks like it already does.

19 comments:

azuka said...

One of those wonderful entries that would fit in your book ;-).

Has the value of the naira dropped since I left? I know in Port Harcourt about N200 would have been enough to placate 6 hoodlums, or that might just be PH.

refinedone said...

...as I read this, my heart was racing. pele o!

So sorry to hear about the experience, thank God you came out of it unharmed.

Guess we have to be grateful to for little mercies called the Nigerian police.

laspapi said...

azuka, thank you.

You must've been gone from the country awhile. The oil-rich PH would probably have cost four or five times the amount in negotiations than Lagos did.

refinedone, I've repented of calling the police names now. The police can't work because of a lack of funding. We have to find a way to jump-start the ship called Nigeria in several areas.

Mamarita said...

Kai! Thank God for your life is all I can say. I hear these stories and my dad asks me to come to Nigeria and I say No, and the guilt of his heartbreak gets to me, and I think to myself, maybe I shouldn't be afraid of hoodlums but ehmmm, I can't help myself, its not like Toronto isn't dangerous but at least I can call 911 before I loose all my blood.
I remember when we had this jalope, it was a sweet ride,it was the safest thing we had, and we'd drive it around lagos. And this car has packed up on us WAYYYY TOO MANY TIMES, and in those days, we'd get out of the car on the highway, and push the car back in action, FUN!

Ms zee said...

now we have an entry for that book!!!!!!

on my Top 10 reasons why I would leave lagos for Ipetumodun...[I mean it]

Waffarian said...

Laspapi, very scary, indeed. I remember you complaining about this problem a while back. Please be careful. I am wondering, in Lagos, when did this phenomenom of "area boys" start? I find it very strange that grown men just come up to people asking "for their own" when no work has been done. I would say that these men are now terrorists of some sorts. Why is their presence accepted in Lagos, tolerated? We do have unemployed youth in delta state but the ones that do shit like that are called "armed robbers" and operate as such. There is no middle ground for us, either you are robbed or not, nobody will ever walk up to you and ask for their "share". Why is the Lagos govt not doing anything about it? Groups of men and young boys just hanging around, waiting for cars to break down? This is revolting, even if they are "robbers", they are not even prepared to do any hard work in that department.The govt should try and open an organisation especially for these boys. Nobody should live life like that, it kills the human spirit. I really believe something can be done about the situation if people just use their brains a bit.

Naija Vixen said...

That was scary oh...i was drawn into it soo bad...i started remembering days back in 'Lere...Aguda....The sad thing bout it is the way the thugs felt they had a right to your money...

laspapi said...

mamarita- sometimes I weigh the merits of telling the truth as against painting our country in a 'bad' light.
"The truth will out", though.

ms. zee- not sure this entry isn't out of time but I feel you on the ipetu move. It appears we desperately need the sense of self-worth and communal security in the "not-so-urban" areas

waffy- if only you knew. Some claim the reason the Lagos State authorities won't get rid of them is because they can be useful. Figure that out yourself.
I agree these people are robbers and armed ones at that. The term "area boy" is a euphimism for something dark, slimy and dangerous and which might eventually ruin society as we know it, if not curbed now.

vixen- Governor Jakande's free education first unleashed these thugs into the system, mingling thieves and regular students. They used to call it "chancing" then, where marauding gangs of students would go taking the clothes and shoes off more sedate students. Known names then were "Ita" and "Pin Father" etc
Now they have returned the schools in Lagos to the muslim and christian missionaries who originally owned these schools, to train students like it once used to be, not where 'students' in uniform stand at akoka bus-stop and snatch gold necklaces of the necks of women driving cars.

Anonymous said...

Laspapi, i commiserate with u man. Same thing happened to me on anthony bridge last year. My reliable machine went cold on me at about 8pm. I had my expensive nokia mobile and another siemens phone. Immediately this happened i dumped my nokia phone under the drivers seat and had the other phone in my pocket. I open the bonnet and this mechanic guy comes along to assist me, while he works some 6 young dudes show up talking ish,i am like u guys should chill i live in anthony like u guys u dont need all this ( in yoruba). Meanwhile i didnt have a dime on me just my phone and my ventolin inhaler lol. The next thing their hands are in my pocket i am tryin not to struggle with them. After a few seconds (which seemed like eternity lol) they start to leave i check my pocket my phone is gone but my inhaler is still there. I look at the mechanic who was there all the while and scream at him telling him if he dont get his freakin head outta my engine i will slam the hood on his head lol. Meanwhile i had called the old mans driver just as they walk away the lights of a beautiful mitsubishi pajero show up. Funny enough another set of dudes were headed towards me. Trust the driver he came with some hefty lookin guys. I picked my expensive nokia mobile phone and just sat in the pajero pissed and scared to death at the same time. Nevertheless i still love this town. I hope i havent taken over ur blog man lol. Just had to share

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Lagos. I still think the fear of God is in some of these people. I dont know if a anyone heard about the Nigerian baby that was killed in south africa last month even after the mother had given the robbers wot they wanted. I have read stories about SA. That place is crime infested. Lagos is far better than some of the towns in SA. Dont get me wrong i am not saying that there is no crime but we still have a lot to thank God for and we should always pray to God that we are at the right place at the right time. Some people actually live their lives in lagos without getting robbed. Do u know that robbers have never been to my house before? No i dont live in a highbrow area, as a matter of fact my house is on a major road in Lagos with extremely easy escape routes for anyone that attempts it. We all just need to pray.

laspapi said...

Anon 1- your story of this incident on the Anthony Bridge was as scary as mine if not more. The "mechanic" with his head under the hood was probably there to ensure your immobility. That Anthony express (from Gbagada all the way to Mile 2) is another road under pressure by these people. Quick thinking on your part concerning your phones. If you hadn't sorted that, band after band would have met you there.
And no, you didn't take over my blog. Thank you for sharing.

Anon 2- I get your point but doesn't it strike you that the reason we hear of S.A.'s crime rate might be because they have documentation and we have none?
I heard of a S.A. documentary where a woman screamed that the Nigerians had shot her son dead (in a drug deal). The Nigerian gangs resident in S.A. are as vicious as theirs. Robbers have never come to my house (I stay in Surulere and was raised in its environs )but they don't really need to these days, they just lay in wait for drivers and pedestrians all over the city. Cases abound. The I.G. of Police in Nigeria at a private meeting with Journalists and concerned citizens 4 weeks said he was fighting a losing battle with criminals, under equipped and all and he shouldn't be blamed. That's not S.A.

Noni Moss said...

Shit that must have been scary. And this is what they want me to move back to? Lai lai!

Noni Moss said...

Loll - P.S I'm gald you came out of it relatively unscathed. Same for the anons.

laspapi said...

the one advantage the "oyibos" have is that they enforce their laws.
El-Rufai, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory said
"what has brought this great country to its knees is our unwillingness to enforce our laws".
I agree.
In other areas- sense of community, rapid accelleration in societal standing etc we have great advantages over obodo oyibo. If we could only get the economy and security right...

Naija Vixen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Naija Vixen said...

Re: Governor Jakande's free education...this is just typical of our leaders....get their hands on another's,wreck it and realise they cant handle it aswell as the previous owners,hand it back...while keeping their incompetence hush-hush...this scarily sounds lyk how our land is being ruled aswell!

laspapi said...

you got that right, vixen. They make a hash of it and let it fall to the ground quietly. Remember Babangida admitting as Head-Of-State he had no idea how the Nigerian economy was still standing?

Tayo said...

laspapi, honestly, that road is more like a death trap. I refrain from taking that road whenever I get the chance. Thank God no blood was shed and you parted with just N3000. Others have not been so lucky. About the police, that's a story for another day. I believe every organization can be efficient if given the right leadership, resources and motivation.

laspapi said...

Tayo- For me because I stay in Surulere, that road is a necessary evil. Tonight, I saw policemen on it though, watching over motorists in piled-up traffic on the bridge. It felt good but they had to sit in darkness- No street lights. Where's the governance?