Lagos is Under Siege and We Aren’t Alarmed Enough
By Cletus Offor
Nigerian security forces were forced to react to last Tuesday’s brazen attack on communities in Igando, a suburb of Lagos. On Thursday, a combined team made up of the Nigerian Army, navy and the police bombarded creeks in Lagos and11 Ogun State in a bid to flush out suspected militants that were responsible for Tuesday’s attack. According to one report, over 100 militants were killed as bombs were dropped into the murky swamps.
While the action of the security forces is commendable, like they do for many things going wrong with the country, the Nigerian government reacted too late. Communities at the fringes of the country’s commercial capital have been under constant threat from criminal gangs for several months and the authorities had shown very little concern to cries for help.
Chased off by what is an admittedly effective policing in the city centre, criminal gangs in Lagos have mostly drifted to towns like Ikorodu, Mowe, Igando and other communities on the outskirt of the city where policing is either none existing or inadequate. Most of these outside towns also share something in common- they are surrounded by thick swamps and narrow tributaries that provide cover and easy escape.
Another reason these towns attract these gangs is the presence of poorly guarded pipelines that carry fuel meant for quenching the energy thirst of the city. Originally, these outlaws were happy vandalising the pipelines to get the fuel, which they mostly smuggled through the river to neighbouring Benin Republic or supply to dodgy oil marketers. Better scrutiny of the petrol supply chain and the increase in the pump price of the product is quickly making that line of business less attractive than it used to be.
Subsequently, devoid of their major means of livelihood these gangs have turned on the host communities. In Ikorodu, Mowe, and Ibafo for instance, the rate of kidnapping now rivals the rate in the South East between 2006 and 2010.
People, even minors, are snatched for ransom. Schools are invaded and pupils kidnapped. Those who live in these areas speak of going to bed and waking up to the sound of gunshots, a situation that makes them think they are in a war zone. I know families in Ibafo who have temporarily relocated their kids to other parts of the city so they can attend school without the fear of being snatched by kidnappers after school hours or hit by a stray bullet in the constant battle between criminal gangs and security agencies in the area.
Two weeks ago, the Oba of Iba was snatched from his house, commando style. Two people were reportedly killed and several others injured including his wife. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of N40 million for his freedom. The police is blowing hot air about plans to rescue him. We have heard this before. Eventually, a ransom would be paid.
The matter only received marginal attention even after the convoy of the Deputy Governor of Ogun State, Yetunde Onanuga was attacked by ‘militants’ when she went to pay a courtesy visit to a community which had been attacked in the Ibafo area.
It is also very worrying that these communities are mostly inhabited by working class Nigerians – people who have saved up pennies and dimes for several years to be able to buy land and build a roof under their head – many of them are even retirees who may have invested their pension so they can enjoy the twilight of their life away from the congested madness that city centre has become. If the government is incapable of protecting its most vulnerable, the people should begin to question its legitimacy.
But we would miss the deeper implication of these nascent threats to Lagos if we fail to locate it to the wider degeneration of security across the country. It is sad to hear supporters of this government shove the narrative of better security in the north east down one’s throat when one points out that the government has largely failed to provide security.
Yes, Boko Haram has been largely degraded. The north East is a lot saver than it was a year ago. However, security has drastically degenerated almost everywhere else. Kidnapping in the South East is gradually but surely returning to the days when people are called and told about plans to kidnap them and asked to pay ransom if they wished to not be abducted. The North Central is a bloody mess with mercenary herdsmen roaming free and leaving carnages on their trail. Kaduna is the new haven for kidnappers. Militants are back in control in the Niger Delta.
In the midst of these threats, it is taken for granted that Lagos is a fortress of some sort. But not anymore. The threat, it seems has caught up with Lagos. And if nothing is done immediately to nip it in the bud, the implication would be too dire for the country.
If they are not already working on a plan, the minister of Interior, the National Security Adviser, The Director General of the Department for Security Services, Military Chiefs and the Inspector General of the Police should come up with a one on how to face this problem head-on. One-off actions like the one in Igando on Thursday will not cut it. The Navy and the marine police should increase their monitoring of the waterways around the city.
While there should be increased military presence in the affected area, I know for a fact that some of the military men sent to guard the pipeline in Igando are also involved in the vandalisation of pipeline or stealing petrol from already breached pipelines.
Community leaders should also look inwards. Most of traditional rulers and youths of these communities under siege used to work hand in glove with the militants and corrupt soldiers. Those helping soldiers sell stolen petrol are from these communities.
The Lagos State government should do more in developing the facilities in these areas. More opportunities should be created for the teeming youth in these areas. Don’t just tell young people to eschew crimes, provide the alternative to crimes. In many of these fringe towns, alternatives do not exist.
Life in most states in the country is stunted. Lagos is one of the few places seeing any form of growth. It is the economic lifeblood of the country. We cannot afford to see it go to the dogs. The implication is too dire to imagine.