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Frustrated drivers in Lagos face armed robbery fears


 A  typical traffic in Lagos. Inset is a car attacked by robbers

A typical traffic in Lagos. Inset is a car attacked by robbers

It’s Nigeria’s biggest city and has long been notorious for crippling traffic gridlock but frustrated drivers in Lagos are facing a new menace on the roads — armed robbery.

“Armed robbery attacks in traffic are a major problem we are facing in Lagos now. People are complaining,” Lagos police spokesman Joseph Offor told AFP.

“Motorists and passengers are injured while others are dispossessed of their belongings.”

In the city’s eastern suburb of Oworonshoki, for example, robbers broke the car window of a woman driving alone to work, snatching her bag, two mobile phones and other personal effects.

“They left her bleeding last week as she was seriously injured in the attack by her assailants. The robbers fled into a nearby bush,” a witness told a phone-in on Lagos Traffic Radio 96.1 FM.

Another caller said he saw robbers break a car window with an axe, stealing all the occupants’ belongings at about 6.30 am at Onikan, on Lagos Island, not far from a police headquarters annexe.

Most attacks happen either in the early morning, when workers are heading to work or returning home and caught up in tailbacks on potholed roads, said Offor.

– ‘Gridlocks and bad roads’ –
Fear of crime and actual crime have long been used as markers by police forces around the world to gauge the extent of the problem and introduce measures to fix it.

But with police having suspended publication of crime statistics in Lagos, whether the megacity of 20 million people has a real problem with violent crime depends who you talk to.

The Lagos state government recently reacted angrily to a report in The Economist magazine criticising what it said was rising crime and traffic chaos in the financial capital.

“Safety concerns are mounting as armed robbers pillage stuck cars while police are far away,” the publication said.

“Security experts reckon this is symptomatic of a broader increase in organised crime under a new and less competent state government.”

Government spokesman Steve Ayorinde described the article as “reckless and slanderous”, defending new Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s record since taking over from Babatunde Fashola in May.

For his part Offor accepted armed robbery in traffic was “new to the police” and attributed the problem to “gridlocks and bad roads”.

Security has been increased around the city as a result, he said, especially in areas notorious for traffic jams, such as the 11-kilometre-long (nine-mile) Third Mainland Bridge.

Police officers have been out in force, more motorcycles are being used to pick through traffic and raids have been conducted at areas seen as a hot-bed for crime and disorder, he added.

Dozens of suspects have been arrested in raids recently and some suspects have been jailed, said Offor, without giving precise figures.

Ambode has called a “traffic summit” for this Thursday to discuss how best to tackle traffic management and insecurity.

– Area boys and okada –
The city’s reputation in many ways precedes it when it comes to warnings about safety, with kidnappings and crime by local thugs known as “area boys” once commonplace.

Foreign embassies still warn visitors of the risks, especially at night, and some expatriate workers, mainly in the lucrative oil sector, are banned from visiting the densely populated “mainland”.

Armed convoys for foreign workers are a common sight, particularly on the poorly-lit airport road.

Fashola moved to curb the “area boys'” activities but in the absence of statistics it’s widely believed there has been a sudden surge in violent crime since Ambode took office six months ago.

Erratically driven motorcycle taxis or “okada” — once banned from the more upmarket islands under Fashola — are back and hustling for business while there have been several violent bank robberies.

Ambode has vowed to crackdown on “okada” operations while raids have been conducted against gangs running the battered “danfo” minibuses, which are the most common form of transport in the city.

Recent action against the transport operators sparked riots, suggesting Ambode still has work to do to address perceptions of Lagos as increasingly dangerous.

For road users, some of whom can take three hours or more to cover just 40 kilometres (25 miles), the situation is not only frustrating but damaging to the city’s image.

“I do not know how Lagos can boast of attaining a megacity status when traffic gridlock, armed robberies, bad roads and poor infrastructure make life difficult for residents, visitors and investors,” said trader Kunle Ajiborisa.

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