Lagos unrest: The mystery of Nigeria’s gangster attacks

Residents in two Nigerian states under coronavirus lockdown were lured into believing that coordinated armed robbery attacks were underway.

Hundreds of gang members, mostly teenagers, fleeing police in these states hoaxed people to believe in these attacks.

Police say the gangsters achieved their intention of creating panic.

Residents set up makeshift checkpoints with burning tyres in border communities between Lagos and Ogun states after forming vigilante groups to protect themselves from the imaginary armed robbers.

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For days, groups of anxious residents kept vigils on their streets, armed with machetes, bottles and other household items.

Waiting for an attack that never came.

According to the rumours, a group of about 200 armed robbers were on the rampage.

The police however told BBC that it was a widespread hoax by gangsters to create panic before attacking residents and that people had unwittingly assisted them by posting messages on social media.

Contrary to the rumours, the police say no-one was attacked.

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How did the rumours start?

According to the Police, messages like this were used to frighten the public

Pictures and videos of residents in wait for attacks started surfacing last Thursday with the hashtags #OgunUnrest and #LagosUnrest trending for days on Twitter.

But there was no proof of armed robbery attacks in the neighbourhoods, according to the police.

The first set of reports said there were attacks around the Agbado, Sango and Ijoko areas of Ogun state that border Lagos.

Some residents also claimed they had heard gunshots and others said they had seen people breaking into homes and in some cases maiming occupants on social media.

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Below is a tweet from a user in the state saying “her hood was under attack”

This video showed residents of a community sharpening their machetes and “preparing for battle”.

Ogun state police spokesman Abimbola Oyeyemi told the BBC that they received more than 300 calls of “fake attacks” on Saturday.

“On one occasion, someone called to report the death of seven people but when police got there, there was nothing.”

“The caller was miles away from the purported incident he was reporting,” he said.

According to him, a gang war had started in Ogun state after the death of one of the leaders in a fight, leading to the arrest of 150 gang members, while hundreds of them fled into Lagos state.

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By Friday, rumours of attacks spread to Lagos.

Subsequently, online videos and photos circulated; some showed bloodied “gangsters” with their civilian captors who accused them of being robbers.

Things further escalated on Sunday as there were reports of daytime attacks in the Ogba area of Lagos, a popular neighbourhood for middle-class workers.

Were there armed robbery attacks?

On the scale of reports on social media, the police disclosed there have been no armed robbery attacks.

Following the gang war, 100 gang members who came into the state from Ogun had been arrested.

He said that the gangsters had created panic by distributing messages to frighten people.

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“They know it is difficult to hit an organised community so they [gangsters] want to first disorganise them [residents],” he said.

He said the vigilante groups magnified the problem as their weapons and the tyres they burnt led to further panic; with some residents mistaking them for robbers.