The Area Boys Sagas continue. No matter your wealth or status, unless you use a flying saucer or a winch’s broom to navigate Lagos roads, you have to deal with the area boy phenomenon one way or the order.
- One particular case comes to mind. Anybody familiar with the Victoria Island – Oniru – Lekki axis would remember the short-cut which used to exist between Oniru and Lekki until it was bricked up and sealed off. The short-cut enabled motorists bypass some of the beginning part of Lekki-Epe road by passing huge sandy plots and bursting out on the road just before 2nd Roundabout and around where Amazon Energy and DFS are located. It was a popular route with people on the school run, professionals trying to get to work early, danfo drivers who wanted to drop and pick passengers faster to increase their profit threshold and those moneyed vain types who wanted to test their new German SUVs.
It was a fantastic, life-saving shortcut while it lasted, but it had only one snag: the sandy lots were a car sinker. Only navigate if your car is an SUV or a 4 wheel drive. That wasn’t the only hazard – alayes (nomenclature for ‘area boys) used to patrol the sandy lot looking for cars who got stuck in the sand. They charged a king’s ransom, sometimes up to N10,000 to help push or dig a stranded vehicle. Sometimes the drivers did not have a choice – they were in a hurry or feared about living the car there overnight.
The curious thing is that during the rainy season, the sandy lot would get wet any day it rained, making it easier to navigate for most cars, as water made the sand more sturdy. However for some even more curious reason, the next day, there seemed to be a huge top layer of dry sand in the lots again. It was obvious that the area boys were heaping fresh sand every night to make sure cars got stuck the next day!
Some even chased after cars as they passed if the car looked like it was struggling in the sand. There was a day I wanted to use the shortcut, and the area boys were there. A few cars had gotten stuck because the sand dunes were huge. I drove a small SUV, so I revved the engine to gather momentum, and then jetted off onto the sand plains. At a point, my car tires looked to be stuck, and some of the area boys gathered by my car as it reduced speed, and started pressing down on the bonnet and sides with their body weight to trap the car further in the sand! Ehn?
However, the alayes did not factor in the power of 4WD. My car’s four wheel drive kicks in automatically if the front wheels are not engaging a surface properly despite the driver hitting the throttle. As a result, the back tires started spinning, and I was able to push forward and finish the short-cut. Looking at my rear-view mirror, I could see the disappointment on the faces of some of the area boys. One shook his fists at me as he watched me escape. I gave him the finger, as I cranked up the volume on my car stereo. I had that Puff Daddy and Mase jam on my Bose sound system ‘Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down’: Can’t nobody take my pride, can’t nobody hold me down/ Oh no, I have got to keep on moving.
Other cars were not so lucky when using that shortcut. If you got stuck there, the area boys would try to intimidate you. Some would first push the car, then demand an outrageous sum and threaten to hold your car or one of its parts in lien if you don’t pay up. Sometimes you would see a Lagos big boy or an oga stuck there. He would remain in his car with the AC on and windows up, while his driver alighted to negotiate with irate area boys under the hot sun.
As an aside, some of the commuters who used to try to use this short-cut used to make me laugh. Why would any driver in his right mind think that a Kia Picanto could pass a sandy dune? Lagosians can be vain – sometimes you would see Range Rover and Mercedes ML drivers snicker proudly and shake their heads in amusements as they drove past other struggling motorists – usually some Rav 4 drivers. Na for that sand-sand, you go know say jeep no be jeep. (or SUV)
So it is clear to see that area boys affect both the rich and the poor. There was a time that some fellas used to see as a mark of macho strength and hardness if they could boast that they entered a beach or parked in a public place without having to pay area boys. Let’s not lie to ourselves, most of us at one time or the other have had to ‘settle’ this rising particles of brute force. I remember going to Lagbaja’s Motherland some years back for a late night show. Area boys were hanging around on the streets parking people and asking for cash. I parked, got down, and paid one-off plus some extra, as I told him to keep a special eye on my car. Another man had packed next to me, and ignored the area boy’s request for cash, as he walked away with his voluptuous date.
When the show ended in the early hours of the morning, I strolled to my car and saw a crowd gathered near. Apparently the man, who had packed next to me, had his car steering wheel stolen! Sometimes a N200 or N500 tip pays for itself.
- Circa 2008, my aunt came down from Abuja to Lagos because she wanted to buy a used car. I and my dad decided to take her to Berger in Apapa, to guide her in making the right choice and to get a bargain. We decided to use a car hire, and then drive the new car back to the house
We got to Berger, and were astounded. Cars of every size, shape and model lined for blocks. My aunt became as overwhelmed as a cow in a field. The traders there, some of the most tenacious salesmen in the world, did not make her task of making a choice easier. To me, it is easy – when in doubt, choose a Honda, if you cannot afford a Mercedes. I love Hondas…
There was also the matter of price – Japanese cars are overpriced in Naija, and my aunt wanted one. She was also on a budget, and had her husband and kids calling her phone every other minute for a progress report. Her teen son wanted an SUV, so he could paint Abuja red and pick up as many ‘drive-bys’ as possible. Her husband wanted the new Passat – he should have gone to steal.
My aunt had to settle for a 2005 Toyota Camry XLE (popularly known as ‘Big –for-nothing). It was bogus model with leather seats, a sun-roof, alloy wheels, and AC that could turn pure water into condensed ice cream in an instant. I hated it though. That particular model, not because of bad bele. Thank you.
We paid for it and looked at our watches – it was well past 6pm. We had to drive to Lekki, and it was around the after-work rush hour. There goes my Champions League match. We told the driver of the car hire to drive in front of us, while I would drive the brand new car. The traders there advised us to put the hazard lights on, and drive with speed like we were escorting a CBN bullion van. Why do the drivers of brand new cars without license plates drive like crazed banshees with their hazard lights blinking furiously and horns blaring. Armed robbers could still rob you regardless. By the way, don’t the hazard lights and loud horns draw attention to you instead?
Trust the car salesmen at Berger – the tank of the car was on empty. By the time we navigated through Apapa traffic, the car was on reserve. We could have stopped at a couple of filling stations, but we decided to soldier on because it was getting late, and traffic was moving very slow. We also wanted to get to the Island first, because the car was unlicensed and anything could pop off anytime. By the way, why is it that people who live on the Island, believe that once they get to anywhere on the Island, all will be fine. If they are stranded, they believe that all they have to do is find a way to cross 3rd Mainland or Eko Bridges and that all will be well after then.
We were cruising just fine; in fact I was beginning to tune into the local radio stations to test the sound system, when the car suddenly lost thrust power. Oh shucks! I looked at the fuel gauge and saw that the needle had dropped to way below empty. Gas had finished, and worse than that, we were at the end of Marina, just before Falomo bridge.
My dad woke up from his slumber; my aunt started shedding tears. I managed to navigate the car so that we could go as far as possible and use the momentum to park well on the side of the road.
It was now past 8pm and we were a few meters short of Army Officer’s Mess (a popular wedding reception venue in Lagos). I told my aunt and my dad to get down from the car and stand on curb, and I plucked a plant and pulled out the car spare tire from the boot and placed them some meters behind the car to warn on-coming traffic. My dad placed a call to the car-hire driver who had gone way before us, and told him that we had run out of gas. He was also instructed to go to Mobil Station on Ahmadu Bello Way, and buy us a gallon of fuel, and use an okada to bring it to us asap.
I looked up across the road, and saw about 5 red lights glowing from under Falomo Bridge. They looked like infra-red dots. I looked closely and noticed that 4 of the red lights were 2 pairs of eyes, and the last light was…..I could smell it – Indo spliff. Two area boys were smoking weed under the bridge, and one of them had spotted us, and was pointing us out to the other one. I then watched, as the other one ran off to call ‘back-up’ while the pointer readied himself to come across. Ah, the bad Samaritans again.
It was not looking good. If a posse of area boys came to jam a lad, an elderly man and a middle aged woman in a poorly lit road by a major bridge, by a stranded unlicensed car, that was a recipe for disaster.
I decided to think fast. Feeling like a Hollywood (or sorry, Nollywood) movie hero, I barked orders to my dad and aunt: ‘Follow me, if you want to live.’ We jogged and half ran to the Army Officer’s Mess. I went to the front room where I saw a lieutenant eating roasted corn, and introduced myself. I told him about our present situation, and asked for ‘logistic support’ until the gallon of fuel came.
The army man screamed ‘What!? No problem sir, let me call my colleague’. He fetched his colleague, a smartly dressed officer, and they both cocked their automatic rifles and walked with us to the car.
I looked across the bridge and saw the area boys there sitting on the bench – about 5 of them. If only looks could kill. They looked like lions which had just had their prey collected from them. I stuck out my tongue triumphantly at the one who had done the pointer. What, I got army guns.
The car-hire driver arrived with the gallon of fuel shortly, and we refilled the car, and it started. We thanked the army chappies, and I drove off quickly. You see, area boys don’t always win.
- A long while back, I and 4 of my pals – Emeka, Tola, Jide and Elvis went for a beach party at Alpha Beach. This was one Alpha beach was one of only decent beaches in Lagos – before the Elegushi and Oniru beach eras.
The beach party was just there – a few girls and plenty of Gordon Sparks (which had just come out then).
We decided to leave just before the end. We got to the parking lot, and were about to drive off when an area boy blocked the car and demanded ‘parking’ money.
Boys being boys , we refused, explaining that we had spent all we had at the beach on suya, beer and sea-shells. The area boy got very irate and called some of his people. One of them then placed a gigantic boulder (big like the ones on Bar Beach to check the tide) behind the car, to block us from reversing. It was about to be on, now.
What happened next and each of my friend’s reactions are a prime example of every type of reaction people give to threats from area boys. The confrontations started with a lot of shouting, pushing and shoving.
Tola – the slacker. He was a passive ‘club boy’ type of fella. He was more concerned with remaining cool, and checking that no-one coming to the beach saw him arguing or fighting with area boys as this was social suicide. He was of the opinion hat we should pay the area boys whatever amount they wanted, and leave before his reputation took a knock. He was the only one remained in the car, and didn’t get down to confront the area boys. He also tried to convince me to chill inside too, while the others handled ‘this mess.’
Emeka – the kind of guy who has a temper but is not much of a fighter. He makes up for it by having a slick tongue. Ogboju pass power. One of the area boys shoved at Emeka, and Emeka said ‘Alaye, shebi you don touch me now? The one way I go touch you now, you no go stand up again. Just try am again.’
The area boy raised an eyebrow, then touched Emeka again by poking him lightly on the chest with his finger. Emeka did nothing. He had gotten his point across though. Even the area boy looked at him with a new found respect.
Jide – a reluctant fighter and a joker, but one who you would like to have in the trenches with you when all chips are down. He still had a bottle of Dark Sailor liquor in his hands and nobody knew whether he would take another swig from it, or smash it across one of the area boy’s heads. He was talking to the leader of the area boys quietly and kept laughing dismissively at his monetary demands. A real stand up fella.
Elvis – a ‘anyhow’ ‘anytime’ type of brawler. He was so up for a fight. It is no surprise that his favourite jam of all time is Nas ‘Got Yourself a Gun.’ He and the most rugged looking of the area boys were having a heated exchange:
Area boy: “ Make you pay us our money o. Or una no go comot from here. Make you look our eye o. We no be UNILAG o.”
Elvis: “Pay wetin? None of us here be UNILAG.”
Elvis had attended Edo State University for a couple of years. Go figure
Area Boy: “Una dey find trouble o. None of us wey dey here get head wey correct. Make you no try us o’
Elvis: ‘My friends no get correct head too. Na madness dey do all of us too.”
The area boy was weak.
Me – I won’t lie. I hate getting into fights unless absolutely necessary, but I was concerned about rocks and objects flying about and smashing my sleek Honda. It was my car that had a big boulder behind it, and I had the most to lose.
Finally, we were able to get it settled, and Jide handed one of the area boys his half empty bottle of Rum. We did not pay a dime, and we drove off laughing, as the area boys went in search of other victims. Mugus, them.
You ain’t got hood stripes/
Looters come through catch you fronting/
And its good night/
Nas (Quiet N—-s, 1999)