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Teenage Crime Rising With Emergence Of ‘Awawa,’ ‘No Salary Boys’

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 Lukmon Akintola

Lagos

*Police Arrested 341 Suspected Teenage Cultists From Different Locations

* Over 64 Million Youths Unemployed, 1.6 Million Under-Employed – Researcher

*Crime Rate Has Reduced In Lagos State-PPRO

“They asked me why I wasn’t with my Automatic Teller Machine card (ATM), beat me and hit my chest hard. I had to do an X-ray to see if my chest bone was not broken because I was feeling pains there for days. I was only comforted when the X-ray result came out and it was nothing serious.”

This was part of the ordeal narrated by a female banker, who was victim of an attack orchestrated by some teenagers in Igando during the week.

Narrating her ordeal, Adesola told Saturday INDEPENDENT how she was attacked by boys who took her phone and the little cash she had on her after hitting her with an object on her chest.

If you think that Adesola’s case is pitiable, the case of a graphic artist attacked along Agidingbi road on his way home early this month would shock you.

“I had just finished from work on Friday night and was going home. I boarded a tricycle with two other passengers inside. On getting to Anchor Event Center, the rider turned to a secluded part of the road, and before I could say anything, two of the passengers started attacking me when I tried to resist, they brought out a dagger threatening to kill me. I had to think fast and let them have their way. On the night, they collected my phones and the cash I had just withdrawn from the ATM. It was a night I would want to forget in a haste,” he said.

There is no arguing the fact that the youths of any nation are its future. Given the opportunity to develop into bright prospects, they become the crop that makes the country a dreamland. If not, the disaster that awaits is better imagined.

Devoid of opportunities to make the best out of life and based on the above analogy, it won’t be far from the truth to say a disaster seems to await Nigeria.

In recent years, very few Nigerian youths can boast of an enviable or laudable achievement with some of those who have achieved subsequently finding themselves drowned by the worsening economic situation.

A cause of concern is the way Nigerian talents continue to leave the country in their droves and in their prime.

However, of more concern is the bulk of unemployed Nigerian youths turning into undesirable elements, as the average youth has been involved in almost every crime imaginable including kidnapping, armed robbery, murder to mention a few.

Nigerian Youths, A Disaster In Waiting?

There appears an increase in youth-related crimes in recent times, as criminalities such as ‘One Chance’ have been orchestrated mostly by young boys. There have also been cases of murders, armed robbery and other heinous crimes committed by young boys.

The Lagos Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO), Bala Elikana while speaking with Saturday INDEPENDENT revealed that undercover patrolmen and stop and search strategies are being used to battle ‘one chance’ via tricycle, adding that policemen are now strategically located at different points and 12 of the criminals had been arrested in the last two weeks.

Despite the intervention by the police, there are still, countless tales of teenage boys unceremoniously robbing victims in Lagos State.

The case of the notoriously famous ‘Awawa Boys’ who have ravaged the Agege part of Lagos with unpalatable exploits are legendary.

Described as marauders, they move in pretty large numbers of between 50 and 100 wielding small but deadly arms such as razor blades and stitching awl.

Small axes, handguns, and machete are used for settling scores with rival groups. They are also known for their abuse of drugs, as an average Awawa Boy takes a cocktail of drugs ranging from Skunk to Indian Hemp, Codeine, Rohypnol, and Tramadol. Tagged Awawa Boys, the group which many consider a male cult sect also have female members.

Their crimes range from rapping, forcefully obtaining personal belongings of unsuspecting road users, bugling of shops among others.

‘Awawa Boys’ are however not the only group in Lagos State known for this criminal act, as another sect known as the ‘No Salary Boys’ have also taken over the Ijegun and Aberonje axis of Lagos State.

Ajayi Moses (not real name) who once encountered the ‘No Salary Boys’ recounted the experience. Describing their modus operandi, he told Saturday INDEPENDENT that they often line up on the road accosting innocent passers-by. Numbering between 60 and 100, they rob passers-by of their valuables such as bags, purse, and phones.

Further, he said that the ‘No Salary Boys’ often operate in the morning and go to the extent of seriously injuring their victim who resists them, adding that their operations are usually on and off.

According to him, they might operate for a while; disappear for months only to resurface again.

“The ‘No Salary Boys’ are mostly made up of young boys of between 15 and 25 years, and they commit serious havocs,” he said.

But how did we get here, when did the average Nigerian youth turn to a life of crime?

The Theory

A research paper written by Anthony Abayomi Adebayo and titled ‘Youths’ Unemployment And Crime In Nigeria: A Nexus And Implications For National Development’ blamed the swing of Nigerian youths from a positive path to negativity on unemployment.

According to Adebayo, “Unemployment has become a major problem tormenting the lives of Nigerian youths and this poses a serious risk to society. The phenomenon of youth unemployment is devastating to both the individual and the society as a whole both psychologically and economically.”

The interplay between unemployment, youth-related crimes and the magnitude of the danger which it poses to the society is indeed shocking.

According to available statistics, over 64 million youths were unemployed and over 1.6 million under-employed as of 2010, causing frustration, dejection, and desperation. Today, the statistics has definitely increased.

Nigerian Youths Are Lazy

This is typified in the words of the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, when he was quoted as saying that Nigerian youths are lazy while delivering a keynote address at the Commonwealth Business Forum in London in 2018.

While the President’s position attracted a lot of criticisms from youths across the country who maintained that they were not lazy and that the government had created little or no opportunity for them, there were those who agree with the President’s position.

A former Minister of Information and chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Prince Tony Momoh defended the president in the heat of the criticisms he suffered after making the comment.

Stating that the President was indeed right that some Nigerian youths are lazy, Momoh said a lot of them are sitting at home doing nothing.

While it is indeed difficult to hastily generalise that Nigerian youths are indeed lazy, there is a crop of them who are indeed not only lazy but have turned a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

Who Is To Blame?

Poor parenting has also been identified as a cause of the increase in youth-related crimes.

Ibilola Noibi, a resident of Ajah, Lagos State who described himself as a Life Coach told Saturday INDEPENDENT that since charity begins at home, parents should take responsibility for what their children become.

“Parents train their children personally before they are exposed to the world, so anything that they become is their handwork. Larry Winget’s book titled ‘Your Kids Are Your Own Fault’ tells it all.”

There are, however, those who believe that religious organisations such as mosques and churches should also share some blames in the high rate of crimes by young boys.

Their position is hinged on the fact that churches today are more concerned about preaching prosperity than preaching salvation, while mosques are more interested in preaching hate against other religions; hence youths are more concerned in living the life painted by their religious leaders.

However, Pastor Ruth Akinfiro, Resident Pastor of New Covenant Assembly Power Pentecostal Church, Egan in Alimosho local government area, Lagos State has a different opinion.

Asked if the church should be blamed for the crisis at hand, she said: “It is a yes and no answer. We cannot absolutely blame the church when youths derail but to a large extent a lot of things the church counts as irrelevant affects the decisions of the youths. For example, we allow the culture of indecent dressing, a lifestyle of drinking; we celebrate all types of dances. The youths troop into churches and they are never corrected for the additional lifestyles like smoking and immorality added to the permitted one like. All of those kinds of messages have left the church because the churches want to be populated so they encourage youths to come in raw.

“Godliness is no longer core, modesty has left, and strange cultures are imbibed. Internet fraudsters are celebrated in churches today. However we won’t rule out parental factor, charity, they say begins at home. Parents have become children to their children. Since the children take care of their welfare at a tender age, no one cares how they make money. Such children corrupt other children with their bad training. At 14 or 15 years, youngsters are carrying family responsibilities. No one cares how they go out of their way to achieve this. The church has a role, the home has a role. However, some religious institutions and some families have failed in their roles, hence the rise in derailing youths.”

Nigerian Police Force

Elkana, who does not agree that there has been an increase in crime rates in Lagos State concurs that the state has witnessed some cases of youth-related crimes in recent times.

He explains the efforts of the force to curb crimes in Lagos State thus: “most of the crimes we are witnessing have a link to the youthful population when you talk of cultism, robbery, and kidnapping. Kidnapping has even gone down in Lagos State and those we had in the past had to do with the youths. The cases we now see every day that has to do with the youths is violence resulting from cultism and gangsterism.

“Cultists form themselves into gangs and you see them attacking each other, injuring each other and even killing each other. While attacking each other, innocent people become victims of their attack,” he said.

Explaining why youth-related crimes have been consistent, he explained that most of these gangs engage in drug abuse, and to sustain the drug lifestyle they go into robbery, and housebreaking to get things like money and phones that they can use to sustain their life. Elkana also revealed that they also make use of tricycles to rob people all in a bid to get money to sustain their drug life.

“We have launched quite a number of programmes and operations, one of such is ‘Operation Crush’ which the Commissioner of Police launched. ‘Operation Crush’ is about taking the battle to the doorstep of the cultists, identifying them using intelligence leg approach, apprehend, investigate them and charge them to the court,” Elkana stated while explaining the moves by the Police to curb the menace of youth crimes.

The Lagos PPRO further explained that ‘Operation Crush’ is aimed at uprooting cultists and gangster activities wherever they operate in Lagos State, adding that the operation has already succeeded in arresting massively those involved in cultism and gangsterism in Lagos.

“In the first operation, we got 202 suspects from an operation. They were all arrested in different locations. Another operation got 100 suspects and we got 39 in another operation, so the operation is constantly identifying them where they operate and their membership, targeting them. We don’t just operate until we have enough information about them, where they operate, how they meet and where they meet, and then we strike and get them with precision. That has set the tide down.”

Confirming that traffic light robbery is another concern, Elkana, said that “the force had launched an operation using mostly undercover operatives, they don’t wear uniforms, they go on surveillance in mufti because traffic light robbers take advantage of the traffic build-up. They go in as if they are selling and within seconds they are robbing people. The operation has also helped and we have gotten over 70 of those traffic light robbers, and we have recovered over 20 arms from them over a period of time.”

Asked the nature of arms recovered from the robbers, Elkana said they were mostly pistols some of which are locally made and others foreign, adding that the force had also traced the source and arrested some of the blacksmiths producing the local guns.

 

Probable Solution To Increase In Teenage Crime

The researcher, Adebayo however, proffers solutions to the problem of youth-related crimes. According to him, the youths are the foundation of any society and contribute immensely to its development. The expert was of the view that the government should embark on huge investment in agriculture as well as encouraging youths to take advantage of the investment. He also charged the government to make Agric-business to be exciting, creative and innovative enough to stir and spur youth interest. He advocated for farm settlements for youths so that they could contribute their quota to national development.

“Many of the youths who migrate to urban centers in search of the elusive greener pastures end up being jobless in the city. Many of them eventually become criminals in order to survive. Consequently, rural-urban migration should be checked through the provision of essential social amenities that make life in the rural area attractive to the youths.”

Other strategic solutions for curbing this excess as proffered by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crimes includes the use of sport to keep youths busy, while the creation of youth employment programs have also been encouraged. In the cities of New York, Boston and Chicago, the summer employment did help reduce the rate of crime arrangement among youths.

However, with Nigeria being a peculiar country, the possibility of the effectiveness of these solutions will have to be measured after they have been implemented.

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