Here I am, sitting down daintly in front of a Cyber Café in the Ojodu area of Ikeja metropolis. I had just finished reading the reports of an Ondo-based Pastor and his weird teachings. I was not amused nor amazed but dazed beyond description. To shake off this utter lethargy, I decided to move to the corridor to unwind. I there watching the various on and off movements; both human and vehicular, but with faint attention. The various hawkers, those who hawk their wares around and those who are by the roadside. Then, it suddenly dawned on me, that I had not seen a commercial motorbike pass.
While still processing the how’s and why’s the Pastor of The World Believer’s Bible Church, Ondo Town, Ondo State managed to hypnotise some 77 worshippers, including 23 children and kept them in an underground dungeon awaiting the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ this coming September. The Pastor, David Anifowose and his able assistant, Peter Josiah were said to have ordered his “sheep” to separate themselves from the sinful world and consecrate themselves for the rapture to come in September. 77 members, including 23 children obeyed. They abandoned their jobs, trades, homes and parked themselves in the church’s dungeon. They were rescued by the police after some concerned persons alerted them.
Then, suddenly, I took a deeper notice of the absence of the nuisance of the ubiquitous commercial motorbike riders. Then the news of their barring from operations in six out of the original Federal Government recongnized twenty Local Government Areas came flooding back into my mind. If further broken down to the State’s Local Council Development Area, the numbers will go up to sixteen or so. How can I let that simple State of order escape my mind? The consequences of violation are dire. The State Edict says both the rider and the passenger are liable to a term of not less than three months or a hefty fine in lieu of doing a post-graduate course at one of the hellish Correctional Homes in the State.
Correctional Homes!? Before the present government at the centre changed the name, it was Nigeria Prison. But now they are said to be homes for correction. As a reporter, I have visited the notorios Kiri-Kiri Maximum Security Prison before. There is also the Medium Security Prison almost in the same compound, if I may be permitted to use the word. I did visit the famous Ikoyi Prison too. The present site of Ikoyi Prison is not the one that holed up late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his disciples in the early years of the Federation. That one in Broad Street, Lagos is now hosting a multivarious events centre. Life musical band, good music, arts and all that. The place is now re-christened Freedom Park by the Lagos State Government under Mr Bababtunde Raji Fashola (SAN). It is a host to Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka who maintained an office apartment there. The horrors painted by the late Pa Obafemi Awolowo in his memoir, My Walk through Prison has since been lost and now replaced by the glamour of nightlife klieg lights. The new Ikoyi Prison is located almost by the Lagoon front, very close to the Ikoyi Cemetery. It is an odious place to visit, not to talk of taking up an occupation there. Then you talk of the one with the Jericho’s Wall, the one Lagos State under the same former Governor Fashola built in Badagry. The huge walled Prison, sorry now Correctional Home is purposely built overlooking the huge colourless Lagoon. No one will want a night experience in any of these uncorrectable correctional homes. But here we are. Daily no less than 100 people, mostly commercial motorbike riders and traders are sent into these homes for corrections, to learn a new way of behavioural pattern, to learn how to obey simple government instructions.
Since June 1 barring the commercial motorbikes from operating in the six Local Government areas of Ikeja, Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland, Surulere, Eti Osa and Apapa, these Homes have been taken in more inmates than they were meant to cope.
The State’s Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Unit (Task Force) mostly patrolled major roads with their frightening ‘Black Maria’ (mini cell) picking traders who encroached on the main roads and any commercial motorbike riders in sight. The itinerant Mobile Courts are always slowly following the mini cell and the patrol van.
Life in any of the Correctional Homes could be emotionally damaging. Still, it is what the government have.
It now behoves the arrested offender to negotiate his or her way out. This is the level of horror-stricken corruption comes. Both traders and Okada riders confirmed high-level extortion by the operatives of the Task Force.
Shola Jejeloye, is the Chairman, of Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Unit (Task Force). He led a team of fully armed and kitted officers comprising Mobile Policemen and the recruits of the agency. This Task Force men are to ensure that no one sells his wares by the roadside and that commercial motorbikes do not ply the listed local government areas.
Listened patiently to those around. I moved down to a local joint. I was sure Okada riders would be there. I wasn’t disappointed. They opened the taps of their minds and poured out the full contents. I was shocked. One an HND graduate of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic said ‘my father chased me out to go and find something to after, ten months after I came back from Youth Service’. Nothing to do, he pick a neighbour’s motorcycle and started the Okada business. Life was becoming better, he saved some money and bought his own on-hire purchase. Three weeks after he put it on the road, the draconian Task Force members caught up with him and confiscated it. Since then, he practically lived his life in the ‘paraga joint’. Drinking would not solve his problem. The certificate he kept in his room may, but he seems not thinking along that line now. His case is not different from so many around these six Local Government Areas.
The Task Force operations always left tears and sorrows in their wake. At Ikeja, a woman narrated how she collected a loan from a micro-finance bank to buy stocks only for the operatives to park every item the following day.
The operations of the Task Force men are not the issue. But the deep-seated corruption embedded in it. My personal findings revealed that roadside traders must contribute money to them on daily basis. This I learnt from Ojodu, Ikeja and Ogba. Failure to remit the daily remittances will see the men storming the area aggressively.
The Okada riders have resigned into forlorn hopelessness. The traders are crying under the heavy yoke of exploitation. Yet the harsh reality of the day bites harder. They are weak but terribly angry. The anger is not directed at anyone in particular, but fate. A lady trader in Ikeja lamented her loss of job in an old-generation bank. She said what was given her as a severance package had been destroyed by the activity of the Task Force men. The lamentations continued unabated.
The tendency was for one to ask about the Motorcycle Association whose thug-like members are seen at various roadblocks collecting one fee or the other from Okada riders? Those who, a middle-aged man from Ilorin hissed. Those ones are just looking for money to eat, drink, smoke India hemp and carry prostitutes, he lamented. Whatever they collect has no account to any authority. It is for them and their gang leaders. Sad, very sad, indeed. The traders too are not any better. They said the Iyalojas are part of the Task Force. Remittances must get to them before late afternoon. Failure, they have a way of rolling the bulldogs out. In Mainland Ondo Town, Pastor David Anifowose successfully hypnotized the “sheep” he was “shepherding” and almost destroyed their lives. A mathematics teacher was said to be among the herds of “sheep” that were holed up awaiting the rapture and coming of the Saviour. Different strokes, for different folks right. But no. This is a reflection of uncertainties building in the country. Many of the Okada riders can easily fall into Pastors Anifowose’s and Josiah’s The True World Bible Church and their queer teachings.
My fear is the cumulative effects of these palpable hardships. Lagos is not immune, as Ondo is vulnerable. So are all the remaining 34 states of the Federation. Neither the roadside traders nor the Okada riders are sure of what awaits them tomorrow. The nebulous promises of this and that have since paled into forlorn despair and dejection. No trust any agency or institution with their promise of intervention again. My fear is this may lead to a hyper-reaction, an implosion; an Implosion that may be uncontrollable.
Afolayan Adebiyi writes from Lagos, Nigeria
Images, courtesy of Goole Images