29 suspected robbers arrested in April, five in May — Police records

•'Murder, suicide cases increased during lockdown' •Expect worse after pandemic, crime experts warn

Experts predict the future for Nigeria’s most populous state, when coronavirus ends. OLALEKAN OLABULO and SUBAIR MOHAMMED bring their perspectives.

 

FROM available official records, crime rate in Lagos State has gone down in the last few weeks, compared to the high number of robbery attacks that characterised the early period of the CPVID-19 lockdown. However, murder and suicide cases are on the increase, according to police findings.

Lagos is still under partial restriction ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in the state, Ogun and Abuja and available statistics from the police shows a mixture of cheering and bad news regarding crime rate in the most populous state in Nigeria, which is now believed to have gone down by over 50 per cent. There, are, however post-COVID-19 fears among many residents of the state who are bothered about the impending effects of job losses being caused by the crash of global economy, as well as the invasion of parts of the state by people from the northern part of the country .

From the police records obtained by Saturday Tribune, 29 suspected armed robbers were arrested in different parts of the state in April, while just five were arrested for the same offence as of the second week of May, suggesting a significant reduction in the number of robbery attacks. Two robbers died during a gun duel with the police in April, while no such death was recorded by the middle of May. The police in Lagos State also recovered arms and ammunition from suspected armed robbers in April but are yet to recover any of such by middle of May. No kidnapper has also been arrested in the state since the beginning of April, while 17 cult members were, between the beginning of April and the middle of May, arrested. Fourteen of the suspected cult members were arrested in April, while only three suspects were arrested in May. One vehicle was reportedly snatched in April but none in May, though the snatched vehicle was yet to be recovered. The police in the state foiled 16 attempted robbery attacks in April and another six in May. There was just an attack on police personnel between the beginning of April and the middle of May.

There was, however, a high rate of murder cases recorded in the state in the last two months. Nineteen murder cases were recorded in April and additional seven already recorded mid-May. Four persons attempted suicide in April, with another case recorded by the middle of May.

The police records of the last two months, when compared with what was recorded in the first 120 of the new leadership also revealed a significant drop in the number of criminal activities in the state.

The state Commissioner of Police, Mr Hakeem Odumosu, in the middle of March, while reeling out the achievements of the command, said a total of 164 armed robbers were arrested between November and early March with 13 others killed in gun battles with the police. He also said the police in the state foiled 98 robbery attempts within the same period. One hundred and sixty-five suspected cultists and four kidnappers were also arrested while the command recorded 103 murder incidents. Thirty-four firearms and assorted ammunition were also recovered with 22 stolen vehicles also recovered between November and March.

 

‘Hunger-virus’ taking over

Renowned psychologist, Professor Oni Fagbohungbe, warned of escalating crime rate after the COVID-19 crisis. According to the respected don of the University of Lagos, residents of the state will exhibit certain psychology coming out of the pandemic trauma.

“We should expect depression, complaints and rebellious behaviours because COVID-19 has exposed some people to these tendencies. Some will lose their jobs and when they do, you know what will happen, a jobless person becomes aggressive. In post-COVID-19 Lagos, crime rate is likely to increase because people are already saying hunger-virus is more devastating than coronavirus. When they are pushed to the extreme, they take to crimes. Even animals recognise that too but because of the compelling physiological needs of human beings. This is an unexpected situation. Therefore, in the post-COVID period, a lot of people will be more prepared for eventualities.

“Even at the government level, we discover that our governments are caught napping because they didn’t prepare for the health crisis, which was why, with every little ailment, they are quick to travel abroad for treatment. But there is the psychological realisation now that East, West, North or South, home is the best. They will likely do things better in the post-COVID-19 period,” he said.

Another don, Professor Ayo Olukoju, a renowned historian, recalled the pre-colonial era pandemic and explained the difference this time.

He said: “We have to be very careful in comparing two different contexts. The period between 1918 and 1919 was a colonial period. At that time, Lagos was a much smaller place. We had a larger number of Europeans and Britons in Lagos than what we have now. So, let us say that when the pandemic is over, both then and now, we expect euphoria. People will be more relaxed and heave a sigh of relief. The first one or two weeks in the post-COVID-19 period will see people on the edge. They will be more conscious of their individual health and environment. Some of the ideas and tendencies prevalent during the lockdown period will still linger into the post-lockdown period. Therefore, it will take some time for people to go back to their old ways of doing things.

“During the colonial period, people hid infected persons because they were afraid of being taken to isolation centres just like what is happening now that some of the confirmed cases rejected isolation in public facilities. Some of them were too rich and too famous to be seen admitted at the IDHs. Consequently they died. The long and short of it is that when the pandemic is over, transformation will not be a sudden event. It will be a process. People will be conscious. Some will still be seen wearing protective masks after the pandemic is over. Some will hesitate to have a handshake while some will continue to maintain social distancing. So it is a gradual process. It is not going to be a sudden change. In the case of 1918, it spilled over to 1919. Our own may even extend to the end of the year. But before the year runs out, we hope normalcy will be restored. Like then and now, there will be economic dislocation which will take time to repair.”

 

‘What to expect after COVID-19’

Crime analyst, Juliana Francis, while projecting what awaits Lagos State and other parts of the country, said there was the need for security operatives to be on top of their game after the COVID-19 pandemic period. Francis said: “One sure thing Nigerians can take to the bank is that life will never be the same after COVID-19. The insecurity level is going to be incredible and security agents will need to up their game. We are already seeing and sensing what is going to become of our society and economy post-COVID19. Many companies have downsized drastically, others have simply shut down. Our economy had never been fantastic before, now it is completely crippled. Post-COVID19, especially in Lagos State, is going to witness a high level of insecurity. Lagos has always been a commercial centre and attracts all manner of people and businesses.”

The expert added: “The poverty level in the country and Lagos is going to be high, heightened by job losses and skyrocketing food items’ prices. People are going to be pushed to the limits of their endurance and will then have to do anything and everything just to survive. Some weeks ago, Lagos and Ogun states witnessed the ruthless operations of young Nigerians tagged ‘One Million Boys’ and ‘Awawa Boys’. These gangs robbed, stole and raped. Lagos citizens were stunned and petrified. The argument was that these gangs came out of their hidings to operate because they were financially down, bored, angry and hungry. I choose to go with the hunger and anger argument. They had been in lockdown for weeks and the promised palliatives never got to them. It was more of a desperate situation attracting desperate measures. Many young Nigerians do jobs which can best be described as ‘pay as you go’. They survive on daily income. What will happen or what will they do when the daily income is not forthcoming? What we witnessed at the hands of the ‘One Million Boys’ and ‘Awawa Boys’ will be nothing compared to what will happen post-COVID19. Hunger, anger and frustration are going to be the order of the day. We are going to witness high cases of robbery and stealing, more cyber criminals. There are going to be more gangs and more crimes. There will be no conscience; the end-result will simply have to justify the means. Many northerners had been sneaking into South-West states at night. This was even in the face of government’s instruction that there shouldn’t be any interstate travels. These young men continue to troop into the South-west and the East. Nobody knows for sure the reason for the sudden exodus, but palpable fear has gripped some states with some coming up with conspiracy theories that these sojourners are up to no good and might launch sudden attacks.”

Francis said: “This week, four northern folks riding unregistered motorcycles from Niger State entered Ogun State. They were arrested. They denied knowing there was an interstate travel ban and explained that they came to look for jobs, that there was too much hunger in their state. Many of these northerners have also sneaked into Lagos, seeking greener pastures. These northerners have been infiltrating the South-West for ages, especially Lagos, dragging their motorcycles along. They came with their motorcycles to operate as commercial motorcycle riders. Those who didn’t come with motorcycles are taken to northern leaders in any South-West community and given motorcycles on hire purchase and thus a business is created. People are suddenly taking note of the large number of these northerners infiltrating the South-West because of the lockdown and interstate travel ban. The question right now is this: Exactly what sorts of business will be available after COVID-19? Lagos State has already banned cyclists in many major routes and I don’t see the government changing its mind soon. How many of these young people are going to become water fetchers, butchers, security guards and cobblers? Moreover, because there would job losses, many people in Lagos wouldn’t mind competing for these jobs with the northerners. We are going to see a society that has many seeking employment without any available employment.

“What next will they do? Crime! Many people believe there is money in Lagos and therefore rather than return to their states, they will probably take to crime. At this point, Lagos citizens will need to be extra-vigilant and security-conscious. And they should watch and be sure of people they employ as domestic staff. There is also the worry and anxiety of some security stakeholders on the issue that has to do with ethnic violence. With the high concentration of northerners in some parts Lagos and with poverty and hunger in the land, tension will be high with volatile tempers.”

 

A bleak future and picture

As already established by the police report, the security expert projected that “the state is also likely going to see increased cases of murders and suicide induced by depression, caused by job losses.” According to her, there is going to be more cases of domestic violence and civil disturbances.

She said: “Government can, however, try to salvage the situation, beginning right now. It doesn’t have to wait until after COVI-19 to start making and effecting plans on how to salvage the economy and help the citizens. The police and government seriously need to check the number of people sneaking into Lagos, either at night or in daytime. The only way these northerners get to enter some South-West states is because of corrupt law enforcement agents. They collect bribes and look the other way, refusing to contemplate the immediate or later security implications. There is no sense in people rushing into Lagos in truck loads because they need jobs when jobs are just not there. Such a situation is going to lead to an explosion soon.

“The Federal Government should boost the economy by giving bailout funds to companies, including media houses. These will reduce the number of people that will lose their jobs. Since there is going to be more crimes and gangsters, the police are going to be seriously overwhelmed. That should be the time to synergise with other sister agencies and curtail the likely crime waves.”

 

History repeating itself?

Olukoju also alerted residents and government of the state to the possibility of history repeating itself regarding the pandemic, noting that the consequences of the 1918 flu lockdown will likely manifest again among the populace when the COVID-19 crisis is over. He told Saturday Tribune that at the height of the flu which killed about 50 million people worldwide, nations were locked down. He noted that a pattern usually emerges in the life of the people after such a lockdown.

According to him, the first reported case of a global pandemic was in 1918 after the end of the First World War when the whole world experienced influenza which was brought into Lagos from Europe through ships. For the purpose of clarity, the don distinguished between an epidemic and pandemic: “Let me clarify a point, there is a difference between an epidemic and a pandemic. An epidemic is a disease that is localised, say, in a city, region or even in a country, like Ebola which is related to Central Africa, not even in the whole of Africa. But this COVID-19 covers the entire globe, so many countries at the same time, which is why is it is referred to as a pandemic.”

Giving historical perspective to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said: “The same thing happened in 1918 as the First World War ended when the whole world experienced an influenza pandemic which spread across the globe. Like COVID-19, it also spread through travel – by sea.

“Ships that came into places like Lagos, Freetown and Ghana brought the infection. The problem was that some of the people that were infected were not detected early before they got to the city of Lagos and when they got to Lagos, the problem was how to track and locate them. So, the infection spread from ships to the shore from shore to the city and from the city to the inter-land of Nigeria. What we are experiencing now is not something new; it was just different in that, that was influenza and this is COVID-19.”

 

Agitation for collective worship

As the COVID-19 crisis moves to the agitation phase for the reopening of worship centres and the implications of allowing large gatherings of worshippers again, Professor Olukoju went back into history on how to resolve the impasse arising from the ban on religious gathering.

Between 1918 and 1919 when the influenza was so severe, he disclosed that churches and mosques were shut but for a short period of time. They were shut down for a period shorter than what the country is experiencing now. According to him, the whole idea of worshipping from a distance or worshipping without congregating is not something spectacular.

He said: “Let’s look at the early churches in the Acts of the Apostles. They were not many and of course they were congregating. The biggest assembly was on the day of the Pentecost when we had 3,000 people getting converted. I am trying to make a point. Look at the structure of the Acts of Apostles and the New Testament, people met in small groups. Today, we have mega churches but the fact is that church started as a small unit, different from what is today known as house fellowship. People pray in their homes. This is not strange. Thanks to technology, we can now worship from a distance at the same time. I took part in worship on Youtube but beyond worshipping together on such a platform, you also can give money. If some pastors are saying ‘since our congregations are not coming together, we don’t have money’, that is not true. Members pay online. I don’t think this pandemic should affect how people pray and how they give money to churches. But no pastor can force anybody to give. You can only give what you have. So, poverty, lockdown or pandemic doesn’t stop people from giving as long as they have.”

 

I don’t want God to punish me –Trader

A clothe merchant on Lagos Island, Samuel Ajila, told Saturday Tribune that he usually gives to God from his profit as mandated by the scripture. But due to restriction on economic activities, he now groans under poor sales and this has affected his religious obligations to his Creator.

With the partial relaxation of lockdown and absence of religious activities, Ajila is still determined to fulfill his religious obligations. He said: “I cannot trade my tithe for anything. It is God’s right on my income and it has to be paid to the church, regardless of the hardship in the land. I don’t want God to punish me for ‘eating’ His money.”

 

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