By CHIOMA GABRIEL, EDITOR, SPECIAL FEATURES
You often hear people say they didn’t come to count bridges in Lagos. Perhaps it sounds like a joke but that is the truth of the matter. Bridges are not just fancy sights you stand and observe from a distance. All manner of businesses are transacted under the bridges in Lagos.
Nigerians are familiar with the purported mad man, Clifford Orji, who used to live under the bridge around Toyota near Oshodi, Lagos. But like Clifford Orji, not all mad men are really mad. Some just put up a show to perpetrate crime and go unnoticed.
To refresh memories, the celebrated mad man who used to live under the bridge near Oshodi turned out to be a human parts merchant and cannibal. When the truth of his situation come into the open, he was arrested and charged before an Ebute-Meta Magistrate Court in Lagos on February 19, 1999.
Back then, the GSM was not in existence , but Clifford had not only a 090 NITEL mobile phone of that era, a cheque of N80,000 was also reportedly found on him. At the time he was arrested, police had reasons to believe he was insane, mentally unstable and psychologically handicapped but that was never proven. With Clifford Orji, there were more questions than answers.
Ever since the Orji saga, there have been characters similar to the celebrated mad man around bridges and under fly-overs in Nigeria with all sorts of strange and unrelated items found in the custody of such characters.
In November 2012, Joshua Akindele,56, who hailed from Etokia Local Government in Ogun State, was spotted when he crawled into a hole under the Gbaji bridge, which he used as a business outlet for selling human parts. He later confessed that he had been into cannibalism and ritual killing business for 15 years, after being introduced to the business by a friend who convinced him to stop riding “Okada” which, he claimed, profited him a little, but could not sustain him. He also confessed that he was the brain behind killings within the village using ply woods to subdue his human preys, and dragging them into the hole before cutting them into pieces for food and business with ritualists.
In his statement to the police, Joshua had stated, “I have been in this business for the past 15 years after my friend advised me to stop riding okada and to join him in ritual killing and cannibalism. Whenever I see somebody walking alone without being conscious of who is watching, I walk slowly up to him and hit him with a big ply wood on his heads after which he falls down unconscious. I then drag him into the hole and use a knife to cut him into parts which I sell to some churches and some ready buyers who indulge in rituals for easy money, and some times when I feel hungry late in the night, I eat some parts for food”. He confessed further that he sold the parts as follows: Heads N7,500, breast N1,500, penis N1,000, hands and legs for N3,500.
Amos, a member of a vigilante group in the area, had alerted the group and palace guards of the Baale of Ajara Topa community to monitor Joshua. He said he was on his routine watch when he noticed him (Joshua) crawling into the hole with a rice bag, and quickly alerted other members who confronted him with a gun and ordered him to drop and open what he was carrying. “When he did, they discovered rotten human part:; Skulls, legs, hands, breasts e.t.c.”
At Egbe bridge, between Ikotun and Ejigbo, early this year, two persons, one of them, said to be a prophet with a white garment church, were arrested following the discovery of fresh human parts in their custody.
Policemen attached to Ikotun Division on patrol accosted two men with a ‘Ghana-must-go bag’. When they requested to know the content of the bag, one of the men bolted. After opening the bag, fresh human parts were found inside two containers. The recovered parts included five fingers, a human heart, liver, kidney and intestines, all concealed in some plastics filled with water. The plastics were tied inside separate polythene bags and kept in the bag.
The suspects had also added soup ingredients such as salt,tomatoes and two pairs of bathroom slippers in a separate nylon bag which they placed on top of the human parts. During interrogation, the suspect, identified as Kunle Olaide, claimed the bag was given to him by his friend who bolted when they were stopped. On further interrogation, it was discovered that Kunle and his fleeing partner slept in the church the previous night.
Kunle confessed to be coming from the church located in Egbe area Lagos when they were accosted by the policemen. His confessional statement led to the arrest of the prophet of the church.
Under the same Egbe bridge are all manner of spiritual churches where women are targetted for spiritual businesses. A female broadcaster working on the menace of spiritual homes had undertaken a visit to the under bridge at Egbe where she said she was rushed at by muscled men who wanted to render their services. Katie told Sunday Vanguard that she was surrounded that, for a moment, she thought she was going to be robbed or raped.
“ All manner of youngmen surrounded me asking how they could help me. They asked if I wanted spiritual bath to attract a rich suitor or a millionaire boyfriend; if I wanted a spiritual bath for success in business or promotion in my work place or if there was somebody I wanted them to deal with. Out of curiousity, I started asking them the price for each service and they started reeling out all manner of prices that their leader stopped them and, authotitatively, demanded what I wanted. I now explained that my boyfriend abandoned me for my best friend and they asked again what treatment I wanted, whether I wanted him back or for them to deal with him. They now started telling me the price for each required service. They said I should pay N7,500 to have a spiritual bath that would attract him back to me. From a distant, I sighted two naked women being bathed with leaves by some funny looking men in a shallow stream under the bridge. I told them that I had only N4,000 which they collected and asked me to return with the balance to see the baba that would administer the spiritual bath. I had this feeling that if not for the money I gave them, they would have done something sinister to me. That was how I left the place and never went back.”
A den of robbers
Under-bridges and fly-overs have served as accomodation to many who arrived the city for the first time and had nowhere to go. Some of such stories have ended well with the persons involved getting the proverbial golden fleece while others ended up with tales of woes. Some of the occupants are known to be miscreants who get involved in all manner of businesses. Some worked as bus conductors in the day and as robbers at night. Some get involved in one-chance driving and conductors of such vehicles and some are outright armed robbers.
At the Mile-2 under-bridge, miscreants and thieves operate by day and by night. Although the Lagos government, through its Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI, and the Lagos Task Force Management, had tried to sanitize under-bridges and fly-overs in the state, the menace never died down.
In the area, miscreants, who live under the bridge, operate in broad daylight, taking advange of the heavy traffic to rob motorists. A lady, who came back to Nigeria from Canada, said she was robbed there in the broad-daylight and in the full glare of other motorists who only stared from the vehicles.
“It was that bad that people would be looking at you and seeing you robbed and doing nothing about it. I noticed a pocket of security men here and there but it’s either they didn’t know what was going on or were pretending. The miscreants collected my jewelries and phones right there in the traffic and started demanding for my bags. A relation had come to pick me from the airport and, right there in the traffic, I was losing the valuables I brought home to Nigeria. They would have taken more but some police outriders pushed through the traffic and my tormentors disappeared under the bridge. My heart was in my mouth while my relation begged me to stop panicking. We were going to Olodi-Apapa and wanted to turn under the Berger Bridge. It was when we got to where we turned that we saw policemen extorting money from innocent motorists. It was a very bad experience”.
In a similar vein, Andy, a businessman, alleged that worse things happened under the bridges across Nigeria. He said he witnessed something that shook him along the Third Mainland Bridge one early morning when his vehicle broke down.
“It happened around 6.30am at Oworonshoki . My office is at Victoria Island and I usually leave my house at Akowonjo to get early to the office. I had a flat tyre on the way and had to stay inside my car at the odd hour waiting for daybreak to be able to fix the tyre. I noticed a vehicle drive ahead of me and parked. Then it reversed. I had to put my head down because I wasn’t sure what it was. I noticed the occupants of the vehicle observed my car before reversing past it to park behind me. I was fidgetting and wondered whether they would come for me.but they didn’t. What I observed happen was a very brisk business. I saw weapons exchange hands with some men who appeared from nowhere. The men in the car gave weapons to men who appeared from a dark corner and zoomed off”.
A good turn
It is not only bad businesses people transact under the bridges.For an award-winning Nigerian writer, who once edited a monthly male magazine, what he acquired under the bridge in Nigeria was a good experience. For this novelist, he got his education under the bridge at Masha round-about.
“It’s an experience of a life-time to see myself editing a magazine where people who obtained master’s degrees were working under me. My story is peculiar. I’m a child from a broken home. One of my parents was living in Ibadan while the other lived in Lagos. They had my brother and I. It became difficult for us to go to school when our father would ask us to go and collect money from our mother and she would, in turn, send us back to our father. My brother and I consoled each other in our experience until that fateful day at Oshodi when a moving train crushed my brother to death in my presence. We were going to Ibadan to visit the other parent when the one in Lagos could not pay our fees”, he narrated.
“ I suffered a trauma and then stopped school. I harboured grudges against both my parents and stopped visiting either of them. I became a lonely child. But then, there was a man who sold second hand books under the Masha bridge. I started going to him to borrow all manner of books to read on my own. I joined the free readers association at the newspaper stand at Masha under bridge and that was where I learnt everything I knew. I dropped out of school in Form Four. But I was not an illiterate. I visited the baba who sold second hand books at Masha for years. I read both old books and stood with people who read newspapers and ran commentaries about what was going on in Nigeria. I didn’t get education. I acquired knowledge and that was how I started writing for newspapers. Then I got a job at the magazine and rose to become the editor. None of the reporters and journalists knew anything about my background. At least, four of them had master’s degrees but they worked under me. They didn’t know my story. Actually, I became the editor after my books won Association of Nigerian Authors awards.”
Another contributor, Mabel Ikeatuegwu, said her parents trained her up to university level with proceeds from food her mother sold under the Obalende bridge. Her mother operated a mama-put under the bridge and was highly patronised by civil servants, traders, soldiers and policemen.
“I helped my mother with her mama-put business everyday before going to school. I grew up knowing the night and day life at Obalende. My father also started his chemist shop at under the bridge. He was displaying drugs on tables until he got a shop and the business grew from there. When we were young, it was a very hard life but my father later trained himself to legalise his business. Till date, he never failed to tell anybody who cared to listen that he is a self-made man. In my childhood days, I assisted my mother in cooking and serving food at her joint under the bridge.Every day, between 7:00am and 6:00pm, customers would find their way under Obalende bridge to have a taste of my mother’s delicacies of ‘Amala’, ‘Tuwo’, ‘Semovita’ and pounded yam. And there was hot rice too. There was also a section for noodles, bread, egg and tea. Whatever your taste was and, depending on the weight of your pocket, you were sure to find solace in my mom’s shop”, Mabel said.
“Under the Obalende bridge provides attractions for all kinds of businesses. Nowadays, the place is mostly boisterous at night because, at night, traders don’t worry about the KAI Brigade or task force men who disturb a lot in the day time. Fashola’s mega-city plan changed things under the bridge. Only those whose businesses are portable operate in the morning and day-time. Such carry their wares about and could easily take off on sighting the task force vehicles but, at night, the place swings with all manner of businesses including a buzzing gambling arena livened by the presence of a variety of alcoholic mixtures and hard drugs. There are also shacks set up that now serve as home to many who trade and engage in other forms of business activities here all through the day.”
Beehive of activities
From Ojuelegba to Race Course, Obalende,CMS, Ketu, Maryland,Oshodi and Mile 2, all sorts of activities are taking place simultaneously under the bridges.One common sight is the presence of young men of different ages seen in groups either smoking hemp or helping themselves to all sorts of liquid substances in the morning and afternoon times across the area.
Under the bridges is a different world hidden far away from the view of many, especially people that ride above it in cars and commercial vehicles. Some of the under-bridges have become centres for all manner of businesses.
Chinonye, a broadcaster with Radio Nigeria whose office is located at Obalende, said there’s nothing one cannot buy between the bridges of Obalende and CMS.
“ Whenever I’m on duty, I usually pass through CMS to Obalende and you are often welcomed by a thriving ‘under bridge community’ . Sometimes, I have cause to be at Race Course and it is the same story. A handful of men and women with their children have made a home out of every available corner under the bridges. I buy most of the things I need under the CMS, Race Course or Obalende bridge including food. You can buy bags, shoes, clothes and other fashion accessories which were vigorously displayed by traders. It’s also a place for area boys to carry out their exploits. Sometimes, you’re greeted by stench of marijuana and all manner of alcoholic drinks”, Chinonye said.
“For many of my colleagues who work night, under the bridge at Obalende is a dreadful place. Even the dead who are meant to have peace at the graveyards at Obalende know no peace because hoodlums including area boys and thieves have hijacked the graveyard from the dead.
“When they snatch people’s bags at night, they throw them inside the graveyards where their colleagues are waiting. These hoodlums started living at the Obalende graveyards even before the Fashola regime tried to make the mega-city of Obalende. It is safer in the day time but at night, you are on your own. All those who couldn’t operate at daytime come out in their hundreds at night.
“ We often say that spirits also come out at night to sell and buy because of the crowd under that bridge at night.”
Stella, 33, whose husband also operates an eatery around the bridge, said Obalende is a place where one can buy anything.
“There is no night because everything comes alive at night. I can tell you that the daytime is boring here but night is fast and dangerous. My husband operates under the bridge when he closes from work at Ikoyi. He displays goods somewhere under the bridge to make extra money for the up-keep of the family. We sell provisions and other feminine materials because ladies like to shop on their way from work and many buy whatever they want under the bridge. Everything you want can be bought here at night. But if you are wise, you should know how to carry your bag because of hoodlums.A woman who was inside a bus bought a fashion magazine from a vendor but, as she made to pay, a hoodlum snatched the N1000 note from her hand and disappeared into the darkness. Things like this happen here like in other under bridges across Lagos. “
‘Why we sell under bridges’
At CMS under-bridge, some of the traders who diplayed their wares said recession pushed them out of the market. Ekene, 32, who deals in men’s boxers and singlets, said he used to have a shop at Balogun which he shared with a friend.
“But things became too tough and life became difficult. I couldn’t pay and, when it started creating problems for me, I moved out and another person took my space. I’m here trading under the bridge. The only problem is that KAI Brigade and Lagos Task Force chase us up and down. Many of us who display our wares on the ground and some of them ringing bell are people of similar circumstances. Apart from KAI who harasses us a lot, touts and local council officials exploit us all the time.”
Under the Ojuelegba bridge is a bit urbane. The road to Tejuosho market is littered with bookshops and many of them extended to under the Ojuelegba bridge. Hence, items like books, newspapers, magazines and academic materials are displayed on large tables and wooden shelves under the bridge.
Obiora, who sells books under Ojuelegba bridge, pointed down the road towards Tejuosho market and said there are many bookstores there.
“ I have been selling books here for years. This line down towards Tejuosho is mostly about books. University students come here at resumption to buy books. I sell all kinds of academic books. Sometimes, I take the list of the books they want and supply them in their various campuses.”
At the other side of Ojuelegba bridge towards Maryland is a motor park where buses can take you to your desination. In fact, most under bridges and fly-overs serve as motor parks for commercial buses plying various routes across Lagos metropolis and also several kiosks where lotto, sports betting and other gambling activities take place. The same thing applies to under bridges in other cities. There is also room for merchants of alcoholic drinks who are either stationed at a spot or hawk their wares from one point to another in any distinct ‘community’. Hawkers of fast foods and soft drnks also abound.
Under the bridge at Oshodi is not different. In fact, that is the capital city for miscreants in Lagos. Under the bridge at Oshodi is a staccato of all businesses. Although the Fashola mega-city campaign attempted to bring sanity to Oshodi, driving away miscreants,these have since staged a come-back.It is therefore normal to see these young men sitting at pavements during the day and robbing motorists in traffic and in the night. During the day, buying and selling, which takes place at similar places, is equally observed at Oshodi but it is a different world when darkness comes. Despite the heavy presence of LASTMA and policemen, Oshodi has not ceased to be what it used to be. Under the Oshodi bridge is where anything can happen.
Azubike, 40, told Sunday Vanguard that his father was killed by miscreants at Oshodi under-bridge.
“He was going to work in the early hours. We don’t know what transpired under the bridge at Oshodi but miscreants pushed him into an oncoming vehicle which crushed him to death. But my father didn’t die alone, he held on tightly to one of them and that one too was crushed. It was the darkest day in our family since we moved to Lagos from Umuahia,” he stated.
A success story
There are many whose life under the bridges gave them the determination to succeed. One of them is a popular Nollywood actor, Ramsey Nouah, who had to pass through the valley of shadow of death under the bridges before he attained stardom.
In an interview, the Nollywood star recalled how he once lived under the bridge while growing up with his mother.
“I lived on the streets and in a store which could accommodate a mat with my mother. My mother and I squeezed ourselves in that mat. Those were the times when things got really bad for my mother and I and we had nothing. It was so bad that we didn’t have a home to live in. We didn’t even have a cup to drink water not to talk of a stove to cook. My mother had to borrow, beg and stuff like that. Those moments, we had nothing and we were living off people. People were just helping us out. There were times we didn’t have food to eat for three or four days. You haven’t eaten and your stomach is rumbling but you don’t have any place to go. So, I lived under the bridges to work to support my mother and I.”
At Opebi Link under-bridge in Ikeja, men of the Lagos State Taskforce on Environment and Special Offences, Enforcement Unit, once swooped on a syndicate producing and selling adulterated diesel to unsuspecting members of the public.
It was gathered that the adulterated diesel was produced by mixing large quantity of kerosene with little diesel. The illegal activities, according to government officials, have impacted negatively on the ecosystem within 100 metres radius.
The taskforce Chairman, who led the raid, described the activities as sabotaging the country’s economy.
“This is a situation where some people perpetrate illegal activities. They buy small diesel and kerosene and mix them up. Adulteration is going on here at will. The trucks come into the premises and discharge the products and leave”, he said, adding that after the production exercise, “they approach consumers in the name of registered oil and gas companies and sell these contaminated products to the public.” The Chairman lamented that those arrested used to engage in the activities with business names but without known addresses, saying:”It is alarming that a lot of vehicles and generating sets would have been damaged by these adulterated products. It is unfortunate. “We got the information and the combined team of the state Ministry of the Environment and the officers of the taskforce decided that such act must not continue in the state.”