Despite the many advantages of the Agege Flyover, hoodlums are making the area a haven of criminals, writes ADEYINKA ADENIJI
Like most other parts of Lagos, residents and passersby around the recently commissioned flyover bridge in Agege, Lagos, usually start the early hours of their days with great hopes and expectations. Some probably have quiet time to seek the face of God, but whatever the people do must go side-by-side with the pandemonium and noise that emanates from the motor park operators through their various sized public address systems.
It is hustle and bustle from morning till night. This sound system is usually powered by vehicle batteries, which recklessly rent the air with accompanying noise or sometimes some individual melodious songs played in a disharmonious combination from every corner of the market and the motor parks where passengers board vehicles to different destinations, setting off the day and laying the foundation for what is to be expected each day. Just as the people set out for their legitimate businesses, hoodlums in their numbers in and around the community also prepare to make a kill of the commotion generated by the system. It is commonplace for them to go on a rampage and sometimes openly dispossess people of their belongings.
This same scenario played out on Monday, February 28, 2022, at about 6 am, when hoodlums in their numbers entered through the railway corridor into Omitola Street, destroying everything on sight in the street as they swarmed and stung like bees towards the Iju Road.
They were so ruthless in their destructiveness, they did not spare automobiles parked along the street, and windows, especially those made of glass were destroyed. Vehicle side mirrors and other accessories were looted, and houses frontal lighting bulbs were broken and destroyed. Residents were in palpable fear for about an hour before they could move out when they were sure that it was safe to do so. This is how residents presently live around the Pen cinema bridge and other adjoining communities.
The sad story of a young man, in his 30s, who lost his life when pushed down the rail line and died instantly as he hit his head against the track gauge is told by most residents of the area. His offence was his refusal to surrender his belongings to the criminals.
At vehicular and pedestrian movement peak periods, 7 pm or very early in the morning, urchins popularly called “area boys” in their multitudes harass commuters with impunity, robbing them of their belongings and other valuables including phones, laptops, jewelry and cash.
The traditional ruler of Egbatedo Panada, under Ojokoro LCDA, Chief Jacob Omitola Ademosu (Baale Omitola), under whose domain the bridge is domiciled and his household is not insulated from the harassment of rampaging hoodlums who had turned Agege and environs into their newfound abode after being rooted from other parts of the state and some who migrated from neighboring villages in Ogun State to take advantage of the civilization brought about by the bridge. According to the royal father, who spoke exclusively with New Telegraph, he and his team of elders are overwhelmed and are in a dire state of helplessness by the nefarious activities of the hoodlums. The scenario painted appears to have become a daily experience for dwellers of Pen Cinema and environs for no other reason than playing host to a lofty government project. “Our problems started since the construction of the Pen Cinema flyover, especially concerning some boys who perpetrate robbery and wield dangerous weapons,” Baale Omitola narrated.
Recalling the Monday incident, the traditional ruler said his wife and children had slam the door as they scampered for safety, saying “they had an option to run for their lives or lose it” because it was a mob of street urchins, about 50 of them, moving like a swarm of bees in their direction. It could have been for any reason, considering their location in the community, this family is situated by location and tradition to be vulnerable to all forms of visitors, but one would expect such exposure to hazards would come with some level of security provision. But the reverse is the case.
The traditional ruler, who oversees the community along the rump leading to Old Abeokuta Road on the 1.4-kilometre flyover, clarified that the construction of the bridge truly has had some huge positive impacts on the lives of his people, but with negative effects on the security situation in his domain. That the entire Agege community is under the siege of displaced street urchins from Oshodi and some upscale hitherto criminals’ dens, parks and other market and recreation centers across Lagos State.
The septuagenarian had lived a better part of his life on a street less than 300 meters away from one of the most notorious spots in Lagos, and so, he must have been used to occasional uproars and skirmishes, motor park fracas, extortion at gun points, activities of pickpockets and all sorts of petty vices. Nevertheless, the dangerous dimension of degeneration of the security of lives and property in his reckoning, has gone out of hand, particularly as witnessed on this very faithful first workday of the week. His frustration was written all over him as he attempted to paint a picture of an ugly incident that took place early that day, which appears to have become a regular experience simply because of the proximity of Panada to the new Pen Cinema bridge. Arguably, the newly commissioned Agege Pen Cinema flyover bridge has come with a lot of positive impacts on the lives of residents and commuters, who frequent the area as they go about their daily businesses.
The bridge has brought about tremendous improvements in the lives of the people; the value of properties and return on investments in terms of rents have significantly improved to the delight of homeowners and traders in the locality. More significantly, it has also brought succor to motorists, as the perennial traffic lock jams that had bedeviled road users and commuters alike and had sometimes turned a journey of fewer than 20 minutes to hours have become a thing of the past. And for this, the people are appreciative of the relief brought about by the Lagos State Government initiative to construct the bridge.
The positive impacts of the Agege Bridge notwithstanding, the project seems to have come with its disadvantages. The rate of crime in Agege and environs especially around the vicinity of the bridge has escalated above anything seen in the past. This has also extended to some adjourning streets since the delivery of the 1.4 kilometre bridge. Going by the stories narrated to our correspondent by a victim and residents and passersby, it will not be out of place to conclude that the people of Agege have come under the unprecedented siege of crimes posing threat to their lives and property. This is due to the activities of street urchins, most of whom are strangers to the area, with no fixed address and without any affinity to the area. They have only found the ‘underbridge’ as it is often known as a conducive hangout and an environment to perpetrate their heinous crimes before fading into thin air.
Both commercial and residential occupants now live in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear because no one can predict exactly when the next commotion is likely to erupt. The peoples’ woe is further compounded by the fact that these hoodlums easily evade law enforcement officers because they are faceless. Either listening to eyewitness accounts or victims narrating their ordeals, a clear takeaway is that the people of Agege Panada, are presently helpless under the siege of roughnecks who many believe were attracted to Pen Cinema and had spread into adjourning streets like Odejobi, Somefun, Sumonu, Omitola and Anipupo to mention a few following the demolition of their hideouts in Oshodi as a result of the development in the area.
Just as the hoodlums shifted base to Agege, a lot of displaced roadside traders from Oshodi have equally found a new abode in Agege, hence commercial activities have grown northward as the area is now more populated as a result of human migration, brought about by the newly found free flow of traffic in and around the area. A victim, who lived around Agunbiade, who pleaded anonymity for fear of being hunted by hoodlums, narrated how he was robbed of his laptop, phone and some cash.
“I was going home along the railway lines when four boys surrounded me and asked me to give them money, after I have given them what I have I was told it was not enough, I then told them to search me, but one of them said if I should move I would blame myself, they searched me and found nothing left except my phone and my backpack containing my mini laptop all of which they took, and after satisfying themselves, they left me and went toward the street leading to Iju Ishaga road. Also, a resident of adjourning Sunmonu street, Pen Cinema, Agege, who gave his name as Raheem Tijani, was full of praises for the Baale and his team of community leaders, but also agrees that they are overwhelmed by the activities of the hoodlums who according to him are more emboldened by the inadequate provision for security for lives and properties. “Our leaders in this community are trying their best, but there are too many boys. And they are emboldened by their ability to evade arrest.
They come with dangerous weapons and cannot be checked by our little efforts.” He also told of a hoodlum who harassed and attacked residents including a Baale’s house on his return from detention, because, to him, (the roughian) his arrest, arraignment in court, and conviction was instigated by the royal father.
Mr Fatola Babatunde Anipupo, another community leader and the Babaloja of Egbatedo Agege, Pen Cinema, also corroborated Baale’s position that the major and biggest headache of Agege people is that of criminal elements who attack, rob, rape and sometimes kill their victims. “On several occasions we see them wielding machetes and other dangerous weapons. Sometimes in the dead of the night by 1 or 2 am, sometimes early in the morning, they destroy cars and other properties belonging to residents. “We can no longer sleep most of the nights, we have resorted to community efforts; keeping vigilance with men of the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), who we always engage with our resources.
“We don’t have security, the government should come to our aid, ‘’ said the seventy something-year-old Anipupo. Another resident on one of the adjourning streets identified himself as a civil servant, but chose to speak anonymously however is of a different opinion. He alleged that some youths in the locality were conspiring with other touts from outside the community to terrorise the people. He queried a candlelight procession organised at the death of one of the known most notorious criminals in the locality. According to him, the death of a recognised hooligan, who was credited for a viral video wearing a police uniform during the #End- SARS protests was said to have been celebrated with a candlelight procession early this year on the streets of Panada, Agege Who is the father of that boy? Where is his father’s house in this locality? What were his antecedents before his death? Who organised the procession? Who and who took part? These are some of the questions raised by this responder.
He however declined further questions about the said procession. Efforts to get the residents’ reaction over the procession proved abortive as no one seems to be bold enough to discuss the issue, apparently for fear of reprisal from the criminals. Nonetheless, another community leader popularly known as ‘Okadigbo’, believes that the menace has abated owing to the combined efforts of Agege residents, the state government – through the Ministry of Environment – and men of the Police Force from Elere and Pen Cinema stations. Comrade Okadigbo, who hinted at the origin of the menace that has now become hydra-headed, in a chat with our correspondent, praised the efforts of the Lagos State Ministry of Environment (MOE), and men of the Nigerian police in combating the menace of street urchins who had turned Agege underbridge into a theater.
“During the #EndSARS protest, the boys came under the bridge, we began to hear of various atrocities like bag snatching, rapes and robbery, we quickly mobilised our youths against them, and with the support of the Lagos State Government under Governor Babajide Sanwoolu, cooperation of the Commissioner for Environment, Dr Tunji Bello and honourable Mudashiru Obasa, Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, who provided us with security personnel with which we prosecuted the fight against the bad boys, the underbridge is now safer unlike 3 or 4 months ago,” explained Okadigbo. A senior police officer in the area, when contacted over the matter, denied knowledge of any incident under the Pen Cinema Bridge. He, however, explained that there had been instances of criminal activities by destitute under the bridge in the past, but added it was not as being projected.
“Am not aware, am not aware of that, if you want to get more information you can contact the PPRO. But left to me, it is far from the truth…of course, there could be one or two issues, but not as they are saying it…” He, therefore, advised New Telegraph to contact the DPO Pen Cinema Police Station under whose jurisdiction he says the Egbatedo community falls.
“You can get in touch with DPO Pen Cinema, the place is more of her place than mine,” he advised, adding that his station did not have any new report of crime under the said bridge for a few weeks, he concluded with an invitation to the New Telegraph to visit his station for a view of his crime diary. The DPO Pen Cinema Police Station was unreachable for reactions at the time of filing this report. When contacted, about cases of crime around Agege and environs, the Lagos State Public Relations Officer, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, said: “You are aware that we are doing a lot to curtail the activities of hoodlums, them to go because that is the position of the law. “We are law enforcers.
We are not justice. We strictly follow the position of the law. When a suspect is arrested for bailable offenses, of course, they are expected to be granted bail.” Not only in Agege, but also in other parts of the state. “A reasonable number of them were arrested recently, and arranged in court. The Commissioner of Police has directed all the Area Commanders to ensure a 24 hours surveillance and patrol of Agege, in particular and other flashpoints in the state. And this is yielding tremendous results. As I speak with you we have policemen stationed in Agege and its environs.
On the supposition that the hoodlums usually resurface in the area shortly after their arrests, Ajisebutu said, “well… you know, ours is to arrest and charge cases to court. If suspects are arrested and arraigned for bailable offenses, of course, they will be granted court bail and those convicted will of course serve their jail term and come back to the society.” He absolved the Police of any responsibility from insinuating that the Police are unduly quick in releasing the criminals after arrest, stressing that it is in the capacity of the Courts to determine jail terms for criminals. “It is not our fault. And you know when some of them are arrested and nothing incriminating is found on them, we release.