It is no longer news the Lagos state is replete with tales of street urchins who parade themselves with so much vigour, disrupting daily business activities of innocent traders and motorists. They rove about openly to pounce on unsuspecting street traders demanding for money. These area boys brazenly go from shop to shop for daily ransoms. One cannot help but meditate on whose authority these individuals operate as some even resort to violent behaviour and intimidation in a bid to extort these daily funds. In this exclusive piece, Information Nigeria’s reporter. Verity Awala, narrates the day to day activities of an area boy in Iju area of Lagos state.
Getting to Iju railway station, a number of young men sit on tables and chairs; smoking, drinking and having conversations. Everything seemed normal to them but to anyone else, the sight is scary and dreadful. Young men living daily for nothing, wasting away. They are neither dampened or withered.
I see many young men, their looks nothing but scary and intimidating. The first hurdle was how I would start a conversation with anyone without having my front tooth knocked out of my mouth. From their menacing appearances, it was a clear impossible mission but you know, a girl has to do what a girl has to do.
With that determination in mind, I move to the first and the scariest one standing right opposite me. “Good morning”, I quickly introduce myself with an average firm smile and to my greatest shock, he answers back with a smile.
A pair of brown teeth flashed, his face lights up. I found out his name is Tunde but he says no one calls him that around here.
The dark face, burnt lips young man had a fair command of English and that even surprised me more. So you went to school? I asked in disbelief, he laughs heartily and almost as if he couldn’t believe my scepticism.
” I went to school na, I mean secondary school oh… Ogba grammar school, ” he said, still laughing at my ignorance.
With this, I became calm and relax, at least no one will knock anyone’s front tooth out, at least, not today.
“My name is Tunde but people mostly call me Abu money.
“I’m a footballer, but also learned to be an electrician during my secondary school days.
“I’m 38years old”.
Again I was shocked and he saw it on my face.
He says ” what? You don’t believe me?”
No, I said, still scanning his face to trace the correlation between the face and the age.
Then he says “I’m a footballer, I played football for many years. You know the training makes you fit, strong and young.
“I traveled to Spain in 2004 to play football. I was doing very well and was even sending money home to my people. All of a sudden, I pack my things and come home – I still can not explain what prompted my decision to leave Spain for Nigeria.
“E be like say na my people remote me come back. And I dey send money go house oh, yet them remote me.
The twist in his story is touching and I felt pity for him. Abu money says he returned home in 2011, and since then, he has been on the street, trying to survive.
From sniffing snuff, to smoking hemp to drinking local gin from sachets, Tunde gets off early in the morning from his one-bedroom around the railway area, which he shares with his friends, to the station. He doesn’t take a bath, he stays there from 6 am till 11 am, then goes home to take a shower and returns back to the station to continue what he started in the morning. For Tunde, that is his regular day.
He says he has a daughter, Aisha who is 15 years old. He said his girlfriend got pregnant as soon as she found out he was traveling to Spain to play football. ” She used the pregnancy to tie herself to me,” he said.
He says he doesn’t engage in crime but only comes to the station every morning and evening to feed his eyes.
I ask for a photo, he declines and I beg further, he agrees but says only from behind. A bird at hand is worth, a million in the bush. So I took what was available.
Young men like Tunde or Abu money are many on the streets of Lagos, some are born and bred in Lagos and some came from neighbouring cities and states.
Their concentration in Lagos is simple, with a population such as its, comes varieties and diversities.
Lagos is one of the most industrious places in Africa to live. With industries and businesses sprawling the nooks and crannies of the city, little wonder Nigerians from all parts of the country continue to troop in by the day.
Christened a ‘no man’s land’ because of its ability to accommodate a wide range of people. From the Igbos from the far east to the Idomas from the middle belt, Nigerians and even foreigners from Africa and the world over have their people represented in the Centre of Excellence.
It’s the land of dreams to some, and the land of opportunities to others. That is why the phrase ‘took a night bus from my city with only a small bag hanging on the shoulder’ being popular in the success stories of many who have been blessed by this mega city.
However, it remains a puzzle to be answered how this group of Nigerians have absolutely no interest in tapping into the various legitimate opportunities in Lagos to make wealth and earn a living for themselves. They seem like a group of harmless people with no identifiable future ambition, and no known means of livelihood but a daily goal to survive come what may.
Often called ‘Alaye’ boys, this group of street urchins, between the ages of 14 – 45, are found mostly at motor parks, bus stops, railway stations, market places and busy environs during the day.
They set out as early as 5am, like a white collar job owner but the only difference is that their own offices are at several bus stops , motor parks, market places or anywhere you find people going about their legal hustle.
Modus Operandi Of Area Boys
They are usually found in groups, smoking weeds, and sipping off sachets of gin, which is passed around from one person to another till the content is emptied by the last man.
When they find someone who they see as well to-do, they approach them, singing praises to this stranger, with hope that he or she finds them ‘something’ to purchase their next round of weed, gin and food.
While some of these people seem like a harmless group, aimlessly living from dawn to dusk, others transform into merciless criminals in the dead of the night or the wee hours of the morning. Until luck runs out on a passerby, and encounter them at a lonely place, they wouldn’t waste time in displacing their victim of everything they own including phones, valuables and even cash. Sometimes, victims are lucky to escape without a severe injury or their precious life.
The story of a young doctor, Stephen Urueye, a University of Lagos (UNILAG) graduate and House Officer at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), stabbed to death by hoodlums just at the gate of the hospital at Idi-araba, Lagos, remains a wound in the hearts of many young Nigerians who could have been in his shoes.
A good look at these men translates quickly into a generation heading for doom with no one to stop them. Future leaders who should be getting ready to take over from the older generation are wasting away with reckless abandon.