Lagos residents defend homes against curfew bandits

Amid rising number of robberies during lockdown, residents form vigilante groups to keep guard against attackers.

Lagos residents defend homes against curfew bandits
Teacher Awosusi Ahmed keeping vigil in front of his Lagos home to prevent attacks on his family

Two weeks ago, when Nigeria's government ordered an impending lockdown of the three key states of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, residents were advised to stay at home and observe the quarantine.

The announcement prompted Wasiu Kolawole to go on a last-minute shopping spree to stock up on food for the next 14 days, as well as buy petrol for a generator to power his home in Lagos.

The 54-year-old, a commercial bus driver, was looking forward to spending some quality time with his four children. Most days, he leaves his house in Lagos's Iju-Ishaga area before they wake up and sometimes returns home after they have already gone to bed.

Four days into the lockdown, however, this downtime with his family was interrupted when a criminal gang stormed a nearby street to rob residents of their belongings.

"I woke up around 1am and I heard some neighbours screaming and calling for people to come out and defend them. It was like a movie scene. I made my way to the entrance of the house and found out that other neighbours were all out with weapons [such as machetes and clubs]," Kolawole told Al Jazeera.

"I quickly ran back into the house to fetch my machete and joined other residents to form a barricade to prevent the hoodlums from invading our street. We stayed awake until 7am before dispersing to our homes."

The quick mobilisation resulted in Kolawole and his immediate neighbours not coming under attack - unlike residents of two nearby streets. Armed with clubs, machetes and iron rod, the robbers ransacked homes, carted away valuables and injured some residents who put up a fight.

That was not the first time the community was targeted by criminal gangs. Kolawole acquired his machete, which he keeps close to his bedside, after being robbed in 2018.

With similar attacks also taking place in other areas of Lagos during the lockdown, some residents have now formed vigilante groups to keep guard against possible neighbourhood looters. 

Residents in Alagbado, a Lagos suburb, said they had also taken on the responsibility of defending their homes following an attack by a group of bandits.

"My decision to join the vigilante is to protect my home because ... the government is not doing their job," Awosusi Ahmed, a resident, told Al Jazeera.

"I would have been in my own abode, sleeping, with the confidence that the police is doing their job. But since I've not received any help from the police, and I'm not expecting any help from them as well, so I have to be strong," he said.

Such incidents are not restricted to Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, as some communities in neighbouring Ogun state have also reported similar attacks.

On Monday, the police said they were bolstering forces in Lagos and Ogun "in the wake of recent activities of hoodlums and street urchins in the border communities" and announced the arrest of almost 200 suspects.