CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK
Rugged, fearless, armed riders on the prowl
In this concluding part of the report, JULIANA FRANCIS further examines the dangers in the menace of all manner of cyclists across Lagos metropolis and neighbouring Ogun State
Some of the cyclists in Lagos sometimes come from Mowe area of Ogun State. Mowe is closer to the state. Most of the cyclists also operate in Ogun State; their behaviour and actions are not too different. Our correspondent went to Ogun State to speak with some of them.
One of the riders, Abubakar Halidu (26), admitted that some of them were often armed with machetes and knives. He explained that the weapons were for their protection against thieves who might want to snatch their motorcycles.
“We are not violent as people think. We only use the machetes and knives for protection,” Halidu said. When asked why many northerners are coming into Lagos and Ogun states, he said: “We only have population in the North, but no money. We come to South- West to work.
The majority of us don’t stay long in the South; that was why we don’t come with our family members. We only come to work and invest our proceeds in farming. When it starts raining, we are all likely going to be in our villages. It’s also true that there are criminals among us, you can’t rule that out.
“There is something people don’t know about those of us from the northern part of the country. We have people from Mali, Niger, Chad and Cameroon in Nigeria and they are mostly cyclists. Some of these foreigners can speak Hausa language, but that doesn’t mean they are from Kano or Jigawa.
Take me for instance, I’m from Gaya Local Government Area of Kano State and I have been in Mowe for five years. When I got to Mowe, stealing of motorcycle was rampant. In fact, that was one of the reasons I started using machete for protection. When I was coming to South-West, my father warned me to be of good conduct. The words of my father have been guiding me against crime.”
Another cyclist, Seidu Muhammadu, from Kebbi State, said it was not easy working in South- West. He disclosed that the first motorcycle given to him on hire purchase was stolen. He added that after the incident, the owner of the motorcycle got police to arrest and to detain him for days.
It took the intervention of the Seriki of Hausa community in Mowe to facilitate his bail. The owner of the motorcycle was asked to exercise patience and to give Muhammadu a year to refund the money for the stolen motorbike. He said: “I worked for a year before I could travel home. When I came back, I was advised to start using machete for protection.
Since then, I have deliberately limited the routes I plied at night just to avoid my motorcycle being stolen again. We are law-abiding citizens and anyone among us who is violent or behaves violently is always punished by the Seriki. But sometimes, some of our colleagues go beyond their boundaries.”
Mr. Adeniyi Bayo, also a cyclist, said that five years ago, cyclists from North were not many. He added that currently, they were now more in number than the Yoruba and other tribes put together. He added: “Some of these northern cyclists are aggressive. Language is a major barrier between them and their passengers. When you don’t understand them and they don’t understand you, they get angry.
Whenever they have issues with their passengers, their colleagues would park to support them. We the Yoruba cyclists, avoid them whenever it come to argument, because they claimed they have police, Navy, Air Force, Army and other security agencies who are northern extraction in their clique.
“It is because of our closeness to expressway that we see many Hausa people coming from the North in trucks. They bring cows and their motorcycles are tied to these trucks. Personally, I see the influx of the northerners into South-West as a dangerous. I want to urge traditional rulers in South-West and other social groups to wake up from their slumber and begin to see the dangers some of us are seeing.”
Another cyclist, Mr. Yusuf Alabi, didn’t see any danger in northern cyclists coming into South-West in large numbers. He said: “Some of the northern motorcycle riders are also used as security guards. After working in the day as cyclists, they become guards at night. If they are a security threat as most people fear, landlords wouldn’t be hiring them as guards.”
A man, who works closely with the leadership of commercial motorcyclists and tricycle riders in Lagos and Ogun States, said: “The northern cyclists, plying Lagos-Ibadan Expressway are feared by all, including policemen. Once any member is arrested, they will block the highway, and caused traffic jam.
And no matter how many times policemen shoot into the air to scare them, they stay put on the highway. They stay there until their colleague is released. They operate with impunity and act like they are ready to die. I sense danger in the next coming years. Security agents should start checking under the seats of most of these cyclists.
That is where most of them hide their arms and ammunition. I also know that almost every one of them is on drug.” A senior policeman, who once works at FESTAC Police Station, recalled in detail, his encounter with the northern cyclists. He said: “It was a real challenge; unfortunately for me, they were so many and had a place like a camp where they sleep.
If you go there to arrest them, it becomes a problem. We discovered that one of their major problems, which was also problem for the police, was that they were always on tramadol. Another problem is that they don’t have houses. They sleep wherever they park their motorcycles. If they commit crime and run, you can’t trace them to their houses to arrest them.
“Even when you come for an arrest, they gather together to attack. You can’t rule out the fact that they were armed. I didn’t see guns, but they had daggers beneath the seats of their motorcycles. We also discovered that a lot of them were former Boko Haram members. When people don’t have homes, the temptation to commit crime is high.”
Another police officer said: “While working at FESTAC, I had encounter with them. I suspected that many of them were members of militia groups. I, however, didn’t find Boko Haram members among them. Many of them were running away from the Boko Haram problem in the North-East. They are members of volunteer task force. They had a lot of bad experiences.
They had encounters with Boko Haram members. Members of their families were attacked and their homes lost. Many of them became destitute. They came to Lagos to make money to support their families back home. “They have seen more actions and are more rugged. They are not the average cyclists and they fear nobody. A policeman armed with AK47 rifle doesn’t bother them. These are men that had seen bombs.”
The officer recalled that when he first got to FESTAC division, he heard that four policemen were killed by cyclists. When policemen tried to make arrest, they were attacked, injured and their rifles taken. He said: “Although I didn’t see weapons with them, I know they are armed. These weapons are creatively concealed and could be used to stab.
They attack bank customers; it was common then to hear that someone coming out of a bank was attacked by a cyclist and money taken. We started raiding them. There was a day we raided up to 100 motorcycles. They sent emissaries to negotiate with us. While this was going on, we prayed that there wouldn’t be casualty from their side or ours. I knew if one of them was killed in the process, they would attack the station.
“When the emissaries came, I asked them to sit down, so that we could talk. I told them that cyclists were robbing bank customers. I asked them that we should agree on a truce. We agreed that if any strange cyclist enters the community or a cyclist robs someone coming out from the bank, we would commence raiding again. They accepted. Since that truce, whenever someone robs, they would bring the cyclist to our station themselves.”
A senior officer with the Department of State Services (DSS) disclosed that the department once raided cyclists based on intelligence gathering. He said that they were shocked at the number of Boko Haram members they arrested.
Our reporter called the Comptroller General, Nigeria Immigration Service, Mohammed Babadede, to find out the number of people from other African countries, who have entered Nigeria since January 2018 till date, he insisted that the information was on their website.
Our reporter checked the website but nothing of such was there. Mr. Frank Oshanugur, member of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operator of Nigeria (AISSON), said the cyclists posed a threat to Lagos State. He said: “The threat might not be immediate, but they are a threat. Lagos is becoming overpopulated by large number of foreigners from Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Ghana and Chad.
They are mostly unemployed youths from these countries. When the majority of them get to Nigeria, they engage in different things to make a living that is aside from motorcycle riding. Many of these people have no reason to be in Lagos or Nigeria, if not because of our porous borders. “There is so much fear in the land and among those coming into Lagos are mostly men of Fulani extraction.
They come from other African countries. If any of their members is attack, they gang up against the attacker. They are aggressive. The people of Anioma in Aniocha Local Government Area of Delta State have given the herdsmen seven-day ultimatum to leave their community.
This is part of the threat we are talking about. As you can see, it is not peculiar to Lagos alone. Everyone is afraid.” Oshanugur said that a lasting solution to the issue of the invasion of cyclists into Nigeria was for the government to have stiff penalty for foreigners who come into the country illegally.
According to him, the borders should also be better secured. He said: “The Federal Government should provide job opportunity and other African countries too should provide for their teeming youths, who are coming into Nigeria for survival. Security agency saddled with the responsibility of manning our borders should be vigilant and properly vet those migrating into the country.”
A veteran crime editor, Mr. Christopher Oji, said that the influx of northern and foreign cyclists in Nigeria, especially Lagos State, was worrisome. He said: “They are now everywhere!
The influx of foreign cyclists has a lot of security implications for Lagos. We are sitting on a keg of gunpowder. Government and security agencies should act fast, because the situation is ready to explode. The reason I said we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder was because these foreign cyclists, have taken laws into their hands.”
Oji argued that officials of Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Services, working at border routes, believed the foreigners entering Nigeria were northerners.
He said: “Our Customs and Immigration officers couldn’t stop them; they claimed to be northerners. What our Immigration and other security agencies do at the border is to collect money from whoever is coming into the country. They allow them to enter freely without properly checking them. I believe our security agencies are afraid to touch these cyclists because they are always violent.
“Recently, one of the foreigners stabbed someone dead at Mile 2 areas, and ran out of the country. He was nowhere to be found. You can imagine what will happen if the cyclists decide to overrun the country. That will be a disaster!”
Oji suggested that security agencies should be diligent in checking African foreigners migrating into Nigeria on a daily basis. He added: “I want to let the security agencies to know, that if they don’t know that those coming into the country are foreigners, they should know now that they are foreigners.
They should get their data in case if they commit crime, so that they could be traced and arrested for prosecution. Most of these people living in our midst know our weaknesses. Landlords and landladies, who let out houses to them, should take their details and report to the nearest police station in case of crisis. Landlords should also not give them houses anymore.
Landlords and communities, who employ them as guards, should be conscious. They should also know that they are at risk; government should take decisive action against the foreign cyclists.”