Area boys (also known as Agberos) are loosely organized gangs of street children and teenagers, composed mostly of males (but with a few females), who roam the streets of Lagos, Nigeria. They extort money from passers-by, sell illegal drugs, act as informal security guards, and perform other "odd jobs" in return for compensation. The groups are based in Lagos Island, a Local Government Area in Lagos and the most urbanised part of Nigeria.
Area boys, who are largely Yoruba, have existed in the city since the early 1980s. However, under various names, types of Area Boys have been traced back to the 1920s. In 2007, the total number of area boys in Lagos was estimated at over 35,000 by a member of the Lagos State Judiciary; as of 1996, the number of them operating on Lagos Island alone was placed around 1,000. A 1996 study of area boys on Lagos Island by Abubakar Momoh showed that only 26.4% of area boys were from Lagos State; Ogun State (22.6%), Kwara State (14.2%), and Oyo State (14.1%) all produced more than 10% of respondents. Most were between twelve and thirty-five years old.
Asked whether they were "proud" to be area boys, 18% of respondents said yes, while 75% said no (7% did not respond).
Tactics and targets
The coercive and persuasive requests, petty crimes and sometimes violent offences by the so-called "area boys" to acquire resources, generally cash in the urban main business and crowded areas, have disturbed the civil society and defied the civic authority. Drug abuse among them has been variously reported as the cause of delinquent behaviour and crime.
One of the methods the groups use for extortion is to surround pedestrians, drivers, and passengers in vehicles, which are stuck in traffic, and force them to pay (for some actual or pretended service) before letting them go. To aid in collecting money during traffic jams, the area boys place nails in the road and dig up the streets. When the streets are flooded, however, they also aid motorists in avoiding ditches and pot holes.
Illegal drug sale
Among the area boys are both sellers and users of illegal drugs; this drug use has been fingered as the cause of further crime. Momoh states "most of them use drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana, etc.) either as occasional users or addicts, or as peddlers." (Of 77 respondents to Momoh's survey, 12.2% dealt drugs, while 60.3% were addicts themselves.) Sale of drugs takes place both in Nigeria and abroad, and sales abroad have earned a small percentage of the sellers significant amounts of money.
Groups of area boys have been known to raid rival, Igbo drug sellers based in Central Lagos.
Notable incidents involving area boys
During the Hausa-Yoruba riots in Lagos in 2000, where thousands of Hausa fled to military barracks and nearly 100 people died, area boys took advantage of the chaos and joined in the mayhem, throwing glass and bottles at shops.
In May 2005, after a Nigerian soldier was assaulted and stabbed by several area boys he had tried to prevent from taking money from a bus driver (bus drivers are favored targets of the gang), the military began a crackdown against the group. Following this, the group's activity was noted to be in decline. However, at the Mile 12 Market, (also in Lagos), soldiers were reported to work hand in hand with gang members as late as 2004.
Area boys elsewhere in Nigeria
- Petty criminals have been labeled as "area boys" in Ibadan, where they control informal markets and are used to advance political causes.
- In the Yankari National Park in Bauchi State, baboons have been referred to as "area boys" because of their troublesome behavior.
- They were cited as a nuisance by the Director of Communications at Airtel in August 2012 because they demanded money to load diesel at the company's Base Transceiver Stations.
- Ngwobo, Chris (July 2004). "Area Boys: Menace to Society". This Present House. Freedom Hall. Retrieved 2007-03-04.[dead link]
- Simon Heap,“Their Days are Spent in Gambling and Loafing, Pimping for Prostitutes, and Picking Pockets”: Male Juvenile Delinquents on Lagos Island, Nigeria, 1920s-60s’, Journal of Family History, 35(1), 2010, 48-70; http://jfh.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/0363199009348306v1
- IRIN (2005-07-14). "Area Boys -- a growing menace on the streets of Lagos". NEWSfromAFRICA. Koinonia International. Retrieved 2007-03-03.
- Jega, Attahiru; Abubakar Momoh (chapter author) (2000). "Yoruba Culture and Area Boys in Lagos". Identity Transformation and Identity Politics under Structural Adjustment in Nigeria. Nordic Africa Institute. p. 184. ISBN 91-7106-456-7.
- ^ Simon Heap,“Their Days are Spent in Gambling and Loafing, Pimping for Prostitutes, and Picking Pockets”: Male Juvenile Delinquents on Lagos Island, Nigeria, 1920s-60s’, Journal of Family History, 35(1), 2010, 48-70; http://jfh.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/0363199009348306v1
- Iginla, S. L. (2007-04-11). "Area boys’ activities: An underground economy". The Punch (Lagos). Punch Nigeria Limited. Retrieved 2008-05-08.[dead link]
- Momoh, p. 194
- Momoh, p. 191
- "Nigeria Common Country Assessment". United Nations Development Programme. 2001. p. 170. Retrieved 2008-02-04. "Secret cults and “area boys”: The emergence of secret cults on the campuses of educational institutions (especially at the tertiary level), the general shroud of secrecy over their activities and the incidents of violence on the campuses, are testimonials of the relationship between drugs and cults. The coercive and persuasive requests, petty crimes and sometimes violent offences by the so-called "area boys" to acquire resources, generally cash in the urban main business and crowded areas, have disturbed the civil society and defied the civic authority. Drug abuse among them has been variously reported as the cause of delinquent behaviour and crime."
- Momoh, p. 193
- Momoh, p. 190
- Momoh, p. 195
- "Lagos calm after city centre riots". BBC Online. BBC. 2000-10-18. Retrieved 2007-03-03.
- Adingupu, Charles (2004-07-22). "At Mile 12, Soldiers, Area Boys Seize Traffic Control". Online Nigeria. Devace Nigeria. Retrieved 2007-03-03.
- Abiola, Tope; Rotimi Omole (2007-01-25). "6 killed in Ibadan fracas". Nigerian Tribune. African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc. Retrieved 2007-03-03. [dead link]
- Kay, Soyemi (2007-02-05). "The Joker in the Pack". Nigeriaworld.com. Nigeriaworld. Retrieved 2007-03-03.
- Ojo-Lanre, Wale. "Escape to Yankari Game Reserve Nigeria's Garden of Eden". Nigerian Tribune. African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc. Retrieved 2006-03-03.[dead link]
- "Two years after, Airtel yet to break- even". The Guardian, Nigeria. 10 August 12. Retrieved 11 August 2012.