Features

Inside Lagos ‘under bridge’ world

•Miscreants, drugs, crime return

By Sunday Ani
(nichsunny@yahoo.com)

Before the former governor of Lagos State, Babtunde Fashola, launched the gentle revolution that restored sanity and beautified many locations under flyovers, popularly known as “under bridge” in Lagos, most of them were safe havens for all kinds of criminal activities, from substance abuse, fighting with deadly weapons, robbery and rape, among others.
However, all these were eradicated when Fashola carried his tree planting campaign to most, if not all, of such places in the state. That bold step dislodged the roughnecks from their havens, giving a new lease of life to Lagosians.
For instance, under the bridge in Oshodi, in Oshodi Local Government Area, used to be one of the most dangerous spots in the state. It used to be a beehive of criminal activities, peopled by marijuana-smoking hooligans, who snatched handbags, picked pockets, raped and even killed passers-by, especially late in the night. It was so notorious that at no time of the day was an average person completely safe there. Anything could happen at any time. It did not have to be at night before a crime was committed there.
Government after government tried to purge Oshodi of the malaise but none succeeded, until Fashola came with his magic wand that rid the area of thugs and gave it a facelift.
The same thing happened in places like Ojuelegba under bridge, Ijora under bridge, Railway Line under bridge and Ikeja under bridge, among others.
After Fashola’s purge, Oshodi under bridge became safe and the place wore a new look and was so well-lit that one could hardly distinguish night from daytime at the place.
Ikeja under bridge also wore a new look, as a roundabout was constructed, complete with a fence and flowers. All the adjoining spaces were also cleared of any kind of activity. Ikeja under bridge was sanitised to the extent that residents became proud of the place.
At Ijora, the story was not different. The criminal elements that made life hell for Lagosians were completely driven away. A roundabout was constructed with a fence and flowers, while an armoured police vehicle was stationed there to ensure that people were protected from any kind of attack.
The Railway Line under bridge, located opposite the Nigerian Breweries complex in Iganmu, where all kinds of businesses, from auto mechanics to vulcanising, welding works to sale of condemned diesel, fairly used home appliances and office equipment as well as the criminal activities of miscreants flourished, was also cleaned up. The place wore a new look and nobody, especially squatters, was allowed to stay there. Though there was no garden planted there, the area was neat and appeared safe for people to pass through any time of the day.
When this revolution by Fashola’s administration was going on, many believed that it would not stand the test of time, as they would return to what they were as soon as he left office. Others, however, held that, once the miscreants were dislodged, they would not have the audacity to regroup and return, as the places would no longer be safe for their nefarious activities.
However, less than two years after Fashola’s exit, the aforementioned places in Lagos have regained most of the features that made them stink. Businesses have continued to boom as usual in some of them, with criminal elements back with vigour in their numbers.
When Daily Sun visited some of the places, which were once cleared of vices, they were all filled with all kinds of activities.

Oshodi under bridge
A close observation of activities at Oshodi under bridge showed that it has relapsed to its old self. Gradually but steadily, it is regaining all its former unwholesome characteristics. Those features that made it notorious before Fashola’s clampdown are taking centre stage once more. The roughnecks are back in their numbers.
Like before, Oshodi now accommodates a large chunk of homeless Lagosians. But, this time, many of these destitute are under-aged boys. Although it is still safe to pass through the place during the day, such cannot be said at night, especially during late hours.
The day look of the spot belies its sinister nature, which only materialises at night. Filled with a potpourri of activities, it booms, as many people move up and down, to and fro, while others hang around standing, sitting and even lying down. Each person you find within the vicinity has one or two reasons for being there. As people do their thing, the long buses, popularly called ‘Molue,’ as well as small buses discharge commuters on the service lane right under the bridge, thereby increasing the tempo of activities around there.
While serious-minded Nigerians mill around the place, struggling to find their way, the roughnecks also mill around but without any effort to get out of the way. To them, they are in their comfort zone. They always wear tell-tale tags.  They appear frail, shabbily dressed, disheveled, red-eyed and lethargic.
From investigation, what has happened is that, with the demolition of the Oshodi Main Electronics Market and Aso Rock Garage, the activities of the bad boys have moved to the Safejo Garage side of the same under bridge. Today, they have added to their numbers young impressionable boys, whose age ranges between 10 and 17. They are either standing, sitting on the road median or sleeping at an elevated corner by the edge of the bridge.
To an observant passer-by, the presence of such people is an indication that the place is a danger zone at certain hours of the day. But many people do not take note of this class of people. They are the people that make the spot tick.
Between 10pm and midnight, when the hustle and bustle have eased, the chickens would come home to roost. The place would be overrun by the youngsters, who have found in it a comfortable abode. Both those who hang around during the day and others from other places, such as Mushin and other parts of Oshodi, would all converge on the spot. At that hour, all the rickety vehicles as well as those waiting for the next day’s job, make-shift shops, kiosks and other near-safe containers become their sleeping places.
Yet, there are other teenage boys, who hang onto the doors of ‘danfo’ buses, calling for passengers at that ungodly hour of night. They are bus conductors who brave all odds at that age to mingle with such adult roughnecks. They live on the street, independent of their parents. They form the bulk of the new occupants of Oshodi under bridge. After the day’s struggle, they all retire to the place, where they are exposed to all kinds of danger, including sexual assault by the adult gay that take advantage of their innocence to perpetrate such evil.
Speaking about the children, whose activities have become prominent in the area, an elderly man who works with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Oshodi Branch, said: “Just check from under this bridge down to the point where BRT buses stop and up to the point where Heritage Bank is situated and you would marvel at the number of the under-aged boys working as bus conductors at such an ungodly hour of the night. They are not even afraid of anything. Most of the drivers they work with are hemp-smokers, who drive like there is no tomorrow and the boys don’t give a hoot. I understand that most of them are street children who left their various homes to live this kind of Spartan life. They fend for themselves. They are exposed to all kinds of dangers, which sometimes lead to their death without the knowledge of their parents.”
Investigations revealed that some of them did not plan to live under the Oshodi flyover but circumstances forced them into such a life. Today, many of them live there, where they mingle with adult criminals under whose tutelage they also emerge as tormentors of society.
Checks equally showed that life under Oshodi bridge is akin to the Hobbesian society, nasty, poor, short and brutish. It is the survival of the fittest. The children are molested sexually by adult homosexuals, who often rape them.
According to a man who identified himself simply as James and who said he had lived at the place long before Fashola’s revolution, the place provides a home to many homeless Nigerians. He said: “Not all the people who sleep here are criminals. Some people are stranded and have nowhere to go. So, such people would resign to fate and take the risk of sleeping there pending when they could locate any of their relations in Lagos. But, while the person stays there, he would have to go through the baptism of fire.
“Yes, you don’t just come to sleep at the place and resign yourself to fate without a scratch. No, it is not possible. The place is like a jungle and there are people who are in charge of the jungle. Such people are not in their right frame of mind; at night, something would have to be given in order to guarantee your safety. It could be money or clothes or any other property with you. You could also be subjected to sexual assault because many of those who are lords in that jungle are gay.
“Fashola tried to dislodge us but that was only temporary. We knew when he was clamping down on us that it was only a matter of time before we re-grouped. Where is Fashola now? Has he not finished his own time? Yes, he is gone and gone for good and we are back to base. Although the place is not as bad as it was before Fashola, things are beginning to happen again.”
James further revealed that the idea of adult gay forcing under-aged boys to bed is a new development in life under the bridge: “Usually, it used to be robbery, street fighting, pick-pocket and rape of women. This issue of older men sleeping with young boys by force is new and it is dangerous because the kids could contract some of the deadly sexually transmitted infections, like HIV/AIDS. Remember that many of the kids still have the opportunity of being taken back to civilised society and if they are infected with a disease such as HIV, what will be their fate when they are fully re-integrated into the society?”
However, life under Oshodi bridge is not all about adult thugs who abuse all sorts of hard drugs and teenage boys under their tutelage. It is also about the ladies, who do brisk business selling their bodies. They are also categorised into different groups, depending on their modus operandi.
There are ladies who hawk drinks and cigarette at the spot during the day and early at night. This class of ladies also hawks sex in addition to their wares but only the initiates know their other article of trade.  There are other ladies who only parade their bodies for the highest bidders. These ones are also neck-deep in the abuse of hard drugs. They sometimes offer free sex to the lords of the jungle, who always use abandoned or parked vehicles as their boudoir.

Ojuelegbe
Life at Ojuelegba under bridge was also tough before Fashola’s purge in the state. It used to be a hotbed of criminal activities, from fighting, prostitution to robbery, among others. But after Fashola raided the place, the criminals were dislodged and they relocated to other places. Today, activities have resumed but not criminal activities.
When Daily Sun visited the place, the whole of Ojuelegba under bridge had been converted to a garage where buses load passengers to places, like Orile, Ikeja, Ketu, Opebi-Allen, Agege, Apapa-Wharf, Iyana-Ipaja and Ibadan, among other places. It also hosts shops of newspaper vendors and those who sold food, recharge card, books, mineral water, bitter kola, vulcanisers as well as gamblers.
On the latest development, a driver who identified himself simply as David said: “This place is now safe. In the past, the fear of this place was the beginning of wisdom, as the saying goes but not anymore. The criminals are no longer here. Since Fashola pursued them out of here, this place has become safe. As for the buses you see loading here, it has always been like that. Before Fashola’s wahala, we dey load here and I am happy we are back again. The only problem then was the criminal activities that was rampant, but thank God that all those kinds of activities are no longer here with us.”

Ikeja
Before Fashola’s revolution, Ikeja under bridge used to provide shops for women who weaved various kinds of hair styles. They were driven away and the spot was converted to a roundabout, which was fenced and beautified with flower.
However, both sides of the roundabout, which were also cleared of any kind of activity, have today been converted by bus drivers and tricycle riders to motor parks. Aside from the activities of these transporters, others such as newspaper vendors, book sellers, vulcanisers and cobblers are also competing for space.
When Daily Sun approached a trader there, who identified himself as Wale Johnson, he said: “This place is no longer looking as beautiful as it used to when Fashola drove everybody away. That time, the whole of under bridge was free and you could breathe fresh air; but look at what is happening today. I am sure that if not that the roundabout is protected with all those sharp, protruding stones, the hairdressers would have equally returned but those stones cannot even allow anybody to perch around the roundabout. That was a wonderful brainwork.”

Railway under bridge
This particular place did not escape the hammer of Fashola’s men, as they cleared it of all illegal activities. But today, the story has changed. Various trades take place there, an indication that those who were barred from doing business there are fully back.
According to a tricycle operator, Segun, who transported our reporter to the place, “As you see them, they don’t sleep. They will stay like that till daybreak. They live there. During Fashola’s government, all of them were driven away; there was no single soul there, but today, you can see that, gradually, they have returned and are doing business as usual.”
From close observation, apart from the activities of condemned diesel oil merchants, all kinds of used products, ranging from refrigerators, foams, rugs to water closets, chairs and tables, among others, are sold there. Food vendors and sugar cane sellers are not left out. In short, the place is a community of its own.
Another tricycle operator, who spoke to Daily Sun, described the place as a mini jungle. He said: “That place is very rugged; it’s just like a small jungle. There is no kind of person you won’t find there. I am sure you will get all kinds of criminals there. Didn’t you see them smoking marijuana there?”
To clearly illustrate how fearful the place could be to a stranger, he told of the experience of one of his passengers, saying: “There was a man who said I should carry him and turn inside the place because everywhere was flooded and he needed to cross over to the other side of the road. When we got into the place, the man saw an intimidating crowd and became afraid. He started shouting, ‘mafia, mafia,’ and he almost jumped out of my tricycle but I encouraged him to stay. I assured him that nothing would happen to him. When I finally dropped him off at the other side of the road, he thanked me profusely and gave me N1,000 instead of N50, which was the actual fare. He was palpitating as I dropped him off.”

Government’s approach
However, if the roughnecks at Oshodi under bridge think that the former governor’s efforts would be in vain, they are in for a shocker. Just when they thought that they had launched a successful comeback and were beginning to settle down to business, the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, came with a master stroke. The governor ordered the demolition of Oshodi market, whose walls provided dark alleys for the roughnecks to easily ply their trade within the under bridge axis. When that was done and it appeared they were shifting their operation to the Aso Rock Garage side, the place equally came under demolition. With the demolition of the market and the garage, a greater part of Oshodi under bridge, where the bulk of criminal activities were going on, was completely exposed.
However, investigation revealed that even though some of the miscreants are still hanging around, majority of them had relocated to the Safejo Garage side of the area. They are still hopeful that by the time the state government is done with what it intends to do there, they would continue with their usual life. But, from observations, they very well know that their days are numbered, because by the time the governor is through with what he intends to do, the place and its surroundings would no longer be conducive for the kind of nefarious activities that have become part of their life.
As for other places where activities have returned, Lagosians believe that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.

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