Insight

‘Foreign’ cyclists: Ticking security time bomb in Lagos (1)

The Lagos metropolis is now full of northern and foreign motorcyclists. Many of them are believed to be fleeing members of Boko Haram, herdsmen and foreigners. In this report, JULIANA FRANCIS looks at the menace of these ‘strangers,’ highlighting lurking dangers

 

Mr. Timothy Oluwafemi works with a media outfit in Lagos State. Part of his duties is to go out every night to a printing press to ensure his company’s materials are printed. It was a routine duty, with the greatest challenge ever encountered being traffic snarls along routes to the printing press.

 

But on February 6, 2019, everything changed for Oluwafemi, as he received his baptism of fire in the hands of commercial cyclists, otherwise known as Okada riders.

 

He was beaten within an inch of his life; a plank was used repeatedly to slam his face. No matter the number of times he tells the story, Oluwafemi always ends it with, “if not for God, I wouldn’t be alive today.

 

Till date, I can’t hear with my left ear. Those Hausa cyclists wanted to kill me.” On that day, Oluwafemi and his colleague, Oriade, left their office at Ikeja, headed for Kirikiri area of the metropolis. It was supposed to be a straight forward journey, but before the night was over, they were fighting to escape from some cyclists with their lives.

 

Oluwafemi said: “On that day, I was driving to the Kirikiri area, where we do our printing when we encountered the cyclists. My colleague, Mr. Oriade, was in the vehicle with me.

 

When we got to Apple Junction, a cyclist in front of us suddenly fell down. Nobody or vehicle touched him; he fell because of his rough-riding. He hit a vehicle ahead of me. I stopped to avoid hitting him and his passenger. The car, which he hit, sped off.

 

“The guy got up and accused me of hitting him. I told him I had nothing to do with his falling. As we were arguing, his colleagues started coming one after  the other.

 

Before we knew it, they had surrounded us. I drove off. I thought I had escaped them. We had not driven more than five minutes when we suddenly heard a sound at the back of our vehicle. I looked at the side mirror and saw many cyclists, chasing us, and hitting the body of our van. “Mr. Oriade asked me to stop; immediately I did, they rushed at our van and tried to forcibly open the doors. They were screaming that they would kill us.

 

The time was about 8.45p.m. Mr. Oriade said I should drive off to the nearest police check point. I continued to drive until we got to Maza-Maza, Festac area. I saw two policemen and started shouting for help.

 

I stopped the van. But the cyclists pursued, got close and forced us to stop by blocking us. They started vandalising our van right in the presence of the policemen. “It was a frightful sight. The policemen ran away.

 

The cyclists attacked us, Mr. Oriade and I. They carried a plank and slammed on my face through the open window. I had already locked the doors, so they couldn’t open them. In fact, in the process of trying to force the door open, they broke the handles.

 

They shattered the front windscreen and side mirrors. It was at that point that Mr. Oriade opened his side of the door and fled. They used the stick to hit my ear, while  I was still in the van. Just as they had appeared, they left. One of them said I should thank my God; that they were supposed to kill me.”

 

Oluwafemi said that a few minutes after the cyclists left, the fleeing policemen returned to the scene, screaming at him to quickly leave, fearful that the cyclists had gone to re-enforce.

 

He added: “The policemen said that was how the cyclists operated. They advised that I drive to the nearest police station, which was Festac Police Station. “Everyone passing bye told me that I was lucky to be alive, that those cyclists used to kill people.

 

At a point, I no longer knew what was happening because I was too scared and was in shock. I thought I would be killed. The policemen told me that the cyclists were wicked and whenever there was crisis, they used to kill policemen.” Oluwafemi’s encounter with the cyclists is what most residents of Lagos go through. Lagos State has become flooded by foreign cyclists and those from northern part of the country.

 

They are hostile, belligerent and confrontational. They often carry out mob attacks. According to investigations, a good number of people have been killed, maimed or injured by these violent cyclists. A security source disclosed that many of these cyclists are armed with  guns, daggers and machetes. It is also believed that many of them are militia group fleeing North- East.

 

Security agents see them as contributing to the growing insecurity in Lagos. “Some are from northern part of Nigeria, but the majority are foreigners. Many of them are from Mali, Chad, Benin Republic, Niger Republic, Ghana, Sudan, among others.

 

 

 

But you wouldn’t know by looking at them. People just assumed they are all Nigerians from the North. You will need to get close to them to know,” the security source added.

 

It’s not a crime for other nationals to come into Lagos to seek greener pastures, but it becomes a problem when many are believed to be militia groups, posing security concerns.

 

The number of cyclists coming into Lagos and those coming from other countries continue to swell, with nobody checking the influx or taking note of the security implication. Lagos, being a cosmopolitan state, had never witnessed such influx of northerners and foreigners like it has today.

 

The fact that it is a cosmopolitan state also means there are usually breakouts of ethnic violence. Ethnic violence, breaking out in today’s Lagos, is better imagined than seen. Cyclists, since former Gover nor Babatunde Fashola left the throne of Lagos State, have taken over the state transportation system. They are now prevalent in every nook and cranny of the mega city.

 

In fact, the question should be which part of Lagos are they not prevalent? Commercial cycling is a ready market in Lagos, no thanks to the bad roads and constant traffic jams. There are no checks on the influx of foreigners into state. A new arrival in Lagos, who didn’t have motorcycle, is taken to Seriki (leader) of the community he finds himself.

 

A motorcycle is given to him on hire purchase and commercial cycling starts the following day. Many do not even know how to ride motorcycle, leading to accidents and deaths on roads. Many of them do not have accommodation so they sleep inside uncompleted buildings.

 

Lagos State has become a safe haven for every fleeing criminal, either from the North or other African countries. In the next five years, Lagos State may have to pay bitterly for harbouring these cyclists.

 

Security experts alleged that these cyclists are also into armed robbery and kidnapping. Aside from cycling, there is an increase in the number of northerners and foreigners working as guards in Lagos communities and erecting street kiosks.

 

Security experts on different platforms have openly asked what would happen today or in the next five years, if these cyclists decide to take up arm. Do the police in Lagos have enough manpower to counter such security eventualities? Chief Ukadike Uzoma (60), who has been living in FESTAC for over 30 years, lamented the influx of the cyclists.

 

He said: “We were used to taxi and Lagos State Transport Corporation (LSTC) buses, but today, cyclists have taken over everywhere. In fact, 90 per cent of security guards in Festac today are from the Nnorth.

 

They live in makeshift houses, sell suya (barbeque), and are truck pushers. One of them is very close to me. I asked him why this sudden influx of cyclists into Lagos, he replied that they make more money here than any other state.

 

“However, many of these cyclists are reckless and if there are 10 accidents on the road, eight would be motorcycle accidents. In cases of stealing, robbery and snatching, cyclists are behind these crimes.”

 

Uzoma noted that many of these cyclists do not have number plates and because of that, they are difficult to track after commission of crimes. He said: “If you have problem with one, more than 20 will surround you. They beat and attack as a mob. At least 80 per cent of these cyclists are from the North. They carry weapons like it’s natural to them. Many of them boast that they are in charge in Nigeria and that whatever they do, nothing will happen.

 

Among the cyclists are people from Niger, Chad, Mali and other African countries. “I was shocked to discover that most of these cyclists have their complete immigration’s documents. One of them told me that they got their papers from Immigration officials and it’s usually  within a week. A syndicate must be involved. Many of them from foreign countries get their papers within a week and start bearing Nigerian names.

 

“Many of them are displaced terrorists. If not checked, terrorism will soon take over Lagos. The ferociousness with which many of them challenge people, tells you that they had received some sort of paramilitary training.”

 

Another FESTAC resident, Mr. Odafe Bossa, explained that he discovered that most of the violent cyclists, strangely believe they have the constitutional rights to behave violently. “They move in groups and people now avoid them. If you hit them or they hit you, you’re in trouble. If you argue with them over money, they will stab you. They act with impunity. “If they take one-way and run into you, and you caution them, they call you stupid.

 

One of them killed a young man in my community. The young man was his passenger. He and the cyclist were arguing over money. The cyclist brought out a dagger and stabbed the passenger in the chest. He died on the spot. They have a lot of venom in them, and are seeking to let it out.

 

They intimidate people everywhere and when you go to the police to lodge complaint against them, police are reluctant to act. Policemen are also afraid of them.”

 

Although the Lagos State government appears not to be too keen in taking a decisive step in checking the influx of cyclists, policemen at FESTAC have started building profiles on the activities of these violence-exhibiting cyclists. A police officer said: “The influx of the foreign motorcycle operators is a very big challenge, which if not checked, could cause harm.

 

This year alone, we have recorded several issues with these cyclists. They are always ready to maim and kill. They operate as a pack. If you hit them, trouble, if they hit you, trouble. In fact, they would scream at you, shouting that if they kill you, nothing would happen. They will tell you that their brother is in charge of Nigeria.” “One day, a naval officer made a distress call that he was in danger. If not that we got there on time, the motorcycle operators would have killed him.

 

We asked him what happened; he said that he was driving, when one of the motorcycle riders fell. He said that his car didn’t even touch the rider. And before he knew what was happening, many cyclists descended on him like bees; they destroyed his car. He barely managed to make the distress call.

 

“The naval officer’s experience was nothing compared to what they did to a transport company’s bus. They destroyed a brand new bus and nearly killed the driver, who managed to escape from them. When some of them were arrested, they didn’t waste time in detention. They were released. They behave like animals in human skin. Some of those guys are from countries like Chad, Mail, Niger,” the officer added.

The violence in these cyclists was witnessed early this year at Ejigbo area of the Lagos metropo-lis, where they attempted to burn down a police station. They damaged seven cars parked in front of the station.

 

The cyclists attacked Ejigbo Police Station and would have burnt it, but for the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Mrs. Olabisi Okuwobi, and her vigilant policemen.

 

The vehicles destroyed by the suspects included a police operational van and Response Rapid Squad (RRS) pick up van. Trouble started after some cyclists plying Ikotun-Egbe, Isolo and Cele Express, chased RRS operatives, attempting to attack the policemen.

 

The cyclists claimed that the RRS operatives knocked down one of their colleagues. The time was about 11p.m. A police officer, working at Ejigbo station, said: “We were handing over reports to the next shift, when three operatives of RRS ran into the station, screaming for help.

 

They didn’t have enough time to warn or tell us who was chasing them. We started hearing sounds of vehicles being smashed. The vehicles were parked outside the police station.

 

We were able to mobilise policemen, who prevented the suspects from further attacks and gaining entry into the station. They destroyed many vehicles, including police vans. “The DPO mobilised officers and went after the suspects. We were able to contact the Ejigbo Seriki, who assisted the police to make some arrests.

 

The cyclist, who was alleged to have been hit by RRS van, was arrested too. Earlier, the cyclists had claimed that their colleague, who was knocked down by RRS operatives was in the hospital. When the cyclist was finally located and arrested, he was in a mechanical workshop in Ejigbo.”

 

The RRS operatives denied getting close to the cyclist. The operatives explained that the cyclist, who was riding one-way, tried to reverse and bolt when he sighted the police van, but fell in the process of trying to make a fast reverse.

 

Another police officer said: “The RRS operatives were still driving, heading to their destination, when they noticed that many cyclists were chasing them. Knowing the attitude of the Hausa cyclists, the RRS operatives decided to drive into the nearest police station, which was Ejigbo Police Station.

 

Although the cyclists saw that the RRS men drove into the station, they still pursued them. They tried to force their way into the station, but the policemen on duty repelled them. Angry, they started attacking vehicles parked in front of the station. They repeatedly hurled stones into the station.”

 

The Seriki of Hausa community in Ejigbo, Alhaji Mohammed Ibrahim, promised that such a situation would not happen again. He disclosed that he and other leaders had warned the cyclists from taking laws into their hands. Ibrahim threatened that any of their members who takes the law into his hands, would be sent home.

 

 

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