Israel, a bank teller from one of Nigeria’s major banks was recently posted to one of the branches on Victoria Island. He lives in Akoka and must cross the Third Mainland Bridge (3 MB) every day to reach the island.
As customer service staff at the Bank, the resumption is at 7:20 am every day, preceded by branch meetings three times a week. To make sure he gets to work early, he leaves his house very early in the morning and walks to the Pako bus stop, where he boards a bus to Yaba or Sabo from where he can take a bus to Obalende or Eko Hotel on Victoria Island. . Most bank tellers do not have cars, so the daily commute by public transportation is not unexpected for employees at your level.
On this fateful day, while passing the Yabatech bus stop, he noticed the buses on the other side of the road going from Sabo to Obalende and decided to get off the bus he was on and cut the trip short as it was getting afternoon.
He quickly ran over to what appeared to him to be a rapidly filling bus only to find a space left by the door. She made to sit down when the person closest to the door came down and motioned for her to sit further inside. He gladly accepted the offer since the road ahead had puddles of water and he didn’t want the water splashing on him. He immediately sat up, felt a chill down his spine, and knew that he had made a mistake getting on the bus.
When the bus started its journey, the man next to him slapped him hard, and the sound of slapping could be heard in different corners of the bus from the non-gang passengers, which caused a small ruckus among they. A gang member pulled out a gun and this caused a sudden calm on the bus. The driver who appeared to be the leader of the gang began to give instructions and assured them that no one would get hurt if they followed his instructions. All were stripped of their valuables, including phones and cash. A POS materialized and everyone offered their PIN, and immediately all the accounts were emptied into another. As they approached the St. Dominic intersection, the bus made a right turn and everyone was asked to jump off while the bus was still moving.
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Israel and her fellow travelers had just fallen victim to the “one shot” phenomenon that was unleashing in the nation’s metropolitan areas. This type of criminal activity is normally carried out by a gang consisting of men and women who use a car, bus or Keke to pick up unsuspecting members of the public in others to steal their valuables. This group are not kidnappers, ritualists or terrorists, their goal is to maim and strip unsuspecting members of the public of their valuables while using the public transportation system that is the lifeblood of the city.
One Chance Phenomenon
No one knows the exact origins of the term “one shot,” but it is a popular phrase in common English that means that one has entered a situation from which one cannot immediately get out. The practice, as it is now known, became prevalent sometime in the late 1990s in Lagos and has spread to other parts of the country.
The passengers most vulnerable to this dastardly act are those who board buses along the route, especially at points where there are no designated bus stops or where buses are not required to park before picking up passengers. These unscrupulous individuals and groups take advantage of the rush associated with boarding buses in Lagos and lure unsuspecting passengers onto the bus.
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Members of this group of thieves are placed in “strategic” corners of the bus in such a way that non-group members are locked in a corner with no room to escape. Anyone who has lived in Lagos knows that the buses hardly stop for you to get off or board when it is not a designated bus stop. His ability to get on and off a moving bus is a special ability that only the Lagosian acquires over time by boarding the ubiquitous “Molue” buses that are peculiar to the city.
In Lagos, the most vulnerable places are Oshodi Oke, Charity, Toyota, Iyana Isolo up to mile 2, from mile 2 to Okokomaiko, Lekki Epe highway, Berger-Oke on Lagos Ibadan highway, etc. In earlier times, these incidents only happened late at night, but in recent times it has become more brazen with operations in broad daylight. The vehicle chosen by the “one chance” union is the Toyota Sienna, especially in the mornings.
The unavailability of licensed commercial vehicles has opened a window for unregistered vehicles to enter the space for passenger traffic. This space is being exploited by these criminals, especially during peak hours to exploit the vulnerability of Lagos residents during this period.
The role of transport unions
The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) or its successor organization, the Lagos State Parks and Garages Committee, is perhaps one of the most hated and reviled Unions in Nigeria. From harassment, violent garage takeovers, extortion, intimidation, etc., the list of acts of infamy associated with the Union is endless.
Despite this, there is a sense of security and certainty that comes from boarding the buses at the designated parks where they are in charge. Through a network of personal interactions and years of dealing with Drivers and Drivers, they have formed relationships that allow them to vouch for Drivers.
New drivers intending to join new parks are not only required to pay fees and levies, but must also be referenced by other known individuals or drivers before being allowed to pick up passengers. This semi-informal system of guarantors ensures that unknown persons with devious intentions do not use the park as a stage for their activities. As the buses and their Owners or Drivers know, you can return to report any incident or case of loss of personal belongings to the President of the local chapter.
On October 5, 2022, Lagos State Parks and Garages, through its Chairman Alhaji Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Oluomo, announced the introduction of a barcode for passengers to scan to allow them to identify the buses that they are safe to board. The initiative, according to him, is to curb incidents of kidnapping, “one chance” and other nefarious activities perpetrated using the public transportation system.
The plan is for each vehicle to have a unique barcode that people are expected to scan before boarding and, when scanned, will display the vehicle number, driver details and the unit from which the vehicle operates. This, according to the plan’s initiators, will eliminate the hijacking incidents currently plaguing the transport sector.
This is a laudable idea to instill much-needed discipline in the transport sector in Lagos, but it has an obvious shortcoming, the plan assumes that passengers have the luxury of time and space to be able to scan vehicles before boarding. The hustle and bustle of getting on a bus in Lagos as I had said before does not give rise to such an undertaking. In addition, passengers already have the convenience of boarding buses from designated bus stops, and asking them to scan a QR code can only bring additional convenience.
How to avoid an opportunity?
So, the challenge for passengers is how to identify “one opportunity” vehicles or what to do to reduce the risk of being exposed to such gangs:
We spoke to some safety advisors and car park drivers who recommended caution and a “common sense” view of rushing. As much as possible, try to board the vehicles from designated bus stops and parks. Do a quick mental scan of the vehicle and its passengers. If you are a lady, please do not board a bus with only male passengers.
If the passengers are evenly distributed on the bus and ask you to go further inside, do not get on. Vehicles offering ridiculous or reduced rates should also be avoided or approached with extreme caution. Follow your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, please don’t board.
Twice in November 2022, LASTMA officers arrested 2 different “one shot” gangs operating in the Lekki axis and on the mainland. On a Monday morning in early December, vehicles traveling over the Third Mainland Bridge were met by police vehicles blocking some lanes to allow officers to scan and question unlicensed commercial vehicles carrying more than 2 passengers.
This exercise was an attempt to stop any such operation that might be in progress. This shows that the police and law enforcement are fully aware of the rise in this form of crime and are trying to nip it in the bud.
The government has a responsibility
State governments also have a responsibility to eliminate or regulate the activities of unlicensed persons using their vehicles for commercial purposes. By admitting that they provide a service and help cushion the effect of the vehicle deficit on commuters, their activities have created the space that “one Chance” operators are exploiting.
In Lagos, a return to the assigned route system whereby buses could only operate within assigned routes and these routes were displayed could also help curb the threat. Law enforcement can also organize covert operations to catch these people, since everyone knows the hotspots where they operate. The few arrests that have occurred have been due to the determination of the passengers and not any action taken by law enforcement.
Public transportation is an important part of the life experience in any city. The ability of people to move freely within a city or state can help the state’s economy. Workers must be able to move without fear of harm, especially when using public transportation.
Tourists interested in immersing themselves in the life of the locals are always keen to take public transport. Security-related issues or a lack of security in the public transport system can create a negative perception of the city and its people, thus affecting tourism.