He slowly glides in between cars lined on Alapere bridge between Ketu and Ogudu, unseen by most people in their cars. Weary drivers and passengers are unaware of his presence. A more cursory look reveals he is almost naked, his dignity covered by a pant adapted in the form of a loincloth. His body is adorned with what looks like a combination of grease and engine oil. He makes his way close to a Toyota Camry and like a Leopard approaching his prey, he sprints up and snatches the phone from an unsuspecting passenger sitting by the window side of the Camry. With catlike agility, he sprints away and disappears over the bridge into the gap between the bridge and into the night.
Welcome to Lagos in 2021, where the menace of traffic robberies have seen an unprecedented rise in recent times. Incidents such as described above have become commonplace in most areas in Lagos, especially during the rush hour. In fact, the scenario described is non –violent and is a rarity in the tales of traffic robberies most of which involve the brandishing of weapons and maiming of members of the public.
In the past, these incidents were considered isolated cases and were few and far between, but there has been a very noticeable increase in the last one year.
The major flashpoints for these incidents are Oshodi Oke (bridge), Orile, Lagos – Ibadan Expressway (especially the stretch of the Long Bridge), Mile 2, CMS, Apongbon Bridge, Ojota, Orile, Ikorodu Road, Maryland and Mushin. Other locations such as Third Mainland Bridge, Gbagada and Oworonshoki axis have also become flashpoints in recent times due to the traffic congestion occasioned by the closure of the Third Mainland Bridge and in recent weeks, the Eko Bridge.
Based on descriptions of traffic robbery incidents from law enforcement and eye-witness accounts, there appear to be 3 distinct methods by which these robberies are executed. I will attempt to identify each one and give a brief description of how I understand their execution.
Violent robberies make the most headlines because they create panic and fear in victims and other road users. They involve one or more armed individuals wielding guns, machetes or other objects that can inflict bodily harm or cause damage to vehicles. They are boldfaced operations that may be accompanied by breaking vehicle windows and windscreens to instil fear in the minds of the occupants of the vehicle and other nearby vehicles. Occupants are forced to hand over their possessions either at gunpoint or while being threatened with other assault weapons, and the assailants move from vehicle to vehicle before either running into the dark or jumping onto waiting motorbikes.
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The second tactic is the “distraction technique” so named because it involves the use of someone, something or a situation to distract the unsuspecting driver. A member of the gang walks by the side of the vehicle and tries to engage the driver’s attention, while another member of the gang approaches from the other side and grabs anything of value that is visible and within reach. This mostly occurs in single-occupant vehicles where valuables such as phones, bags, etc. are within reach.
The other method is “the thief in the night technique” and as the name implies, the objective is to sneak up on unsuspecting vehicle occupants in a smash and grab operation. The scenario described in the opening is a perfect example of how this technique works and success is dependent on occupants being too tired to notice the assailant sneak upon them.
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In all the techniques discussed (which are by no means exhaustive), the key factor is the Lagos traffic situation, especially in the last one year. Motorists and other commuters are basically sitting ducks in traffic, waiting to be assaulted by robbers. From the commencement of repair works on the Third Mainland Bridge in July 2020 to the newly begun work on the Eko Bridge, major arteries into and out of the Island have undergone reconstruction in one guise or the other. This has led to a very noticeable increase in congestion on some routes that used to experience little to mild traffic hitherto.
Until all the rehabilitation works are finalized, the traffic situation is not likely to improve and this places a greater burden is on the government, the police and the citizenry to fashion out ways to mitigate the problem of traffic robberies.
The State Government needs to ensure all the major areas with high traffic are well lit at night and ensure adequate deployment of LASTMA and other traffic management apparatus to ease vehicular movement. The deployment of police officers along these routes should be a priority both day and night. The state government can utilize the Rapid Response Squad especially the armed riders on motorbikes as these special squad would find it easier to manoeuvre through congestions to intercept criminal activities.
For road users and commuters, the first thing is to be alert and fully aware of the inherent dangers while in traffic. Keep all valuables away from prying eyes and avoid using your phones and other devices, especially when sitting close to the window. People are also encouraged to carpool and avoid being the only occupants of their vehicles, especially at night.
In the event that you are caught in the middle of a traffic robbery, particularly the violent type; do not struggle with the robbers once they accost you. Protect yourself from harm and your vehicle from avoidable damage by being cooperative with them. Remain calm, follow their directives but only hand over what is asked of you. Before starting your trips in this traffic congestion season, keep the bulk of your cash hidden away and put a little cash in your wallet; lock all your doors and put your windows all the way up (if you have air conditioning).