Nigeria sweeps up its mean streets
July 1, 1997
Web posted at: 2:27 p.m. EDT (1827 GMT)
From Reporter Bob Coen
LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- Lawlessness, gangs and gruesome
slayings once plagued the Nigerian capital of Lagos. But last
year, authorities launched a war on crime, and the
bandits appear to be losing.
The streets are safer thanks to Operation Sweep, a task force
of 4,000 specially trained men from the nation's police,
Army, Navy and Air Force.
"Operation Sweep -- that means sweep away all these criminal
elements within the society," said Ibrahim Coomasie, the
inspector general of Nigerian police.
Since the operation began, the number of armed robberies
reported has dropped from 10 per night to two. Car thefts
have plummeted from 20 reports per night to two, according to
Lagos is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, with
a population exceeding 10 million. But as its population
boomed and high rises, expressways and sprawling markets
popped up, crime ran out of control.
"It was terrible," said one resident, who did not give his
name. "I mean you couldn't walk about freely. Pickpockets and
armed bandits (were) all over the place."
"This was a city under siege," added Col. Mohammed Marwa, the
Harvard educated military administrator who organized the
operation. "(Bandits) would really, with reckless abandon,
attack at will, day and night. They were practically in
But the daily war against crime has ridden the city of much
of its past reputation. Linked to a central control room by
radio, Operation Sweep is ready to react at any time.
Its troops patrol the huge metropolis round the clock.
Another factor in the success of the operation has been the
establishment of more than 100 checkpoints throughout Lagos,
making it difficult for fleeing criminals to escape the city.
"In the past if you were attacked by armed robbers on the
road in the night and you lived to tell the story, people
didn't sympathize with you. They blamed you," Marwa said.
"Now these things have changed."
And though checkpoints cause traffic to snarl on already
crowded roads, residents don't seem to mind.
"Nobody is going to harass you. No more armed robbery. Nobody
is going to snatch your car," said one resident who was
stopped at a checkpoint.
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