By Charles Kumolu & Ebele Orakpo
Like any other commercial motorcycle operator, Awalu Bernard who hails from the Northern part of the country, claimed to have an in depth knowledge of Festac Town and its environs where he operates. It was with this confidence that he agreed to take Vanguard Features, VF to Jinifa Plaza located on 23 Road.
A ride that was not supposed to last 10 minutes, unfortunately took about 20 minutes. Shortly after take off, he opted to take a route that will lengthen the journey, despite being told that it was not the correct road.
Awalu’s insistence on taking the road resulted to an altercation between him and VF since it was obvious that he had little or no understanding of where he was going to.
‘’Why did you claim that you know the road, when it is obvious that you know nothing?’’ VF asked him in Hausa language.
‘’OgaI! Walahi I am a new comer. If I told you I did not know the place, you would not have patronised me. It is only through this method that we get to know the environment,’’ he stated.
Dislocated by insurgency
Asked how long he had been in the business, Awalu, who did not hide his excitement over VF’s ability to speak Hausa, said: “Oga! I have spent nine weeks so far. I started this job immediately I arrived Lagos. I knew how to ride motorcycle before coming to Lagos.’’
This surprising disclosure led to question on whether he had lived in Lagos before. His response was: ‘’This is my first visit to Lagos. I was a successful farmer before I found myself here. I am not the only one from my place, Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa State who came to Lagos at the same time. We were many. The killings in our communities by Boko Haram members made most of us to run for our lives.’’
Continuing, he said, ‘’Some of us are staying with our relations while others are staying with friends who helped them to secure commercial motorcycles. We are not happy that we are here but the situation turned us into what we have become. That is why there are so many commercial motorcycles in Festac. Some of us who could not afford the motorcycles, resorted to doing any menial job in sight’’.
Awalu was not done yet. “I used to sell rice, flour and other food stuff. I had a big shop. In fact, in a day I could sell 20 bags of rice but because of the destruction in Adamawa, I had to run for my life. I am not happy that I am riding a motorcycle which does not give me enough money as I used to have before. When I was at home, we could invest N50,000 or N100,000 into farming. But the insurgents have destroyed all our farmlands. We could not run to any Northern state because none of them is safe,” he explained.
Awalu’s story is synonymous with the sad tales of other Northerners who are now taking refuge in Lagos and other Nigerian cities as a result of the activities of the dreaded Boko Haram sect members in their states.
Just like Awalu, another displaced person, who simply identified himself as Bitrus James narrated his ordeal.
James, who is also an Okada rider in Mazamaza, told VF that he came to Lagos with only the cloth he wore. Bitrus is a very sorrowful man because the whereabouts of his parents remain unknown.
He revealed that contrary to widely held views that Boko Haram members are mainly from the Kanuri ethnic group, some Adamawa indigenes are also members of the sect.
‘’The situation is worrisome over there. It was so bad that I came to Lagos with only the cloth I had on me. What is going on there is a real war. I don’t know the whereabouts of my parents. We have not spoken since I arrived. We are looking up to God to assist because it is totally bad over there,’’ he lamented.
‘’Some of our people are also members of the sect. They pay them so much money to join. They pay as much as N200, 000.00 for people to join Boko Haram. The money is part of what attracts young people to the sect. Now that I am here, I don’t have plans of leaving Lagos until the condition gets better,’’ he said in Hausa language.
VF checks showed that youths in their hundreds from North Eastern Nigeria where Boko Haram insurgency has become alarming, daily troop to Lagos, a city which is already overpopulated with about 17 million people.
Though there are conventional visitors who come to Lagos on regular basis, the influx has begun to exert more pressure on lean amenities.
From Epe to Badagry, Ojota to Okokomaiko, it is now commonplace to see hordes of Northerners who operate commercial motorcycles.
Aside being Okada riders, some others do menial jobs like water vending, cart pushing, shoe mending and security guards.
It was further discovered that most of them have no decent place of abode in the city. In fact, some of them sleep on the streets in the slums, while others occupy uncompleted buildings in their neighbourhood.
This development is generating mixed feelings among Lagosians. Some residents are of the opinion that the scenario portends grave danger for the state. These residents however concede to the fact that as Nigerians, they are free to migrate to any part of the country.
The Constitution provides that “every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit there from.”
There is nothing wrong with it -APC
Spokesperson of the Lagos State chapter of the All Progressives Congress,APC, Mr. Joe Igbokwe said there was nothing wrong with the influx. According to him, the state is a home for all.
‘’Lagos State is a home for all Nigerians who are constitutionally entitled to reside there. We will continue providing the needed security for lives and properties,’’ he added.
In spite of this assurance, the anxiety among residents is increasing on daily basis.
But the President of Framework for Good Governance and Accountability,FGGA, Dr. Festus Oseriehmen, differed with Igbokwe. He told VF that the state government must look into the trend.
‘’I don’t share the opinion that it is a normal thing. What we are seeing in Lagos now is uncommon. I was born in Lagos and was a young boy during the civil war, yet the situation was not like this. I am not saying that they should be repatriated to their states the way the Lagos State government did in the past. But as a responsible government, I expect that a structure should be put in place to monitor the activities of these youths,’’ he stated.
Furthering his argument, Oserehmen said: ‘’The government should not fold its arms and claim that all is well. There are a lot of possible dangers in what is going on. While some of them could be said to be resourceful, a good number have constituted themselves to nuisance in places where they reside.
These are facts that can be found in Alaba Rago, Lagos Island and every part of Lagos. Even the Okada riders among them are often defiant in their ways without regard for traffic laws. They have taken over Lagos and it must be checked,’’ he said.
Yola: Worsening refugee situation
Although government has provided camps for those displaced due to activities of the Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East, the camps and homes of relatives are overflowing as more towns and villages are taken over by the insurgents. In a recent chat with Vanguard Features, VF, the Catholic Bishop of Yola Diocese, Most Rev. Stephen Dami Mamza, noted that the situation of those living with family members and friends has become very critical.
“You hardly see somebody that comes from either Madagali, Shuwa, Baza or southern Borno who does not have a relative in Yola and our people are not used to living in camps. The situation is so difficult that there is just no option; if not, people will not go to the camp as a good option,” he said.
Buttressing this point, he said he has over 100 people in his house.
“Some of these family members and friends are low- income earners; some earning probably N10,000 – N15,000 a month and now have more than 50 people in the house. Some of them live in one room and parlour apartment with more than 30 people living there. These are the ones that are badly in need,” the Bishop added.
Also narrating her experience to VF, Miss Philomena Anthony Bakuru, who lives in Yola with her parents, said they have between 20 to 30 relations living with them in their bungalow.
“We are from Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State but live in Yola. When the Boko Haram insurgents got into Michika Local Government Area, a lot of people were displaced and some of my relatives came over to our place in Yola while some left Michika to Mubi. When Mubi was attacked by the insurgents, all of them had to relocate to Yola. So there are between 20 and 30 internally displaced persons in our house – a bungalow with boy’s quarters. So people sleep in every available space,” said Philomena, an applicant.
“It has been difficult but we are managing. So far, individuals have been helping in their own little way. They bring used clothes, bags of rice and other stuff. Also, the church calls them from time to time to give them foodstuff and medical care.
There are mostly women with children. The situation is really terrible because most of them fled without anything. It is a very bad experience. There are a lot of internally displaced persons in Cameroun because not all were able to come back into Nigeria.