Call it the headquarter of marijuana business in Mainland Lagos and you may not be far off. The story of Ojojo Estate, deep inside Mende in Maryland, Lagos is one that calls for urgent intervention. Gboyega Alaka who visited on several occasions, reports.
Ojojo Estate is a little valley community deep inside Mende in the Maryland area of Lagos. Call it Church Estate and it just might sit right, as Adaora Avenue, which is the main street and barely 400 meters long, houses three churches – one a massive Four Square Church, the second, a gigantic St. Jude’s Anglican Church, and the third, a moderate Church of the Lord, probably a Pentecostal. Going by the usual make-up of Lagos communities, it may not be out of place to conclude that one or two mosques also sit somewhere within the estate. As a result, one should logically expect an orderly society, possibly, a sober one.
But, what do they have?
“A haven for drug peddlers and users. A drug depot; an atmosphere, where miscreants have literally taken over and indulge in peddling and smoking marijuana and other drugs and intoxicants right in the open. To tell you the truth, these guys have become complete nuisance and we seem helpless.”
So said Mr. John, a legal luminary in the neighbourhood, who made out time to speak with this reporter in the confines of the nearby St Agnes Catholic Church. The choice of the church was of course to avoid prying eyes and not endanger the life of Mr. John and his family members.
Indeed, a first visit to the estate, revealed a rather bizarre spectacle: young men, some barely out of their teens; a few ladies, smoking marijuana, in broad daylight! Time was just past 1pm and the groups of twos and threes littered the centre of the estate, a crossroad overlooking the steeply entrance, having their ‘fun’ unhindered, almost in defiance of any kind of authority.
The peddlers openly displayed the dried weed, sorting and packing them into rizla paper roles and dispensing to eager buyers, who lit them up and smoked away, almost in a rush. Of course money change hands, and everyone appeared happy.
A little to the left of the crossroad, towards the Four Square Church, two of the boys were getting into an argument that grew steadily into a shouting feat. Sensing that the argument could soon degenerate into violent exchanges, this reporter’s guide, a lady, tugged at his ribs to quicken his steps away from the region. She later informed that she wouldn’t be surprised to see bottles flying and blood flowing in minutes. That, according to her, is a regular scenario, and it was better to be far away than near.
Mr. John gave a more succinct description, when he said, “At least once a week, there must be a serious fight. I can tell you that they have cult gangs and they regularly clash and get into real bloody fights. Sometimes, it gets so bad that they set bonfires, using tyres on the road, and at such times, no one is able to go out or come into the community. The worst part is that these are vagabonds who are not even residents of the community; they sleep around in uncompleted buildings within and around the community, yet, they have become so much menace, and the police, it seems, are not able to do anything about it.
“We’re talking of a group of no-good fellows here; they’re like a mafia and I believe they are agents. People as far as Ikeja Cantonment bring supplies to them and those who smoke come over to buy. You won’t believe it, even army officers come there to buy. The other day, I saw a young soldier mixing with them and I couldn’t help but ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ He said he came to see his friend, and I asked again, ‘Do you know what it means to be caught in a place like this when you should be on duty?’ This was two o clock in the afternoon.”
Said our guide, “Sometimes, they come and knock on your door as late as 2am, saying things like, ‘Stingy woman. You’re living alone, you don’t want anyone to share in your money.”
Aside that however, Mr. John said they have never physically attacked any resident or landlord, “although I know for sure that they have harassed and threatened the CDA chairman, accusing him of inviting the police and the NDLEA to raid and arrest them.”
As a result, Mr. John said even the chairman, who loves his life and family, has gradually soft-pedaled on the matter. Consequently, they no longer discuss sensitive security matters and issues relating to the marijuana gang in open CDA meetings.
Asked to expatiate on his statement that the police are not able to do anything , Mr. John said, “The hard and fast of it is that the police are not helping matters. Drug is a big business and it’s like these people budget for the police, so when they come, they settle them and they go away.”
“Besides,” he said, “you know the way our police operate. If you by-pass the police station here and go to lodge a complaint at Area F, Area F will have to inform the police at Anthony before coming in, and before you know it, the guys at Anthony, who have probably become complicit in the drug trade, would alert them. So what we are doing is like a ‘save our soul’ kind of thing to higher authorities, possibly the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Imohinmi Edgal. We need him to step in fast!”
Asked how long the menace has existed, Mr. John said he only moved into the area about three years ago. And then he said, “I might as well say the menace has been there forever. The landlords are practically under siege and are afraid. You know the way we are in this part of the world; nobody wants to die, so we take things in our stride, however unpleasant. But I’ve gone to police headquarters at Kam Salem House to report. I’ve also gone to the NDLEA and they came and raided them. From what I heard, they were asked to pay N250,000 and those who could afford it, paid, bought their freedom and returned. One of them named Uche, who was not able to raise the money, was given accelerated trial, convicted within one week and sentenced.
“That tells you that if they want to work, they will. But the others returned and the menace has continued.”
Asked if it is possible that landlords in the area or their relatives may be conniving or have connived with the peddlers in the past, the lawyer said, “No. I cannot place my finger on any landlord who may be colluding because in the first place, the conduct of these miscreants devalues properties in the area; and that does not in any way benefit them. The problem however is that they are afraid, so we decided that we in the CDA should take it up.”
Is there a chance that some of the gang could be children or relatives of property owners?
Mr. John said, “Most of them are not resident; if at all, maybe two or three percent; and that’s because you can’t absolutely trust children.”
“Like I said, we avoid discussing security issues at the open meetings because you really can’t trust anybody. Sometimes when we discuss and take decisions, we find that the decisions are already public knowledge. One woman actually told me that some landlords are friendly with the boys and could be selling out. ” He said.
When asked if some children in the neighbourhood may not have been co-opted into the habit, John hesitated for a few seconds and then replied, “Maybe. You know it is hard to keep a tab on children, especially those in their teenage years.”
At this point, our guide again chipped in: “The other day, I passed the spot in the morning and saw children of school age smoking; literally having their morning dose, so to speak, before going to school. Even girls were there!”
Simon, another resident and father of one, who said he is into property business, however did not hesitate in his reply, when asked if the situation is not a threat to children growing up in the area. Pointing out that the question is rhetorical, he proceeded to analyse: “The situation we have at hand has both short-term and long-term effects. The short-term, of course, is that anyone under the influence of any kind of substance would not be able to control his senses and therefore does things on impulse. If he is hungry, he may take from whoever is around, whether peacefully or forcefully.
“Talking about the long-term; going by their copy-cat nature, children who are being exposed to such habits, may end up copying and practising what they have seen for so long. You know when you behold a scene for too long, you begin to see it as normal. And we are not even talking about the strain such habit is going to have on the society and economy yet. A person taking these dangerous substances and destroying his internal organs would grow up to become dependent much earlier than he ordinarily should. He could end up with cancer, dementia or outright madness, which will cause him to start taking from the society, when he should ordinarily be giving. For instance, there was a day one of them snapped and was behaving like a mad man. So, the nation stands to lose a large chunk of its vital workforce if this trend continues unchecked. You need to see the way they smoke their lives away. Morning, afternoon, night, they are there smoking.”
Asked what the landlords are doing about the menace, Simon said he hasn’t lived in the community for too long but said information reaching him is that they are afraid and are lying low because of threat to their lives. The law enforcement officers have raided the area several times and some of the culprits have even been sent to prison; but the problem persists. Besides, he is of the opinion that the Nigerian prison system is not reformatory.
“The truth about this area,” he stressed, “is that residents are already moving out because they don’t want their children growing up and thinking what they see is the ideal. I have a little girl who is just two, but I plan on moving out before she becomes aware and starts seeing all sorts of unhealthy things.”
Simon’s last statement confirms Mr. John’s earlier declaration that activities of the marijuana peddlers and smokers are devaluing properties in the area.
Like Mr. John, Simon is also of the conviction that the police have become complicit in the matter. “If you go and report them at the station, somehow they get alerted even before you get back to your house; so the landlords are lying low.”
To understand the dimension the menace has taken, Simon invited this reporter to visit on a Friday evening or Saturday.
“If you come here around 8pm in the evening of Friday and Saturday, you would see all sorts of things, almost like a carnival. You would see children of the high and mighty smoking and drinking in an open-air-party kind of atmosphere. Every corner you turn, you would see them making all sorts of noise, with all sorts of contrabands and dangerous drinks exchanging hands.”
Asked if the guys are residents and how it is that the entire community has become so helpless in the whole matter, Simon said, “The answer to that question is yes and no. There is an Igbo saying that says it is the rat inside the house that tells the one outside that there is roasted fish in the cupboard. If the people within the community don’t guarantee them safety, they won’t feel at home to the extent of bringing others. And the danger is that they can comfortably commit havoc in the community and run away, since they are mostly non-residents. Besides the area is serving as breeding ground for big time criminals. The problem with getting away with crime is the impunity and the boldness to commit bigger crimes. The situation has become so bad that we don’t send the little girl that lives with us on any errand once it is seven in the evening.”
Source of supply
Next, this reporter wanted to know how the dealers get their supplies. Is it that they move them in lorry loads? Do they have a warehouse within the community? How come the area became a depot and a major market for marijuana in the district?
To this, Mr. John said, ” I don’t know. You know it is demand and supply. I wouldn’t know whether they come in the night but what I do know, is the fact that they do the wrapping and retailing in the open, and their customers come to buy and smoke in the open. The place is like a headquarter of Marijuana in Mainland Lagos. Guys come from virtually everywhere to patronise them; and their number keeps increasing. The other time when the police turned the heat on the Ikorodu killer gang, Badoo, I believe some of them must have taken refuge here because their number suddenly swelled. And then of course we have the recent demolition of the nearby Jesus of Oyingbo property, which had long served as hideout for hoodlums in the area. There is also an uncompleted building, like a shack in front of the Four Square Church on Oki Lane, not too far from the cane village, where most of them sleep. We (the CDA) and Four Square have been trying hard to have that place demolished. The scenario is that they go there to sleep around 2am, and by 5am, they are up and about again.”
One of the residents who declined his identity but overheard this discussion chipped in: “From all indications, I think they get their supplies from the nearby army cantonment.”
He also said military men are in the habit of coming to the estate to get their dose of the drug, something he said further underlined their helplessness as a community: “Is it not this same people they would bring to come and arrest them?
I blame society
Madam Theresa, a matronly woman who has resided in the community for decades, however placed the blame for what is playing out in her environment on the society.
Madam Theresa, also a property owner in the estate, said her greatest fear is for the future of the country. “Whether you pass that place in the morning, afternoon or night, this boys are there smoking their lives away. Sometimes I’m passing and they’re hailing me; at other times, they apologising: ‘Mama no vex o, Mama no vex o’, of course they know their activities are offensive. But should I vex?”
On a second thought, she said “In truth, I should feel concerned. We served Nigeria from the colonial years to post-independence years, and we never saw anything like what we are witnessing today. It is on the back of this that I appreciate former Lagos State governor, Lateef Jakande, who took them all off the streets in his time. Then, he made sure every school age child went to school, because it was free. Whether you passed or failed, just go ahead, until you could write your names; and that changed a lot of things. But what do we have today?
“This generation of youths are neglected, to the extent that if you as an adult opens your mouth to question what they are doing, they would attack you. But this is not the case in developed countries. If your child as much as leave this country to any of the developed countries, the society will change them. Over there, you can’t see under-aged children carrying alcohol openly, not to talk of marijuana or any other kind of drug. They’ll simply pick up their phone and call the appropriate authority and such wayward child is sent to a reformatory centre pronto. So, it’s a societal problem and also a parental problem.
Sometimes, when I’m passing and I see any familiar face amongst them, I say, ‘Come here, what are you doing there? If I see you here again…’ Usually such child runs away, but will I be there to see if they came back?”
As if to put her money where her mouth is, the elderly woman, has also gone further to enroll one of the boys, who appeared cool-headed at a beauty shop. Of course she told him to bring his father to stand as guarantor for him, while she bears the cost.
Again this reporter posed the question of whether children of property owners in the area may be part of the syndicate; but her reply was a sharp ‘Never!’
“Whose child? My own children are all graduates. They only just came back from school. Those boys you see there come from as far as Mushin, Ojuelegba, Ikorodu, Ibadan, name it. You can’t find any landlord’s child amongst them,” she said emphatically.
How come the peddlers were not sent away when the whole mess first started?
Again she gave a sharp reply. “What are you talking? Chase who away? Have you been there? You need to see the crowd; you would think they have a license to do what they are doing. In fact, if you see them, you will be too frightened to approach them – tattoos all over, bizarre hairstyles, weird -looking human beings, like hippies. However, when one is approaching, they make way for you. Sometimes, hell is let loose and they fight amongst themselves. They have cult gangs amongst them.”
When asked to trace the origin of the whole menace, she said “They are Calabar men. The whole thing started when these Calabar men moved into the area; and they came with very dangerous juju. Would you believe that if you’re passing there with huge money in your bag, you would not know how it would disappear. When I started hearing that complaint, I started passing there only with little money.
“They also foment trouble on an hourly basis, and if you don’t take time, they can kill. And it pains me as an elderly woman, seeing the mess this place, which used to be very peaceful, has become.
She is also of the opinion that the peddlers get their supplies from the nearby Army Cantonment.”
And the police, she said, have become hard to trust. “Many a times, they would raid the place, make arrests, but before you know it, they would release them. There was however a time when men of SARS from Ikeja came and arrested about five of them, took them to jail in Badagry, but they were released after some months and banned from the area.”
She also spoke of a gambling hall, where both male and female members of the gang sleep. Once, she went to look at the place deep into the night and found “about 60-80 people – men and women, sleeping. I also got information that they go out around 2am and come back around 5am.”
When reminded that the implication of that is that they may be into robbery, her reply was, “I don’t know o.”