On Tuesday, February 20, 2018, I witnessed a most heart-breaking incident.
At about 2.30pm on the said day, I saw three KIA vans parked in a row opposite WEMA Bank on Marina Street, Lagos.
Looking closely at the van nearest to me, I noticed that it was filled with people and wares. The forlorn looks on the faces of the captives sent a chill down my spine.
On inquiry, I was informed by one of the KIA officials that they had received a signal from the Lagos State Governor’s Office, to arrest the street traders along Balogun Market.
I was later informed that the Special Assistant to the Governor was superintending the arrests himself, and that the captives would be taken to Oshodi where they would be tried and, if found guilty, jailed for five months, in the event that they were unable to pay the fine.
When I contacted a lawyer friend, to find out whether anything could be done, he informed me that what I had just witnessed was a daily occurrence. He also stated that although there was a law banning street trading in Lagos, the state government appeared to be generating a lot of revenue from such exercises as over 50 trucks patrolled different parts of Lagos every day, making arrests.
I was further informed that the government had increased the fine from N10,000 to N20,000 and that many young men and women, between the ages 19 and 30, who were unable to pay the fine (recall that most of those arrested were selling items such as sachet water, plantain chips, ‘gala’ and the like) were languishing in Kirikiri and Badagry prisons.
The lawyer also informed me that the dehumanisation in the prisons was unimaginable.
Now, I ask: What kind of government would destroy its youths in this manner? Five months in prison, with hardened criminals, for trying to eke out a living in a society where basic social infrastructure are not available; where many parents have lost their jobs; and where three square meals a day is a struggle for many?
The list goes on and on.
I ask, again and again, then: Is it an offence to be poor? And in Lagos for that matter?
I ask, what country, desirous of progress, would so destroy its future, the youths, the way we do with relish here?
Even if convictions are made, could the “convicts” not be made to do community service? Could farms not be set up for the many unemployed young men and women to work in?
I urge the Chief Judge of Lagos State and the state Attorney General to please, as a matter of urgency, stop the daily incarceration and dehumanisation of hapless young men and women in the state.
Has the government paused to consider what happens when the inmates are freed after five months? They would, by then, have bred bitter men and women who would be veritable tools in the hands of mischief-makers and the society would be worse off for it.
Laws should soothe the pains of the citizenry and not dismember the already broken populace.
This is a passionate appeal to Governor Ambode to humanise his desire to turn the state into a megacity in a twinkle of an eye at the expense of the vulnerable members of the society. He should visit the state task force detention centre in Oshodi and get the poor youths being dehumanised by state agents released without further delay.
Let’s save our youths!
Let’s save Lagos State!
Let’s save our country!
Ms Lydia Ahmed, Gbagada,