Late March 2020, Ali aka Abu Ibrahim stirred from the transient darkness of sleep into the eternal dawn of his demise.
Ummi Ibrahim, his wife, had gotten up to prepare pap for sale, when she heard a noise outside their apartment on Fadipe Street, Clem road, Ijaiye-Ojokoro. Curious, she ventured out into the compound only to discover a gang of teenagers prowling their premises, armed to the teeth.
She hastened back into their apartment and the invaders bolted after her thus engaging her in a fierce scuffle to prevent her from locking the door. The resultant commotion stung her husband awake.
Ali, a security guard, started from sleep to see his wife being manhandled by a group of wild looking boys. Was he dreaming? Disorientation segued to instant awareness, and then, stark rage.
Ali leapt from his bed and dealt one of the invaders a thunderous slap, causing the boy to reel backwards. In the commotion, Ali’s sons, Abdulrasheed, three, and Ibrahim, six startled prematurely from sleep.
Instantly, the gang of seven pounced on Ali, raining punches on him. But realising that their wiry fists bore little impact on his sturdy frame, a member of the gang flashed his pistol and aimed it at Ali, shooting him in the hand.
Seeing her husband fall and writhe in a puddle of blood, Ummi Ibrahim plastered herself over him, urging the invaders to spare his life. She told them they had no money; that he was just a security guard and she, an ordinary pap hawker.
But the teen bandits ignored her plea and delivered a kill shot to her husband’s chest even as their underage sons stared in horror.
Ali died on his way to the hospital thus becoming another fatal addition to the casualties of the rising armed robberies committed by teenage gangs in the Ijaiye-Ojokoro local government area (LGA).
Ayomide Tella, whose former house, Ali kept watch over at Tigbegbe, off Clem road, bemoaned his demise, disclosing that insecurity was one of the reasons that informed her family’s relocation from the area.
The situation has become a source of great worry to residents of Clem road. In the wake of Ali’s murder, Seun Osifeso, a clothes trader, relocated her family from Ayinla Adams, an adjacent street to Fadipe, to Agege.
Osifeso accused teen cultists, the Awawa Boys, of Ali’s murder, stressing that they have become a terror to residents of the area.
“Twice they accosted my eldest daughter on her way back from school. The third time, they molested her and her younger sister, who was barely 12 years old. That, for me, was the last straw. We know some of those boys. “We know their parents but when I reported them to the landlords’ association, their mothers ambushed me twice on the street and threatened to beat me up. One even promised that they would rape me and my girls. I am a single mother. I have no one to protect me. I had no choice but to relocate to Agege,” she said.
Had she known, Osifeso would have stayed back at her former residence at Ayinla Adams. Agege is worse than her former abode. She said, “I used to send my daughters out on errands after 8 pm in Ijaiye but here in Agege, I dare not. These days, I make sure we are all indoors by 6.30-7 pm.
“Recently, I was robbed on Oba Ogunji road by Awawa Boys. It happened on a Sunday around 6 pm. Nobody came to our rescue. I was coming from church and I decided to branch over at the Ogba Sunday market. They dispossessed me of my bag of grocery and took my wallet from me. They fondled my breasts and slapped me on my backside. One of them even asked for my address at gunpoint, vowing that he would come to spend a night with me. He looked barely 14,” she lamented, stressing that none of her assailants looked older than 15.
“They are everywhere,” said Azuka Onoh. The 33-year-old revealed that Awawa Boys raided his pharmacy to punish him for refusing to sell tramadol and codeine to them.
“Twice, they came to meet me to sell them tramadol and codeine and I told them I don’t have those medicines in stock. They left angrily threatening to deal with me. One week later, I arrived at my shop and found its doors broken. They raided my shop overnight and stole drugs worth N280, 000,” he said.
From daylight through dusk, gangs of teenage Awawa recruits prowl through Agege, Ijaiye, Oja Oba, Iyana Ipaja, Dopemu, harassing pedestrians, motorists and shop owners. At Amoo’s intersection with Olukosi and Agbotikuyo junction, gangs of teenagers spotting the Awawa emblem, frequently erect a road block and harass motorists and passersby for money.
They hurl threats at those who refuse to give them money. Sometimes, they throw stones at uncooperative motorists and smash wooden planks on their vehicles.
On four different occasions, this reporter was accosted by the boys, while passing through the axis. On the fourth occasion, I encountered a boy of about 15.
“We own these streets. We own Agege! If you don’t give us money, we will deal with you!” said, a member of the group called Stainless.
Few days afterwards, I sought him out at his lair, a makeshift pub off Powerline road in Agege. The pub, owned by his girlfriend’s mother, doubles as the watering hole and meeting point for his crew.
His name is Tunde and he is 15 years old. The most striking thing about him are his eyes. They looked like they belonged to a bloodied war veteran — which, of course, he was, having being in prison twice for robbery and rape.
Recently, he was arrested for assaulting an officer of a neighbourhood vigilance group. “But I was let off the hook because I have connections,” he said, batting his eyelids in a menacing glare that could strike horror into grown men.
Those eyes barely mask the terror behind them. Tunde has done right by himself for street cred: he had stabbed four boys in inter-gang street wars and secured the patronage of the senior godfathers and gang lords, whom he fondly described as the “alayes.”
“In December 2019, I ran into one of the alayes in my area at a street carnival on Orile road. He told me, ‘Iwo lomo ti won nso. Mo recognise presence e (You are the goon currently on song. I recognise your street presence). He said I should keep it up.”
Two months later, a childhood friend contacted Tunde that there was some urgent job with the promise of urgent cash. They wanted us to storm a bar and start a fight. During the fight, I was supposed to stab someone, a Yahoo boy and car dealer, with a charmed dagger. I did it perfectly. I did a clean job and that was how I got my nickname, Stainless.
Stainless does not know what became of his victim but subsequently, he and his crew of adolescents have been hired to do various dirty work within and outside Agege.
“They hire them to exploit them. They are merely kids spoiling for recognition thus they are up for hire for a pittance. They’ve got passion, and bloodlust and they have no family members coming to look for them,” said Kunle Ajibike, a police officer, who recently had a gruesome encounter with the boys.
Stainless hopes to graduate from Awawa into a hit man for a major crime syndicate. He wants to “make enough money from his hustle as a hitman and retire at 25 to run a very big hotel.”
Taking a life is no big deal. “If I have to do it, I will do it,” he said.
The persistent insecurity in Agege and environs contradicts recent claims by the Lagos State Police Command; few months ago, former police spokesperson, DSP Bala Elkana, urged residents of the state to stop spreading rumours about criminal gangs, especially Awawa and One Million Boys, claiming that they had caged the gangs.
The police claimed that they had arrested over 800 top members of the gangs, who they said were serving jail terms in correctional centres in the state.
“Over 800 members of the gangs and their leaders were arrested and charged to court. They are still in correctional centres. No criminal gang is capable of unleashing terror on our communities. We are far bigger and stronger than any criminal elements,” he said.
Not a few residents of affected areas would contest Elkana’s claims – policemen inclusive. For instance, Ajibike’s recent encounter with the Awawa boys was instructive.
It happened on a Tuesday night. With his service pistol under-cloth, loaded and holstered, he, covered the distance from the Pen Cinema bridge to his house at Agbotikuyo, in Agege, at the close of work.
Time was 11.15 pm and the vehicle and pedestrian traffic had dwindled to a trickle. There were no commercial bikes or tricycles available for hire hence he must cover the distance on foot.
But just as he rounded the bend at the Pen Cinema junction, a mortal danger closed at his heels with the savage intent of a beast.
“Suddenly, I felt some presence behind me and I turned to see five boys prowling menacingly after me. Instantly, they surrounded me barking at me to give up my valuables.
“Bring your phone! Bring it! Or you wan die?” said a gangly boy who looked like their leader. But as he lunged for Ajibike’s phone, the latter ducked instinctively, thus backing against a wall along the alley that leads to Oke Koto junction in Agege.
“Well done! You don die! Iku ma pa iya e ni! (You are dead. Your mother is dead),” railed a short thickset member of the crew.
Recalling the incident, Ajibike said, “They looked like small rats before me,” wondering what gave his assailants the effrontery to accost him. Ajibike, an Inspector with the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), towers at 6 ft 7inches, and aside his massive build, he is very fit and gifted with what his colleagues had severally acknowledged as a “killer” mien.
Nonetheless, his assailants weren’t deterred. They kept barking threats at him. Exasperated, Ajibike urged the boys to go back home, promising them it wouldn’t end well for them.
At this juncture, the leader of the crew said, “Look around you. There is nobody to help you. Afi eni ti o ba fe to iku la (Except the suicidal) Nobody. No police!”
Ajibike smiled and said, “I am the police. Go home.” But the boys would have none of that. They closed in on him and Ajibike sought to decisively end the drama.
“Nobody died. I simply flashed them my pistol and my badge and they cringed from me shouting ‘Tuale!’ They begged me to let them go, stressing that they were simply hustling to survive,” he said.
“Had I not being in possession of my pistol, they would have mugged me. They were armed with meat cleavers and iron rods. It wouldn’t matter that I identified myself as a police officer. After all, I was in plain clothes,” he said.
Lagos gangs at a glance
In recent past, Lagos has suffered the onslaught of certain fearful gangs terrorising the mainland, Isale-Eko and Stadium/Barrack, axis of Lagos Island. The most notorious among them was the Kainkain gang of Isale Eko; this gang was persistently blamed for serial criminal acts including rape, mobile phone theft, pick-pocketing and armed robbery. The leader of the group, ‘Surutu,’ allegedly relocated from the neighbourhood after he was shot.
And residents of Ajegunle otherwise known as Lagos’ jungle city will not forget in a hurry, their ordeal in the hands of One Million Boys (OMB), a gang of hoodlums that terrorised the area.
At inception, precisely 20 boys in Ajegunle united to form the group, with the original intent to fight perceived injustices synonymous with the township. Subsequently, the gang grew in strength and numbers and soon they formed a vigilance group to checkmate and fight crime and criminality in the community. But some members of the group hijacked it and turned a hitherto crime fighting group into a sinister one; terrorising the entire community, raping hapless women and robbing defenseless residents.
Residents revealed that the group metamorphosed into a gang of outlaws. “Before they invaded any community or street, they usually wrote a letter to inform the residents. They sent the letter through a courier, usually a minor, to the head of that street or the landlord association. And when they come, they would rob from one house to the other, raping young girls and even married women. There was one bizarre situation when members of the group allegedly raped a pregnant woman to death and forced a father to sleep with his daughter with a threat that if he did not comply, he would be killed. Of course, the man complied with their wish, while they laughed maniacally.
They operated with such impunity until their operation in Agugu Street, where they killed a young man.
The community could not take it any longer and they sent an SOS to the then Commissioner of Police, Umaru Manko, who issued a directive for their arrest. The police was able to arrest over 400 suspected members of the group. But since the raid, led by the Area B Command Apapa – comprising Apapa, Ajegunle, Tolu, Trinity, Amukoko, Ijora Badia, Layeni and Kirikiri Police divisions – the gang has spread its terror across several parts of Lagos.
The Awawa Boys, however, maintain a strong presence in Agege and environs. What started innocently as a group of minors begging people for money eventually metamorphosed into a gang of fearsome teenage cultists and armed robbers terrorising Agege, Iyana-Ipaja, Sakamori, Ibari, Ashade, Dopemu, Ogba, Ifako-Ijaiye, Abule-Egba, Ifako-Ijaye, Agege, Isale Oja, Ibari, Akerele, Papa Ogba Ashade and Aluminium Village.
Previously, the Awawa gang wasn’t associated with murder with the murder of citizens like the late Ali, there are fears that they have graduated into a killer squad.
They rob with guns, machetes, daggers and weaponised cutlery, forks in particular. They also rape young girls and women. Findings revealed that the gang nurses a morbid fascination for raping women “old enough to be their mother” and young girls.
Rape is a crucial part of our initiation rites. It helps to groom fearlessness in even the youngest member. Sometimes, when they gang rape a woman, a squad leader would invite his favourite among the new initiates to join in the act. But most times, prospective initiates are ordered to rape a certain number of girls or a particular woman who they intend to shame.
Several women have been raped on their way to and from work by those boys but they have learnt to keep quiet and hide their pain for fear of beinfg stigmatised by their communities and loved ones,” said Bisi Iyabo, plastic dealer at Pen Cinema, Agege.
Though predominantly a cult of boys, females including prepubescent girls are recruited into the gang. An Awawa Boy can be identified by a drippy teardrop tattoo beside the left eye.
They move in pretty large numbers and pride themselves in their numbers. Often times they operate as a flash mob of close between 100 and 150 but for smaller missions, they move in squads of between 20 and 50 boys and girls. Sometimes, they operate in rag tag squads of four, five, seven, 10 to 15 boys bearing deadly arms including baseball bats, clubs, meat cleavers, daggers, crude metal bars, ‘two by two’ (wooden planks with nails) and forks.
Members of the cult are drug dependent. They binge on psychotropic substances including omi gota (gutter juice), colorado, pamilerin, codeine, cannabis, rohypnol and tramadol.
Asides the Awawa and One Million Boys, there are also the Fadeyi Boys, Ereko Boys, Akala Boys, Ijesha Boys, Awala Boys, Shitta Boys, Nokia Boys, No Salary Boys, One Hour Boys, Oshodi Boys, No Mercy Boys, Aguda Boys, Night Cadet, Black Scorpion, Akamo Boys, Omo Kasari Confraternity, Para Gang Confraternity (mainly teenage girls), Japa Boys and Koko Boys, among many others.
Several gangs are linked to criminal operations across Lagos. They commit house burglaries and armed robberies and the stolen valuables are often sold at ridiculous prices.
Members are principally concerned with fighting and conquering other young male gangs from one street or district to another in violent turf wars to establish their dominance. After establishing their dominance in any neighbourhood, they engage in a peculiar brand of hustle by which they perpetrate scams, bullying, political violence and armed robbery, noted Ikuomola Adediran Daniel (PhD), Department of Sociology, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State.
Living by the street code
Analysing the street code of the ubiquitous gang member, Dr. Ikuomola stated that within the social world of the gang member, familial and peer group attachments are essential in terms of ‘back up’ and possible retribution for an act of bullying, violence and robbery.
“As such, when a group of boys from ‘rush’ or ‘jack’ a young person either from their hood or a surrounding neighbourhood with no obvious familial or peer group attachments, most young males in public will just shrug their shoulders as if to say ‘well that’s just how things are on the street.’ However, in private the young males will acknowledge that the assaulters involved were out of order, they shouldn’t have picked on an innocent.”
Yet the code of the street dictates that sympathy for the victim is at best fleeting and generally non-sympathetic, as the commonly held view among young males is that ‘they’ (victim) should not have allowed themselves to be picked on so easily.
On the other hand, when the victim is a known but disliked individual usually a rapscallion who does not play by the rules, perhaps he attacks people indiscriminately, harassing young girls at street corners and therefore creating lots of potential enemies within the neighbourhood, the code of the street determines that the defaulter probably got what he deserved, as he was beginning to believe too much ‘in his own hype,’ running about upsetting ‘too many of the area boys’ in the neighbourhood.
Psychology of a gang-banger
According to Omotoke Iyunade, a social psychologist, the harsh living conditions and endemic poverty in the slums wreak untold havoc on the inhabitants, the children in particular. “Such children having undergone a gruesome childhood characterised by an insidious socialisation process eventually mature into what could be termed damaged youth.”
According to her, young people in the slums are often the victim of non-existent or dysfunctional family structures, lack of education and opportunities, race and class-based discrimination. This militarizes them and forces them to adopt a hostile attitude to the world.
Ultimately, they are considered enemies of the state by law enforcers and the society at large and this is due to their hostile disposition and inclinations for violence.
Shanty life is such that vulnerable children and youths are exposed to considerable amount of hazards and they face a number of problems ranging from financial problems to harassment and extortion from police and the ubiquitous area boys; eventually, many of such vulnerable youth evolve to become area boys. As area boys, they learn to perpetuate the insecurity, severe beatings and fighting, sexual abuse (especially of the females) and health hazards that they had erstwhile been exposed to as vulnerable minors.
According to Patrick Edewor, PhD, Department of Sociology, Covenant University, the presence of street children is an indictment of the way the society construes its priorities. “These children and youths suffer considerable amount of hardship. Although they are ignored by the society, they hope to become productive members of the society,” he noted.
Gangs of area boys are composed of mainly young males aged 11 to 25 years and they are a typical characteristic of the state. These gangs provide young people with a sense of belonging and social identity, and as they operate in shadow economies, they make up for the lack of educational and job opportunities.
Within gangs, young men find a way to make a living. Many of them primarily commit serious crimes such as robbery and burglary with the intention of exchanging the stolen goods for cash. The money earned from such crimes is invested in patronising sex workers, gambling and other guilty pleasures.
Others expend it on status enhancement drives such as ‘looking good,’ eating out, smoking cannabis, cocaine or crack, and clubbing.
In Lagos, many gang members and area boys act as violent brokers in parallel structures, having created an income for themselves via forced extortion (owo ile) and narcotics peddling, playing guard of individual property or public space in situations of inadequate or ineffective police presence. Over time, they have become an accepted part of the urban landscape even as they become willing tools and available mercenaries for various forms of political, ethnic and religious criminal contracts in the process.
Stemming the menace
According to Dr. Ikuomola, a youthful population can be a significant and positive asset to a country and its development, but if left to its own devices, that is, marginalised and exploited, they can also turn against the society and become a force of destruction. The latter suggested that in order to prevent such situation, the government should create an environment that will improve the quality of nation’s education system through investments in free technical education that will have meaningful impact on the youth and the quest for self reliance and development.
In the long run this will influence and increase youths employment outcomes. He also suggested that “policies should be put in place at all levels for young men and women to have the same opportunities in job prospecting. Emphasis should also be placed on vulnerable groups, especially children and youths; to avoid child labour and exploitation, street life and the breeding of street urchins in cities.”
While suggestions like Ikuomola’s may in part be the palliative to the scourge of area boys in the state, further priority strategies may have to be tailored to the reorientation of the family structure, parenting and the Lagos youth, according Morenike Abass, a school proprietor and educational psychologist. Exactly how fragile the situation is in the state is vividly illustrated by the premature killing of citizens like Ali by random teenagers breaking out as deadly armed robbers.
On April 16, 2021, police operatives attached to the Alakuko Division of the Lagos State Police Command, arrested four suspected cultists who came from Ogun State to launch a reprisal attack on rival cult members at the Junior Secondary Schools, Akinyele, Alakuko, Lagos State.
The suspects are Tosin,18, Sunday, 15, Olayinka, 14, and Sanni Babatunde, 15. Tosin, Olayinka and Babatunde are high school students while Sunday is a tailoring apprentice at Dalemo Alakuko.
The police operatives had got wind of the planned reprisal on their rivals in the school and raced to the scene immediately the suspects arrived to cause pandemonium and attack their targets,” said the police.
According to the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, the police recovered cutlasses, Indian Hemp and assorted charms from the invaders.
More worrisome is Awawa’s incursion into primary schools. Just recently,
12 pupils of the Egan Community School, between the ages of 6 and 16, were reportedly initiated into Awawa, in Alimoso area of Lagos.
But for a Guidance and Counselling teacher at the school, their initiation would have taken place undetected.
The pupils were allegedly recruited by a 16-year-old girl, who attends a sister school, Egan Senior Grammar in Igando, Lagos and were undergoing training in order to become future hit-men of the cult.
The teacher was said to have noticed a particular incision on the lower jaws of some of the students and queried them about it; one of the children confessed that any school pupil or student seen with the mark was a member of the Awawa cult group.
This is how fragile the situation is.