It has long been a problem hearing about the Nigerian Army’s involvement in policing duties, especially given how their professional training prepares them for a very different type of confrontation. Nigeria has a lot of sordid tales of heavy-handed actions from soldiers involved in policing in every part of the country, and the Lekki tollgate incident is still fresh in the minds of many. Nonetheless, many Lagosians we have spoken to were pleased to hear about the army’s recent police action in Lagos that led to the arrest of 116 people in the Oshodi area of the city. The army’s 9th Brigade’s spokesperson, Major A.K. Bello, has said that the Nigerian Army is carrying out an operation tagged ‘Still Water’, which is “aimed at curbing criminalism in Lagos.” The 116 persons arrested were caught with weapons and drugs and released to the police after initially being taken to the brigade barracks.

The arrests were targeted at the Oshodi stronghold of Musiliu Akinsanya, also known as MC Oluomo, a strong arm of the APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and member of the Presidential Campaign Council of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The move appears to be the first step in a scheme to stifle the threat of violence in the upcoming elections. In theory, MC Oluomo is the head of the Lagos Motor Park agency, but he is actually the head of an organisation that violently extorts every commercial Nigerian bus and bike every day, and also serves as the muscle of the APC in Lagos and other Southwest states. The organisation he leads has acted with impunity for years and has been a key factor responsible for low voter turnout in Lagos elections. As it stands, Bola Tinubu and the APC in Lagos are growing unpopular, and this suggests that violence will be a major electoral weapon. However, it appears the Presidency is using the army to weaken the likelihood of a Tinubu victory outside popular appeal.

Mr Tinubu has been lashing out at the Presidency for a couple of weeks, accusing it of mediocrity, connivance with the opposition and lack of support, but it looks like all he has ended up doing is motivating the Presidency to move from indifference to actual aggression with this move that employs the army and sidelines the Lagos State Police Command that has been compromised. The signals are clear and this preemptive strike will play a huge part in encouraging voter turnout which will be a major problem for an APC that has relied on violence and low turnouts. The last governorship elections were won with roughly 700,000 votes, but Lagos currently has six million registered voters more than in 2019. Hence, vastly improved turnouts will be critical.

There is also an economic angle that should be considered because it shows the reason the Oluomo-controlled organisations are being targeted. The Lagos NURTW and Parks Agency that MC Oluomo heads makes a significant amount of money from the daily extortion of Lagos transport operators. The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), in a report titled ‘Transport Statistics and Annual Revenue Paid to Agebros In Lagos’, reported that Lagos NURTW makes roughly ₦123.078 billion from extorting commercial vehicle operators annually. For context, the Lagos NURTW makes more from this extortion than all but three of Nigeria’s 36 states make from internally generated revenue (IGR), and this goes into private pockets. It will be a major battle because nobody just walks away from a cash cow that yields $300 million yearly from just extortion.

This criminal organisation is as much a cultural problem as it is an economic problem because of the message it sends out. And its existence says a lot about Tinubu’s true level of popularity because if a majority of the Southwest supported him, he wouldn’t need the likes of Oluomo. If the crackdown on MC Oluomo’s strongholds persists, Tinubu’s ambition might be an uphill task.