By Olasunkanmi Akoni & Monsur Olowoopejo
DEspite the well lit streets, I lost my belongings to four young hoodlums at Oshodi area sometime ago, who accosted me at gun point. They made away with my hand bag containing various valuables, including my Blackberry mobile phone, ID card, cash among others. I was around 8 pm on my way home from Apapa, after close of work. I was heading towards Egbeda when the incident happened.
“Initially, I wanted to put up some form of resistance, because I see them as too young to accost me but on a second thought, I decided to let go and within a minute the boys disappeared into thin air, as they made a dash across the rail towards Anthony end of the road I shouted thieves but nobody came to my rescue,” narrated an Oshodi armed robbery victim, who simply identified herself as Mrs. Juliet.
The above experience was one of the many harrowing experiences of residents in the hands of hoodlums, who still hold sway in the area.
In March 2008, the Lagos State government began major transformation of the popular Oshodi Market, by demolishing illegal structures and displacing traders as well as illegal occupants, mainly street urchins, who had been terrorizing residents, passersby and motorists in the area.
The exercise was widely applauded locally and internationally, as successive administrations, both military and civilian had failed to clean up the hugely populated area.
However, in a fresh onslaught against recalcitrant ones, the state government, through the state Environmental and Special Offences Task Force Unit, last week, stormed Oshodi and environs to cleanse it of all forms of environmental nuisance.
The taskforce, led by its Chairman, Chief Superintendent of Police, Bayo Sulaimon, raided the area. The target was miscreants who had made under the bridge, the railway and drainage channels their abode. Those arrested were mainly teenagers under the ages of 12 and 19. They were said to be indigenes of neighbouring states such as Ogun, Oyo, Kwara, Osun and Ondo among others.
The suspects were detained at the taskforce secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja from where they will be transfer to various remand homes for corrective measures.
Challenge in tackling menace: Sulaimon, while speaking with Vanguard on the menace explained: “In the past, we have rid the state of miscreants and street traders. While doing that we arrested several teenagers. They were remanded at correction centres in the state. The reason for this is to ensure there is law and order in the megacity, whether the hoodlums are underage or adults. The perception of many was that the state government is sending underage to prison, but we do not do that.
“First, when we arrest miscreants especially those that we feel that are underage, the state ministry of Youths, Sports and Social Development will be invited to certify if such person was underage or not. They do it by examining their fingers, the bones, face and other features.
“Sometimes, when we arrest some adults who have given their true data to taskforce, when he or she gets to the court the music will change. He will claim to be underage. This often stalls trial. The magistrate will pronounce that the teenagers among the accused miscreants should leave the court room. “As we remove the acclaimed underage, sometimes we are in dilemma because the ministry that had earlier identified the hoodlums as adult will be left with no option than to integrate them with their parents as the court declines hearing their case. In such situation we always demand that their parents sign undertaking that the child will not leave the home again.
“The state’s record showed that serious breakdown of family values had been the major cause of teenage miscreants. There is a law that states that parents are liable if they fail to perform their duty. And we discovered that several child miscreants were products of failed marriage.”
Black spot: It was also discovered that the major black spot for underage miscreants in Lagos is Oko-Mola in Oshodi axis of the state. This is one place that has since become a major settlement for the underaged in the state. This is where several child miscreants spend their night and after snatching phones and other valuables during the day, they return to this place to sleep. In the later part of the day, they sell the stolen products. This is a place where over 70 miscreants had been arrested in a single raid before.
“We raid Oko-Mola every two weeks and we find new set of miscreants in this place. Whenever we raid this place, we find less than five miscreants who have been arrested before. And this raises much concern if there was a breeding place for miscreants outside the state before they relocate to Lagos. The court conducts adequate screening of the miscreants before the commencement of trials. This is what we have adopted before now to ensure underage hoodlums weren’t imprisoned. That was why it isn’t possible for us to imprison any child.”
Pregnant teenagers: it was gathered that between January and June, 77 juvenile miscreants were arrested. There was a sharp increase after the sixth month of the year. The number has increased to over 200 underage miscreants till date. Apart from depriving Lagosians of their valuables, they also work as bartenders in cafeteria, restaurants and others.
Some few months ago, two underage miscreants, suspected to be a couple, were arrested under the bridge at Oshodi. The lady was already pregnant. Five pregnant teenage girls were also arrested at the point of arrest.
Sulaimon said the unit was considering arresting their parents as well, “we believe that with this, we will be able to make parents live up to their responsibilities. But the reason why we are yet to achieve that is the larger percentage of the miscreants are from other states. If their parents reside within Lagos, we can call on them to appear in court for been unable to perform their duties.
“The pregnant mothers were transferred to the Ministry of Youths, Sports and Social Development, for proper care. The reason for this was that the so called father and mother cannot provide adequate care for the unborn child.
“We are working on our data base. We are forming a data page where we will store information of the miscreants arrested. With this, whenever such person is arrested, we will be able to trace his data. The reason for this is because we are having challenges with those arrested for violating the law, and because larger percent of the miscreants know that the state has the non-custodian law, which stipulates the penalty for first offender and second offender. Whenever they are arrested for certain crime, the bio-data they disclose to the enforcement officers would be different from the data he will give when next he is arrested. With biometric data capturing, we believe that any offender arrested, will be convicted properly.”