Frequent reports of harassment, robbery and kidnapping have culminated in citizen’s lack of confidence in the popular commercial transport systems in Lagos. From tricycles to taxis and even government-owned shuttle bus, passengers now battle criminals masquerading as drivers or co-passengers. While the burden of protecting its citizens rests on the government, citizens are also demanding for better and secured services from licensed commercial operators. Yinka Olatunbosun and Rebecca Ejifoma report
It all started many years ago with ‘one chance’, a robbery that occurs in marked or unmarked commercial buses where a lone, unsuspecting or desperate passenger boards a bus and gets robbed. Of course, the victim is usually blamed for not being streetwise; boarding a bus outside the designated bus parks.
And the mockery that often follows makes light of the situation. Later, the criminals became more brazen, boarding public transit at day time along traffic-prone areas like Badagry Expressway, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ikorodu-Apapa axis, Ojodu Berger, amongst other blackspots, stripping people of their money and other valuables.
In Lagos, Commerical Tricycles are not Safe Either
More recently, passengers have complained of robbery or attempted kidnapping in tricycles at several locations in Lagos.
Areas like Okota, Isolo, Costain, Surulere and even Jakande Estate in Ejigbo axis have witnessed an influx of such attacks. Targeting lone passengers, especially women, the rider and accomplice strip their victims and push them off before targeting another victim.
Recently, a post on Instagram by @KaffybrownB went viral. She had posted, “what’s really happening in Nigeria? The rate of kidnapping is tiring. My sister’s friend got kidnapped on Thursday at Isolo. She wanted to get stuff outside so she boarded Keke Napep (tricycle). When the Keke man got to her destination, she told the man she was alighting but he said no… “
The driver of the said tricycle reportedly increased the speed while the young lady screamed. While the tricycle was still in motion, she jumped out, injured herself and broke her phone screen.
Murder in Lagos BRT
Sometimes, the stories get uglier. Consider the recent case of the 22-year old seamstress, Oluwabamise Ayanwola who went missing after boarding the BRT on Saturday, February 26. She took her final steps into the unknown when she boarded the bus to Oshodi at Chevron bus stop, Lekki-Ajah Expressway after work and never arrived at her destination.
While her instincts led her to share with her friend some vital information about the uncomfortable journey which allegedly began with a flirtatious remark from the driver, her due diligence was not enough to save her from the hands of criminals. Her lifeless body was found on March 8 by the roadside along Carter Bridge, sending shivers down the spine of concerned citizens.
The unfortunate death led to online outrage as Bamise’s videos and voice messages were released on the internet. It was a cringe-worthy experience as more Lagosians had depended on the state-owned BRT to commute in Lagos safely in the heat of the fuel scarcity. But that didn’t stop dancing feet from celebrating the International Women’s Day the next day. It almost seemed that gruesome news has lost its power to shock and literally stop us in our tracks.
Increasing Risk Posed by E-hailing Cabs
While some Lagosians were recovering from the killing of Bamise, some have taken to the social media to recount how the operators of popular cab hailing services have also failed to protect their passengers.
In an encounter shared by Ada Ugo Busiswadede, just 10 days after Bamise’s death, it was revealed that some drivers may be impersonated by criminals. After ordering a ride on March 18, she found out that the driver’s face did not match the one on the app.
“He said the Bolt app blocked his account and that it was his brother’s own-and that ‘Why was I questioning him?’ I texted my sister and friend immediately and shared the ride with them. He brought out perfume oil and was putting it all over himself for whatever reason.
“This guy made a call and said in Yoruba, “I’m on my way, wait I’m coming. I got one.” Maybe I was overreacting or it was paranoia but I was shaking as f***. He locked the doors from his own side and I just started to panic really bad. All this while, my sister and friends were calling but I couldn’t take their calls because I was scared and I didn’t want him to figure that I was panicking,” she recounted.
Well, the driver did and subsequently accelerated. Ada wanted to alight at the Maryland Mall but Mr. ‘Fast’ became ‘Furious’ and wouldn’t listen.
“Then he asked, ‘Why you dey share ride, You be pikin?’ I just wanted to faint because how did he know? He wasn’t looking into my phone now. We were already at the traffic light by Maryland inwards Bank Anthony. I told him if he didn’t drop me I would break his window.
“He got so angry and started to insult me; call me all sorts, bad market, ashewo (prostitute), small girl, mad girl etc. Traffic was building up so he stopped at Leventis bus stop and ended the trip. Bolt, is this what your drivers do now? It’s sickening because when I got out of that car, I just kept crying, nobody knew what just happened. My mum, sister and friends were calling and I couldn’t even pick up the phone. Maybe, just maybe something,” she recalled.
Her instincts proved powerful just like Bamise’s. From the video she shared with her friend, Bamise expressed worry that perhaps it was just paranoia for sensing danger, after all it is BRT. That could be the same confidence that anyone who relies on cab hailing services would have.
The passenger has a feeling of security because the app gives the identity of the driver, photo, name of the car model and license plate number and has been verified by the company. Still, some passengers do not always make sure to check the faces of drivers very well, especially at night once the plate number matches the one displayed on the app.
Another lady named Kimboro claimed she had been robbed by a cab driver at Ikoyi who was initially friendly with her. After a long chat, they both discovered they were from the same tribe, Igbo and then continued the conversation in their native tongue. What later ensued left her tongue-tied.
“After a while, he begged to pick up something from his brother and said it was just on our way. Before I could even agree, he had stopped the car, some guy entered the passenger seat and then the driver zoomed off. At this point, I was scared and confused.
“The driver then started saying he wanted to advise me because I’m his sister. Saying next time, I shouldn’t enter a stranger’s car. I was still confused. That was when he asked the guy in the passenger seat to slap me. Guys, they slapped the living daylight out of me.
“The guy took everything I had on me: my cards, my ID cards, my ATM pins, my mobile app pins. He transferred all the money in my accounts including my savings to one of my cards, my phone, and my bag. He then brought out a knife threatening to use it on me if I didn’t do as they asked. I was scared. It was at this point that the driver said it was my lucky day because he wanted to use me but that he won’t because he doesn’t use his sisters. All this while, he was circling around Ikoyi,” she recounted in a series of tweets.
Eventually, the driver allegedly stopped somewhere close to Obalende, gave the victim N1000, pushed her out of the car and zoomed off. Her story was soon afterwards corroborated by another victim who had gone through similar experience.
With these series of crime stories, citizens blame the companies for the porous security structure that makes it easy for criminals to infiltrate. For instance, a customer who identified as @yinkadudu warned the operators of one of the best patronised cab hailing services in Nigeria, Bolt, of the dangers of hiring criminally-minded individuals as drivers.
“Your rides have become very insecure and are being used by kidnappers, serial killers. Your drivers are harassing people and I don’t see you people doing anything about it. If you can’t ensure the security of your patronisers, best stop operations in Nigeria,” he alleged.
Bolt was very responsive to these claims on social media and has promised to maintain their safety standards to protect the riders.
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Our safety team is working on this at the moment. We are very committed to ensuring that the safety of our users are our utmost priority and this is not an exemption,” Bolt tweeted.
Vote of No Confidence…
More often than not, citizens report crime to social media or friends because they lack confidence in the Nigeria Police. When questioned, a few who preferred to be anonymous complained about the extortion of victims of crime by police.
“Police cannot help you. You have to bribe to get anything. They say they don’t have funds to investigate,” a victim of one-chance reported.
Chapter 11 section 14 (2c) of the Nigerian constitution states that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. If the citizens have to resort to self-help to tackle crime, it makes a mockery of this government’s duty to protect its citizens.
Lagos Police Command Reacts
In his reaction to the recent trend of kidnapping in Lagos State using the transport system, the State Police Public Relations Officer, Benjamin Hundeyin, in an exclusive with THISDAY, confirmed that Lagos is safe.
“Lagos is safe,” he said. “Yes, there are pockets of kidnapping. Yes, they’re gradually increasing. Yes, the command is aware and we’ve been receiving complaints about it. Yes, we’ve started taking steps.”
He added that the state command has set up a team to critically examine this trend, see how security could be improved and come up with reports and recommendations to nip it in the bud.
Hundeyin also pointed out that once the reports and recommendations are received, steps would be taken to implement them, so that the transport system can become safe and secure.
Through his Twitter handle, @Benjamin Hundeyin, the PRO for Lagos Police Command has continued to engage with people, as they register their grievances online.Lagos State Government and Its Strategies
Also, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the State Governor, Gboyega Akosile, commended the state government for its effective strategies, saying it’s doing everything to keep Lagosians safe.
“That is why the Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, launched the 1,000 vehicles to propel safe mobility of residents from one place to the other.
“The vehicles are security fitted, safe, comfortable and modernised taxi scheme with the rollout of the first batch of 1,000 brand-new,” Akosile hinted. He also noted that with the security-enabled feature, it’d help them monitor the activities. “The state government is trying”.
On what the state government is doing to restore trust in the police, the CPS explained that there has been training and retraining. He said: “We’ll keep talking to them. You know, some will continue in their unprofessional activities. However, we’ll keep on enlightening and training them to ensure safety.”
More Action, Less Talk
Perhaps, the management of mass transit buses in Lagos need to consider taking a cue from the safety protocols in aviation where every flight is preceeded by safety demonstration. The BRT in particular could imbibe the same safety practice with pre-recorded safety announcements that inform all passengers both old and new of the emergency features on the bus.
Many who had been using the BRT didn’t even know much about this until Bamise’s demise. Citizens need to be constantly informed about their safety in the public transport system not only after another hashtag provokes the government’s response. It may also be helpful to introduce and install panic buttons and tracking systems in commercial transit systems.
In addition to instituting a more rigourous driver verification process, providers of cab hailing services need to add an emergency contact feature on the app. Also, the list of complaints by customers should be updated to include harassment, aggressive behaviour, verbal attack or make customers specify the particular unprofessional behaviour that was exhibited by the driver.
Citizens should also learn to trust their instincts as the ‘in-born police’ to protect one from criminals.
Many have been saved by responding to their first whiff of danger. One such example is a content creator who simply identified as Queen of Cruise on Instagram.
She implored: “Please whatever your instincts tell you, heed to it. I was almost kidnapped this morning at Alausa secretariat, Ikeja.” The Queen of Cruise recalled that the driver was talking about helping the passenger who spoke in a strange foreign language to change money and all.
“But something was weird about the whole encounter. She then asked to alight but the driver ignored her and activated the central lock. Her saving grace was the traffic light that turned red. “I began texting and calling. Immediately I saw a traffic light, I began hitting the door until they opened it. That was how I escaped.”
Indeed, the emergency numbers 112 and 199 should be as responsive and effective as the domestic violence helplines in Lagos. For the avoidance of doubt, the responsibility to protect citizens still lies with the government and the process of reporting crime in Nigeria needs to be fair and humane. Diligent prosecution of criminals will further reinforce confidence in Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
“The Lagos State Command has set up a team to critically examine this trend, see how security could be improved and come up with reports and recommendations to nip it in the bud… steps would be taken to implement them, so that the transport system can become safe and secure”
“Indeed, the emergency numbers 112 and 199 should be as responsive and effective as the domestic violence helplines in Lagos. For the avoidance of doubt, the responsibility to protect citizens still lies with the government”