Lagos plans mass raid as teenage beggars, robbers flood streets

Subair Mohammed compares the reality of a returning menace with the extant law prohibiting it.

Four boys in their tens knocked violently on the wound-up glass of a car. They had emerged from a park in Magodo Estate in the hot afternoon of that particular Friday. When the driver would not accede to their request for money, they banged harder on the glass as if they meant to break it. Before the ‘stingy’ driver could pull away, they banged even harder on his car with their fists as a demonstration of their frustration and anger. They quickly moved to their next ‘victim’, a lady who was about entering a red car. They overwhelmed her. She was terrified. She quickly reached into her bag and appeased them.

Saturday Tribune reporter who was watching the ‘show’ from a close distance closed in on the boys who were now in firm clutch of their ‘largesse’. He questioned the rationale behind their ‘raid’. The boys took off in fear. The lady, from her explanation, obviously gave in out of fear. As the boys moved on to their next ‘victim’, a shop attendant, the reporter turned the heat on them by following them and issuing a caution to the sales rep. At this point, the reporter accosted the boys and, obviously fearful of the threat to call police on them, they claimed they were from Alapere in the Ketu axis, and in the estate, to see someone whose name they couldn’t mention. Sensing real trouble, they took to their heels as the reporter stepped into a nearby police post to report his findings. The officer on duty gave some excuse about shortage of personnel and promised to keep an eye on the boys the following Friday.

A security man in the neighbourhood explained to the reporter that the boys were always coming around on Friday afternoon, disturbing traffic flow while ‘extorting’ car owners, especially ladies. It was as if the neighbourhood was just waking up to their existence when Saturday Tribune escalated their presence.

Ajiliti Central Community Development Association, according to its chairman, Chief Haruna Omolajomo, is reeling under the menace of teenage criminals disguising as beggars and wants the Lagos State government to do “something” about it.

Saturday Tribune can reveal that the state government is doing “something” about it, although it was unofficially released at the moment. The state is planning a mass raid dubbed “mass rescue” to clean the street again.

The Commissioner for Youth and Social Development, Segun Dawodu, who earlier promised to speak to Saturday Tribune on the matter, remained incommunicado as of press time. Calls to his mobile line went unanswered.

 

They are back

In spite of its prohibition by the state government, street begging is attaining an alarming proportion with bowl-bearing children of school age at strategic locations begging for alms.

Over the years, the nation’s commercial capital has witnessed inflow of people of different shades, both old and young, mainly from the Northern part of the country, whose aim is not to engage in much of legitimate trading but to solicit for alms, indulge in petty theft and serve as informants to armed robbers.

Located within Ikosi-Isheri Local Council Development Area is Ajiliti Central Community Development Association. The CDA, according to Omolajomo, is heavily populated with child-beggars who have turned to tools in the hands of criminals terrorising the community.

Strengthening this stance, Omolajomo said: “Child-beggars in Ajiliti community are tools used by armed robbers to perpetrate crime in Ajiliti and the entire Ikosi-Isheri LCDA. Many of these children are taken advantage of. They serve as informants to criminals while their parents or handlers would be somewhere on the street feigning one form of physical impairment or another with dangerous weapons hidden for criminals, especially in wheelchairs, which the criminals collect at night to unleash terror on us.

“They beg in traffic in the day but when night falls, they engage in petty stealing, smashing of car windows, snatching of bags and dispossessing pedestrians and motorists of valuable items in traffic. The beggars lack control. They move around the traffic begging without care. On many occasions, many of them have been knocked down by vehicles.”

 

‘Why we are on the street’

Section 168 of the Criminal Code of Lagos State (2015) proscribes begging on the street in all forms but it seems successive administrations in the state have not exercised the political will to enforce the law as the ‘unlawful’ business thrives on a daily basis.

Giving the statistics of out-of-school children in Nigeria, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that 70 per cent of states in the northern part of the country accounts for 13.2 million of the world’s out-of-school children.

In its usual manner, Mile 12 International Market is bustling with trading activities. As men and women, traders and buyers move in and out of the ever-busy market, so are beggars trickling onto the road, meandering through the rush-hour traffic and appealing to the sympathy of road users for alms.

From the city of Kano, nine-year old Hassanah Abdullahi journeyed to Lagos to take up the banned trade. According to her, she has been in the trade for over five years. Hassanah, who spoke to Saturday Tribune through an interpreter, was not aware of the existence of any law prohibiting her trade and neither did she realise the danger inherent in her chosen craft.

“I came to Lagos from Arewa in 2015 with the help of my boss. He brought me to Mile 12 to work as a street beggar. I hand over all my earnings from the street to him and he, in turn, sends my share to my parents in Kano. I have been in Mile 12 since 2015 when I was four years old. Asking for charity is rewarding but I hope to quit the act someday for a trade and settle down in Kano,” she said.

Like Hassanah, 12-year-old Aminu Kabiru, also from Yobe State, told Saturday Tribune he had been involved in begging since his parents relocated to Lagos State when he was two years old.

“My parents and I came to Lagos in 2010. We live in Mile 12 and we have been begging to survive. We don’t do crime. All we do is to beg people for money for us to feed,” he said.

 

Mile 12 fast becoming crime capital –CDA chairman

The Lagos State House of Assembly on Monday passed a bill banning cultism and cult-related activities in the state, stipulating jail terms of 21 and 15 years, respectively, for cultists and anyone who allows his premises as venue for cult-related activity.

Ajiliti, the Mile 12 suburb, is one of the black spots notoriously known for cultism, tribal conflicts, armed robbery and being a haven for street beggars. Omolajomo identified the influx of beggars into the area and its environs as responsible for the increasing crime rate.

He disclosed that beggars in the axis not only act as informants but they serve as keepers of arms for criminals who terrorise Ajiliti and its environs night and day.

“Street begging, cultism and armed robbery are some of our many challenges in Ikosi-Isheri. The poor economic situation in the country forced many of the young Northerners to leave their homes for Lagos to be begging. But beyond begging, many of them get involved in crimes and act as informants to criminals. They beg in the morning and rob at night. Considering the volatile nature of Mile 12, this shouldn’t be allowed. We have had many ethnic clashes caused by these beggars.

“The danger inherent in having them lurk around far outweighs their relevance, if any. As a matter of fact, Islam forbids begging. Therefore, if we are to consider religion, they have no business being on the street begging.

“I am appealing to the Lagos State government to create a centre for them and invite their leaders and enlighten them on the security implications of begging on the street. The state government needs to sensitise them and help them to live a meaningful life. We want the government to take them off the roads through their engagement in skill acquisition programmes for them to become self-reliant. Another challenge is the rate of cultism. Our community would have been wiped out but for the love of God. Mile 12 is a community that God loves so much.

“There is an area called ‘Down Below’ located on Adebimpe Street in Mile 12. This place is one of the most dreaded criminal hideouts in the community but this is a safe haven for the beggars which suggest that they work hand in hand. Every evening, you will see them coming out of the place to the street to rob people of their belongings. We have heard cases of beggars snatching phones, handbags and other valuables.

“Cultists and beggars are giving residents sleepless nights in Ajiliti. The rivalry between Aye and Black Axe most times leads to heavy fighting almost every day. We sleep with one eye open for fear of being attacked at midnight. The cultists rob and kill at almost every week. We have lodged complaints with the governor, area commander and the DPO of the area and we are hoping that the problem will be addressed very soon because we are at the mercy of cultists in Ajiliti.”

 

Twitterati react

Worried about the spate of violent crimes being perpetrated by beggars on the streets of Lagos, a tweep, @Asiricomedy, expressed concerns as he lamented that Lagos was currently awash with violent beggars, a situation which, he said, needed urgent attention.

“Lagos is currently awash with violent beggars that knock viciously on your car windows. The desperation on their faces always gives them out. The only thing standing between them and robbing motorists is daylight. This bothers me. An angry herd is gathering. It needs to be addressed now. The chasm between the rich and the poor is worrisome. It is time we advanced sustainable poverty alleviation schemes and empowerment. I am not talking of political and propaganda interventions but an effective system that will depopulate the street. Education, empowerment and follow up,” @Asiricomedy tweeted.

Reacting to the tweet, another Twitter user, @badejosf, also shared his unpalatable experience with the street beggars. He wrote: “Bros! This thing scares me. I’ve experienced this several times. Especially when they now also see you’re young, they feel you’re indebted to them and you must give them. All these ‘agberos’ are into it too.”

@yellowbarbey wrote: “This is so true. I wanted to buy pepper to spray on some of them because they even go as far as scratching your car.”

Another user, @ThomasAsogbagbo, wrote: “This is not only in Lagos. Here in Osun State, you will see guys in groups moving from one place to another. When they sight you, they hail you but if you don’t give them money, they will curse you and leave. Sometimes you hear them say they have marked your face and that they will surely deal with you one day.”

@Precious51110779 had this to say: “Please help, robbery every morning at Mile 12 pedestrian bridge. This happens every morning. There are, like, four of them. They will jump from the service lane into the express(way) and break your glass and rob you. Please, help, (so) we can leave our home on time again.” The attention of RRS Lagos 767 (special police unit) was called.

 

Beggars are not armed robbers –Lawmaker               

Reacting to the alleged involvement of street beggars in incessant armed robberies across the state, the chairman, Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Youth and Social Development, Honourable Owolabi Ajani, said that to conclude that street beggars are robbers was an unfair assessment of the challenges being faced by the beggars. Ajani disclosed that some of the beggars may be bad but a large number of them were into the practice for economic reasons.

He said: “Beggars are human beings first, before they are beggars. They are also Nigerians. The constitution of the country does not restrict the movement of citizens from one part of the country to another. Curbing the menace of street begging is the responsibility of security operatives and not the duty of youth and social development commission. As you know, the House Committee chairman oversees the commission and not activities relating to the commission. The commission does not have the leeway to stop anyone, in spite of their financial status, from entering Lagos State.

“To say beggars are largely responsible for the increasing rate of crime in Lagos state is not a fair assessment. I wouldn’t agree to that. Although there may be bad ones among them, many of them are into begging for economic reasons. Street beggars turning armed robbers at night and robbing in traffic is an issue the House can look into but that would be through a security parameter. We need our security operatives to step in and curb the trend. With this being done, youth and social and development can now step in to engage by way of sensitising them not to go back to begging.

“The issue of street begging is one that has been confronting Lagos State for a very long time. We have people coming into the state, not realising that it has its own law in terms of child care. I have also observed the influx of people into Lagos State after the unrest in the Northern part of the country, but the truth is, Lagos is home to everyone.

“Begging is a crime in Lagos State. It is a civil and not a criminal crime. We have to be civil in dealing with the class of people that is into it. For instance, if they are coming into Lagos with guns and machetes, then we can decipher that they are criminals, but coming into Lagos with open arms in search of opportunities and ending up begging on the streets of Lagos, I mean, we can’t criminalise such people.

“A beggar can become anything tomorrow. We cannot conclude that they are currently begging today and that makes them criminal. To re-orientate the beggars, we have children homes that whenever the Child Rights Law is subverted, the child is taken from them. It is the duty of the government to protect children from being dehumanised but the issue with parenting is that child upbringing is the primary responsibility of the parents.

“And the fact that Lagos State cannot criminalise Child Rights Law means that perpetrators of such crime may never face criminal charges. If they are facing criminal charges, people will think twice before having children or subjecting them to tortuous and ridiculing existence.”

 

A system in dilemma

Because the supervising commissioner would not talk, officials in charge of child welfare and matters in the Ministry of Youth and Social Development were reticent when contacted.

A director refused all entreaties to comment. The director, however, hinted of the coming mass rescue and lamented the daily influx of youngsters from the North to Lagos State, coming in trailers, conveying agricultural produce and cattle. The senior official also confirmed that complaints are daily streaming in and vowed that government would do something about it soon. The official was also surprised that Lekki was also witnessing the activities of the ‘boys’ because, according to the official, regular and sustained raids were being done in the axis. The director wondered why the complaining CDAs had not approached the special unit in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs which handles such complaints. It was also gathered that a special unit known as “Rescue” in the youth ministry is responsible for taking the children off the street.

Saturday Tribune learnt through a retired director of the ministry in charge of rehabilitation, who didn’t want to be quoted for now, that COVID-19 regulation might be a major consideration in raiding the youngsters on the street, considering the challenge of keeping them in custody for rehabilitation. According to the retired official, the main juvenile correctional centre in the state located in Oregun has an original capacity of between 150 and 200 but is now overcrowded. The serving director confirmed the overcrowded nature of the facility, where all convicted juvenile, including those convicted of murder, must be held before their eventual movement to either the Isheri facility where seniors are held or the Sabo facility where juniors are held.

Since the law doesn’t permit a child to be imprisoned, the retired official explained that Oregun inmates are held under different psychological, social and medical treatment until they stabilise, which may take months before they are sent out either for continuation of their education or vocational engagements.

Isheri facility, according to the retiree, is like half way home, where 14 years and above are managed after the authorities at Oregun are confident they have been stabilised. With overcrowded facilities and growing menace on the street, the state appears to have been caught between the devil and the blue sea. But the serving director says “no shaking” about where to keep them after the raid.

The Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, said of the practice of begging in the state: “As you know, such action is illegal in Lagos State. Kids who don’t have anywhere to stay, we have homes for them, but those who are using them to beg and to commit crimes are not going to go scot-free. They would be made to face the wrath of the law. It is not a question of when the action is going to commence, anybody who is caught doing that would be made to face the law.”

 

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