Feb 6, 2007

Area Boys - Menace or Blessing?

If you stay in Nigeria, then you are probably quite familiar with the subject of this article. Commonly known as street urchins in other parts of the world, "Area Boys" have become a part of our environment & society. With no specific job description or role, their activities range from extorting money from commercial bus drivers, creating car parks in public places (e.g. Yaba, Marina, Silverbird Cinemas, etc), harassment and extortion of money from motorists & pedestrians (politely or otherwise), campaign agents for politicians (who themselves are just decorated versions of the area boys), sole proprietorship of the black markets used to sell fuel during scarcities and just about any other odd job you might think of.

Many a Nigerian has had a bad experience with Area Boys, and for some it's been one experience too many. They've been made to part with money and precious items, while thanking God that their lives remained intact. In addition, area boys sometimes double as thieves and armed robbers during the night. Sometimes they carry out "Okada" robbery, dispossessing innocent pedestrians of their bags, phones & belongings and zooming of on their bikes before the victim has a chance to put himself together. Needless to say, they are disliked by the vast majority of Nigerians.

Last Saturday, I had an experience with the area boys, and this has changed my views and made me to think more favorably about them. I was trying to avoid the traffic of Lagos mainland, and being a person who is always looking for new ways to do things, I took a new and unexplored route home. After driving through some unfamiliar roads, receiving inconsistent directions from "Okada" riders & pedestrians, I finally got to the last junction that was to lead me to the highway ... and freedom. There was a slab-covered gutter (drain) running across the road, which I was turning into. Unfortunately, two of the slabs had disappeared (how or why, I do not know) and still more unfortunately, due to the rough driving & impatience of drivers around the junction, I did not see the "slabless" holes. Before I could say "Jack Robinson", I had driven right into one of the holes and my front left tyre was completely immersed. Immediately I heard the bump, I sensed the severity of the situation and knew that the car wasn't going to move from that spot unless by some miracle. My brain was about to go into overdrive when Lo and behold, before I could even start thinking of a solution, a group of 4-6 area boys approached my car from all directions appearing as it were from thin air. They shouted to one another in Yoruba and I've tried to capture the summary of their discussions here.

"Bros, e ma worry, ko si problem" (Brother, don't worry, there's no problem)
"Oya, E gbe!" (Come on, lift!)
"Bros, e fi si reverse" (Brother, engage your reverse gear)
"1, 2, 3, E gbe!!!" (1, 2, 3, heave!)

In 12 seconds, my car was out of the hole! One of them then proceeded to stop other motorists and direct me until I was out of the traffic and safely facing the right way. This he did with such expertise to be envied by traffic wardens. After this he appeared at my window (for the usual) and just said "Oya". Without thinking, I pulled out a N200 note from my wallet and handed it to him. I would gladly have given him more. The magnitude of the service that had been provided could not be quantified.

I spent the next few minutes wondering what would have happened if the area boys had not come to my aid. I probably would have be stuck for hours, maybe would have had to leave my car in the hole and gone to look for a towing truck, or called a friend to come help me out (assuming he had the time and means to help), got arrested by LASTMA for causing obstruction of traffic, the possibilities were endless. The non changing fact was that I would have been there for far longer than I (and my wallet) could tolerate. So the question comes to my mind - Are area boys a menace or a blessing to the society? Come to think about it, they do lots of useful stuff. They create parking spaces in busy market areas where you can be sure your car will be safe. They sometimes fill up potholes in the middle of roads to aid free movement of traffic ... and during fuel scarcity they make fuel available to those with more money than time. Personally I think area boys have their uses within the society. Looking at this with an open mind, the whole scenario boils down to an irony. If the government had repaired the roads, I would not have been stuck in a pothole and therefore wouldn't have needed the help of the area boys. On the other hand, if the government had reformed the economy, more of the area boys would have got respectable jobs and not needed to be a menace on the streets. The area boys make a living through the negligence displayed by the leaders of the country. (They create parking spaces because the government has not provided parking facilities, they fill up potholes which the government has refused to fill, they harass and extort money from people in hold-ups caused mostly by absence of traffic lights or wardens, bad roads, etc which are all results of negligence of duty on the part of the government officials, they hawk petrol in the black market because of fuel scarcity also caused by the government) the same government that makes the economy unfavorable such that area boys cannot find decent jobs ... hmm, I think I’m getting confused by my analysis here.

In conclusion, I throw the question at you. Area boys - are they a menace or a blessing? For me, they were a blessing on that fateful day. You be the judge!


Anonymous said...

Area boys are just people man, like you and I. Like you said, the government/society has become the stage director that has forced them into their current roles, which we see played out daily. Love this blog - it's really a social commentary and a great way for those of us who aren't at home right now, but love our country to keep up with what's going on. You have to love Nigeria - no country on earth like it! Please keep up the good work!

tolted said...

Mr Man..You are on your own if you think area boys are a blessing in Nigeria. It was only God that decided to have mercy on you, because on a normal day they would have harassed you, collected money from you, not helped you at all and then steal your mobile phone while at it.

The government need to do something constructive about area boys because they surely cause more havoc than good.
That is my opinion.

truth said...

They are definitely more of a nuisance than a blessing.'Ever thot that they could be responsible for the missing slabs in the first place?
I'll give you credit to standing true to your blog objective of helping us see these things in a +ve light.
'Truth' is I don't miss that part of the Lagos environment one bit.lol.

wienna said...

I don't know why a few people r against them. These people, as already pointed out, r people like u and me. it's not their fault dat they're in dis condition. Some of these boys even form vigilante groups and belong to groups like OPC etc. So, i'll say they useful to d public in a way.

BTW, tayo...nice blog.

Tayo said...

Thanks for all the comments. I really appreciate them.
@tolted ... lol, i know that scenario! many of my friends have been through it. Thank God, it was not a normal day for m!
@truth. I've actually thought about it. They could have removed the slabs in the first place. The more traffic congestion, the better for them.
@wienna - true talk. There's a lot of usefulness in them. I'm also sure many of them will change if offered the chance to do so. Also some of us would be no different from area boys if we went through the same circumstances they went through.
@all, thanks again! Cheers

Aworan said...

Man, don't get me started on Area Boys. Guess there'll always be 2 sides to the argument.

Anonymous said...

after going through your comments on area boys in Nigeria give me an insight look into this social problem of area boys, it's a vital area for sociologist and criminologist to profer a long lasting solution to.i am standing on the fact that "area boys"is a deviate behavour and should not be tolerated in our society is totally against the norms of the society.they don't contribute to the growth of Nigerian economy in their daily activities rather they constitute tenous act in the society.most time they inventaully become robbers exploiting for innocent Nigerians who have worked their blood to their brain to enjoy the fruit of their labour, which is sad.

femi agbato