These are frightening times for commuters in Lagos, Nigeria’s most urbanised state with a population of 23 million. Anxiety and anger have accompanied the kidnapping and gruesome murder of Oluwabamise Ayanwole during a trip on a state-run Bus Rapid Transit vehicle on February 26. Between the Chevron Bus-stop in Lekki and Oshodi on the mainland, Bamise, 22, lost her life in chilling circumstances. Her corpse was discovered a week later on Carter Bridge, Lagos Island. Beyond their expressions of sorrow, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Alabi, and the Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, should ensure speedy justice for the grief-stricken Ayanwole family.
The incidence of ritual killings is rising fast across Nigeria and suspicions are that Bamise may have fallen victim. A preliminary (though unofficial) report said that blood was found on her private parts when her body was recovered. Every detail should be thoroughly investigated.
Described as a lively person, Bamise worked as a tailor in Ajah but usually spent her weekends in Ota, Ogun State, with her brother, Pelumi. Her trip on February 26 ended in unmitigated disaster. Media reports stated that after boarding the bus, she noticed that there were only three other passengers. When the bus did not stop to pick more passengers, she became concerned, recording and sending voice notes on WhatsApp to her friend.
Social media came in handy in piecing together the victim’s fateful journey. Sensing danger, she had alerted her friend, Felicia Omolara, via WhatsApp. This provided a cogent lead into her disappearance and eventual death. Sadly, those entrusted with the safety of the lives of Nigerians failed yet again. However, the police have arrested the prime suspect in the case, who is the driver of the BRT vehicle, Andrew Nice. He was arrested while hiding in neighbouring Ogun State. Paraded by the police, the driver claimed the bus was hijacked by gunmen but could not explain when asked why he fled to Ososa. One report said he had earlier confessed to have violated the victim.
Bamise’s fate raises great concern. Ordinarily, in an era where robbery in transit (or ‘one-chance’ in local parlance) inside commercial buses is prevalent across the state, the BRT is widely regarded as a safe mode of transport. The scheme is run under the auspices of the state government by private operators, and thus free from the antics of the notorious road transport unions and miscreants. This incident shatters that sense of safety.
There is enough blame to go round. First, it is inexplicable that the driver of the bus did not call to intimate his office that he was attacked by gunmen. That is standard practice. Instead, he fled. This is irreconcilable and unconvincing.
Second, the BRT operator’s negligence abetted the crime. According to reports, investigators found that the driver left the address he gave to the company a year ago. A BRT driver holds a sensitive position. As such, the operator failed a key test of effectively monitoring its workers. Did he return the bus as and when due? When he parked the bus at the company’s premises, why was he not pulled in for debriefing? The police should unravel all issues.
It is baffling that there are no security guards attached to BRT vehicles. Henceforth, at least one security guard must be attached to every bus. This will also check disorderly passengers.
Third, the Lagos State Government dropped the ball. As the regulator, it was slack in its monitoring roles. The operators had too much room to operate without effective oversight.
Fourth, it took the police too long to intervene. Elsewhere, the police would have initiated rapid intervention using the WhatsApp voice notes exchanged between Bamise and Omolara to pursue Bamise’s killers. In Nigeria, the police wait for about 48 hours to declare a person missing. This is archaic in a modern world where technology can aid the detection of crime. Today’s kidnappers and murderers need only a few hours to snatch, rape, rob, murder, and dismember their victims. They need less than one hour to disappear with their captives into the forests. Scores of such victims are still in captivity across the country. The rule should be changed.
Similarly, the operations of the BRT scheme should be overhauled immediately. Sanwo-Olu should disengage operators that cannot meet the basic requirements of security/safety on the buses. All buses must henceforth be equipped with audio recorders that can be replayed in real time. Buses should have CCTV cameras to relate incidents to a control room. Drivers and supervisors should be compelled to report in at regular intervals; trackers should be installed on all vehicles. The scheme needs an updated website to facilitate rapid interaction.
The lesson from Transport for London, which employs 25,000 bus drivers, is to constantly strive for safety in buses. “There are fewer than three injuries for every million journeys on London’s buses,” the company says. Despite this, its goal, according to the London Mayor’s Transport Strategy, is to initially achieve a 70 per cent reduction in people killed or seriously injured involving London buses against the 2005-09 levels by 2022. In addition, no one is to be killed in, or by, a London bus by 2030. The Lagos BRT must aspire to such lofty targets.
The tragedy presents Sanwo-Olu with a great opportunity to totally retool the transport architecture of the state. Currently, it is dominated by the transport unions, whose members are notorious for alcoholism, drug abuse, illegal collection of tolls, violence and crime at parks and bus stops. Unkempt and unruly, they flout every traffic rule. This does not befit Lagos. This is the reason Lagos residents prefer the BRT to the danfo operators. The BRT should be greatly expanded and made safe for commuters.
Very quickly, the police should unravel Bamise’s killers. They must be prosecuted and punished to deter would-be murderers of innocent commuters. Police should step up measures to combat kidnapping and ritual murder.
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