‘Settle us, we are loyal!’
These are the five worst words any commuter on the unforgiving dirt-roads of Lagos would want to hear when stuck in traffic or alighting from their vehicle. Ok, that and the immortal five words from the gentlemen of Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA): ‘Oya, stop and park here.’
Area boys in Lagos introduced a new plethora of street vocabulary when the menace was at its highest in the pre-Tinubu years. The word ‘settle’ means you should pacify or appease them or get what is coming to you. You decide.
You cannot visit any market or major streets without being accosted by rough-looking thugs who have invented a way of asking politely for cash favors in the most menacing manner. I have spoken previously about how Nigeria is the only place where someone can use ‘please’ and still insult you: Abeg, abeg or abegi!
Area boys are street urchins who try to make a quick buck by obtaining innocent road users. Think about Debo the bully from the Ice Cube movie ‘Friday’ who rode a 2-wheeler bicycle around the neighbourhood beating cash demands out of his victims. Like Chris Tucker said at the end of the movie when Debo was finally checked: ‘You got knocked the f—k out!’
Nigerian area boys mask their demands in a polite tone but still threaten you indirectly: ’Oga/Madam, na we dey your side. Settle us, we are loyal. We dey pray for your safety progress, abeg make you provide for us a little. Settle us, we dey watch you, make nobody interrupt you.’
And the area boy saying the above, may be clutching a hidden knife, as he butts his face through your car window and makes his plea. Sometimes, they even lean their face against your car window, if you have it up, so you feel the menace none the less.
There are also the chaps who do community road-works. They construct mini-barricades which make motorists have to slow down when they get to the work area. As the driver is navigating past, the group of workers, with their shovels, pick-axes, and cudgels in hand, gather round the car and start demanding payment for the community work they have put in. When you the driver explain that you do not have any change to spare, they insist that you give them whatever you have. If you resist, they slap the boot or doors of your car with a loud thump, as they usher you on, with hot curses:’ Make you dey go jare; you dey drive big car, but you no get money’
If you live in Lagos, you are bound to run into area boys one way or the other. You see them on Ahmadu Bello Way just opposite Bar Beach trying to flag cars down to come to the beach, so that they can collect payment for giving you a parking space. They are also situated in front of Silverbird Cinema and at Oniru beach as well, where they demand payment from beach-goers for parking spaces or entry into the beach.
The following are a few stories regarding area boy activity:
- A good few years back, my ma once went to Akpongbon market in Lagos Island to buy a few supplies. She parked her car under one of those parking spots under the bridge. A park-warden who was there stepped forward with a ticket which had to be paid for before anyone could park in that car park. My mum paid for the ticket and went into the market.
When she came back an hour later, the car refused to start. She tried everything but the car wouldn’t start. It was late in the afternoon, and that area was a hotbed of area boy activity. If the car was left there over-night, area boys would strip it off all its parts or break into it and steal it. So she decided to hail a cab home. When she got home, she called the mechanic and gave them the keys of the car to go check it and fix it, and bring it home.
The mechanic got to Akpongbon around 6.30, and noticed that area boys had already gathered around the car, and were moping inside as they smoked their hemp. They stood around while he tried to fix the car, even helping him by passing him tools. Unfortunately the car refused to start as the problem was more complicated. That is when the area boys’ kindness ended.
They started demanding payment for ‘services rendered’ i.e. passing the tools, and ‘watching’ the car while it was unattended after my mum took a cab. The mechanic was like, who the hell asked you? But that one didn’t hold weight with these thugs.
The mechanic knew that it would be a bad idea to leave the car there overnight because these chaps were eying the insides of the car. The chrome, vehicle logo, battery, engine and steering wheels of a car fetch a pretty penny in the tokunboh market, you see.
The problem was that the area boys said that they would not allow the mechanic tow the car away either without payment. One of them said he even doubted that the mechanic had been sent by my ma, after-all they did not see him when my ma had come with the car. Fair point.
Do you know what the compromise was? Some of the area boys – about 4 of them – ended up pushing this car (a Mercedes) all the way from Akpongbon to Surulere where we lived so that they could be ‘settled’. Yes, they pushed this car up Eko Bridge, all the way down, past Iganmu, Eric Moore, Bode Thomas, Babs Animashaun, Adelabu – a journey of over 10 miles. The mechanic had sat inside the car to stir the wheel, so 4 people had pushed a car with a passenger in it! The Guinness Book of World Records should eat their hearts out.
By the time, they got to our house around almost 10pm, they were dripping of sweat from every pore in their body. When we in the house heard the story, we were upset at first, but when we considered the distance and their motivation, it made for a funny story and sighs about how Nigeria had failed its citizens. My ma arranged for food to be made and given to them, and she gave them some cash as well. At least we saved on towing fees, huh?
They left our house, arguing amongst themselves about how the fractions of the money were to be divided, and whether ‘Chairman’ who was waiting back at Akpongbon, deserved a share.
2. When I was a teen, I and the driver went somewhere off Marina Road on an errand. As we were driving out of the side street, a guy who was driving in, swerved in with reckless speed and scratched our side. We all got down from our cars, and started doing the blame game thing customary to Lagos. Whoever talks the loudest and angriest wins the argument. A crowd started gathering, including some area boys and it became like the video of that Jah Bless song ‘Jor O!’
It turned out that the other driver was a local champion who had a shop around the area, so the crowd around there were supporting him, saying that he did nothing wrong, as he had ‘trafficated.’ The crowd started getting restive with everyone chipping in. The area boys there started asking how we wanted to settle our little accident.
Then one really elderly man dressed in an old school suit and a portfolio stepped in and started blowing serious grammar. He looked like those old school village headmasters and spoke like one: “What is all the pandemonium about? This vagabond’s vehicular transgressions nearly up-ended this two fellows with tragic consequences. It is an anomaly that questionable nit-wits are permitted to pilot the cockpits of fast motor cars in our society. This lynch mob is clearly being partial by turning a blind retina to the reckless driver’s antics. Please release these two gentlemen forthwith.’ Basically he said that everyone in the crowd was lying because they knew the reckless driver personally, and that we had been in the right, the crowd should chill.
For all his grammar, the elderly man had been buying roasted corn around the corner and saw all that had happened. His grammar seemed to bamboozle the crowd, so it started ‘changing their mouths’ and dispersing. The other driver apologized, and since it was a scratch and a bump which could be remedied by a good rub with engine oil.
As I and the driver, entered and started the car to drive off, we heard a thud coming from behind the car. In horror, we turned, and saw one of the area boys running to catch up with the car as we gathered speed, then grab the door handle of the door behind, open it and jumped inside.
‘Una wan drive off like that without paying anything?!!’ he growled dispersing saliva all over our velour seats.
The driver slowed down the car, but kept on moving, while I turned around to face the intruder.
Pay wetin?Shebi we and the driver don settle our issue finish’ I asked furiously.
‘But una never give us money. Na me help una for there sef. Make you turn back, make we go back to that place go see that driver.’ he insisted.
At this point, I had lost my ‘temperature’: ‘Would you get the f—k down from this car now!’
He looked at me for a brief minute without saying anything, then opened the car door and jumped out, with the car still moving at like 25 kilometers per hour. He landed feet first, and quickly ran across the road to hassle another set of drivers who had just had a head on collision.
I wondered how come he thought he could obtain money for doing nothing but hassling people. Maybe he is a consultant?
3. My friend Wole was driving on 3rd Mainland Bridge in the afternoon, when one of his tires burst. He got it under control, and parked on a ramp, so that he could do a quick tire change as he had an appointment to make. No sooner had he cut the engine, than was he approached by 3 rugged looking touts. He didn’t know where they emerged from as the road was a long empty stretch of cars speeding past. In fact he could have sworn that those guys came out of the lagoon under the bridge.
They gathered around and watched him remove the spare tire, jacks, caution sign and wrench from the car boot. They offered to help change the tire. He replied courteously ‘Don’t worry, I have got this.’
They did not answer him. One of them made to grab the wrench to start loosening the bolts on the wheel. Wole, who didn’t want any help, tried to grab the wrench back.
One of them now said ‘We dey try to be good Samaritan now o. Don’t make us turn into bad Samaritan.’
I am not aware that someone could be a bad Samaritan? How can you force help on others?
They proceeded to ‘help’ him change the tire.
Then they demanded ‘payment’ for work done. Wole was wary at this point, as he had a wad of cash amounting to about 50 grand in his inner blazer pocket. One of area boys seemed to have Superman’s X-ray vision, as his eyes kept on zeroing on that area of Wole’s blazer.
Another one started trying to pat Wole’s pocket to extract any cash. Acting quickly, Wole dipped his hand in his pocket and pulled out some notes from the wad. Unfortunately a huge batch came out – about 3k.
One of the area boys quickly grabbed the money, ran across the culvert on the bridge, barely avoiding onrushing traffic, and cross to the other side, and kept running. Another of them quickly ran after him in hot pursuit.
The last area boy still remained behind. He was the ‘bad Samaritan one’ and he sighed as he watched his two accomplices bolt away. He still had the spanner in his hands.
He said ‘Make you settle me na.’
Wole was perplexed ‘No be una I just give money now now’
Bad Samaritan winced ‘No be me you na. I nor sabi that other man before. Since you done give am him own money, he and him brother done go. Where my own money?’
Unbelievable! These chaps were getting along like bosoms buddies some seconds ago. It was obviously a scam.
Wole had to ‘re-settle’ the lone area boy. It was either that or be thrown into the lagoon. And the cash would be removed from his dead body anyway.
Part 2 of this article is coming soon. Please share your experiences with area-boys and street urchins.
When it’s time to eat a meal I rob and steal
Notorious B.I.G (Gimme The Loot, 1994)