Governor Babatunde Fashola
For night crawlers, Lagos holds an attraction like no other city in the country. Olaolu Olusina took some time out last week on the streets of Lagos and reports that apart from the fear of the unknown, night life could be very interesting, especially with the dismantling of police road blocks in the city
Lukman Adewale (not real name) is a photo journalist with a Lagos-based media house. His daily schedule involves staying late in the office and sometimes covering late night social events on the Lagos Island, Ikoyi and Lekki areas of the city. Most times he arrive his Sango-Ota, Ogun State, home very late when his family must have gone to bed.
His situation is further compounded by the long hours he has to spend on the road because of the traffic situation on his route which was further worsened by the numerous police road blocks along his way, until recently. But with the dismantling of police road blocks across the country, Adewale’s journey back home has become less strenuous, though he still has to contend with coming home late once in a while because of the nature of his job.
But Adewale’s wife, who is a teacher and a devoted minister in a Pentecostal church in Sango-Ota, would rather her husband does not stay out late at night under the guise of any job. On a number of occasions, elders in the church have been invited to their home to resolve misunderstandings bordering on this matter. The matter however got to a head recently when Adewale got back home around 2 am to meet the greatest shock of his life.
“Go back to wherever you are coming from,” his highly infuriated wife barked at him from the window of their apartment, refusing to open the door for the man who was already fagged out. “A person from a good home does not walk at night,” she barked at him.
Adewale’s experience is a common phenomenon with most city dwellers, especially those whose job involves staying out late at night, though others decide to explore the night by choice. The increasing patronage of night clubs, sports bars, beer parlours and other attractions that make the city what it is, is a pointer to the throbbing night life in Lagos.
THISDAY investigations revealed that from Ikeja to Surulere, down to Ikoyi and Victoria Island, there appears to be no dull moment at night. In Victoria Island, for example, a jazz club, Jazz Unlimited, is drawing large patronage of well-heeled jazz lovers to its weekly weekend night gigs. Even the ghettos in the city also have their fun spots where patrons stay very late into the night before returning home in the wee hours of the morning.
But it is not all a pleasant experience as many have fallen victims to men of the underworld who often lay siege on their victims at night with many even losing their lives in the process. While many would discuss the problems encountered by this growing trend openly with their loved ones, others prefer to leave the matter to fate. But out of this dilemma comes an unanswered question: How safe is the night?
Commuting to Ikorodu
In an attempt to seek an answer to this question last week, this reporter embarked on a solo mission that many would have considered dangerous given the fear of the unknown. Starting with a trip to Ikorodu, the experience was quite revealing as THISDAY maneuvered through some areas considered black spots in the course of the trip.
The journey to Ikorodu from Lagos that particular night took over three hours despite the absence of police road blocks that once dotted the road. Driving bumper to bumper right from Lagos through Western Avenue to Ikorodu Road, relief only came when the driver branched off at the Ebute Road to link the city centre.
“You should consider yourself lucky to have made it in three hours. The journey to Ikorodu could take four to five hours if the road blocks were still there and residents here who work in Lagos are used to returning home very late, even as late as 1am on some occasions, depending on which outskirt of the town you live,” Adeola Bankole, a banker with one of the commercial banks in the town told THISDAY at Harmony Hotel at Aga Itemo in the Ita Elewa area of the town, while asking if this reporter was going to pass the night there. “We decide to cool off here and relax after the day’s job before going home to face other problems,” he added.
But Ikorodu was still lively when THISDAY arrived at about 10.30 pm as the availability of electricity in most parts of the town added more verve to the rustic community. Commuters were seen everywhere struggling and rushing to make their way home from work. Most shops in Ikorodu city centre and on Lagos Road were still open for business as different genre of music from some of the shops blared through the evening breeze as if the town was in a festive mood. However, both sides of Lagos Road were still blocked as if nobody was in a hurry to get home.
Stop-over at Ogoloto
This reporter decided not to pass the night at Ikorodu and returned to Lagos around 11:30 pm with a stop-over at a popular fun spot at Ogoloto. The road side hotel is a black spot which is patronised by motor park boys and other men of questionable characters with commercial sex workers handy to serve the needs of their patrons. A nasty experience of some years ago at the same spot was the motivation for the repeat call. Nothing seemed to have changed here and I decided to move ahead towards Ketu and Ojota on the way back to Lagos.
The return journey was faster than expected and as we moved along the road, one could notice a Lagos State Rapid Response Squad (RRS) armoured vehicle stationed around the Kayode Diipo Avenue with some policemen idling away. There was total darkness at the Asolo Police Post on the way out of Ikorodu with no policeman in sight as the gate appeared to be under lock and key. With the exception of some policemen on patrol on the Lagos Road in Ikorodu, no other policeman was in sight.
Nightfall at Ojota
Total darkness enveloped the Mile 12 area as we passed by on our way to Ketu. The Ketu Police station was still busy as some officers outside the station were seen monitoring every vehicle that passed. The Ojota underpass which was notorious for its road block was deserted. Only two policemen holding their rifles were seen standing by the roadside using their patrol vehicle as cover.
The removal of road blocks must have brought bad business for these cops, I thought to myself as I imagined their vulnerability to voracious attacks from men
of the underworld. By then, the traffic jam had disappeared and only a few vehicles were still on the road, driving as fast as they could.
“Where did the traffic jam disappear to and where are the commuters,” this reporter asked no one in particular. The serenity of the night was unimaginable as the cool breeze brought some welcome relief as against the scorching heat of the day.
However, for Samuel Adegoke, a.k.a Baba Alanu, he lay sprawled across his taxi at the Ojota Motor Park as if he was on his bed at home, snoring loudly as he awaited patronage from night crawlers and travellers, most of whom were passengers from the eastern parts of the country arriving the city in luxury buses owned by various motor companies. Along with other taxi drivers waiting to do business, it was as if the day had just broken.
Some area boys were seen loitering around the Bus Rapid Transport lane preparing their make-shift beds right at the branded bus-stop. There was electricity in the area and there was no feeling of insecurity. A tap by Adegoke’s colleagues woke the old taxi driver up as it was his turn to pick passengers. “You can see that we are all sleeping on our taxis, business is not moving. People are afraid to come out at night and I won’t blame anybody because of general insecurity in the land,” Adegoke told THISDAY as we negotiated the fare for the onward journey.
“Honestly, I prefer working at nights because it is safe and all these policemen and Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) don’t trouble you, though we still contribute to settle them through our association to prevent unnecessary harassment. Moreover, you consume less fuel than in the day as the road is always free and you can move faster instead of burning all your fuel in traffic jams. But you must make sure that your vehicle is in good condition.”
Robbers on Bikes and Deadly Trucks
Yet the fear of the “bad boys” on motor bikes is the beginning of wisdom for most night crawlers in Lagos. “These Okada (commercial motorcyclists) boys are terrible. Once you see them approaching in the night, just prepare yourself for the worst. They are robbers using the cover of the night to perpetrate evil. They rob, maim and kill. I had fallen victim to their antics and was robbed of almost N20,000 and my telephone,” the taxi driver told THISDAY.
“Owners of broken down vehicles are mostly their targets and they can tail your car and eventually block it and point a gun at you if you don’t drive fast. So you have to resort to defensive driving when driving at night.”
As we navigated from Ojota through the Ikorodu Road and entered Western
Avenue on our way to Victoria Island, the beauty of Lagos came alive with the street lights aglow from around Barracks Bust Stop and the National Stadium
area. With the streets almost empty and with only a smattering of vehicles speeding by on both sides of the road, police patrol vehicles were visible at strategic points while some police officers moved about in both marked and unmarked vehicles as they monitored movement at night.
Broken down articulated trucks could also be seen at some points without any warning signals, posing a real danger to night crawlers, especially those returning from night clubs and possibly driving under the influence of alcohol. THISDAY was informed that many fatal accidents had resulted from this phenomenon, especially in areas that are pitch black, as many city revelers had rammed their vehicles into the articulated trucks as a result of over speeding or driving under the influence.
Patrons at a popular ‘joint’ under the Costain flyover were just driving out as those at the various entertainment spots at the National Theatre were retiring for the day as we drove by on our way to Kuramo Beach, a 24-hour relaxation spot right in the heart of Lagos. Kuramo, indeed, lived up to its reputation that night as this reporter arrived when the real action was picking up momentum. Different genres of music blaring from various spots rocked the beach, just as ladies of the night in different shapes and sizes danced away to the tunes, in scintillating moves aimed at exciting their patrons who drank and smoked contentedly into the night.
Joseph Meduoye, a regular patron at Kuramo said he had no choice than to escape to the chilling experience at the beach due to the scorching heat in the city. “I live in Abule-Egba area of Lagos and work in Lagos Island. Believe me, every night I spend at Kuramo is a big relief from the heat that we now experience at home. After a hard day’s job at work, you still want me to go back and suffer in that heat which has no solution for now, my brother, I’m not ready to die,” he told THISDAY.
A commercial sex worker who gave her name as Caroline said she came all the way from Iju-Ishaga to work at Kuramo, revealing that she has been working at the beach for more than six months. “My brother, you know what the country is saying now with no jobs. I have to survive and even send something to my parents in the village. I work here full time in the night and go home in the morning to get some rest. I don’t care what anybody says, work is work and I’m not ashamed,” she told this reporter, asking “Abi you won give me work?” (Meaning: or do you want to give me work?)
Despite the public perception of general insecurity in the night, Lagos appears to be under surveillance during the day and at night even with the removal of police road blocks. The notion of Kuramo Beach being a hide-out for criminals was also debunked, though it is not uncommon for criminals to move from the area for operations in other parts of the city.
“Look at the whole place, it is a ghetto, what would anybody steal here? And everybody here seems to know themselves as all eyes are always on strange faces,” Femi Olatunji, a photographer who has been operating on the beach for the past 12 years told this reporter in a previous encounter. According to Olatunji, aside from minor quarrels, which he said are easily settled by the management of the beach, the place is relatively peaceful.
He, however, said a joint security task force comprising the police, army and navy officers, occasionally embarks on raids to flush out perceived criminals and people with no identifiable means of livelihood. Inspector Kamoru Jimoh, leader of the police patrol team stationed at the Kuramo Beach when THISDAY visited, corroborated this, saying aside from normal quarrels and fighting resulting from alcohol-induced altercations, his team has not witnessed any serious crime on the beach.
The team, which is part of the Seven-cities Police Project, is under the Victoria Island Division, Bar Beach, Lagos Police Command. “There is 24 hours surveillance on this place as you can see our men. I can tell you authoritatively that this is a peaceful place and not a notorious place as being feared by many people. People go about their businesses here and people come here for fun just as you have come. We are here to ensure the preservation of law and order,” Jimoh told this reporter from one of the two police patrol vans positioned at the beach. But when asked what his team was doing about the rate of prostitution and other vices on the beach, he offered no answers, saying “I have no comment.”
There is no doubt that Lagos, just like other megacities, does not sleep, making it vulnerable to criminal activities on a daily basis. The realisation of this and the fact that the city has become a melting pot for people from different parts of the country and the world, may have informed the inclusion of the city in the Seven-cities Project.
The project is a community policing project modeled after the safe-city project of the Israeli police. Conceptualised to engender a shift in policing from the conventional method to modern hi-tech crime fighting technique in line with international best practices, the pilot phase of the project covers Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Onitsha and Maiduguri. Sponsored by the British
Government Department of Foreign Department for International Development (DFID), the pilot scheme, which started with four states, has now been extended to about 28 states of the federation.