Commuting on Lagos roads is pregnant with risk. Quite apart from the obviously decrepit roads and the impenetrable gridlock, there is also the vicious intrusion from hoodlums and violent robbers, who wreak havoc on defenceless commuters locked down in traffic. Bearing in mind that the repairs on the Third Mainland Bridge have just commenced, the unwholesome activities of traffic robbers on highways in Lagos might not subside anytime soon. There is a pressing need for the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Hakeem Odumosu, to curb the menace.
Shortly after the Federal Government declared a six-month repair project on the 11.8-kilometre Third Mainland Bridge from July to January 2021, trepidation literally enveloped the public. For motorists and others, their major angst centred on the gridlock that would ensue on the alternative routes and insecurity during transit. To make matters worse, most of the highways designated as the alternatives are also ramshackle or undergoing repairs.
To assuage public anxiety, the Lagos State Government, the police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Federal Road Safety Corps promised to redouble their efforts, including increasing the number of personnel to patrol, enforce traffic rules and provide security. Lagos said it would deploy 650 traffic officers to the highways. The FRSC promised 250 officers for the same purpose.
Despite this, the public is being proved right. In the first days of the rehabilitation, there were torrents of reports on the traffic jam on the routes traffic was diverted to, which has not abated in anyway. This is unfortunate, and the government should have a rethink.
In addition, media reports state that there has been an upsurge in traffic robbery incidents, both on the Third Mainland Bridge and the alternative routes. A recent victim, Raheem Akingbolu, had a bitter experience. His trip from Ogba to his office was fraught with risk. He stated, “Like me, it was also the same for many Lagosians who were either robbed or thrown into anxiety for hours on the Ojuelegba-Stadium-Barracks Road en-route Apapa and Lagos Island. It was a flipside of the bridge closure and we all saw it coming.”
At different points on Lagos highways, hoodlums wilfully attack commuters, vandalise cars and dispossess their victims of their valuables. A media report quoted a motorist, Solomon Abiodun, as saying: “It is the same experience on the Maza-Maza-Alakija section of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway every night. There is usually traffic on both sides inward Alakija and outward Mile 2. These boys with cutlasses usually would demand you drop something for them or get your car vandalised. You are then forced to cooperate when you imagine that what you are parting with is a small fraction of what would be used to repair the car.”
On the day Akingbolu was robbed, a couple caught in the gridlock, underwent a similar experience that left their daughter in distress. “At a tender age, the baby girl saw guns pointed at her parents as she woke up with the noise of the smashed glasses,” Akingbolu recounted. “While other victims were counting their losses, a few of us moved towards the distressed family to help pick one after the other, particles of glasses on the body of the innocent girl.” At other points in Apongbon, Costain, Oshodi, Obalende, Ebute-Meta, Cele/Ijesa and Iddo, travelling has become hazardous. Helpless Lagosians are the worse for wear in these dangerous situations. What happened to all the assurances by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Odumosu, to implement security measures against the brazen marauders?
Traffic robbery in Lagos is capricious. It has been around for long, staying a step ahead of the police. The hoodlums are very patient, waiting for the right time to strike. The National Bureau of Statistics notes that crime is most prevalent in Lagos of all the 36 states in Nigeria. In its 2017 crime statistics, the NBS stated that Lagos recorded 37.9 per cent of the crime in Nigeria that year, which stood at 50,975 of the reported 134,663 cases. In a 2018 report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime noted that maritime crime was particularly high on the Lagos coast.
Being safe personally is integral to the quality of life. A global human resources consultancy, Mercer, notes that the safer a city is, the easier it is for it to attract global investors. In other words, crime-ridden cities are denying themselves of opportunities to grow. As well, Lagos aims to sustain its goal of being a smart megacity that is mentioned in the same breath as the top investment destinations in the world. Although it is the undisputable capital of commerce in Nigeria, its crime control has not stepped up commensurately.
Certainly, the scanty police patrols are inadequate to tackle this widespread crime; the trend deserves better strategies than we have now. Partly, the solution lies in beefing up security on all the highways in Lagos on a 24-hour basis. This includes foot patrols; pin down points (at noticeable black spots), the use of technology like CCTV installations for surveillance, and undercover operations. Instead of their inordinate appetite to harass and brutalise innocent young people, the police should deploy more officers and implement these measures immediately.
To be fair, the current centralised security structure is a recipe for disaster. There are not enough officers on the field to implement day-to-day routine security duties because a high number has been wrongly deployed to guard VIPs. If this continues, the insecurity siege in Lagos will not recede. It means, ultimately, Lagos has to take its destiny in its own hand. Seeing that this is a federal polity, Nigeria’s richest state has to identify with the call for the devolution of policing here, as it is in other federal countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, India and Germany. Without this, Lagosians remain at the wiles and mercy of traffic robbers. That is not a pleasant story to broadcast to humanity.