Barely two weeks into the lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states and Abuja to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, armed robbers in communities between Lagos and Ogun states have taken to the streets, striking fear in the hearts of residents. Residents in Owode, Ilepa, Ifo, Arigbajo, Itori, Dalemo, Ijoko, Ogba Ayo, Mosa, Joju, Sango, Ota, Oniyale among other communities in Ifo and Ado-Odo Ota local government areas of Ogun State complained about how hoodlums have been dispossessing them of their valuables day and night.
There was also unrest in FESTAC Town, Jankara and Ifako-Ijaiye neighbourhoods in Lagos in the afternoon of Saturday, 11 April, as gangs encircled the populated areas to rob residents and loot shops. The unrest spilled over to Abule Egba, Ogba in Ikeja, as well as some communities in Agege Local Government Area.
As a result, residents of some of these areas have formed vigilante associations and tasked them with keeping watch all night to ward off what they suspect to be “cult groups” taking advantage of the lockdown in their neighbourhoods to commit violent crime. Around the Abule Egba neighbourhood, residents have sought to protect themselves by asking each compound to offer a man to join in the vigilance efforts.
In Ibogun community of Ifo Local Government Area in Ogun state, the frequency in the spate of robberies has led to an exodus of people looking to escape from the town. The people who are left behind have resorted to lighting bonfires at night in order to keep vigil over their neighbourhoods.
From Thursday, 9 April till the Easter weekend, different areas experienced robbery attacks on residents by armed robbers who are also armed cult groups. The cultists, mostly between the ages of 15 and 30, were armed and seen moving from street to street, sometimes during the day, terrifying residents and stealing money, foodstuff and other valuables such as mobile phones and jewellery. In some areas, the residents have constituted themselves to security watch groups to look after themselves and their properties.
In a video report published in September 2019, we chronicled the history and locations of the various gangs in Lagos. The words “gangs” and “cults” are used interchangeably in everyday Nigerian usage. Some of the well-known gangs in Lagos include the Awawa Boys in Agege, the One Million Boys in the Ajangbadi and Ojo areas, the EFCC Boys in Shomolu, the Fellin Stealing Boys in Bariga, the Skippo Boys in Ebute-Metta, the Toba Boys in Mushin, the Falapa Boys, the Onola Boys, Sego Boys, and Idumota Boys, who are based in and around Lagos Island. The Aiye Boys and Eiye Boys are largely based in Ajah, while the Vikings are in Ladipo and Alaba markets.
One of the major concerns surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is its impact on economic activities, as the lockdown in two Nigerian states and the federal capital means a significant reduction in economic activity, leading to increase in unemployment as well as hunger for citizens in these areas. The federal, as well as some state governments, have directed that funds allocated for relief be disbursed to communities with the poorest people, although there is no transparency on the distribution processes, most of the poorest citizens are still helpless and prone to different forms of vices in order to survive.
As states continue to stimulate the economy through direct cash transfers and the distribution of relief items, a process of managing the effects of inflation and recession will need to fall in place as a result of the reduction in economic activities all over the world. States at this time are vulnerable to additional disruption of orderliness. Residents of New York, one of America’s richest states were seen engaging in gun purchases just before the lockdown in their state; residents in Lagos and Ogun are currently displaying similar elements of self protectionism against home invasions and robbery attacks.
The main challenge confronting the government now is to maintain the tough balancing act of managing a growing health crisis while addressing the economic and social anxieties of millions of Nigerians. What the government is doing is not speaking as robustly to the economic pressures being wrecked by the pandemic, especially on poor Nigerians as it is trying to do with the health situation. The current pandemic, however, is a pandemic which is extracting significant economic costs at all levels of social organisation – from the government to individuals. Policymakers need to realise that it does not serve the national interest to disproportionately focus on only one aspect.