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Oshodi and the decriminalization of Lagos

By Morenike Taire
Who can forget who has been a Lagos resident in the last 20 years or so, the days when the armed robber sat at the throne in Lagos?

Technically, of course, it wasn’t exactly so. There were governors-military, and at some point civilian-at the office in Alausa who bared their teeth at the criminal community, and then retreated in defeat.

Extreme fear reigned in the hearts of the people. It could be the turn of anyone at anytime to get a home visit from men of the underworld with their newly acquired weapons (some say officially acquired) that they actually used. It mattered little if they were rich, poor, Christian, Moslem, Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. No one was spared.

Perhaps government was too busy to do anything, that period being a rather sensitive one in our political history. Or perhaps their hands are tied, seeing as our lie of a Federal system did not allow states or local governments to put together apparatuses to protects their own citizens, just as they are not allowed to provide electricity, and all kinds of things that might make people’s lives  a little more comfortable, a little safer and bring development.

The civilian administration, in Lagos State, of Bola Ahmed Tinubu officially was the first to hit its head against the wall of an I’m-the-all-in-all Federal Government posture.

First, it was the scuttled deal with Enron, which eventually made the governor look bad, given the eventual fate of the energy company and disenabled him from making the point he would most love to make: Lagos State, like any other state in a true Federal system, should be able to find solutions to her own problems, not excluding the problem of electricity supply.

Next, it was the issue of security, which though appeared to have been sorted out to a certain degree on account of the ascendance of neighbourhood security arrangements and apparatus, had attained other dimensions.

And so while there was a reduced incidence of domestic armed robbery, carnage on the roads had increased, robbers had become more sophisticated and were going for the banks, the ritual kidnap and murder phenomena had escalated and the area boy clique had grown and become an establishment.

Again, the brick wall was there when Lagos tried to sort its own security. It was not until the issue of Local Governments came up that Tinubu was able to get the people’s voice behind his. And when he did, did he!

Somehow, though, she was able to go quite a way with solving the security issues that had been on ground, showing that there are ways of solving problems the central government are reluctant or are unable to deal with. Courting the State’s police and supporting it both materially and morally (particularly materially) enabled Lagos State to acquire controlling shares in that force.

Creating its own security apparatus within the State government for purposes of logistics and strategy has changed the way state governments perceive their relationship with Federal-controlled men in black, hopefully for good.

Of course the state has also explored the more obvious strategy of trying to get the unemployed off the streets for the purposes of crime reduction. Yet, by far the most ingenious strategy against crime, and one that has been mainly unexplored, is in the use of infrastructural development.

The classic example, of course, are the renovation, as it were, of the timeless and iconic suburb of Oshodi and the redefinition of what we have always known as market places, empty spaces and pedestrian bridges to be. Once synonymous to off-limits, high crime areas to be avoided at odd hours, the revamp of these places has driven the criminals away and destroyed their hiding places.

Finally, the culture of laying about- the precursor to high crime- is becoming eroded slowly but surely in this city.
Interestingly, mega cities around the world are far more famous for crime than are small towns and smaller cities, where smaller populations make for no anonymity.

Yet, as the Lagos Mega City project unfolds, so crime has lulled.
If we had universities that functioned as universities, they might have looked into this by way of research and it is to be hoped that mega-universities are somewhere in the mega city plan.

In the mean time, it is to be hoped the governments of other states can find a forum to rub minds on learning from Lagos’ successes in security and improving on her failures.


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