Lagos Police Stations, Area Boys, and Gender Based Violence.

In the last two weeks I participated in two wonderful visits to police stations in Lagos through my partnership with the CLEEN Foundation, and support of Research and Planning Associate, Raphael Mbaegbu. During my first visit, to Ilupeju police station on the Lagos Mainland, I met with the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Gbolahan L. M. Olugbemi and the Social/Publicity Secretary of the Police Community Relations Commute (PCRC), Prince M. Sanya Takuro. Ilupeju Police Station was voted the best police station in Africa a few years ago, as well as the best in Nigeria, and is a stunning example of the power of community and police partnership for holistic development. One of the most significant attributions of their work is an emphasis on the respect and dignity of officers working at the station.  The PCRC took it upon their own agency to raise the funds to create a clean and comfortable canteen space for the officers so they feel well attended to and care for their personal hygiene and belongings. Their own ease and feeling of respect trickles down to the respect they show for offenders and the process of law. Offenders at the station are treated well, and with clean and decent facilities. There is even a Human Rights Desk at the station (see photo) and a strong discourse on maintaining high human rights standards and proceedings.

What struck me the most about my visit in Ilupeju was the pride I felt from the two men I spoke with. Both exhibited a true sense of excitement and confidence in talking about their work and the station, and in wanting to share the stories of their success and awards. It is not the awards that matter as much to them as the peace they feel in the community and the fluidity of the dialogue between officers, DPO, community members, families and all at stake for community building.  Takuro showed me the map on display in their office which was apart of CLEEN’s Crime Mapping project and survey, to provide an appropriate accessible tool for tracking community demographics and activity. Furthermore, Police Station and the DPO’s numbers are posted (see top photo) in front of the station so that officers, and even the DPO, are always reachable by phone for consistent contact and accountability. While I was at the station, one of the local tribal leaders casually entered the DPO’s officer and sat down and joined us in our discussion – his comfort in relating to the DPO revealed the strength of their relationship and communication.

At the Central Lagos Island Police Station, DPO Monday Agbonika (far left in above photo) also spoke with humility about his incredible work in developing a truly holistic approach to community revitalization and safety through the police force. His approach follows a set of doctrines which adhere attention to: the area boys (participating in fighting and street crime) as victims, a centrality and sensitivity to gender based violence and domestic abuse, and most significantly, to an open communication stream between police and the community including religious and tribal leaders. In Nigeria, and the US might I add, the police is not so often a trusted resource, so this model is truly unique and inspiring.

Sefiat Akeem, (right in above photo), the Divisional Crime Officer at the Central Lagos Island Police Station, heads its effort for addressing the widespread extent of gender based violence and rape in the community. A female officer is positioned at the entrance to the Police Station so that any woman who arrives at the gate to report sexual assault is greeted by a fellow woman who is trained in gender based violence sensitivity – a product of workshops from Project Alert (see previous Blog post). The female officer gently asks the patron if she is OK, and what has brought her to the station. If the patron feels comfortable, the female officer then proceeds to ask her if she would like to follow her to a private room where she can recount her experience. Agbonika explained that this alternative counters the norm at many stations where a woman arrives following her abuse, only to be confronted by a group of male officers that belittle her experience, and often condone her with such comments as, “Well, you must have enjoyed it!” or “Then why didn’t you stop him?’ Agbonika further commented that this model puts the victim at the forefront of the proceeding, so that her experience is heard and validated, rather than pushed to the background as the police become consumed in finding and trying the perpetrator. In the case of his station’s action, the perpetrator is immediately sought out and brought before the court, while the victim is keenly attended to and prioritized in processing and finding treatment for her experience. The victim, or rather survivor, is the most important stakeholder.

A large map decorates one wall of Agbonika’s office – a product of his own trainings with the CLEEN Foundation. However, as a recent appointee to the Central Lagos Island station he put forth his own effort in creating the map upon his arrival. He told me that such a map did not even exist in Lagos so he had to log onto Google Maps to find the area, and then have it blown up to size and mounted. Blue push pins indicate recent ‘alarming’ activity on the community radar, and red pins – which did currently exist on the map – show area boy activity. In the month of October, he proudly told me that there have been no reported incidents of area boys’ violent or criminal behavior – a true testament to his genuine work in integrating himself to their circles. Unlike many officers he sees them as victims of their own urban environment, and as allies in stopping community violence. What Agbonika has done that many DPO’s (and other heads of government and business) have lacked to do, is to give up some of his own legislative power to come down to the level of the average person – and meet them in true level dialogue. Rather than seeing the community as a space of violence and criminality he enters the streets and neighborhoods as a pedestrian, greeting people and taking in their every day grievances and suggestions.

A victim-based approach to the area boys also resonates with Professor Abubakar Momoh’s own report on the area boys in which he indicates the extent to which they have been misunderstood or wrongfully blamed for most of societal crime. The area boys are simply young – and older men- reacting to the limitations of their urban environment, as well as the impacts of societal burdens such as immigration influx, lack of jobs, and significant social resources and capital- food, water and money.

Space is continuously surfaced as central issue in many of my research interviews icnlduing Mr. Agbonika. There is simply not enough space in Lagos, and not enough personal space for people, who are sharing 1 bedroom apartments with 10 people. They then enter the streets to find the same sort of cramping of bodies, competing for air and square feet, with cars, buses, animals, vendors, hawkers, and foggy air. Crampness creates stress and anger, frustration and irritability, and vulnerability to the quickness of jumping to REACT. Quickness as well in jumping to escape urban reality through drug use, and the instinct gratification of making money through selling drugs and most of all, extortion of passerbys. The word ‘area boy’ in fact translates to “son of the owner of the land” or “outdoor boy,” essentially, “I own this land.” For a group of young people that have felt perhaps the most dis-empowered by their society, owning their land or turf becomes their methodology of reclaiming/creating power for themselves, by at the cost of whom? Perhaps most interesting is how often the upper class comments on the lawless of the area boys, their corruption and its effect on their lives. But are they ones most affected? Granted they are the ones who often encounter them in bus parks and other public spaces where they demand money, and maybe threaten with weapons or glass bottles. But, it is the fellow community members struggling to live in homeostasis with them, in these tight spaces they pay the biggest price. When Mr. Agbonika asked community members in Lagos Island what their biggest qualm was, they were the ones who responded, “Youth fighting each other.”

“Bad boys” and the Lagos Area Boys are a central part of my research as I look to understand youth crime and violence, as well comparative youth experiences across various countries’ pertinent cultural, economic and political histories. I will write more extensively on this topic on my subsequent blog post, “Bad Boys.”

Both stations I visited offered a solid perspective on how to effectively integrate human rights, gender based violence and community policing trainings and skills into a soundly working model of systematic practices. Both DPO’s expressed remorse for the ramped nature of prison overcrowding and corruption crippling the justice system in Nigeria from the top level down to the street. Better communication and oversight across various sectors including judiciary, magistrates, prison officials and police will produce resoluble accountability and efficient discourse, according to both men.

I look forward to further collaboration with the two stations as my research continues, and to the opportunity to work with youth in their home-base communities.


Welcome to Lagos

Welcome to Lagos  – aired on BBC, April 2010
“The BBC documentary ‘Welcome to Lagos’ has become relatively controversial. Some see it as a positive depiction of the poor but ingenious in Nigeria’s teeming commercial center, Lagos. Others see it as a negative and derogatory attempt by a foreign media outlet to once again insult Lagos and Nigerians.” []


Lekki Conservation Centre (LLC)

Yesterday I took a wonderful trip to the Lekki Conservation Centre – which brought me within the bustling city of Lagos to one of the most serene spots I have experienced – the depths of the mangrove forest. Along the wooden plans that make up the pathways of the 70 hectare reserve, I found gorgeous trees arising from marsh and water speckled with palm leaves, mona monkeys jumping between high branches while calling out to each other, and blue sky hidden amidst lush greens, browns, and yellow tints of the sun kissed forest.


The Nigeria Conservation Federation was started in 1980, and the LCC in 1990 as a site for an environmental education laboratory with the mission to insight interest in and respect for environmental awareness and biodiversity conservation. The targets of the NCF’s Environmental Education program is three fold: school visits, community awareness, and school outreach. The LCC hosts multiple school groups throughout the week to their site, and also supports schools and organizations in developing their own youth-run environmental clubs. NCF further supports country-wide and city-wide events and projects that garner community interest in environmental issues, such as the upcoming Walk for Nature this Saturday, October 13th on Lagos Island Marina.

Youth Attitudes: Conflict, Law and Themselves in the Community

I just returned home from a fabulous meeting with Ms. Shakirat Khotun, Head of the Community Service Unit at the Ministry of Justice for Lagos State. During our conversation many important issues related to my research surfaced and our mutual passion for pinpointing complexities within the framework of the justice system bubbled within our dialogue.

One initial point we discussed is the mass occurrence and subsequent silencing of sexual abuse and domestic violence in Nigeria. Behind closed doors many women experience the brunt of masculine anger and aggression, which as I referenced in my previous post regarding Project Alert training, falls to vacant ears in mainstream society. Because this issue is not discussed the violence continues, victims do not step forward, and there is no public dialogue on the topic which prevents necessary movement forward on protecting women, and more so ending normalized behavior.

The normalization of general violence and conflict in society is not limited to the bedroom or home. As a (newly arrived) observer my attention has been drawn to the frequency of fights between people on a daily basis, and multiple times a day, particularly on the street. The street becomes an arena, a stage for which the performance of the conflict drama can easily be performed, and to which an audience can easily be drawn. A car brushes past an okada, the okada driver dismounts and runs to the vehicle, just as the bus driver jumps down and rushes at the opposite man. Passengers of the bus and nearby onlookers focus in on the scene. Some rush over and begin to try to pull apart the two men. Some encourage it. Most watch on with anticipation and in entertainment. In fact, even those pulling away the two men are in some ways enjoying the instigation and fueling the scene at hand. Two hands fly up to the chest – EH YOU WANT ME? – OH BUT YOU DON’T LOOK THIS WAY – AND YOU, OH YOU, MY FRIEND??! – PSHHH YOU NAH UNDERSTAND. In a choreographed sequence of dance, these movements frame a normalized and encouraged conflict, a scene, and a play for the onlooking men, many of whom lack jobs, and perhaps an engagement that does not include violence.

The lack of jobs is perhaps one of the largest social grievances in Lagos. Joblessness inevitably creates massive financial struggle, and lack of food on tables, and hunger in bellies. Joblessness prevents children from going to school, mothers from feeding their children, and a stagnant pace of achievement that tops off at a point where there is a distinct lack of upward mobility for many of Lagos’ residents. A major contributing factor to the lack fo jobs in Lagos, is not the availability of employment itself but the immense migration into Lagos. Some estimates suggest that 6,000 people arrive in Lagos daily. This huge onset of a population produces a tightened way of life for all in the city.  Spaces are cramped, alleyways tight and personal space is absent. Many people who feel this sense of chlaustrophobic anxiety take to the streets to only discover the same crowding in another form – the chaotic stage of the every day fights between drivers, pedestrians, street hawkers and random encounters.

Deviant behavior originates in the home, is taken to the street, and enacted in any space possible. Many of the causes of deviant behavior by young and older adults stem from the trauma of their environment and the instability of their lives – personally and professionally. Youth who arrive in Lagos expecting to find the opulence of the city that they have heard about, are dismayed to discover the social realities of poverty. They are a particularly vulnerable population, and in some ways most at-risk to deviant behavior and illegal activity, many which they do not even know to be illegal – such as hawking, public urination, driving in the opposite direction, and illegally crossing the street. Many of these minor, non-violent and petty offenses, precipitate their arrest, and the harsh reality of sitting in prison awaiting trial. Most people have told me point-blank that the justice system at this point is entirely unjust because of the ways in which money and bribery can influence how quickly your case can be seen, if you are able to pay ‘bail,’ and id you are acquitted or tried. An interesting point to mention as well is the connection between the legendary opulence of Lagos for those Nigerians immigrating from various parts of the country, to that of Lagotians who immigrate abroad to the United States and the UK. Many arrives on American or British shores to face a similar dismay of a place of supposed luxury and opportunity that provides neither for a newcomer, and someone who no or little money, and no or little family or friends, or social connections. In Lagos in particular, “it’s who you know.”

But how exactly do youth feel about the justice system?

My research project will explore just this. After an equally as rewarding meeting yesterday with youth and crime researcher and advocate, Onyinye Onyemobi, I have begun to construct what exactly my youth study will look like. As of now I will think of it in four parts:

A Baseline Study of Youth Attitudes Towards Conflict, System of Law, and Personal Skills in the Community

  • Surveys
  • Pilot Program
  • Consultation with the Ministry of Justice

Initial Intake Survey:
What are youth perceptions of crime?
How do youth see their urban environment?
What resources do youth recognize and/or utilize in their community?
What skills do youth see in themselves?
What skills do youth want to learn or improve in?

Program Implementation:
Role Plays and Performance of each stage of the Justice System : Crime, Arrest, Processing and Prison
Nature Exploration

Exit Survey and Assembly of Project
Processed Data Presented to the Ministry of Justice

How do these perceptions change with the program?
How do they see themselves differently?
How do they see their communities differently?
How do they communicate differently?

‘Independence’ Day

One week ago on Friday I was the “keynote” speaker at my gracious host Modupe Oni’s school Standard Bearers in Lekki, Lagos for their Independence Day Celebration. The real Independence Day for Nigeria took place this past Monday and was marked by a celebration of the country’s 52 years of …. independence? A good friend of mine forwent this message to say that the day in fact marks Nigerians’ continued captivity. In a country still marred by reproductions of colonial power and paternalistic relationships, how truly free are the Nigerian people? Nevertheless I participated in the wonderful fun-filled celebration at this school.

Ms. Oni founded Standard Bearers, a primary school, 15 years ago independently and since built a wonderful community of students, parents, teachers and administrators. It was the school celebration for Independence Day. While Ms. Oni typically gives the address, she is currently away in London, so I served as her replacement. I gave a powerpoint presentation I created on Youth Leadership and constructed it so that it was very interactive for the children – and in the end it was a great success! I included pictures of various world leaders which I asked the students to identify, and then also questioned them on what leaders they have in their lives and what makes these aforementioned people good leaders. It is a primary school (elementary age) but the kids were incredibly articulate and really engaged.

My presentation was quite comical to me because A. I was all wrapped up in a Nigerian cloth wrapper B. Had heels on and C. Had a microphone, and would go around the room, tip toeing in my heels and floor length skirt, Oprah style, asking the audience members for their comments. But the whole thing was a great success, and afterwards there was a big party in the yard of the school with lots of good food, and palm wine – traditional alcoholic Nigerian palm tree brewed wine, and face painting! I then proceeded to paint the faces of like every little girl at the school who wanted a butterfly, star or heart with the colors of the Nigerian flag – green and white.

One more worthwhile experience to mention in the theme of independence is a lecture I attended at UNLAG – the University of Lagos. I myself am affiliated with LASU – Lagos State University, the university at which Dr. Mohmoh teaches. At UNILAG I met up with Dr. Momoh’s colleague Dr. Sumaj Mudasiru who invited me to attend the keynote lecture for the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies, given by the wonderful Professor Olanrewaju Adigun Fagbohun on environmental law in Nigeria. Rather than central law, he argued, it is incidental law which governs in Nigeria. For Nigeria to achieve environmental governance it must follow three important courses: effectiveness in implementation of environmental responsibilities including effectiveness in allocation of resources and funds, intergovernmental cooperation including division of responsibility and dealing of intra and inter conflict within departments of government, and proper remedies so people don’t act with impunity. Professor Fagbohun stressed that if these practices are not followed environmental governance and sustainable development will not be achieved here in Nigeria. Perhaps another lesson in the rigidity of the notion of ‘independence.’