Jeunes, culture de la rue et violence urbaine en Afrique / Youth, Street Culture and Urban Violence in Africa| ,
Lagos. Street culture and families in the street
We have spoken much of urban patterns and spatial planning: it is time to turn our attention to the people who inhabit our towns and cities and here, without any doubt, that which is most clearly apparent and which causes the greatest anguish is the starkly visible poverty we see around us. It is arguably, the worst pollution of all, manifest in the slums which dominate the townscape and in the mass of beggars, petty hawkers and casual workers struggling to eke out a living. The cities have wealth but the poor who live in them do not share in it. They service the city, they clean the houses of the rich, and cook for them, they provide labour for factories and shops, they are the main carriers of goods and yet they continue to be poor. The transference of poverty from a rural environment, where it is well spread out over space, to a city where it is concentrated, presents perhaps the most horrifying image of modern India. (Report of the Indian National Commission of Urbanisation, Vol.1, August 1982)
1For both economic and demographic reasons, poverty has become increasingly concentrated in urban settlements during the 1980s and 1990s (Wratten, 1995). The pressure of economic crises and the structural adjustment policies introduced in the Third World during this period had a devastating effect on the urban poor. The cumulative effect of rising food prices, declining real wages and redundancy in the formal labour market, as well as reduced public expenditure on basic services and infrastructure combined to accelerate the urbanization of poverty (Sen, 1994; World Bank, 1983; Cornia, Jolly and Stewart, 1987; Moser et al. 1993). Indeed African data indicates a decline in urban wages, from the 1970s, as a result of a drastic reduction – about half – in real income levels and a general deterioration in urban employment security as well as employer benefits (Phillips and Ndekwu, 1991; Wisner, 1988). This is happening at a time when there is a global demographic shift to urban areas. The proportion of the world’s population living in towns and cities is set to overtake that in rural areas in the next two decades (appendices 1-4). Already, it is estimated that the total population of the cities in poor countries now exceeds that of cities in industrialized countries; and by the year 2015, their population will have increased by two billion, with migration from villages rising to full tide (Piel, 1997).
2Concomitantly, the number of urban people living in poverty is rising and in several parts of the developing world is already greater in absolute terms than that of rural areas. (Moser et al., 1993). Within this context, the phenomenon of city inequality assumes more relevance. It draws attention to the dynamics of the urban political economy and how it operates to reinforce privilege and reduce the chances of the poor. Related to this is the wider question of the sociology of the city, which is often overridden by the market driven approaches to development that have prevailed in the last two decades. Such approaches have fostered an increased willingness to perceive inequality as a boon to entrepreneurship, a perspective that is often shared by the urban poor themselves and results in negative rationalization of social fragmentation and crime.
3Perceptions about the nature of poverty and the behavioural problems attached to it are central to deciding the nature of appropriate policy responses. Third World country literature tends to oscillate between two extremes. First is the deviant sub-culture thesis in which poverty is attributed to the personal failings of individuals which lead to self-perpetuating circles of social pathology (Lewis, 1961/1965/1966). Second is the alternative marginalization thesis that ascribes a more positive role to the activities of poor urban communities and emphasizes the structural barriers, which exclude their participation in formal economic, political and social institutions (Valentine, 1968; Perlman, 1976).
- 1 This is the subject of very recent controversy, see P. Teedon, Events and Debates – Tenth Urban Cha (...)
- 2 Guest editorial, Imaging the city. Environment and Planning 28: 381, 1996. See also N. Fyfe, Images (...)
4Saskia Sassen’s1 thesis that the development of global cities is based upon social polarization manifested occupationally and spatially within cities assumes salience in the latter context. This is not to imply an image of ‘the urban as constituted by slavishly instituted binary opposites operating for and within regimes of power but a city constituted out of the interplay of elements which resonate and are dissonant with one another – to produce constantly unfolding (im)possible places’.2 The visual, socio-economic and political consequences of this interplay have had a disastrous impact on the poor. Thus, the case is well made that the urban poor are confronted with peculiar environmental problems arising from the juxtaposition of industrial and residential functions; competition for land, high living densities and overcrowded houses in hazardous areas, the speed of urban growth and the inadequate pace at which solid waste disposal services are expanded, the risks of traffic congestion and the inability to implement effective controls over pollution and accidents. ‘Urban settlements develop in order to group capitalist enterprises in a cost-effective spatial configuration. Many people are attracted to the city mainly by opportunities for work. However, the externalities of urban production are borne disproportionately by the poor’ (Wratten, 1995; Streeten 1978/1981). Of course, mapping inequality in cities is complicated by the difficulties associated with the task of collecting data. Comprehensive statistics are rare, and where collected, they hardly provide necessary information on housing conditions, access to health care and health status. There is equally a dearth of data on the relationship between low income and deprivation. Even so, it is clear that the incidence of city inequality has more than visual relevance.
- 3 See various articles in Environment and Urbanisation 8 (20), October 1996.
5Why are the urban poor poor? The answer cannot remain constant for every society, place and time, but the ramifications of street culture in Africa suggests that, at a theoretical level, the deviant subculture thesis has not unpicked the causal web of equity. The patterns of social interaction on the street indicate that physical symptoms of the economic and social condition called poverty cannot be treated in isolation from the structural systems which produce the condition of poverty. Trends in micro-economic and political realities emphasize the factor of social disadvantage. Poverty, as always, remains an inherently subjective concept, and there is evident diversity in the extent and depth of urban poverty, but where data are available on social progress among all population groups, they tend to show major variations in social progress between different groups within cities that mirror differences in their political power and per capita income.3 In this social construct, behavioural propensities are usually, though not invariably, influenced by the nuances of social circumstance. ‘For people with very low earning levels, living on cheap land, in areas adjacent to economic opportunities is a very rational choice’, but it is also one that exposes the rural migrant or ordinary citizen to situations to which he is vulnerable and which may transform him into a social deviant.
6Urbanization and criminality appear to go hand in hand in this context. Franz Vandershuren argues that while no one can claim to have established an overall theory of urban violence, key factors have been identified including: the poverty of low income groups, the provocative and poorly protected urban environment, the limitations of current protection measures, the absence of social controls, the number of frustrated youths and the crisis in criminal justice systems (Vandershuren, 1996). Vandershuren’s portrait is compelling. The categories underline the complexity of the phenomenon and the limitations of theory in the current situation. His presentation is fascinating. Even so, the broad focus of his analysis has led him, deliberately or inadvertently, to marginalize, two critical components of the urban violence equation. One is the differential impact of the ‘key factors’ across stratification – race, gender and age. His category of frustrated youth and the related problem of the crisis in the criminal justice system indicate that he is not oblivious of the first component but sees no compelling need for elaboration in the context of his analysis. The second component, which he neglects is the crucial importance of the street in the urban equation. Since our own focus of analysis is narrower, we are able to further explore this component.
7Regardless of whether or not one accepts the theme of social polarization, it is obvious that the street is a crucial variable of intersection and interaction among people who live in towns and cities. Analysis of urban life recognizes this vital point, which is amplified in ‘Imaging the City’:
- 4 Guest editorial, Imaging the City, op. cit.
… a professor leaves the classrooms, walks out of the college, crosses the traffic congested road, and walks up and down an hectic street looking for suitable reading matter – the professor finds that he (for he is almost certainly a he) is confronted not only by the crowd but also an array of ‘obscene publications’. Where and when does this story take place? Anywhere? Anytime? Wherever, it is already possible to pick out three important aspects of the urban scene… First we can say that the relationship is, between the individual (our professor) and the external world (the streets) is corporeal – and consequentially, that this embodied world is spatially constituted. The professor’s lived world is not just stretched across various spaces – the street, the classroom – it is constituted by these spaces; he is a professor plainly because he moves in the institutional spaces of the university: he is the buyer of books because he subsists in spaces of consumption… Second, we can note, of course that these embodied spaces are never innocent of power relationships. Our professor is the purveyor of power/knowledge relationships probably teaching classes saturated with white bourgeoisie young men. Superficially, his privileged position gives him freedom of movement across the streets and though his freedoms are wider and deeper than those of others, he is physically jostled by the crowd, in constant fear of the pickpocket, of contact with the crowd, of losing his dignity, and of what he sees. The geography of the city is about the movement of bodies through the streets, where the streets constitute the moving body by making them ‘in place’, ‘out of place’, ‘on the move’ and so on. Moving or still, the body maps the spaces of social power. So, third, a last theme is the relationship between spatial and visual practices. The professor may not be shocked at the scene of obscene publications (indeed, this may be what he is looking for), but – on behalf of virtuous women – he is indignant: ‘the street is a disgrace! Look at it! The crowd! Filth! It should be knocked down!’ In this practice of the eye, visibility is the ultimate pornography – to see is to be corrupted. In this world, the look, the lookback, and the looking are spaces of desire, disgust and power.4 (emphasis is mine)
- 5 ibid.
8The street in the city, therefore, is a specific place ‘which is continually involved in the symbolization, negotiation, and regulation of identity and meaning and power through the image… there is no one story in the streets but the continual struggle to write coherence, legibility and legitimacy over the top of the other stories’.5 In this indispensable struggle for identity, the youths are weighed down by dislocation arising from rootlessness associated with the loosening of community bonds and social disorganization. This loosening of bonds is a result of migration, rapid economic and social change, the breakdown of values and norms inherent in the traditional family structure and a stressful environment, this occurs at a relatively impressionable age, the limited range of experience and their relatively weak coping mechanisms expose them, and compel a large number, to succumb to a wide range of undesirable situations, including those associated with commercial exchange, health care and housing needs, visual violence on the streets and the television, ostentatious images, state repression and the interventions of its enforcement agents.
9The study made use of a design consisting of a combination of observation, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions (FGD) and a survey. The in-depth interview was conducted with 9 males and 7 females, who had adequate knowledge of the street culture. In addition 6 FGDs were conducted, with six discussants in each of the FGDs. Two of the groups were all male, while two were all female and the remaining two were mixed. All members of the groups were selected from the local study community and they all had intimate knowledge of the street culture. Both the in-depth interviews and FGDs primarily elicited information from respondents on the antecedents and dynamics of street culture and the perceived association of youths and violence in the city, with emphasis on the activities of area boys, touts, beggars, prostitutes, working children, street children and official responses. An interview protocol was developed to guide in the in-depth interview and FGDs, and the UNESCO survey guideline (1995) was used in the case of street children.
10Apart from the in-depth interview and FGDs, a survey method was also used. The survey method aimed to identify the interrelationship between various demographic variables and attitudes towards salient aspects of the street culture. The survey took place between November and December 1996 in – Agege, Ikeja, Lagos Island, Obalende, Yaba, Oshodi, Ojo, Somolu, Mushin, Ajegunle and Ojuelegba – localities of Lagos. Nine hundred and ninety-two respondents were randomly selected from these localities – 486 were males and 486 were females. The age range of the respondents was between 18 and 73. A mean age of 36 was obtained for males while a mean age of 31 was obtained for females. 25 per cent of the respondents were single, 40 per cent were married, 30 per cent were either divorced or separated, 5 per cent were widows and widowers. Thirty-nine per cent of those interviewed were Muslims, 35 per cent were Christians and the remaining 26 per cent were either animists or practitioners of African traditional religion. Occupational characteristics of the respondents showed that 6 per cent were teachers, 8.5 per cent were artisans, 2 per cent were journalists, 1.5 per cent were welfare workers, 52 per cent were traders, 16 per cent were public servants, 4 per cent were fishermen and farmers, 3 per cent were housewives, 5 per cent were students, 2 per cent were unemployed.
11The city of Lagos in Nigeria has a distinct social and cultural anatomy. It offers a unique insight into the cruel realities of urban life and how the young try to adapt to living in it. Lagos communicates with its student, providing in words and life stories, the sweat, toil, agonies and occasional triumphs of people cut off from their roots and unwilling or unable to return to them. It is a compelling picture of individuals and social communities in their daily struggle for survival. The typical Lagosian is proud of this dubious heritage. He calls himself ‘Omo Eko’ and derides those from the hinterland or interior as ‘Ara Oke’ (meaning those from up-country). Though poor, he considers himself several shades above those ‘bush people’ who have not yet learnt the secret of life in Nigeria. And that secret? The secret is that in Lagos you must be smart. Habitual residents relay this to the new comer in three words – ‘Eko o gbagbere’. To survive in Lagos you must be ‘streetwise’.
12Smartness in Lagos demands that you must constantly have your wits about you. You must learn not to place too high a value on scruples. Lagos, in the Nigerian parlance, is ‘no man’s land’. The implication is that the city does not respond to the ethics of the average local community. No one is his brother’s keeper. The rhythm of the street is every man for himself.
13The streets of Lagos entice, envelope and scare. Luxury cars of different models – Lexus, Mercedes V-boot, Laguna, Shogun and Japanese four wheel drives of different types – ply the roads, their occupants wearing the latest fashion designs from Paris, Rome and elsewhere. Wives and mistresses are ensconced in the back seats in resplendent clothes and trinkets which remind one of the description of the spouse of one Thai general – a ‘walking cash box’. Around the beach area in Ikoyi and Victoria Island annex, and various other places, are to be found the latest constructions in modern architecture, skyscrapers with imported furnishings. Not too far away are the crowded tenements of the inner city, the slums and shanty towns where the majority live and sweat. Lagos is a city of sharp contrasts.
14The contrasts are part of the enabling environment. The allure of the city goes far beyond the opportunism inspired by the conspicuous wealth of a minority in society. Part of the magic of Lagos is that it occupies a very strategic position in national life. Located on the coast, the metropolis is situated within Lagos state in the southwest corner of the country, in the equatorial rain forest (see map). Lagos metropolis is Nigeria’s most populous city. It occupies a geographical region of about 1,800 kilometers and is inhabited by more than 5 million people. The city has the country’s premier ports and serves as its commercial, political and industrial hub. By the early 1970s it was estimated that metropolitan Lagos had 38 per cent of all industrial establishments in Nigeria, offered 45 per cent of all industrial employment and over 50 per cent of industrial output (Makinwa-Adebusoye, 1984). The consolidation of the Lagos-Otta industrial axis which extended the commercial tentacles of the metropolis to the adjacent Ogun state in the late 1970s and early 1980s, gave further impetus to this development. Thus a study in the early 1980s showed that metropolitan Lagos accounted for 60 per cent of the value-added to production in the whole country.
15The importance of the city was enhanced by its dual position as the political capital of Lagos state and of Nigeria as a whole. The seat of government was shifted in 1991; but Lagos retains predominant economic and significant political status. Government agencies continue to maintain a strong presence there and the metropolis remains the headquarters of major trading and financial concerns, the stock exchange, foreign legations, banks and security agencies; the implicit suggestion is that Abuja is simply a contraption of political convenience, a pretender to power. Events since 1994 have confirmed rather than erased this impression. The Federal government has ordered, and indeed, forced the headquarters of almost all federal agencies to relocate to Abuja, in what is widcly perceived as a politically inspired move. The episode amuses rather than infuriates the average Lagosian who considers it a fruitless attempt to undercut the significance of the metropolis. ‘My people have a proverb’, one elderly Lagosian confided to me:
They say ‘Eko Akete, Ile Ogbon: Lagos, house of wisdom. Aro dede maja: The one that hangs precariously without dropping. A romi sa legbe legbe. running infinity of water’. The kingpins in Abuja should imbibe the wisdom of the old so that they channel their energy to more productive purposes, including the welfare of their people. How can those who are supposed to lead people do such ridiculous things? My brother, they moved the headquarters of the Nigerian Ports Authority. Now, how about moving the Port itself? I may not be educated, but I know that Lagos has peculiar attractions that no one can take from it. It is growing daily and will continue to grow. People keep coming here.
Source: After A.J. Babarinde (1995).
16The claim is justified in historical terms. Every day more and more people move into Lagos in search of the good life. The trend increased in the 1970s and 1980s, which witnessed severe economic depression and political instability in neighbouring west and central African states, such as Ghana, Niger and Chad. The wave of rural migration to Lagos was supplemented by an influx of refugees from these countries. The consequence is that Lagos in general has experienced an unprecedented growth rate.
17This rate far exceeded the national average. The previous five decades were a period of rapid urbanization in Nigeria. From 1963-1980, the overall growth rate of the population was estimated at 2.5 per cent while the corresponding growth rate of the urban population was in the neighbourhood of 5 per cent – double the rate for the total population. The urban population estimates for 1963 were about 19.2 per cent of the total population, while estimates for 1980 put urban population at 27 per cent; the case of Lagos was unique, as no city grew as fast as the metropolis.
18The population of Lagos almost trebled in the decade preceding 1963, rising from 267,407 in 1953 to 662,246 in 1963. Moreover, the estimated population of greater Lagos rose from 1.14 million in 1963 to 3.55 million in 1976 and 4,068,578 in 1982 (Mabogunje, 1968; Aina and Salau, 1992). The 1991 census figures, which were greeted with reservation in several quarters, put current estimates at over 5 million. Early estimates by the National Population Commission had given Lagos a population of 5.84 million for 1985, leading analysts to the view that given an annual growth rate of 10 per cent, the population of Lagos could be expected to reach 12 million by 2000 AD (Aina and Salau, 1992). The 1991 census figure considerably lowers this expectation, but still confirms the view (Makinwa-Adebusoye, 1984:112) that ‘Lagos heads Nigeria’s urban explosion’.
19The explosion provides a unique setting for the specific imaging of an urban space in which fears and fantasies are mapped out of experiences, real and imagined, on the busy streets. The milieu is a noisy overcrowded environment. Hordes of young loafers gather at roadsides or junctions, howling, laughing boisterously and occasionally dashing hither and thither. In makeshift stalls along the roads, street traders cast anxious eyes at passersby encouraging them to step in and consider their wares. Loud blasts of music from recording stores pierce the rowdiness while small children and their older counterparts hop in and out of buses, howling at the top of their voices as they compete for customers in the hot sun. Teenage hawkers can be seen wagging their buttocks in vigorous swings to the pulsating rhythm from deafening jukeboxes. The language of the street is coarse, vulgar and uncaring. Moreover, this beehive of activities, in common with its counterparts in several major cities elsewhere, provides an enabling cover for a subculture of vice and crime. Marijuana smokers, pimps, prostitutes, alcoholics and their suppliers, pickpockets and robbers ply their trade alongside touts, beggars, currency traffickers, drug addicts, pushers, peddlers, arsonists, assassins and bomb throwers playing out their roles as agents of the state or political rebels embracing ‘terror’ as instruments of social change. The net result is a social risk environment of violence and opportunity. In this the young live and grow.
20The pressure of survival, allied with the social disorganization of the family arising from the breakdown of values in society, forces young children into the street quite early in life. The process is not selective or discriminatory. The young child simply adapts to the street in the same way as his parents and other members of his family. It is not uncommon to find a family in which the father is a cab driver, the mother sells wares in a stall at a roadside, and an elder brother is a bus conductor in short the older members all find their living on the street. Often in Lagos, we have a phenomenon of families on the street, i.e., physically without shelter.
21The outcome is a process of negative socialization. Normally, as a young child is growing up, his parents tell him what he should and should not do, and sanctions are applied to ensure conformity. Peers, teachers in schools, the church, mass media, etc., all contribute to inculcating group and society ethos and encourage him or her to live up to group expectations. The rootlessness of Lagos life, the state of anomie resulting from migration and social dislocation, rapid economic and political changes and the disintegration of traditional family structures tend to produce a large number of children who go largely uncared for. This is because the harsh economic climate forces both parents to work and for long hours or at unconventional jobs, while children are sent out into the streets, also to work, in order to survive. Thus one finds many children on the streets of Lagos without parental guidance or proper care.
22Such children are subjected to the temptations of the street, and the streets of Lagos are veritable workshops for criminal apprenticeship. The rising tide of commercialization that gathered steam in the structural adjustment programme (SAP) period of the Babangida administration has created a situation where open spaces and sidewalks are converted into business spaces in Lagos. Indeed the entire metropolis itself can be described as a market place. Shadow markets are everywhere. Hence one can hardly distinguish between purely residential and commercial areas. Apart from the 400 established and recognized markets in Lagos Island, Mushin, Somolu, Apapa, Ajegunle, Ikeja and Agege, many other illegal markets exist wherever inhabitants of an area find it convenient to shop.
23Street trading is the norm rather than the exception. Highways and roads are often littered with empty cans, broken bottles and other dangerous containers that impede the flow of traffic. Hawking in such places as Oshodi, Agege Motor Road, Yaba bus terminus, Boundary Road in Ajegunle and Ikorodu Road near the Express Highway is a normal occupation, even though the traders including the children involved run the risk of being run over by vehicles. Indeed, the deputy Governor of Lagos State, Mrs. Lateefa Okunnu, in 1991 lamented that despite an edict on street trading ‘it has reached an alarming stage that there is an average of one death per week of traders caused by motorists’. Meanwhile, for the young as they grow up, the first fundamental lesson remains that in order to live to see maturity in Lagos, one must beware of the dangers of the street.
24The ‘families in the street’ phenomenon underscores the vital distinction that emerged in the literature towards the end of the 1980s between meninos (nas) na rua or street based working children and meninos (nas) de rua, children of the street or street children. The former are either part of the national workforce or children engaged in illegal activities. Some work in the street in family businesses. Others come out of their own inclination. Most, if not all, retain some degree of family ties. The second category is children who live in the street and who have severed all ties with their families.
25The bulk of Lagos children are in the first category. Our survey in most areas of Lagos confirmed this trend. The pattern is consistent with the evidence of the literature. The great majority of Lagos children work on the street. They are initiated into this culture very early in life from about 6-8 years old and most remain in the street up to around 15 years when they either drift into crime or seek job security, steady wages, social mobility and respectability.
26The prospects of working children are weakened by a low level of parental care or supervision. Again, the associations and ties formed on the street can become detrimental as evidenced in the case of ‘Area Boys’ or apprentices for the drug trade (see below).
27In 1991, a popular weekly, Newswatch, alleged in a cover story that the bulk of the nation’s street children ‘perhaps only a little over 1000 in all’ were in Lagos. The report cited Dr. Sophie Oluwole, who claimed to have conducted a single-handed head-count and concluded that the number of homeless children had risen to about 6,000. The UNESCO sponsored survey of 1995 put the total figures at about 10,000.
28The study revealed that the majority of street children in Lagos are in the upper age groups between 11-15 and 16-19. Most had arrived on the streets of Lagos only in the past two years.
29These figures indicate that the number of children migrating into Lagos and swelling the street population has increased dramatically over the past two years and shows no sign of abating.
Table 4. Principal states from which street children come
Note: Total from the Yoruba-speaking states was 459 or 75.5%
30Roughly ten per cent of them were girls. The bulk of the children, about 75.5 per cent, came from the Yoruba speaking states of Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Kwara, Ondo and Lagos. Remarkably, Lagos itself contributed only 9 per cent, while the Oyo and Ondo contributed the highest percentages, 23.8 and 20 per cent respectively. Apparently, those in contiguous states find it easier to reach Lagos by trekking or hitching rides. The children were interviewed in eight local government areas, namely; Agege, Eti-Osa, Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland, Ojo, Oshodi/Isolo, Shomolu and Surulere.
31The children tend to converge on all areas where there is the possibility of work: motor parks, markets and to a lesser degree, places where there are large quantities of refuse for scavenging. They also migrate to places where they can find some semblance of protection from the elements and from interference by law enforcement agents. Invariably, they find succour under the numerous bridges and fly-overs that criss-cross the metropolis.
32‘Awon omo abe bridge’ or ‘children living under the bridge’, as they are popularly known in Lagos, live in squalor. Most are economic migrants, seeking refuge from poverty in their rural homes.
Table 7. Principal reasons why children left home
Note 0 : Fractured families 24%
Note 1 : Inadequate 18.8%
Note 2 : Child misbehaviour 9.5%
Note 3 : Economic/Independence 44.4%
33They support themselves by working. The most common occupations are acting as carriers, service as bus conductors, and scavenging. Some are hawkers while others engage in working as plate washers, sell water, wash clothes or help in a cinema. A few admitted to being beggars.
34At night, they sleep in markets, under bridges and in unoccupied buildings, or anywhere else they can find shelter.
35This may not be where they work and some children regularly trek long distances between the two. Destitute as they are, they are still often exploited. Some have to pay daily tolls of about ten naira to workmen to sleep in uncompleted buildings. Others have ‘protectors’ for whom they render services.
36Their social appearance presents ‘a serious injury to the eye’.
37Most of the children are dirty and unkempt. Several have ragged clothing and patched shoes. About a quarter of these children do not possess a single pair of shoes. Living in disgraceful social conditions, the children are vulnerable to infections, diseases and the dangers of child abuse.
38The children themselves do not like their way of life, but feel that they have no choice in the situation. Indeed about 65.5 per cent would like to go home.
Table 12. Children’s view of their present way of life
Note: Total number of children expressing negative feeling -4 above): 545 or 89%
39The general attitude of citizens to these children borders on fear and guilt. The attitude cuts across gender lines. Ninety per cent of the respondents in the survey felt that the children posed a danger to society. About two-thirds saw them as thieves already, while about 30 per cent felt that they would eventually become thieves. The implication of the phenomenon and why it occurred is strictly limited. The FGDs showed that most people could not simply be bothered. Several people claimed that they had too many problems of their own to pay any critical attention to street children. This attitude reminds one of the statement of Le Carre that ‘the opposite of love is not hatred, it is apathy’.
40The attitude of the government underscores this position. In 1990, Nigeria as a member of the United Nations, signed two important declarations. One was the Jomtien Declaration on Education for all, which committed signatories to provide every child with the first nine years of schooling. In Nigeria, this would include six years of primary and three years of junior secondary education. The second was the World Declaration on Survival, Protection and Development of Children that emerged from the World Summit of Children, convened to debate the implementation of the Convention on the rights of the Child, which came into force in September 1990. The two declarations together emphasized the right of every child to education for marginalized groups. The Declaration on Survival, Protection and Development of the Child, in particular, directed attention to ‘the plight of millions of children who live under especially difficult circumstances […] orphans and street children […] the disabled and abused, the socially disadvantaged and the exploited’.
41However, the Nigerian government is yet to live up to its obligations in this regard. Very little, if anything, has been done to implement the provisions as it relates to street children, though the Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC), which undertook the UNESCO survey in association with a local NGO, puts emphasis on the provision of education programmes for marginalized groups, including street children.
42One major difficulty here is the tendency of Nigerian governments to view the marginalized groups simply as a ‘blot on the landscape’. Government adopts a posture of selective amnesia whereby they generally tend to ignore the existence of street children as a bad dream until some particular issue or problem forces them to acknowledge that the ‘abe bridge’ subculture exists. Thereafter, government policy takes the form of ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. The reaction often approximates pique. A typical instance was the unfortunate fire incident that destroyed the supporting pillars of the overhead bridge at Orile Iganmu in Lagos state. An oil tanker damaged the Marine Beach flyover bridge by leaking fuel and causing a fire outbreak involving a Jetta car owned by Lever Brothers. In the unfortunate incident, a driver died. The damage received much publicity and the government had to spend millions of naira to repair the bridge. The incident directed attention to the dilapidated condition of the great majority of bridges in Lagos. This put the Federal Minister of Works and Housing, Major-General Abdulkarim Adisa, under the spotlight and he reacted with a vengeance. The Minister declared that parking of vehicles under the bridge, trading and all kinds of other activities, commercial and residential, in the vicinity were illegal. He then raised a military task force, equipped with bulldozers and caterpillars, to displace under-bridge users. Within a fortnight, the activities of the task force assumed practical expression as markets and other structures, at Ijora, Apongbon, CMS/Marina, Obalende and Oshodi – among other areas of Lagos – located under the bridges and flyovers were destroyed. The demolition exercise invited serious criticisms.
43Approximately three-quarters of the respondents interviewed in 1996 consider the exercise as selective and discriminatory and moreover, allege that it provides a cover for the so-called ‘law enforcement’ officers to harass and extort money from ordinary citizens, who are then free to continue plying their wares until the next task force team shows up. Journalists and social welfare workers generally agree. They also decry the exercise as punitive and exhibitionist. It is depriving people of livelihood and does not appear to scratch the surface of the problem of repair and maintenance of public structure in Lagos. Again, people have queried the wisdom of destroying ‘illegal’ structures since the owners of trading concerns having shops under the bridges paid rent to local governments.
44The criticisms have value. However, in the general concern for traders, most people tended to overlook the plight of the street children who were ‘now on the run’, seeking shelter and having to do terrible things to find a place to sleep until the Minister’s ardour cooled down.
- 6 Nigerian Tribune (Ibadan), 4 July 1996.
45The Minister would certainly not countenance reminders on this score. In reaction to early criticisms, he retorted that those displaced from under the bridge should get out of Lagos and go back to their villages.6 Yet his demolition programme had no associated ‘get back incentives or provisions’. More to the point, according to a BBC programme, Network in Africa, monitored in Ibadan on July 1, 1996, Major-General Adisa was reported as saying that many of those attracting sympathies had no business being in Lagos. Apparently, the Minister was referring to traders. Nonetheless, if he felt like this about traders one can only imagine his reaction to the endangered species ‘the street children’.
- 7 Major-General Adisa declared ‘Any structure within 30 metres (of the highway) is illegal. It violat (...)
- 8 Newswatch (Lagos), 10 June 1996.
46It seems clear therefore that the government refuses to recognize and confront the fundamental problems that create an ‘under-bridge user culture’ and create hazards on Lagos streets.7 Instead an issue of serious significance is reduced to a problem of road safety. The approach yielded little dividends. Newswatch (magazine) reported that users of places under the bridges ‘returned to their locations as soon as the military task force that demolished their structures left… For instance, along Marina traders are back carrying out their business as if nothing had happened’.8 Now that the ardour of the Works Minister has lost steam and Lagos remains as it has always been – a town of shadow markets – there is a premium on addressing the structural problems that confront the Lagos metropolis. In doing so the government must resist the temptation ‘to do things in the old way’.
- 9 Newswatch, 23 May 1994.
47The demolition syndrome falls very much within the general framework of confronting social problems with a law and order approach. This approach places emphasis on seeking to eject marginalized groups such as street children from the streets by force or intimidation. In certain cases they are treated as criminals and held responsible for any wrongdoing that occurs within the vicinity. The consequence is further deprivations. Under-aged children are languishing behind prison walls as a result. Most are charged together with adults rather than being referred to social welfare centres or juvenile courts. Since the vast majority are destitute, the issue of legal support is often out of question. Besides, there is poor record keeping and at times, the children have no prison files, without which they cannot be released or have their cases reviewed. They are thus condemned to a life of confinement. The experience of interaction with hardened criminals inclines them to a life of violence and crime. One celebrated case was the sentencing of 12 under-aged children to death for armed robbery when Brigadier Raji Rasaki was Governor of Lagos State. These children stayed in jail for a long period, awaiting execution, despite entreaties from the general public. The case was not unique. A weekly news magazine carried a story of six under-aged children (ages ranging from 11-14) appearing before the Agbomalu Magistrate Court in Apapa on April 22, 1994, on a three count charge – ‘attempt to commit felony – to wit conspiracy and attempt to steal’. It observed that this was their third time in court within an eight month period. They had been granted bail of 1,000 naira each since their first appearance, but could not pay. Again, on that occasion, they were returned to Ikoyi prison, where they came from. More interesting still, the paper observed: ‘They all stood wide-eyed and confused in the dock… it was obvious that they had not had bath for several weeks and they certainly were malnourished. As the police read out the charges against them, ‘they’(names given) were at a loss with the legal jargon’.9
48The phenomenon of ‘Area Boys’ represents a recent and more sordid chapter of life on the streets. The problem has deep roots. Illegal roadside markets that are major features of the informal urban economy have become fertile grounds for thieves, daylight robbery and other nefarious activities. The large population of children who work and live in the streets is daily prey to these tendencies. Street children are the most vulnerable. Logically and significantly, a large number of the youths who survive the apprenticeship of criminality on the streets gradually turn into ‘Area boys’.
49The phenomenon shares attributes with juvenile gangs elsewhere. Yet it has a distinct Lagos stamp. The term ‘area boys’ is Lagos’ own contribution to the contemporary lexicon on urban violence. The phenomenon marks a dangerous phase in the degeneration of youths – ‘who previously played a positive role in their communities into social miscreants and hoodlums perpetuating all kinds of terror on the streets of Lagos’. Indeed, Wuyi Omitoogun has shown that the notion of ‘area boys’ is a corruption of ‘Omo area’ or ‘son of the soil’, that used to be a mark of distinction and value (Omitoogun, 1996).
50‘Omo area’ inferred that one had the unique privilege of being an original Lagos boy, a citizen of urban origins with a definite metropolitan outlook. Prestige and respect were identified with this mark of identity that was also used as a bonding instrument to bring together Lagosians of different ilk. The ‘Omo area’ label had different categories. Each was marked by the name of a different street. However, to have an additional label you must first be ‘Omo area’, meaning that you had to be a Lagos boy. ‘Omo area’ engaged in fellowship with one another. Boys from different streets were often addressed by street names and each had a sense of belonging that was reinforced by competitive sports and cultural carnivals. The carnivals and sporting events underlined a collective heritage that marked out ‘omo Eko’ from his peers in the interior.
51‘Omo area’ tend to emphasize this distinction by their life styles. Nigerians from the hinterland are quick to remark that they live one day at a time as if each one would be the last. The Lagosian tries to live up to this impression. He throws lavish parties, dresses elegantly and lives in an extravagant fashion. In the period preceding the Structural Adjustment Programme(SAP), many could do this successfully. They had shaken off their roots and did not have to worry about going back to the village to build a bungalow to retire. Moreover, life in Lagos was hectic but, as it was commercial and political capital of Nigeria, money was available for the industrious. Within this context, a philosophy of ‘enjoy while you work’ made much sense to those with a cosmopolitan outlook. After all, as the average Lagosian will be quick to tell you, ‘it is only in Lagos that you generally hear about hypertension’.
- 10 Wuyi Omitoogun, Organised street violence: The area boys of Lagos. In: Urban Violence in South, Wes (...)
52The difficulty came with the introduction of the structural adjustment package of the Babangida administration, which saw the descent of ‘omo area’ into ‘area boys’. The journey has been described as an exercise in ‘disrepute’.10 The journey began with the travails of SAP. The liberalization policy of SAP was compounded by shortages in the supply of foreign exchange leading to increased costs of production and shortages in the supply of imported raw materials. Local manufacturers could not adapt in time to provide local substitutes. Unable to compete favourably in these circumstances with overseas suppliers, many folded up. The inclement economic climate stimulated massive retrenchment. Government bureaucracies were already bloated by political patronage and could not absorb, in any appreciable quantity, the new entrants to the labour market. Moreover, the various government agencies had come under the threat of privatization and had to show profit or be sold in packages. The massive job losses jolted the urban proletariat especially workers in Lagos more than any others. It meant that they could no longer enjoy the good fruits of life that their cosmopolitan outlook and origin had led many to take for granted. This stimulated socio-psychological trauma. Adjustment was difficult and people reacted in different ways.
53For much of the second generation ‘omo Eko’ who had seen better times, the situation was an inducement to crime. Some took to drug trafficking. Others became scam artists’ giving Lagos a bad reputation as a home for 419 con artists. Another group became racketeers dealing in virtually everything from laundering passports to fake visas. This group set up their headquarters around Idi Oro, Mushin or Oluwole in Lagos Island and around Martins Street in the vicinity of Bristol Hotel. Rackets had become big business in contrast to the quayside enterprise that operated in Marina in the early 1970s. The crude and less sophisticated ‘omo Eko’ drifted into armed robbery that again assumed the prominence it had in the post civil war period.
54As ‘omo Eko’ they brought glamour even to this enterprise as Oyenusi, Captain Blood and Yemo attempted to give their sordid business a ‘Robin Hood’image. Along with armed robbery came hired killers and smugglers. Lagos was in the throes of a counterculture, where to be rich became almost synonymous with ‘being dirty’. This provided a dangerous role model for the younger generation that was now confronted with hard choices.
55Many in this category of ‘omo Eko’ were forced to drop out of school in the wake of economic recession following the vicissitudes of SAP. Their parents could no longer afford to pay the fees. They had lost the security of home, but not their cosmopolitan taste. In a sociological environment nurtured by a new elite structure that thrived on the proceeds of crime, many became hooligans, racketeers, touts, and drug pushers. Drug pushing was particularly profitable at the retail level since the main drug dealers were the older ‘area boys’, the pace setters of the ‘revolution’, who needed outlets, distribution networks and a steady supply of recruits to serve as couriers for external operations. Drug dealing brought large financial rewards and those lured into it operated a niche above their less glamorous colleagues in crime, who were being recruited by the first generation ‘turned bad’for other activities – smuggling, armed robbery, rackets, etc. Those who did not have patrons tried to find their own feet on the street, harassing traders and passersby for ‘protection’ money. Whatever the case, ‘area boys’ as they were now popularly known, had become veritable apostles of street violence.
56Area boys have become foot soldiers for the drug trade. Drug dealers employ them as drug pushers at the retail level to carry drugs to the doorsteps of domestic consumers. Once an ‘area boy’ achieves this distinction he is known as a striker. A striker’s life generally follows two roads. Either he retails the drugs and uses the proceeds to enjoy the good life or he becomes a user himself. Those who take the first option, usually few in number, eventually graduate into dealers and at times, even merchants or barons. Most strikers become drug users. Users are of two varieties: irregular takers and those hooked on drugs. The second option is more common, because the background of ‘area boys’ induces an addict lifestyle.
57Area boys, once conditioned, are tools of others. At times, the vocation appears useful. Traders at Idumota pay one naira each per day to area boys who operate on behalf of the market council. The money is used to procure brooms, rakes and wheelbarrows to clean the streets. Sometimes, however, the money is taken and the streets are not swept, creating a potential conflict with market traders. Again, area boys harass people on the street for money and this irritates potential buyers and incurs the wrath of market women. Hence, there are often disputes ending in violent clashes with market women.
58Similarly, Lebanese businessmen hire area boys as body guards or intimidators; while night clubs, restaurants and brothels in several parts of the city employ their services as enforcers. Enforcement activities also take on other forms as loan sharks use them to harass and intimidate those who take unsecured loans. Enforcement activities took on the form of ethnic violence when the crime barons of Ita Agarawu (Ojuina) and Idumota hired area boys to drive out shopkeepers whom the landlords accused of not paying rent. Area boys caused confusion and provoked confrontation, beating up the traders, stabbing people and stealing wares. Area boys were similarly involved in the street war on Martins Street where they waylaid the Hausa ‘mallams’ engaged in foreign exchange transactions, snatched bags of money from them and ran away into the protection of their Oluwole hideouts. The ‘mallams’ after the initial shock rebounded to give them a fight, in which screwdrivers, broken bottles and swords were used with abandon. Business transactions ceased and people were wounded. Area boys also engage in gang warfare on the streets to nourish their macho image. Rival outfits engage each other in brutal fighting to demonstrate superiority; one such fight lasted for five days at Okesuna/Patey Street in Lagos Island in 1992, to produce one fatality and several wounded.
- 11 The first set of interviews were held as part of my earlier research on urban violence. Omitoogun’s (...)
59Area boys are also used for organized street violence in several ways. Several area boys interviewed in a focus group discussion between mid April and June 1994, at the Adeniji Adele Rehabilitation Centre set up by the People’s Bank in Lagos alleged that politicians hired them to disrupt the political campaigns of their opponents or disrupt voting during elections, especially in areas where their rivals had a strong following: so that the results of the neighbourhoods would be annulled.11 They cited the Agbalajobi and Sarumi gubernatorial tussle of 1992 as an instance where they were employed by both parties. A follow-up survey in late 1996 showed that opportunities in this sphere had decreased rapidly. Political activities had not taken off in full swing. The freedom of area boys to roam the streets had been curtailed by ‘Operation Sweep’ (see below). Those interviewed in a follow-up study conducted in 1996 suggested that the imminent return of party politics would put things on an upswing again. A few observed that the strength of ‘state control’ in the current transition exercise would not give politicians much room to operate. It appears that candidates were being selected or supported and in this climate ‘won o le raye’, meaning politicians do not have room to breathe much less engage in the types of festive race that enables them to use area boys. Even so, the respondent added ‘ona mi wa’– there are other forms of employment. The activities of touts emphasize this fact.
60Touts have become a recurring decimal in Lagos. They are well located in practically every facet of socio-economic life, particularly the transport industry. Among the species, the ‘agberos’ or motor park touts deserve special attention.
61At the various motor parks – Ojota, Ogba, Oshodi, Ketu, Yaba, Idumota, Oyingbo, CMS and Obalende – the commuter is immediately confronted by motor park touts, popularly known as ‘agberos’. Agberos invite prospective passengers to board vehicles. They forcefully take over the passenger’s luggage and head for vehicles amidst the protests of the hapless victims. More often than not, the driver does not even appear to be around. Touts ensure that the vehicle gets its officially approved number of passengers. Indeed depending on the situation, they often over load the vehicle with passengers. Thereafter touts collect money from passengers, count it and give it to drivers. After this, they remove a cone like object, which was hitherto on the car, indicating the route. The driver, who appears when the vehicle is fully loaded, counts his money, then hands over a percentage of the fee to the touts. The touts consider the money. If it is acceptable, they pocket it. Most of the time, they reject it and haggling takes place. Where disagreement occurs, touts threaten the drivers, often brandishing clubs at the windscreen. The drivers quickly add a little more money and the deal is completed. The touts smile, hail the driver and wish him luck on the journey. The vehicle then moves to the gate where it is stopped again. This time it is the turn of the uniformed touts, with tickets of the National Road Transport Workers Union (NURTW). They have to be settled in the same way as previous group. They demand levies and it is only after they have been paid that the vehicle can move out of the park towards its destination. The operations of motor park touts are not restricted to parks alone. Wherever there are stranded commuters, one finds touts lurking around to descend on them, promising to procure vehicles and dictating costs. They operate as a syndicate or Mafia, complete with strong-arm tactics and organization.
62Touts have leaders or ‘lords of the parks’. Many such leaders are between 50 and 60 years old, though a few are young and energetic. ‘Lords of the park’ or master touts have a number of assistants and apprentices or foot soldiers. The duties of the latter include forceful collection of levies and meting out punishment to disobedient and uncooperative motorists. As with other crime barons, the ‘lords of the park’ run a lucrative business that gives them a position of influence in the community. The most well known case is that of Adebayo Ogundare, alias Bayo Success. Under the auspices of the National Road Transport Workers Union (NURTW), Bayo began operations as a ‘lord of the park’ at Oshodi Bus Stop in Lagos metropolis. Between 1979 and 1984 he had extended his tentacles into six states of the Federation – Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Bendel, Ondo and Kwara. The mere mention of his name inspired fear and respect at motor parks. With this base, Bayo made a successful debut in the politics of the Second Republic. First, he aligned with the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), which had grassroots support in his area of operations; and later, with the National Party of Nigeria that controlled the Federal Government. At the height of his fame in 1982, he owned four Peugeot 504 saloon cars that were rented out as taxis to people who managed them for him while he cruised around Lagos in two Mercedes 280 cars. He was also the General Manager of MKO Motors, supervising operations of 30 Passat cars and 60 Kombi buses given out to drivers supportive of his political interests. He was arrested and detained by the military administration of Buhari-Idiagbon (1983-85) that succeeded the Second Republic, resulting in the waning of his influence. Even so, he remains a person of reckoning. He is still a transporter with 2 buses plying the road and his name still inspires some respect among the master touts.
- 12 Daily Times (Lagos), May 8 1995.
63Bayo Success achieved fame, but his case is not peculiar. Most master touts at major motor parks are owners of fleets of vehicles and of landed property. A driver at Ketu, Mr. Lawal, told me that ‘most of the leaders of the touts at the motor park are wealthy. Several make as much as 60,000 naira a day. By the time they pay their assistants and apprentices or soldiers, the head tout ends up with 30,000 naira as personal income, after deducting the necessary allowances for dependents. Many of them are also landlords’. The position echoed the previous declaration of Major Adeoye, former Chairman of the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental Sanitation and Special Offenses, that was set up, in part, to deal with touting. He stated that many of the touts make as much as 60,000 naira per day.12 A lord of the park at Ojota affirmed this to me with pride, his face beaming with self importance or pride, ‘Whatever they say, I thank God that I have made it by being a tout. Let them keep calling me a tout, I don’t care. All I know is that I have three houses in Lagos and a number of vehicles on the road’.
64Master touts are mainly professional drivers who are retired from active driving. Below them, the assistants are young men, ages ranging from 17 to 28. This lower rank is a curious blend of jobless drivers, vagabonds, the homeless and unemployed, runaways from home and the destitute. Invariably, they are all males. These young men generally have a bellicose disposition. Haggard looks are combined with scars on different parts of the muscular body including faces, they have sturdy legs, brawny arms and puffy eyes. The young touts have an interesting lexicon that can only be deciphered by the initiate. The vocabulary grows daily and is loaded with sarcasm. The sarcastic comments include ‘Fun logbe, Demun fun, Mark e’, all of which translate into meting out drastic punishment to erring drivers who dare to defy their authority. The coded messages are threatening signals that grievous bodily harm will be inflicted on those who obstruct the activities of the touts. This menacing posture is part of the outfit for the job. It is reinforced by occasional physical demonstrations that the signals are not just words. Touts see themselves as ‘notables’ in the park who must be obeyed. Drivers who resist them do so at great cost. They are beaten up and their vehicles are vandalized and often immobilized. The wisdom of the park is that resisting ‘agberos’ may be penny-wise but pound-foolish.
65The young touts (the foot soldiers) are not wealthy like their masters but many claim that it pays well. Their lifestyle confirms this opinion. ‘Agberos’ live extravagantly. They are a unique sight to behold at motor parks at lunch hour. At the various parks I visited, I noticed that they buy expensive bush meat, turkey and stockfish (expensive delicacies for a Nigerian meal), as well as costly food items, often pounded yam, from the plethora of hawkers and food vendors at the garages. To aid digestion they order bottles of big stout (Odeku) or Guider beer (the Ultimate). Touts are profligates, spending as much as 300 naira for a meal including about 250 naira on meat alone. At night they retire to local bars, brothels and restaurants to enjoy the company of loose women. They also indulge in hard drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. At Yaba Bus terminus, Baba Wasiu made it clear that he considers the job a vocation adding. ‘I am not in a hurry to get another job’.
66The sentiment is not shared by other users of motor parks. Most drivers and passengers perceive the touts as both menaces and parasites. They hold them responsible for the hikes in prices that motorists pass on to commuters and accuse them of terrorizing the park, prompting, encouraging and indulging in acts of violence. Indeed the touts even collect weekend fees ‘Owo Ose’ and other fees for festivals such as Easter, Christmas or Muslim holidays such as Id-el-Fitri, etc. At other times, they steal luggage under the pretext that they are carrying it into vehicles. Their activities and the rowdy sub-culture they promote in parks also serve as cover for pickpockets and thieves operating in the park. Some see touts and criminals as operating in concert. Besides, master touts often double as master rogues, with a ‘dual mandate’, confirming their general status as ‘lords of the park’.
67Agberos or motor park touts operate as a special category but they have parallels elsewhere – in passport offices, vehicle licensing offices, airports, borders, seaports and even the courts. As one Ghanaian friend observed on a short visit, while recounting a very nasty experience, ‘touts are everywhere’.
- 13 Interview, 2 December 1996.
68At the Ikeja passport office in Lagos, someone to acquire new passport finds the patronage of touts tempting and, in certain cases, inevitable. Here, applicants complain that immigration officials say that there are no passport forms. However, touts accost the disconsolate traveler outside the office ‘What do you want? Express, Urgent or Official?’ Express service produces a passport on demand, Urgent takes a little more time, Official could take eternity. The price range is directly related to the time scale. The Abuja headquarters of their Immigration Department was so worried by the reputation for employing touts that they sent one of their more competent hands to handle the operations there in 1996. He is reputed to have done fairly well and the incidence has been reduced, but travellers allege that much of the change is a publicity stunt. Touts still operate with the connivance of senior and junior immigration officials. ‘How can it be otherwise?’ one junior immigration officer observed, ‘a posting to the passport office is El Dorado. Your colleagues envy you and your family is happy for you. Your Ogas (bosses) who posted you there expect to have returns. To change the circumstance you have to alter the underpinnings. Anything else is sheer deception’.13
69The situation at airports is worse. All attempts to curtail their activities including a campaign of arrest initiated in 1988 and rekindled in 1990 and 1996 have failed woefully. Airport authorities direct attention to various efforts to discourage the activities of touts. Their campaign involves prominent posters pasted all over the Murtala Muhammed airport warning against the activities of touts. The public address system often churns out similar messages at irregular intervals. Also, I have often listened to some airlines – particularly British airways – relay the same warning as soon as the plane begins to descend toward Lagos. At times, Nigerian Airport Authority(NAA) security personnel can be seen hounding or handcuffing a few touts but the incidence is rare. Moreover, foreign exchange touts are not bothered at all. In any case, the general impact of the various security measures is hardly felt. Touts are visible and always active at the airports. Most of the touts are men though the ranks include a few women. Their operations include the sale of tickets and procurement of boarding passes. Customers are normally passengers who cannot go through the formalities. There are two categories here. One is impatient passengers and those who cannot queue or bother with long travelling procedures. The second category comprise cheats who decide to travel late in the day, do not have a boarding pass or valid ticket and pay to deprive legitimate passengers of their rightful entitlements.
70The touting enterprise booms in situations of crises at airports, when passenger traffic outstrips the capacity of available aircrafts. At such times, the battle to obtain boarding passes or acquire a good position before the boarding ramp assures touts of good business. Christmas and summer holidays are the tout’s dreams in this respect. Passengers, especially those going abroad, often have to dole out gratification amounting to as much as $100 – $200. Of course, touting at airports requires the complicity of airline officials and some NAA personnel. The business is carried out in the open suggesting that the various warnings are just so that people do not readily accuse the NAA of not doing anything about the situation. Some airline officials collude so obviously with the touts that the touts help them to sell complimentary tickets. It must be said in fairness to airport authorities that airport touts, in contrast with their motor park counterparts, are generally suave and well dressed, often appearing as gentlemen. This complicates the problem of identifying them before they act. However, airport officials have become quite familiar with the touts because they usually have a long tenure. Moreover, the business is syndicated so that touts have a particular airline they operate with. This is so because they have to concoct a partnership with specific airline officials.
- 14 See Sunday Champion, 7 March 1993.
71The sophistication notwithstanding, touting at airports has a dark side. Passengers’ goods are often stolen by touts promising to help them secure tickets or boarding passes. Sometimes they act in collusion with robbers by creating an atmosphere of chaos in which their partners in crime can steal the goods. At times they resort to thuggery and brazen force. One celebrated case occurred late in 1990 when a tout was caught dragging a Nigerian Airways passenger arriving from New York into one of the restaurants. The passenger, who was unconscious had apparently been drugged by the tout who was after his ‘dollars’. The tout was arrested, handcuffed and whisked away by the police only to resurface the following day back to business as usual.14 The case did not surprise a Nigerian lecturer at one of the major British universities who recounted a terrible experience that he had in late 1995.
- 15 Interview, London, 10 February 1997.
My luggage, including about 3000 pounds’sterling, was stolen at the airport and I went to the police. The police officer wanted to know which airline and I told him it was Nigerian Airways. ‘Ha’, he said, ‘that must be Emeka’. We then went through the airport asking if people had seen Emeka. We finally located him lounging on one couch. The police officer accosted him and Emeka called his boys to deliberate. He then announced that the work was done by Baba Kekere and Junior Yellow. However, they had gone to a ‘mama-put’ relaxation joint and if he was to go and retrieve the materials, the police should return his hydra-head knife that was seized by a sergeant a week ago. I offered to pay for a new knife but Emeka claimed that only his ‘special’ could do the job. We then went to Mafoluku police station to trace the sergeant who had Emeka’s knife. All the while I was handing out financial inducements. I could not believe it. Here was a known felon and the police were treating him as a distinguished guest. How do you expect them to treat touts?15
72Touts are also prominent on the highways, where they help traffic wardens to collect a toll of 5 naira per day from commercial motorists, in return for allowing them to stop anywhere to pick up passengers. They also conduct very profitable business in markets, at borders and in seaports, where they are known as wharf rats, but prefer to go under the umbrella name of clearing and forwarding agents. The activities of wharf rats amount to economic sabotage. It has a ruinous effect on the economic well-being of the nation and discourages investment. More perplexing is that this activity goes on unabated in the midst of multiple security agencies entrusted with the duty of guarding the ports – including the Nigerian Police, The Nigerian Navy, The State Security Services (SSS), Immigration Services and The Customs and Excise Department. The situation is viewed with serious concern by the nation’s power house – Aso Rock, the seat of the Presidency – which set up a panel in 1995 to sanitize the ports. The work of the panel and the recommendations and reform initiative that followed has tended to focus more on increasing revenue generation than sanitizing the ports. The limited objective has far-reaching implications. It means that touts still have a function to perform.
73Touts also operate near the premises of high commissions and embassies where they impose incredible charges for visas. Sometimes they succeed, but at other times they fail. How they undertake this complex assignment remains a mystery. They operate openly and with brazen impudence at the very seat of justice – the courts. They hang around the premises of Ikeja High Court and various magistrate courts, armed with typewriters. Touts parading themselves as lawyers engage in ‘charge and bail’ and other wide-ranging activities. They offer to arrange bail at an exorbitant cost and provide ready-made samples of affidavits. Their relationship with police and court personnel appears to be very cordial and apparently reciprocal. They transact business in an adept and quick fashion. ‘Lawyers?’ Baba Yetunde asked in Ikeja, ‘Why do you need lawyers? Even lawyers come to us’, he stated in obvious exaggeration.
74Touts are ubiquitous. They wreak havoc and cause violence and confusion. Their activities damage commerce. In an ailing economy, touting is an economic crime that impairs the prospect of recovery. Traders in the markets constantly emphasize this. For instance, Chief Raymond Okoye, the chairman of the International Market Electronic Association at Yaba, appealed to both the state and Federal governments to intervene to save the market from the constant harassment of touts. Prince Chris Ohabuiro, an official of the Tejuosho Market Association, also lamented that failure to do something about touting was allowing the problem to progress to alarming dimensions. Yet all efforts to curb touting tend to be vain. Late in December 1993, for instance, the former Secretary for the Lagos state government, Reverend Julius Akindele announced that the state government had to ban touts in all local government areas of the state ‘in order to bring down the cost of transportation in the state’ Thereafter, the touts continued to operate with impunity. The successor regime of Colonel Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Lagos state administrator, from time to time also asked members of the State Task Force on Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences to rid the state of touts. This again had no serious effect. Beyond that, touts are surviving the much vaunted Operation Sweep of the current Marwa administration. Why do touts thrive in spite of public disgust and official opposition? The answer is that they have official accomplices wherever they operate. Touts derive their power from the connivance, collusion and sponsorship of corrupt officials. Their patrons are shrewd and they operate in secrecy. The covert nature of their activities and the enormous financial reward that attends these enable the patrons to avoid exposure, or else to buy immunity from the consequences.
75The worsening economic situation in Nigeria, particularly in the last eight years, has introduced new dimensions to the creative genius of Nigerians. This is clearly visible in the activities of beggars. Begging or alms baiting is one of the fastest growing industries in Nigeria today, absorbing huge numbers of people – the indolent, the frustrated, the poor, the destitute and a host of new entrants lacking the physical or mental disabilities that are generally associated with the trade. The growth in number of members of this industry in Lagos has made the trade more competitive at a time when the resources on which it thrived i.e. human compassion, excess income, etc. are not just limited but are diminishing by the day. Thus various gimmicks have been introduced to ensure survival. The result is that begging is acquiring increasing sophistication as it moves from individual to a corporate enterprise. The new entrants are hijacking alms baiting and taking it away from beggars’ galleries – the sidewalks, the bus stops, mosques, churches and verandahs into every nook and cranny of the streets including the privacy of individual homes.
76As a consequence there are now different categories of beggars. The first and more respected are the orthodox or sidewalk beggars. They are the oldest members of the begging industry. Orthodox beggars are those whose physical constitutions are impaired by biological accidents or other deformities. They live on the ‘slow lane’ of life seeking help from charity. They take to this way of life because their physical or mental disabilities constrain their ability to eke out a living in some other manner. These are the side walk beggars – the cripples, the blind, the mentally retarded, etc. This category uses a crude system of confronting passersby or members of the public with their disabilities with a view to evincing sympathy. The system is crude but effective.
77Orthodox beggars rely on compassion. Compassion is extracted by religious invocations. The three major religious persuasions in Nigeria – Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion – advocate the giving of alms, as more or less, part of the package of prayer. The Lord Jesus, in Christian doctrine, asks us to be considerate of the needy. The poor will inherit the earth. The Holy Bible also places a premium on good neighbourliness and offers the injunction that one is expected to be his brother’s keeper. The parable of the good Samaritan has a prominent place in biblical discourse. Charity is also mentioned variously in the Holy Qur’an as Sadaqa Infaq or Ihsan although the connotation is always the same i.e. all good works that advance the good of one in need, whether neighbour, friend or kin. Such charity is of two categories, the voluntary and the mandatory – the Zakat – which is recognized as one of the five pillars of Islam. The Holy Qur’an lauds the value of charity in several places, assuring Muslims, who respect that injunction of a place in paradise. Believers are always advised to make jihad, i.e., a struggle with their wealth and persons so that they may attain salvation in the life to come. This passage from the Qur’an illustrates our point on charity most vividly: ‘Oh ye who believe spend (out of the bounties) we have provided for you before the day comes when no bargaining will avail nor friendship nor intercession. Those who reject faith – they are the wrong doers’. African Traditional Religion has the same emphasis. The Yoruba divination, Ifa, has a proverb that emphasizes this – ‘Riru ebo nigbani, aim ebo ni npa ’yan’ – You must appease the gods to live a successful life. The appeasement process ‘Ebo’ often involves alms. The implication is that giving alms has a cultural dimension. For example, people may consult herbalists who in turn instruct them to give certain types of alms to a category of beggars – the blind, the lame, etc. They have to do this to prevent some calamity or impending danger. The target beggar groups are normally the orthodox class.
78The street has witnessed a rise in the growth of orthodox beggars in recent times because of the declining importance of the extended family system. As the pain of economic adjustment takes its toll on the society, an individualistic approach is replacing the corporate system of joint survival that used to be the bedrock of society. The obligation to support others is being eroded because most people are suffering from the inclement economic climate. Even the rich are being squeezed out as industries collapse and banks foreclose. The tendency now is to advise relatives to fend for themselves as ‘the milk of human kindness’ runs dry at the well of necessity.
79A second category of beggars that was previously in decline, but has now returned to prominence is the iya ibejis or nursing mothers of twins who take to begging in observance of a cultural obligation. The cultural mystique which surrounds twins in Yorubaland sometimes makes it imperative for the mother to carry them around in the streets and beg for alms. This action is believed to ensure that the twins live long. Hence, the traditional mother of twins with one child strapped on her back and the other cuddled to her chest, was a common sight in the Yoruba speaking areas. But this kind of begging is now hinged more on economic factors than the need to fulfill cultural obligation. It is now common sight to find a mother beggar carrying a single child in her back, with the explanation that the twin has died. In the past, these women beggars employed songs of sorrow. Such songs conveyed their reasons for taking to the streets and also included prayers for the alms’ giver. On the streets of Lagos today, the approach is more direct. They simply implore ‘E ta meji lore’, meaning, ‘Please, give alms to the twins’.
80The third category consists of immigrant beggars from the northern part of the continent who in the late 1970s and 1980s fled famine in their countries to eke out a living on Nigerian soil. They are mostly light skinned with very elegant features. People call them ‘Nigers’ implying that they are from Niger republic.
81They are a persistent breed. The children are trained by the older ones to attach themselves to passersby, often clinging to their clothes in a bid to make them part with money. These immigrant beggars are not as prominent as they used to be when the Nigerian economy was healthy.
82Reforming the art are the newbreed beggars. They come in several forms and their tactic is as wide ranging as they are plenty. First are charlatan beggars. They feign disability or any other form of biological impairment, as justification for their indigence only to revert to their true wholeness when the day’s job is completed. The most commonly faked disability is blindness. In reality, these beggars are really very healthy individuals. Their ailment is indolence.
83In the camp of charlatan beggars are the fiction tellers. These people spin fantastic yarns; treating unsuspecting people to the misfortunes that have befallen them and which compassion is required to alleviate. A young woman taps you on the back in a busy street. ‘Sir’ she pleads ‘I came to Lagos to see someone but the person is not around. I have had nothing to eat. Can you give me some money to add to the little money I have so that I can go back home’ You offer the money only to pass by the next day to find the same lady accosting you with the same story. Some claim to have been victims of armed robbery. In other circumstances they say their spouses drove them out. There are other variations of hard luck tales used by men. The import is the same. A variation of this is the bus beggar. On a bus from Orile to Mile two I encountered an example. As soon as we were settled in the ramshackle bus the young man raised his baritone voice and the words rolled out as if from a megaphone. ‘Brothers and Sisters. I greet you in the name of God. Please do not say I am disturbing you. I left home this morning with nothing to eat. I ran away from the entreaties of my children. Please give me something so that I can go back and face them. Nothing is too small. God will help you as you help me’. He went on and on. Once you believe the stories, they collect the money and move on practicing variations on the same theme. There are also executive beggars. Their operations follows a peculiar pattern. You are waiting for a taxi and a well-dressed young man gracefully walks up to you. He tells you that he was returning home (implying that he is from a distant but very respectable neighbourhood) but unfortunately for him, he just had his pocket picked in the last taxi cab he dropped from. If you could simply spare him 20 naira, he would be grateful and, of course, he will write down his address or take yours so that he can send the money back. Often people are so moved that they simply reach for their wallets and give him money. The donor feels accomplished and happy that he can save such a nice fellow from embarrassment. He hardly suspects that he has just been fleeced. Much later he may realize this when he meets the same fellow at another location selling the same hard luck story or a variation.
84There is the ‘Alaiye’ variety, a branch of the ‘area boys’. A man in his mid-twenties walks up to you, bows low and in a soft, pleading voice asks you for 50 naira. This begging is in a different category because the beggar is now specifying the amount he wants. Alternatively, you park your car on the street and when you come out some young men are dabbing water over it. When you want to leave they ask you for money for a job you never asked them to do in the first place. Then there are the Omo oju ina (son of the eye of the burning fire) group. They salute you in loud voices as Baba Alaiye (owner of the earth) and mob your car especially if you are accompanied by a beautiful damsel. They wish you well in loud voices Ajepe Aiye Baba – May you live long to continue in this bliss – and prostrate. They tell you that they will lie down so that you can step on them, Baba mi Baba, our grand old man. Offer them ten naira and they look at you askance. ‘Baba add more money, ebi n pa awon omo y in, your children are hungry.’ If you oblige and stay around they look after your car. If you refuse and come there at another time that same car could go missing. Almost similar to these are the category of hostage beggars. This category turns the adage ‘a beggar has no choice’ on its head. When they approach you and you offer them nothing they shower you with expletives. They curse and abuse you. They can even threaten you with physical harm. These are not help-seekers in the proper use of the term. They are particular about what they take. You offer them a one naira coin and they reject it, asking you what you expect them to do with one naira. At times they inspect the money and if they consider it to be small throw it in your face.
85Another category is the group beggars. They assemble on weekends and are usually mostly women. They go from door to door collecting money. They share the proceeds at the end of the day according to a mutually agreed formula. There are also family beggars. These are relatives who go to the houses of their well to do kith and kin periodically to tell tales of woe and demand money. They often operate in groups but come individually. They meet to map out all their rich relations, even those they have never seen, and then go in search. Allied to this are festival beggars. These are beggars who keep a watch on the social diary to find out where there are social events, a conference, a marriage ceremony or a child christening, so that they can go there to beg. Their logic is that celebrants, in the urge to get rid of irritants, will quickly and generously oblige.
86An interesting dimension to this is that begging is now being organized as big business. Some unscrupulous individuals are cashing on the misfortune of the truly handicapped and the compassion ethic to dupe others. They hire physically handicapped individuals to beg for them as a trade. They house these disabled people and send them out daily to beg for alms. Whatever the beggars make is retrieved from them at the end of the day, while a little stipend or maintenance allowance is paid to them. The beggars themselves are on salary monthly or daily. Commission may be given to big earners as incentives. Even so, the business operates as a racket with spot inspections to ensure probity and stiff sanctions by enforcers to discourage cheating by beggars in the field. At a lower level or as part of the wider operations we have the corollary of child beggars. Babies are even borrowed from their real mothers to deceive good Samaritans.
87The social condition at Kano street, Ebute Metta, long renowned as a colony of beggars, provides a crucial example of the impact of beggars on the city landscape. Every day the crippled, the blind and the leprous are to be seen either squatting or sitting along the road. Residents complain that they have become the ‘landlords’ of Kano street. The surroundings are dirty, littered with garbage. ‘You see so many of them’, complains one local resident, ‘with malignant sores, all forms of illnesses, some have elephantiasis, tuberculosis, some are blind, deaf and dumb and some others have contagious diseases. Flies are everywhere, perching on them and eventually flying into the homes of people and to their foods’. Destitutes disturb traffic and cause accidents. ‘At night’, complains another local resident, ‘it is difficult to pass through the streets, they will take over the entire road – including the fronts of houses and shades to sleep’.
88On a more serious note, the conspicuous presence of various categories of destitutes on the streets, paints an ugly, disreputable picture of the nation’s social reality, particularly in the eyes of foreigners. Moreover, these destitute or beggars provide a reservoir of cheap labour for anyone who may seek to perpetrate evil designs. For instance, police sources indicate that during past riots in Lagos, these poor citizens, stripped of their dignity and shame, easily identified with those who led the riots. There have also been instances when innocent looking, poorly clad beggars snatched wallets from women drivers. Also beggars are known to be used by robbers to monitor the movements of their victims. Beggars are also an environmental liability and have contributed significantly to making Lagos a very dirty city.
89These implications have forced citizens from various walks of life to implore the government to do something about the problem of beggars. The rehabilitation of beggars began in Lagos over two decades ago in 1973. On the eve of the All African Games in 1973, the government decided to remove beggars from Lagos streets. The first rehabilitation centre was located at Gbagada but the centre was moved to its permanent site at Maijidun, a sprawling location in Owutu, near Ikorodu in the suburb of Lagos in 1983. The centre is managed by Lagos state, but the state receives a contribution from the Federal Government. Indeed the Federal Government contributed about 1.8 million naira towards building the centre. The burden of maintenance fell on the state government and in the first financial year of 1983 the Lagos state government spent about 189,564. 47 naira. Inmates are expected to learn carpentry, tailoring, cane work, footmat making, knitting, and embroidery.
90However, the rehabilitation of beggars has not been a high priority of governments except when there is a major international engagement such as the noted All African Games or when the Health Inspection Team of the Federation of the International Football Association (FIFA) came to visit the country to ascertain its fitness to hold the FIFA-Coca Cola football competition in 1995. In fairness, it should be noted that the problem is not one that can be solved by the government alone. A lot of beggars do not take well to rehabilitation schemes. They feel that they make more money on the streets. So when the opportunity presents itself they run away from Maijidun and return to their begging spots.
- 16 TELL (Lagos), May 27 1996.
- 17 See Royal Beggars! Destitutes Lagos Government dare not touch, National Concord, 2 February 1996.
91By late 1995, however, the problem had assumed an alarming dimension and the government was determined to do something about it. Just before the end of the year, the government constituted a tripartite committee called the Destitute Rehabilitation Committee, with the Ministry of Health, the Task Force on Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences of the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning and the Department of Social Welfare in the Women’s Commission as members. On Monday 22 January 1996, they met to map out strategies and modalities for carrying out the task. The committee’s first task was to identify areas where the destitute exist and how to tackle them. Towards this end, flyover routes were identified. On 25 January 1996, the Task Force swung into operation. At the end of five hours 325 destitutes were rounded up and taken to the rehabilitation centre in Maijidun. The climax of the programme was the clearing of Kano Street on 25 May 1996. A combined team of Task force officials invaded the beggar colony and swept the army of beggars into a Nigerian Railway train en route to their home states. Stern faced gun wielding soldiers guided , shoved, and virtually carried them into waiting vehicles. Amidst deafening shrieks and swearing in the Hausa language, the beggars were hauled into a prearranged Lagos-Kano bound train. Twenty-four armed soldiers accompanied the train to ensure that none disembarked on the way. A news magazine reported that the order to clear them out was from Aso Rock, the nation’s powerhouse.16 Prior to this there had been speculation that because most of the beggars in Kano street were of northern stock they were untouchable.17 The speculation gained credence because for several weeks after the task force began operations, the Kano street haven remained intact. With the clearance of Kano street, no beggar community could claim safety and there was a constant rounding up by the Environmental Task Force which deposited evacuees in Maijidun.
- 18 Dr. Femi Olugbile, This Day (Lagos), 30 November 1996.
92It was at this juncture that the limitations of the Task Force approach began to manifest. As one psychiatrist observed ‘the place (Maijidun) did not have the infrastructure and finances to cope with the numbers dumped there. The people did not also have a clear idea what they wanted to do with the beggars. We should understand that many of the able bodied beggars beg as a choice of career. It is like a way of life and they do not want to be rehabilitated. The concept of rehabilitation involves teaching new skills. This will make them have a useful livelihood after the rehabilitation. The flaw in the logic is that the average beggar makes more than the artist.’18 Indeed Maijidun is understaffed and grossly ill-equipped. Drugs and foodstuffs are inadequate while medical facilities are over-stretched. Vocational training facilities are restricted and poor. Workers claimed they were not paid regularly and between February and March 1996 the place was reported as being without power supply. Ironically, during my visit to the centre in November 1996, I was surrounded by a group of inmates who clamoured that ‘I should give them something’. They were off the streets and in the rehabilitation centre and still begging! The incident suggests that there is more to solving the problem of destitutes than clearing them from the streets and dumping them at Maijidun.
93Pressing economic difficulties underline the absence of a social welfare or social security programme. The problem is a collective one that deserves a coordinated approach between states and the Federal Government. The clearing of Kano street emphasized this but the initiative must be more comprehensive. There is the need for job creation programmes to alleviate current economic difficulties and to intensify skill acquisition programmes already begun by some state governments under the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) scheme. Existing rehabilitation centres must be revived and properly funded. There must also be close supervision of these places. Destitute taken there should be trained to stand on their own feet. Once this is accomplished appropriate legal measures should be instituted against street begging. Governments must also work out modalities to ensure the support of individuals, voluntary associations, non-governmental agencies and the private sector in a comprehensive destitute rehabilitation programme. The programme must have two cardinal aims. One is a change of orientation that discourages direct giving of alms in favour of institutional support for a destitute reintegration process. A campaign of public education is required to emphasize that every kobo one gives a beggar on the street is tantamount to an approval of the street begging culture which is turning the Lagos metropolis into a beggars’ city. Rather, generous instincts nurtured by religious and cultural compassion should be channelled towards institutional support and non-governmental organizations. This appeal presupposes that the element of corruption or leakage in official circles would not undermine these good intentions and raise a question of finding appropriate mechanisms for ensuring probity. The second general point is that rehabilitation must mean reintegration of destitutes into society as productive members rather than parasites. Such programmes are expensive, but would be cost-effective in the long run if managed properly.
94Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession in the world. However, no one seems to know precisely who practiced it first and in what circumstances. The business has grown over the years in Lagos. As the economic crisis deepens, more and more people, especially the young, are drifting into it. They are giving it a new orientation that has more glamour and sophistication.
95The consequence is that there are now different classes of prostitutes. The first are the traditional type or scarlet mamas. These prostitutes have rented places, mostly seedy hotels, to which they bring their clients. Some go about canvassing on the street. The flesh peddlers stand provocatively at street corners or in front of their residences and invite prospective customers to taste their wares. Such inspections are visual. Once the buyer likes the wares and the fee is settled, both of them retire to the hotel to complete the transaction.
96Scarlet mamas are prominent in Goriola Street in Ajegunle, a suburb of Lagos and Ipodo in Ikeja. In Goriola, they live in ramshackle buildings or bungalows that are full of crevices. The buildings are dilapidated, reflecting the category of prostitutes that live there. Most of them are aged, with ages ranging between forty-five and fifty. Many of them have been there for about twenty years. They look scraggy and worn out. Youth is a rare commodity here. The young ones start their careers in more comfortable hotel rooms. It takes a little time to work their way to Goriola. The traditional model has its pitfalls. It wears out the practitioner. Second, it puts a stamp on the participant and could wreck future prospects. The practice carries a stigma which reflects on friends and families. Scarlet mamas are all female. This lends credence to the thesis that prostitution in Nigeria is a female occupation because, for the most part, gays live ‘in the closet’. The impression is wrong. Contrary to popular belief, there are both male and female prostitutes, though the females are clearly in the majority. The male prostitutes are the equivalent of western gigolos. In Nigeria, they are the wards of married women, widowers, divorcees or single older women who missed out on marriage. In recent times, the rank of married women engaging in illicit affairs has grown tremendously. They shower their young men with money and exotic gifts in return for good fun (strenuous sex) and attention. The boys escort them to select social gatherings where sugar mummies compare their goods. At times, exchanges take place or loans. In particular cases, sugar mummies rent flats for their wards to live in. Such ‘live in’ situations imply a measure of exclusivity. One sugar mummy elaborated on the motivation structure that underlines this kind of relationship, ‘The gifts, monetary and otherwise, that we give are investments and obviously, no woman does that for nothing. For a young man to be enjoying such gifts, he has to offer quality services’.
97Sugar mummies have their male equivalents – the sugar daddies. These are the favourites of female students or young housewives seeking financial support to buttress the difficult economic circumstances. The ladies call them man-friends. Sexual networking takes place here and it is usual for a young woman to have several man-friends. One young undergraduate in the department of English enthused on the virtues of one of her man-friends, a very corpulent man, whom she calls Big Daddy. ‘Big Daddy works at Central Bank and Ko ma la towo ko. Crispies lo nna. Crispies.’ The man she emphasized spends money on her recklessly. What is more he gives her minted crisp new notes from Central Bank that she calls ‘Crispies’.
98Nevertheless, the main attractions of the street are night brides. As from 6 p.m., major highways in Lagos are adorned by young women clutching handbags, looking for would be customers. The girls are on parade in various places but some major sites are Allen Avenue, especially the ‘Hookers junction" where the streets intersect at Ikeja, Obalende, Ayilara street in Ojuelegba, and in Surulere around Kila Hotel. The average age range is between 15 and 27. The ladies of the night assume some respectability for the trade. They call it ‘on gbe se’, doing business. They take customers as they get them but the special attractions are foreign (Western) migrant workers or short term native returnees from the US and Europe (the girls call them Yankees) who have dollars and pounds sterling. On a good night the girls make between 1000 and 2000 naira. Special attractions often offer as much as 5000 naira. The fee depends on the nature of the sex arrangements and the timing of the assignation. There are two principal varieties. One is short time or quickies. Second are TDBs (Till Day Break) or all-nighters.
99The trade has novelties. First, it is a part-time job. Those who do it include secondary school students, university undergraduates, office workers, secretaries, etc. Occasionally, girls in the higher strata of society are also involved, whenever they require money to pay back a loan or to buy an expensive dress or finance a business enterprise. Housewives and young mothers also participate in it in circumstances where husbands cannot meet their needs or have lost their jobs. There is no way to determine who is in the trade except through close encounters. Quiet girls with demure appearances become night brides in the evenings. They pace along the highways in a daring and seductive manner seeking to strike sexual deals. ‘Just 2000 naira and I am all yours for the night’.
100‘Marriages’ contracted for one night have their pitfalls. The contractual process allows for unilateral revision. Sometimes, the night brides lose out. There are incidents of rape, gang rapes, acid throwing and even murder. Occasionally it is the men’s turn. The woman wakes up in the morning and increases the price knowing that the man who lives in such posh surroundings cannot afford a scandal that might arouse the curiosity of neighbours. There is also the mama correct phenomenon, where a nice looking young woman asks for a lift in the morning and on getting to her destination simply seizes the man by the scruff of the neck claiming that he hired her as a night bride and upon enjoying her sexual favours is now reluctant to pay the price. She fixes her price arbitrarily and the victim is encouraged by the crowd to pay to avoid embarrassment.
101Night life at Ayilara is also suggestive of violence. There is a heavy presence of stern looking hoodlums, armed robbers, etc. who ensure the free flow of drinks and marijuana to create a festive environment in the vicinity where the girls search for customers.
102At times, the trade is organized. In the female hostels of the University of Lagos, Lagos State University, College of Education at Isolo, School of Nursing etc., some female students serve as contractors. They are contacted when there is a party or conference of the ‘well to do’ in town. Bank or corporate executives, military formations, clubs etc., contact them and they make arrangements for their clients to whet carnal appetites for the night. Sometimes randy rich men simply want an orgy. The fees are arranged and paid in advance, except on very rare occasions. Satisfied customers may still give particular girls heavy tips in addition to contract fees. The contractor pays the girls after she has deducted her commission. Sometimes, she partakes in the festival herself. This enables her to monitor the conduct of the girls for future reference in addition to securing a larger share of the booty. Sometimes the liaison officers are male and could take one of the girls as ‘itowo’ (sample) or part commission. At times, working girls that are not students are included in the team provided they can be made to look like students. ‘These big men like students’, a female contractor confided in me, ‘They pay more for them. It is almost as if they like sleeping with their daughters’.
103The trade has export dimensions. This is known as plucking tomatoes. The tomatoes are young damsels uprooted from their native soil for overseas use. Syndicates organize the operations. Most girls are lured deceitfully, but some willingly participate in the trade. In fact some families in Lagos pool resources to send one of their number abroad to remit foreign exchange earned in the business, but this is a rare phenomenon. The incidence was first reported at the 63rd General Session of Interpol in 1994 where attention was drawn to the preponderance of Nigerian women in the Italian connection of the trade. Time Magazine also highlighted it in a special report of 21st June 1993 entitled Sex For Sale in which it observed that Nigerian sex workers are trooping into Bologna. Italy is the first choice for export followed by Saudi Arabia, Dubai and other oil rich states. The Eastern and Southern African countries also hold some attraction because of the high population of tourists there.
104The sexual revolution has serious implications for teenage pregnancy, prospective marital stability, national image, the risk of venereal diseases, abortions, life expectancy, HIV and AIDS (Aina, 1991; Anarfi and Antwi, 1995; Feyisetan and Pebley, 1989; Oronsaye, Ogbeide and Unuigbe, 1992; Caldwell et al., 1990.) WHO AIDS surveillance reports reveal that Lagos, Enugu, Plateau, Borno, Benue and Kaduna states in that order have the highest reported HIV AID cases(WHO, 1993). Moreover, the main mode of transmission is heterosexual sex, which accounts for 71 per cent of reported AID cases. The sexual revolution makes the possibility of AIDS explosion very real. This is the case with Uganda where about 1.5 million people are reported to be HIV positive. Something needs to be done to keep the situation in check, but as long as the influential members of the society patronize the sex trade, this is bound to prove difficult.
105Violent crimes have assumed a serious dimension in Lagos in recent times. Lagosians are daily confronted with night marauders, armed robbers, racketeers, drug peddlers and pushers, 419 scam artists and riots associated with the search for democracy. The case has been treated in detail elsewhere (Adisa, 1994; 1995). What is unique in the present situation is that the brazen escalation of urban violence and the air of insecurity has been further worsened by an epidemic of bombings and assassinations.
106Sporadic bombings and assassinations are the most terrifying aspect of the culture of terror that is now gripping Lagos. Bombings and assassinations are not new to Lagosians. The mystery letter bomb that killed Lagos journalist, Dele Giwa, in 1986 left a lasting impression on the nation’s psyche; moreover, as the killers are still at large. The incident was then a novelty. Now it is fast becoming a custom. The current wave began with the cold blooded murder at his residence in Lagos of the nationalist and politician, Mr. Alfred Rewane, by assassins. Since Rewane was in the forefront of the pro-democracy movement, his colleagues pointed accusing fingers at the government. Thereafter came the attempted assassination of Mr. Alex Ibru, proprietor of the noted Guardian newspaper. He was rushed abroad for treatment and barely survived. On 23 May 1996, a retired top naval officer, Rear-Admiral Olu Omotehinwa, was assassinated in his Lagos residence. Then came the celebrated case of Kudiratu Abiola, wife of the detained politician presumed winner of the 1993 elections. She was killed en route to the Canadian embassy. She was a symbol of pro-democracy activism and again accusing fingers were pointed at the government. Then came a series of bomb blasts, most of them targeted at military personnel, including a spectacular incident at Opebi link junction around Sheraton Hotel in Ikeja in which Colonel Mohammed Marwa, the incumbent Governor of Lagos State, had a near escape. This time, the government pointed fingers in the direction of pro-democracy activists, particularly the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and the National Liberation Council of Nigeria (NALICON), of Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka. The-two groups denied the allegation. On 14 November 1996, Dr. Sola Omotshola, the security manager of the Federal Aviation Authority and two other occupants of his car were reduced to debris when a bomb exploded in the car just outside the perimeter of the Murtala Muhammed airport. The police claimed he was an agent of NADECO, an allegation that his family ridiculed. The son of the former Justice Minister, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, was assassinated on the doorstep of his home, while prominent lawyer and pro-democracy activist, Mr. Abraham Adesanya narrowly escaped death. The saving grace of the spate of bombings and assassinations is that it seems to be selective and discriminatory. The targets are either military personnel, government officials, political figures, pro-democracy activists or their relatives.
107The government is animated by this targeting strategy. In his national day broadcast of October 1 1996, the present Head of State, General Sani Abacha, announced the option of specialized security squads to cater for the deteriorating security situation in the country. Since then, the nation has witnessed blanket or saturated policing by joint patrols of soldiers and police officers. Check points are now back on the highways and streets along with foot patrols. The consequence is the militarization of the Nigerian space. The problem with this approach is that it enhances rather than mitigates the sense of insecurity. Again, the militarization of space cannot eliminate violent crimes because it fails to address the fundamental problems of governance that instigate the terror of political injustice. The decline of state authority in the wake of the annulment of the results of the June 1993 elections has bred widespread defiance and revolt against any form of order among ordinary people. Government’s violation of its own laws has encouraged people to believe that what constitutes law is what an individual can get away with. This perversion of the raison d’être of the state has given rise to a state of anomie characterized by an erosion of society’s moral values; the situation is further complicated by the failure of the country’s elite to map out a coherent and productive socio-cultural agenda for change through the articulation and propaganda of positively edifying ideas, thoughts and models of behaviour. Material and spiritual decadence and latent corruption associated with this trend inspires pervasive criminality. The situation sets an appalling role model for youths and increases their vulnerability to or penchant for crime.
108Moreover, the current situation has economic underpinnings. The security agencies deployed (the police and the armed forces) are themselves thoroughly compromised by corruption, professional indiscipline and low morale. Many have now settled down to receiving inducements from the targets of their search and to coercing hapless drivers to give them bribes. This is particularly the case in Lagos, where the sophistication of weapons and the operational logistics employed by robbers indicate that there is an apparent organized collaboration between hoodlums and security organizations because these organizations are seen by the public as the only ones with access to such arms and ammunition. Besides, the ‘toll gate’ mentality of the saturated policing system extorts money from transporters who pass on the cost in different ways to consumers. This aggravates the cost of living index and can itself provoke other forms of crimes.
109The reaction of the Federal Government to the rising tide of bombings and assassinations echoes the attitude of the Lagos State government to difficulties associated with the street culture. The answer of the Lagos State government to the street problem is ‘Operation Sweep’. The Operation was launched by the immediate past military administrator, Colonel Olagunsoye Oyinlola, on 15 May 1995 to curb the growing incidence of robberies, murders and burglaries. The responsibility for the execution of the programme was given to the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences, a military-police outfit. From its inception, the mandate of the Task Force was awesome. It was charged with keeping the streets of Lagos metropolis clean and enforcing other edicts, which had hitherto existed in the state government laws, but till then lacked an enforcement agency. Thus, apart from keeping the streets clean and tidy, the task force had responsibility for ensuring that there would be no illegal structure in the city, among others.
110The task force went into operation and soon became a household name. Bus drivers that used to stop on bridges to collect passengers ceased to do so, reducing the frustrating hold up that consistently plagued the streets. Street traders were on their toes ready to take flight at the sight of task force officials and soldiers. Buses were impounded, illegal structures demolished and area boys driven into hiding. This aroused public enthusiasm; public opinion, however, soon grew into disenchantment as controversy began to dog the steps of the task force, with civilians making allegations of victimization, arrests, harassment.
- 19 The News (Lagos), 11 December 1995.
- 20 Newswatch, 29 July 1996.
- 21 ibid., 3 March 1997.
111The allegations had substance. For example, the men of the task force invaded the Senegalese embassy in pursuit of a woman, probably a street trader, who had taken refuge in the embassy. This was a clear violation of the principle of diplomatic immunity. The men were said to have climbed over the fence after the gates were closed in their faces and on gaining entry, arrested two of the embassy officials.19 The Senegalese Ambassador was forced to make a formal protest to the Federal Government on the matter. This highhandedness was a small symptom of what the general public had to bear. Onlookers and passengers in buses were forced to take part in sanitation exercises, goods were vandalized and conductors taken away to the Force headquarters at Alausa. There were also constant reports of extortion from civilians by members of the Task Force. In time, the area boys were to be sighted again in Broad Street and its environs and street trading started to regain its usual momentum. Aside from this, the crime wave continued. While the Deputy Police Commissioner of Lagos State, Sunday Aghedo, reported that reports available to him consistently indicated a steady decline in the crime wave.20 Some members of the general public alleged this was a misreading of the true situation and that robbers had simply changed tactics. The latter appeared to be a true measure of the situation. Two days after Oyinlola’s successor as military administrator, Colonel Buba Marwa, assumed office on 24 August 1996, Lagos witnessed a sensational robbery incident in mid-afternoon in the Ikeja area. Marwa immediately took over direct control of ‘Operation Sweep’ and repackaged the 4000 man outfit, expanding it to include a larger proportion of military personnel. At his maiden press briefing, Marwa passed what amounted to a no-confidence vote on the achievements of his predecessor. He stated, ‘It is most unfortunate and a very sad state of affairs that the security situation is this way in Lagos’. Later on, he told reporters that he had already had a negative impression before he became administrator. ‘Though one was serving outside Lagos, we were always here for one thing or the other and during these visits, I was surprised. Is there no authority in this place?’21
- 22 ibid.
- 23 Interviews, Lagos, 10 January 1997.
- 24 ibid.
- 25 ibid.
- 26 Newswatch, 3 March 1997.
- 27 ibid.
- 28 The indication is strong. In March 1997, the traditional ruler of Okeoko and Oketapa in Ikorodu Loc (...)
112Marwa expressed his interpretation of the problems of Lagos State. He perceived the difficulties as a problem of law and order requiring muscle-bound reflex. Thus he proceeded to boost the activities of Operation Sweep by giving it additional muscle. In October 1996, the Operation acquired 85 cars and 150 walkie talkies and the outfit received additional financial support to the tune of 250 million naira for vehicles and equipment. By March 1997, it was reported that an additional 200 million naira had been earmarked for the project.22 Marwa also set up a citizen’s security outfit – the Neighbourhood Watch – under an Edict in 1996, to take charge of security in the neighbourhoods through patrols and surveillance, to monitor movement of persons, offer information to the police in case of suspicious movements and carry out citizen’s arrests. He also established a confidential telephone line by which members of the public could relay confidential information on the activities of criminals at no cost. Early in the new year, a popular News magazine was hailing Marwa as a ‘miracle worker’. The judgment appears hasty. It is reminiscent of the popular support that Oyinlola’s programme drew from the Lagos public in the early days. The citizens of Lagos have learnt the wisdom of skepticism. The extortionate tendency that marred the latter part of Oyinlola’s programme seems to be growing daily. Some members of the public also complain about harassment, victimization and the instigation of a culture of fear resulting in both law abiding citizens and miscreants taking to their heels on sighting soldiers and elements of the task force.23 The situation cannot be otherwise declared a resident of Ikorodu, ‘They simply pick you up and lock you up. Your relations cannot bail you because they do not even know that you are under arrest. An effective public policy on crime must be discriminatory. This one is not.24 Officials of the administration complain that the feeling is a carry over from the Oyinlola era,25 but I personally witnessed such a scare effect in mid-January in Marina, Lagos. This is sad because a programme that induces fear and panic in the populace cannot be sustained indefinitely. Marwa himself dismisses allegations of improper conduct. ‘As far as Operation Sweep is concerned,’ he stated ‘I have received reports. Most of them are false’.26 He anchors his judgment on the basis that there are monitoring operations. Also, ‘the vehicles of Operation Sweep carry numbers, special code numbers on the side of the vehicles. These are coded numbers that tell us where the team and the vehicle should be’.27 The judgment is perfunctory. The fact that the Military Administrator, in his exalted position, has had some negative reports is a clear indication that already at this early stage ‘things may be going wrong’.28 It is true that there are monitoring units, but who supervises the monitoring operations? This is a very important question in a society where the guardians of law and order often cooperate with brigands to promote a state of disorder. Early in 1996, for example, a former Assistant Police Commissioner, Alhaji Aliyu Manza, was executed by a firing squad after condemnation and conviction by the Kebbi State Firearms and Robbery Tribunal for aiding and abetting armed robbery. His case is not unique. In any case, the assertion by the Administrator that reports of wrongdoing are false is in line with tradition. The trend in Nigeria is that government officials never discover wrong things about programmes that they initiate and in which they have invested their reputation.
113In conclusion, the situation draws attention to the limits of muscle-bound reactions to the street culture. The approach is one that normally relies on a task force to solve every problem. The nomenclature ‘Operation Sweep’ leaves something to be desired. The marginalized that are being swept off Lagos streets may be dregs of the society but most of them are not there by choice. The word ‘Sweep’ in this context may be misconstrued as equating them with garbage or litter. However, these are not garbage but people. They have as much right to Lagos as anyone else.
114Muscle-bound reactions eventually lead to the militarization of space. This tendency ignores the fundamental reasons behind the depressing street culture, i.e., the factor of poverty and desperation in a contracting economy that is creating a wide range of vulnerabilities for the young, the dislocated and dispossessed in mega-cites such as Lagos.
115Of course, Operation Sweep has its merits. It has reduced the spate of armed robberies in Lagos. At a press conference in November 1995, James Danbaba, then Lagos State Police Commissioner stated that an average of 60 cars a week were snatched on the streets of Lagos. In the last week of February 1996, Patrick Erhabor, Assistant Superintendent of Police and the spokesman of the Lagos Police State Command noted that ‘now we are down to below five. Even on some weekends nothing happens’. The clarification appears to be sanguine. More so, as the police officer does not offer precise figures. Even so, there is reasonable ground to believe that the figures are down. Some robbers transferred their operational bases to contiguous states such as Oyo and Ogun, both of which responded with their own version of Operation Sweep. Oyo has launched Operation Gbale and Ogun State initiated Operation Wedge. If the project has imitators it seems obvious that it has valuable components.
116Nonetheless, the most valuable approach is a ‘carrot and stick’ model that combines an element of deterrence with incentives. Operation Sweep should be streamlined along this line. The emphasis must be on incentives. Incentives must address the conditions that produce deviant behaviour. There should also be a layered response that involves community initiatives, NGOs and governments at both Federal and state levels. Close consultation and coordination is required between the different layers. So far, Operation Sweep is largely a government initiative. Besides, the approach should be sophisticated enough to embrace different treatments for the diverse categories of persons on the street. It is not appropriate to prescribe the same mode of treatment for robbers and street children or beggars as Operation Sweep currently does. Again, there should be a strong emphasis on funding for social rehabilitation and reintegration of misfits to make those on the streets useful to themselves and the larger society. Otherwise, they will eventually return to the street like the plague. The most appropriate panacea for vice on the street is for the society to invest in its own people.
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Appendix 1. The world is becoming urbanized (percentage of world population in urban areas)
Appendix 2. World urban populations; Past current and future projections
Note: The growth of the world’s cities has been astounding. In twenty years more than half the world’s population will live in the cities. This is due to natural growth and the increasingly rapid migration from rural agricultural areas, whose economies are failing.
Source: ILO Report, The Future of Employment, May 1996 and Challenge Jan/Feb.1997.
Appendix 3. Urbanization in the developing world (% of population living in cities)
Note: The proportion of urban populations in developing countries is often more than twice what it was forty-five years ago.
1 This is the subject of very recent controversy, see P. Teedon, Events and Debates – Tenth Urban Change and Conflict Conference, Holloway and Bedford College, UK September 1995. In: International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 1996.
2 Guest editorial, Imaging the city. Environment and Planning 28: 381, 1996. See also N. Fyfe, Images of the street: Historical and contemporary perspectives of urban life. Areal 28(4): 279.
3 See various articles in Environment and Urbanisation 8 (20), October 1996.
4 Guest editorial, Imaging the City, op. cit.
6 Nigerian Tribune (Ibadan), 4 July 1996.
7 Major-General Adisa declared ‘Any structure within 30 metres (of the highway) is illegal. It violates the right of way. All the structures must be removed within seven days. Hell will be let loose on any person that fails to comply with the order… Move away from our right of way because you are blocking our drainage. A word is enough for the wise’. National Concord (Ibadan), 4 June 1996.
8 Newswatch (Lagos), 10 June 1996.
9 Newswatch, 23 May 1994.
10 Wuyi Omitoogun, Organised street violence: The area boys of Lagos. In: Urban Violence in South, West and Central Africa. Antoinette Louw and Simon Bekker, eds. Indicator Press, Durban, South Africa, 1996.
11 The first set of interviews were held as part of my earlier research on urban violence. Omitoogun’s paper is also a fallout of this process. A follow-up was carried out in late 1996 using the previous method.
12 Daily Times (Lagos), May 8 1995.
13 Interview, 2 December 1996.
14 See Sunday Champion, 7 March 1993.
15 Interview, London, 10 February 1997.
16 TELL (Lagos), May 27 1996.
17 See Royal Beggars! Destitutes Lagos Government dare not touch, National Concord, 2 February 1996.
18 Dr. Femi Olugbile, This Day (Lagos), 30 November 1996.
19 The News (Lagos), 11 December 1995.
20 Newswatch, 29 July 1996.
21 ibid., 3 March 1997.
23 Interviews, Lagos, 10 January 1997.
26 Newswatch, 3 March 1997.
28 The indication is strong. In March 1997, the traditional ruler of Okeoko and Oketapa in Ikorodu Local Government Area of Lagos State, Chief Muse Ibrahim and a businessman, Mr. Willy Sohwo appealed to the State Military Administrator, Colonel Mohammed Marwa, to save them from the activities of some of the men of ‘Operation Sweep’, attached to the Odogunyan Military Barrack, Ikorodu. Chief Ibrahim ‘condemned a situation where the squad is being abused by a few selfish people’. The petition was also copied to the Chief of General Staff, Inspector General of Police, State Police Commissioner and The Director of State Security Services (SSS). The Guardian (Lagos), 17 March 1997.
Table des illustrations
|Légende||Map of Metropolitan Lagos|
|Titre||Table 1. Statistics of data collected on street children|
|Titre||Table 2. Ages of children interviewed|
|Titre||Table 3. Number of years spent on the street by children|
|Titre||Table 4. Principal states from which street children come|
|Légende||Note: Total from the Yoruba-speaking states was 459 or 75.5%|
|Titre||Table 5. Local government areas where children were interviewed|
|Titre||Table 6. Main ambitions of the street children – by sex|
|Titre||Table 7. Principal reasons why children left home|
|Légende||Note 0 : Fractured families 24%Note 1 : Inadequate 18.8%Note 2 : Child misbehaviour 9.5%Note 3 : Economic/Independence 44.4%|
|Titre||Table 8. Occupations by age-groups|
|Titre||Table 9. Sleeping places of street children|
|Titre||Table 10. Personal hygiene assessment|
|Titre||Table 11. Medical complaints of children|
|Titre||Table 12. Children’s view of their present way of life|
|Légende||Note: Total number of children expressing negative feeling -4 above): 545 or 89%|
|Titre||Appendix 1. The world is becoming urbanized (percentage of world population in urban areas)|
|Titre||Appendix 2. World urban populations; Past current and future projections|
|Légende||Note: The growth of the world’s cities has been astounding. In twenty years more than half the world’s population will live in the cities. This is due to natural growth and the increasingly rapid migration from rural agricultural areas, whose economies are failing.|
|Titre||Appendix 3. Urbanization in the developing world (% of population living in cities)|
|Légende||Note: The proportion of urban populations in developing countries is often more than twice what it was forty-five years ago.|
|Titre||Appendix 4. Poverty in the Growing Cities (% of urban population below the poverty line)|
|Légende||Note: Cities, once engines of growth, can no longer provide enough jobs to contain poverty. The rate of poverty is rising in the developing world.|
© Institut français de recherche en Afrique, 1997
Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540