Monday 11 October 2010

Nigeria: Louis Theroux: Law and Disorder in Lagos - Review

This was first published at NigeriansTalk.Org

Law and Disorder in Lagos

Louis Theroux the documentary maker and social commentator was in Lagos, Nigeria and his subject was Law and Disorder in Lagos [1], shown on BBC2 on Sunday the 10th of October 2010.

There had been announcements on the social networking forums so a good number of Nigerians were ready to view programme; I had set my digital video recorder to capture the hour in interesting insight into life in Lagos.

Getting the Context

After the first viewing, I scanned Twitter & Facebook to see the initial reactions to the show and they varied between people who seemed to understand the context of the documentary and those who thought Nigerians were again being portrayed in very bad light.

I decided to have a second viewing of the recorded programme, updated my notes and on the 3rd viewing began writing this review.

A union and a task force

The first thing to understand about this programme is the context that Mr. Theroux is framing, this was about how Lagos polices itself looking at both sides of the law between the activities of the supposed area chieftains who are members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the paramilitary Task Force named the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) given the task of cleaning up Lagos.

The first local chieftain was an androgynous lady called Tawa who being the local chairman of her branch of the NURTW was a heavy of sorts who collected daily union dues from transport operators and illegal levies from shop keepers in the area who were press ganged into paying up or forced to suffer serious consequences by duress and possible violence.

Area boys on the loose

Whilst there might well be a valid case for the union activities in terms of transport workers and union dues, the case for extorting money from shop keepers could not be legally made, it was a protection racket.

These local chieftains had their authority and influence exerted through jobless, rowdy and raucous youths called “area boys” who all apparently bore surgical scars of violent assault that they all said were caused by accidents – they were menacing but considered tough and hence never to be challenged.

It appeared the local chieftains all seemed to have spokespersons that seemed to be quite articulate and oblivious of the sensitivity of their commentary or the daring comparisons they made with the Queen, the Pope or other Western countries.

The Big-man in Oshodi

MC the chieftain in Oshodi who was also the treasurer of the Lagos State NURTW seemed to be a wily political animal that had photo opportunities with various celebrities and even the state government.

His demeanour was that of ostentation and hedonism exemplified in the revelation that he bought his shoes from Milan and Naples in Italy. He seemed to be a benevolent absolute monarch over his entire exerting absolute control and having everyone genuflect in obeisance and fear of his reach and domineering influence.

His residence was the epitome of “bling” with no one questioning why a union boss or a treasurer at that should be doling out wads of cash with no discernable industry supporting the funds he seemed to have to hand out.

A denial too palpable

The menacing nature of these local chieftains who seemed aloof of the fray but with enough to instil fear in the populace was self-evident and the underlings all seemed to be ready for a fight with one of the guides conceding that they do not take stock of the loss of life in the event of violence.

This part of the disorder which had the “area boys” volatile and easily provoked that for each gathering there was some sudden unexplained fracas had MC maintain that “area boys” were neither hoodlums nor hooligans, they were boys in an area and they were not jobless.

The “area boys” themselves in their own words wanted jobs, peace and the ability to do something with their hands – I cannot say I saw any impetus by the chieftains or the government to provide opportunities to these youth, so the life of crime and the toleration of protection rackets thrives in Lagos, and that is the truth about the disorder.

Out to do law

The KAI Task Force were uniformed paramilitary personnel with the powers of arrest, the authority to demolish illegal structures built on state property, detain street traders and hawkers and to ensure that people adhered to the mandatory environmental sanitation cleaning exercise on the last Saturday of the month.

The KAI Task Force had apparently served notices on people in structures to be demolished but many seemed to ignore those notices until they were met with the desperate and heart-rending situation of moving their goods as the bulldozers moved in.

In some ways, the victims of these clear-outs might have been duped into thinking they were legal tenants of unscrupulous landlords and others were none the wiser as to what constituted a legal structure and the definition of legality seemed to be decided on the whim and exuberance of the KAI Task Force.

Inverted logic

Dreaded as the KAI Task Force were with the ability to call on armed reinforcements, the leader of the Task Force did show some mercy and compassion on arrested violators of the cleaning exercise who had children.

However, the logic around using the arrest of small fry violator street hawkers to get at the godfathers of the activities who could easily ignore their insignificant little troops whilst perpetrating their trade was a bit stretched.

The Task Force did not think it was their business to get to the bottom of the problem, as long as they took people off the street, they were duly enforcing the law of the land.

Culpability of the government

What came out of this documentary was how the government seemed to sanction the illegal and legal parts of maintaining a modicum of order in Lagos and the way they mollified the volatility of the “area boy” network by conferring some legitimacy on these “Mafia-like godfather” trade union executives whose remit continually crossed into illegal and violent conduct without the people being able to question their activities.

It did not appear that they were answerable to anyone and they were all hypocritically in denial of the obvious that the “area boys” were a menace, hoodlums, hooligans, jobless, violent and the basis of their areas of influence.

Law and disorder, it was

What this documentary exposed was a clear situation of order and chaos, law and disorder, and violence meted out with impunity and no recourse for justice.

Where a man seemed to question the activities of the “area boys” he was deemed crazy, but then this was not about the respectable who could see the illegalities but to highlight the underbelly of law enforcement outside the usual purview of the police whose cameo appearance in this documentary was quaffing down bottles of alcohol provided by – well, MC.


[1] BBC News - Law and disorder in Lagos

YouTube - Hard Law in Lagos-Nigeria BBC Documentary by Louis Theroux (Part 1 of 5) - This link is courtesy of a tweet by @nkemifejika but with Finnish sub-titles.

For those not in Britain who couldn't catch Law and Disorder in Lagos, here's a shaky version on YouTube.


CodLiverOil said...

1) Some NURTW members are abusing their union positions to extort money from the public. Why isn’t the NURTW taking action against them?
2) KAI are by no means perfect but they are a good idea, to prevent the place from becoming a total wreck.
3) Agreed KAI could go after the kingpin’s, but with the courts being as they are, would they get anywhere, during the governor’s tenure?
4) Nigerians, ignore reason and are more prone to respect force, that is my observation.
5) All countries have a criminal class, the Russians, Japanese and Brazilians all come to mind, but in all these cases they are more disciplined and underground than the area boys.
6) Thanks for raising this, I thought I’d missed it. I’ve not seen the video in it’s entirety.
7) What made Mr Theroux head to Lagos, of all the cities in the world to film this subject?

Akin Akintayo said...

Hello CodLiverOil,

Let me see if I can address each of the points you raised.

1. It would appear the collecting union dues and protection racketeering are conflated activities sanctioned by the NURTW.

2. Let us just say KAI is a work in progress.

3. I do not think our police structure is that geared towards investigation, detection and the nabbing of big-wigs, the closest we have to that is in the EFCC.

4. That is unfortunate, but then where they are abused they should know how to seek and get redress.

5. Indeed!

6. You should.

7. He has already made a similar series on Philadephia and Johannesburg, so Lagos does not seem that out of place.

Thanks for your comments.


CodLiverOil said...

Many thanks for taking the time to answer those points.

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