By Ojonugwa Felix Ugboja
ABUJA (Sundiata Post) Imagine living in a city where you have to watch your back every five seconds just to make sure that no machete or gun wielding criminal has crept out of nowhere to forcefully demand your bag, phone or car. Those who live in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja no longer have the luxury of imagination – this is reality.
In some places, such criminal activities are relegated to its outskirts, which are usually less protected by the police or crime watch technologies, but in Abuja, the more central the location is, the more freedom the criminals seem to enjoy.
About a week ago, a young banker called Andrew (not real name) would have had his life snatched away in a quick and painful manner – nothing like he would have ever dreamt of.
It was a terrible experience that confirmed rumours that Abuja has become a really scary place to live – a dreadful hotbed for free roaming criminals – stealing, maiming and killing people.
It was in the city’s Central Area, Ahmadu Bello Way, around the Federal Secretariat Complex. Andrew was on the pedestrian path leading towards the Federal Ministry of Finance Junction.
The Three Arms Zone and the Eagles Square can be seen from there. It is the city centre – it should be a smart centre, it should have been safe, but it was neither.
It was between 7.30pm and 8.00pm – not the scariest or darkest hour of the night you will think. He was walking on the pedestrian path, trying to flag down a cab. None was stopping. He kept walking. Most drivers on this route were usually coming from Banex Junction, already at capacity.
It was still rush hour, but he wasn’t impatient since it was a Friday and had no need to wake up early for work the next day. Andrew maintained gentle feet on the pedestrian path, his laptop bag hanging off one shoulder, and headphones plugged to the phone in his pocket. This would have been his last moment if he’d not survived the circumstances he was about to unwittingly encounter.
‘’I noticed a young adult in front of me – he appeared to be flagging down vehicles too. I was approaching him, but didn’t really pay any attention to his body language because sometimes I can take ‘minding-my-business’ to extremes. I can be absorbed in my own world when I want to be,’’ he said while narrating his experience.
From his peripheral vision, he saw him pull something out of him. He didn’t care until he saw a long evil looking machete revealed – previously concealed under his Jeans trousers and T-Shirt – pointed at him and an accompanying harsh command, demanding the surrender of his phone and bag.
‘’He said something in the line of ‘give me that thing or else…’’ before I, out of un-contemplated instinct, fled off, leading him to chase, and in seconds, I was crashing into a fast moving car’s windscreen – an aftermath of a jump over the bonnet. I was running across the road.’’
Survival is the first instinct and Andrew had little time to contemplate anything.
‘’I crashed my hips against the driver’s side mirror before landing briskly, and with a thud on the middle of the express way, causing more bruises, which weren’t even painful at the time. I didn’t even know I was hurting at all.
‘’I must have spent about 2 seconds on the ground before rushing off to the other side of the road – more like the narrow dividing pavement between the express lanes. There was more than enough time for me to be ran over by the vehicles, but miraculously, that didn’t happen. I was standing between the express lanes, and by this time my attacker had fled too into the bush, where I believe he came from.’’
By now, his phone was lying there in the middle of the road. Cars were still running along, but none bothered about him.
After a little respite, he quickly went to pick it up, and except for a little screen scratch and a broken body casing, nothing happened to the phone. His bag of course was still on his shoulders.
‘’It was surreal, yet unable to induce any feeling in me. Nobody stopped to show sympathy, so I didn’t know if I should sympathise with myself. I had noticed that pedestrians on either sides of the road were running away too after the incident. Everyone felt helpless. For me, it was a trance,’’ he said.
One can conclude that Andrew got lucky because the outcome of similar scenarios around the city is quite different, but the realisation is there, even with him, that his would have been worse.
He may now be nursing about 6 different degrees of minor bruises on his lower body, an inflamed hip bone – obviously impacted – and a chest pain, but there were a lot of things that could have happened to him. His attacker could have caught up with him, and inflict a serious machete injury on him, or he could have been easily crushed to pieces by the racing cars, as often the case with others.
Major Crime-prone Locations in Abuja
There is a general sense of security laxity in many parts of Abuja, especially in the areas where these crimes are rampant. From the experience of victims whose cars have either been stolen or broken into, or who were threatened with knives and guns to surrender their valuable items, or even stabbed, these are some of the major flashpoints, in no particular order.
National Mosque Junction – being a non-residential area, the roads and bridges around the National Mosque in Central Area provide some kind of haven for these criminal gangs. There is also a reserve land nearby, usually overgrown by thick grasses, which serves as a hide-out for them. Common among their activities here are car snatching, car breaking and entering and all kinds of robbery. The gang in this area are usually armed and there have been reports of them inflicting injuries on their victims.
Nicon Junction – though a busy junction, pickpockets have found a way to rob unsuspecting victims waiting to board a bus. Another kind of crime here is what many Nigerians have come to know as ‘One Chance,’ – where victims unknowingly board vehicles belonging to kidnappers and criminal gangs, who end up hypnotising them in order to rob them. Some use guns and other dangerous weapons.
Adetokumbo Ademola Crescent – being an area with lots of relaxation parks and clubs, car snatchers always lurk around with their tools. While the owners are having a nice evening, their cars are driven away.
Berger Junction/Wuse Market Axis – this area is famed for being a notorious hotbed for car snatchers and armed street robbers. ‘One Chance’ activities are also usually reported. Given its history as one of the earliest crime areas in Abuja, one would expect that the situation would be different by now.
Jabi Lake/Life-camp Roundabout – car breaking and entering and armed robberies are almost a daily occurrence here.
Under Bridge, Setraco Mabushi – in addition to robbery and car theft, there have also been frequently reported cases of rape in this area.
Banex Junction, WuseII – being a very busy junction swirling with passengers waiting to board cabs, the ‘One Chance’ gangs are very active here, and so are pickpockets.
Area 1 Roundabout/Area 3 Junction – there are a lot of criminal activities by car snatchers, armed robbers and pickpockets at these two points.
Kubwa Express Way – car snatching, ‘One Chance’ and armed robbery thrives here.
Airport Junction – this is not the express way leading to airport, but a narrow road adjoining that coming from Utako through to Gwarimpa. It is an entire zone controlled by car snatchers, armed robbers and rapists.
Kaduna Road – this road is always in the news because of the activities of kidnappers and armed robbers there. This is also where, according to many cab drivers, stolen cars are taken to.
There are a lot more areas known for similar criminal activities, but these are the most notorious and residents of Abuja can’t help but wonder why the city has all of a sudden seem helpless.
Emeka Eze, a cab driver mentioned that it had never been this bad. According to him, the policemen only care to stop and demand all kinds of bribe from them rather than protecting the city from these free roaming gangs.
The police receive car donations every time, and argument for their budget increase never ends, but nobody sees the impact.
A police officer who pleaded anonymity revealed that there are perhaps too many of them policing the politicians and VIPs. Officers who are supposed to cover every space being utilised by these criminal gangs are tied up to the VIPs, leaving the people in the city, and by extension, Nigeria, to the mercy of criminals.
This has even been confirmed earlier this year by the Police Service Commission (PSC), when it said that more than 150,000 policemen were attached to VIP’s and unauthorized persons in the country. The Nigeria police has only 371,800 policemen in total, given that the country is over 180 million in population, but even sad that more than half of them only cater to the security needs of the minority elite class.
“We cannot afford to have more than half of the population of the Police in private hands,” said Mr Mike Okiro, Chairman of the commission.
He said that the commission in conjunction with the Nigeria Police Force, had commenced the implementation of the withdrawal of policemen but the exercise was stalled due to lack of fund.
That sounds like a very predictable outcome, but it is interesting that ‘fund’ has to always be the problem, even to the withdrawal of policemen from these VIPs to security points.
The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, in March this year ordered immediate withdrawal of all police orderlies attached to private individuals and companies. The announcement gave some the feeling that the police might finally achieve one of its most recurring but ineffective directives.
To be withdrawn are officers attached to private individuals and companies — with the exception of private financial institutions— across the country.
So far, the other which contains essentially the same elements as similar directives by former police chiefs over the past decade has not worked.
In 2009, Ogbonna Onovo, IGP from 2009-2010, ordered immediate withdrawal of all orderlies attached to private individuals. However, soon after the directive was issued, state commissioners began identifying some private individuals that would be exempted from the policy.
In October 2010, about a month after succeeding Mr. Onovo, Inspector-General Hafiz Ringim called for immediate removal of personnel attached to private individuals, an order that failed to succeed.
In February 2012, Mr. Ringim’s successor, Mohammed Abubakar, also issued his own directive, saying it was time to bring professionalism, efficiency and integrity to police operations.
Mr. Idris’ immediate predecessor, Solomon Arase, also ordered the withdrawal of all officers from private individuals a few weeks before he left office. Like his predecessors, Mr. Arase also complained that the police could not afford to attach officers to private individuals when there are more pressing security challenges across the country.
The demand for officers to be withdrawn from private use has come from successive inspectors-general almost as often as the directive for officers to stop mounting roadblocks in the country.
While the police chiefs have not openly explained the reason why their orders often fall flat, the Police Service Commission as already stated cited funding as it.
It is an endless circle, except that it is getting worse. Abuja got a new commissioner of Police recently, and with him came promises of change. How long it will take for the change to happen is a subject of uncertainty.