By Evelyn Usman, Lagos, Francis Igata, Enugu
Nigerians, across the country, are no doubt facing difficult times owing to the current economic recession. Although the President Muhammadu Burari’s -led administration has been applauded for its fight against corruption, following several arrests of the acclaimed high and mighty, and subsequent refund of stolen funds, the management of the economy has not brought similar cheering news.
The tough times have resulted in job losses and hunger-induced crimes. The petty crimes are increasing nationwide. In fact, crime rate in the country is presently assuming a worrisome dimension with the introduction of new device by criminals in order to get their victims and security agencies unawares.
From kidnapping to bank robbery, vandalism, burglary and internet fraud among several other nefarious acts which have put security operatives on their toes. These criminals, some of who were arrested and charged to courts from where they were slammed jail terms, are obviously recalcitrant, as they return back to the society and indulge in the same crime for which they were went to jail , more vicious!
Petty crime on the rise
Surprisingly, the trend in crime has assumed a new dimension , with the re-insurgence of petty theft such as pick pocket, catch-in-the-air, otherwise known as ‘one chance’, burglary, perpetrated by minors and artisans. During investigation with some arrested suspects, majority of them laid the blame on economic hardship. For instance, several artisans who rely majorly on power for survival, have been frustrated out of business, owing to poor and irregular supply of power in the country. And in their bid to eke a living, some resort to crime.
In Lagos State for instance, pick pocket have increased at major bus-stops. Perpetrators of this crime who pose as passengers waiting to board buses to their destinations, end up snatching phones , cash and other valuables from genuine passengers who struggle to enter the bus .
At other times, these bus-stop thieves who are usually two or three in one group, would board a commercial bus and sit strategically at the edge. All of a sudden , they would alert the driver to stop , pretending to have entered the wrong bus. But by then, they would have successfully made away with their victims cash and other valuables. Most of these stolen valuables are sold at give-away prices to ready buyers.
This was the case of an Ordinary National Diploma student of the Lagos State Polytechnic, Mayowa whose school fees was removed from his bag while on transit. It took his parents three months to raise N45,000 for his school fees , a delay that almost cost him his admission. As if that was not enough, his bag in which he hid the money was torn, from where the money was removed without his knowledge. He attempted suicide saying he did not know how his parents could raise another school fee.
Areas where such crime are rampant in Lagos include; Oshodi/Apapa expressway, Mile Two / Badagry expressway, Agege motor road, Ikorodu expressway, Boundry /Apapa road among others. For the ‘catch-in – air’ , these thieves who ply major expressways pick unsuspecting passengers from bus-stops and dispossess them of cash and other valuables mid way . Some passengers who attempt to put up resistance are sometimes thrown out of the moving buses, while others who play along are quietly dropped off.
Ladies are usually targets for bus-stop thieves who usually operate on motorcycles, as their bags are snatched from them. Cele, Ilasa, Liverpool, Iyana-Isolo, Mile Two, Charity and Oshodi bus-stops along the Apapa/Oshodi expressway are usually flash points for these hoodlums. Other bus-stops include; Ikotun, Idimu, Egbeda, boundry, Wilmer, Iyana-Ipaja, Ikorodu, Odogunyan, among several others in Lagos state. Reports from other parts of the country show that such thievery is on the increase in recent times.
“Stealing of mobile phones and pick-pocketing that had almost disappeared has become rampant again,” Aminu Kagina said from Minna, Niger State.
Also on the increase is the participation of minors in these crimes. Recently, personnel of NNS WEY, a maintenance unit of the Nigerian Navy, at Navy Town, Ojo, Lagos arrested some minors who out of hunger, threw caution, fear and discretion to the dogs by sneaking into Navy Town barracks to burgle apartments of naval personnel who had gone to work.
The suspects,whose frail looks would never give them away as buglers, told Saturday Vanguard that they usually scaled the fence of the barracks through a bill board close to the wall. They, however, stated that they were mere errand boys, disclosing that their ‘masters’ usually waited for them at the other side of the fence each time they went on operation. At the end of any successful operation, they were given N1000 and above which they claimed they used to feed.
One of them claimed his father had been jobless for years and could barely feed the family. His mother, a tomato seller around Satellite, according to him, had her goods destroyed by officials of the Kick Against Indiscipline who were enforcing the ban on street hawking. One of them, 13-year-old Ehis Akhiemien, a primary 6 pupil of Assurance Primary School, Kirikiri, revealed that he started stealing four months ago. He stated that his alleged partner in crime, Elijah Benjamin, introduced him into burglary.
He said: “Elijah said we should go to people’s houses to steal. We would jump the fence into the barracks at about 6pm and would hide until it is dark. Elijah would tear the nets of our victims with blade, from where he stole the items. At times some of the kitchen doors were left open, thereby facilitating his entry.
“On my part, I would be on the look out for any intruder. At the end, we would take the stolen items to our boss who would be waiting for us at the other side of the fence.” Asked if his parents were aware of what he was into, he shook his head, explaining that he usually went for the operation on the pretense that he was going to eat in a friend’s house since there was no food at home.
Pregnant women too
Recently , a pregnant woman was arrested by policemen attached to Life camp division in Abuja. The suspect identified as Precious Ebuka, was alleged to have burgled a neighbor’s apartment and stole N80,000 while the later was away.
However, Ebuka, a resident of Agwan Idoma, Dape Village, who admitted to have entered the apartment , claimed she only stole N300. Police sources said N300 was found on her as at time of arrest. She told a concerned crowd that she stole the money because she was hungry.
She narrated in tears: “ I stole the money because I was hungry. That was the second day I stayed without food. But I only stole N300 not N80,000”.
Also on the rise is the attack on those who usually leave home for their respective businesses, by criminals who operate on motorcycles. Motorists are not spared by these thieves either, as they are approached by these hoodlums who wield dangerous objects , particularly when they are trapped in traffic.
Some minors were also arrested recently by operatives of Rapid Response Squad of the Lagos State Police Command , in Agege area of Lagos. They were apprehended while attacking a lady on the railway line Surprisingly, during interrogation, most of them revealed that any loot from their operations were used to provide food for their families.
Commercial sex workers ?
Commercial sex workers who are also affected by the economic downturn have devised new means of survival. This time around, some of them passionately beg for as low as N200 to N500 to feed . Investigation carried by Saturday Vanguard showed that some commercial sex workers are unable to pay rents for their brothels, owing to the plunge in patronage.
For instance, some of them who used to attend to five to ten customers a day, end up having just two or no patronage. One of them who lives in a brothel around Okota lamented “ This era is really affecting us. We can not even feed anymore, let alone to pay our rents. A service that we ordinarily charged between N1500 to N2000 has been reduced to N700, yet nobody dey come “ she revealed that some of them even buy food on credit.
The commercial sex worker further revealed that some of her colleagues have resorted to stealing in order to survive. Asked what they usually stole she said “ No be me o. But some of my colleagues steal clothes hung on lines which they sell at Aswani market . This usually happens at night. They will be parading as if they are looking for customers. All this na because of the economy. It is not only here o, but all over. Some of us in even vandalise vehicles of customers who come to patronise others.
Statistics at Saturday Vanguard’s disposal showed buglers are on the increase in the in South West region. However they device a new means such as accosting an occupant of a building , who they take round the entire apartment using the occupant as a bait to gain entry.
Also traders at weekly markets in some of these states have had their goods stolen by criminals who posed as fellow traders.
In Enugu State,the rising cost of commodities especially stable food items have triggered a pronounced increase in crime rate. With inflation rate at 16.5 percent,a bag of rice which sold for N11,000 now sells for N20,000.
A resident at Indpendence Layout,Amaechi Ukwuani,told Saturday Vanguard that,”Incidents of burglary have soared in my street. The other day,a band of thieves invaded my neighbors’ residence,carting away food items mainly. Most of us Civil Servants have since abandoned our cars for commercial buses to work. There has not been any corresponding increases in salaries to cushion the effect of the prevailing economic hardship”.
Investigation showed that the Nsukka prison break last Tuesday, which culminated in the escape of 15 inmates from prison,serving different jail terms might be connected to the acute hunger in the prison yard. Unconfirmed reports said prison officials divert food items meant for inmate to feed their families following the excruciating economic hardship dotting the nation.
For prisons meant to contain 180 inmates but allegedly housing about 500 inmates squeezed in compact cells of the prison yard,the situation would be better imagined than witnessed. Stealing of generators for power supply is also on the increase in many parts of the country.
Invasion of worship centres
Places of worship are also not spared as checks by Saturday’s Vanguard showed that petty thieves have invaded these supposedly revered places which ought to be esteemed, stealing even Bibles ,with the hope to find money tucked in by worshipers. They also steal handbags and phones, including shoes which are usually kept in front of worship centres.
To avoid falling preys to these criminals, most worshipers now take their bags and other belongings with them while going to drop their offerings. Some even put their shoes in the their bags instead of leaving them at the entrance. In some cases some worship centres been been burgled, with their vaults and singing instruments taken away.
With the foregoing, it is obvious that Nigerians, irrespective of age and sex , are groaning under these hard times that have done Buhari’s initial goodwill any good. It cannot with manufacturers lacking forex while religious pilgrims are getting approvals for PTA at N197 to a dollar. Nigerians are hoping that the CHANGE Buhari promised and made a campaign slogan does not mean the current doom.