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Oshodi: The return of ‘the bad boys’

OLALEKAN OLABULO has a good grip on “Oshodi inside”. He writes on the return of a certain special species to their hitherto hunting ground.

The popular Oshodi in Lagos State means different things to different people. To some, it means the den of die-hard criminals, where it is very difficult to move late in the evening. To them, it is the headquarters of pickpockets and other petty thieves. Others see the place as one of the hotbeds of crimes in Lagos. But the Lagos community is always known for its hustle and bustle. Negative views about Oshodi unarguably changed considerably by the end of the Babatunde Fashola-led government in the state.

The former governor not only cleared Oshodi of traders and makeshift shops along the road but he also ensured that security presence was increased in the neighbourhood. Crime was reduced and traffic jams virtually stopped.

The current administration of Akinwunmi Ambode has, to a large extent, sustained the tempo of security management in Oshodi. It is, however, surprising that the hoodlums are finding their way back despite the constant raids and arrests by law enforcement officers.

No fewer than 70 hoodlums are said to have been arrested by security operatives in the last two months.

More worrying about the gradual return of crimes to Oshodi is the number of teenagers who have continued to constitute nuisance to commuters and passers-by. There has been an increase in phone and robbery attacks.

Olamilekan, a member of staff of one of the national dailies, will not forget in a hurry, a recent attack on him by a gang of robbers in the area. He had closed late from work, as usual, and was heading home when the hoodlums pounced on him.

He told Saturday Tribune that some of his colleagues had also fallen victim of the Oshodi gangsters who reportedly operate between Cappa and Railway Line.

“There are many of them. They now have a new mode of operation. They usually wait till when the place is partially deserted. Once they sight their target, they would shout ‘this is one of them’ and then pounce on you and rob you of your money and other valuables. I had closed from work on the day of the incident. It was very late in the day. There were still a few people at the bus stop waiting to board buses. As I tried to walk into the midst of the commuters, I suddenly heard ‘this is one of them’ and the next thing I knew, about six of them pounced on me and collected all the things on me. They operate between Cappa and Under Bridge. Just recently, they robbed one of our advert executives, too. They have a way of doing these things without arousing the attention of policemen”, Olamilekan said.

“Usually, when they finish their operation, they vanish into thin air. They also usually mix with people waiting to board buses”, he added.

Sarah, an undergraduate of the University of Lagos, was also a victim of the Oshodi returnees who snatched her phones while trying to board a bus. Three teenagers had clung to her and succeeded in picking the phones from her bag. A transport union member who pleaded for anonymity, in a chat with Saturday Tribune, blamed the return of the criminals on the destruction of most of the car parks in the area and the “over-decentralisation” of union activities.

“The boys have become hardened. Some of them have gone to prisons and remand homes on more than three occasions and they have always returned to this place. They have nowhere to go. Some of them used to be conductors and touts but things have changed. The parks have been turned to gardens. Some have been demolished for no just cause. The union’s work is not even as viable as it used to be. We have too many units and branches now and many people are not making money, not to talk of giving money to these boys.

“They have become very rude; they don’t respect anybody anymore. They would ask you if you are ready to feed them or you should leave them alone. There are too many of them now. They have a way of avoiding the police”, he said.

A teenage criminal who was recently arrested by the police, Ganiyu, confirmed that crimes are gradually returning to Oshodi and that teenagers are the worst culprits.

The 15-year-old suspect said: “We are over 50 boys. We are always in Oshodi Oke from morning till night. Some of us genuinely help people to carry their loads while others are there to snatch handbags, phones and other valuables from people. At times, we pretended to be helping people but our focus was their valuables. Sometimes we worked in groups. While one group was helping out, another was stealing the victims’ valuables from their bags or pockets.

“There are some other guys who forcibly dispossess passers-by of their belongings. These gangs operate early in the morning and late at night when their victims are helpless”.

The suspect stated that he moved to Oshodi in 2013 and he had been sleeping under the bridge since then. According to him, “I work as conductor and whenever I don’t, I am with my peers snatching valuables. We were three when we stole a Microsoft phone from a lady’s bag. We pretended to be helping the lady to get a bus but our target was her phones. I have been committed to 13-month rehabilitation by the Lagos State Task Force but my home is Oshodi Under Bridge”.

Another robbery suspect, Ahmed, said: “I sleep in Oshodi Under Bridge. We are over 60 boys sleeping there. The adults sleep in Ori Pako. I was 13 years old when I started sleeping there. I keep my clothes there. I sleep around 9.00 p.m. There are some of us who do not sleep at all. They are the ones that alert us whenever the police are around. Some do not sleep because they go from one place to another in Oshodi to rob. They rob late at night and very early in the morning.

“After the death of my mother, my father abandoned us. He stopped taking care of us; he left us to fend for ourselves. I had to resort to packing granite to pay my school fee. At a point, I couldn’t cope with the fee; I was just 12. I dropped out and I decided to run to Lagos. Since then, Oshodi Under Bridge has been my home. Any phone I steal, I sell to Mohammed or Kudus. They are beggars in Oshodi. They buy most of the stolen phones from us”.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the present administration is stepping up security arrangement in the state. But the fact that crimes in and around Oshodi are on the increase points to the fact that criminals are returning to the area.