Amid the myriad of security challenges bedevilling Nigeria, one-chance robberies seem to have become a part of the daily existence of citizens. One minute your phone is in your bag, and the next, it’s no longer there. Over the years, especially in Lagos State, survivors’ accounts have revealed that these robbers often disguise themselves as commercial bus drivers and conductors in a bid to steal from unsuspecting passengers.Although the media is replete with reports on one-chance robberies, reports seldom capture their impact on the mental health of survivors. In this report, ABIMBOLA ABATTA details the experiences of survivors in Lagos State and how their mental wellbeing took a hit.
No one easily forgets a phone theft, especially in the manner in which it happened to Aisha, a Lagos-based writer. Although it’s been 10 months since one-chance robbers stole her phone with stealth, her narration of the incident made it seem as though it happened just yesterday.
As of March 2023, when the incident happened, Aisha was job-hunting. She told FIJ that she was heading home from a job interview in Gbagada when she entered a one-chance bus. Months after the incident, FIJ learned, Aisha still feels anxious and unsafe whenever she has to take a public bus.
“After it happened, I didn’t go out for months. I was job-searching at the time too, so I didn’t have many reasons to be out. I was terrified of public buses and that was also the point where Uber got overly expensive, so I only went out when I could afford to take Uber. Eventually, I had to enter a bus again, but it randomly triggers my anxiety from time to time, and I don’t always feel safe on a bus,” she revealed.
‘THE BUS PARKED CLOSE TO WHERE I WAS’
While detailing how the incident happened, Aisha said, “On that fateful day, I was coming back from an interview. It was very early in the morning, like around 10.00 am, I think. It was also my first time in the area, as I had an interview at Atunrase Estate, Gbagada.
“As soon as you are outside the estate, you are just directly facing the expressway. There is no bus park or anything. I’d already asked people how I would board a public vehicle in the area, and they told me to just stand by the expressway. I was in a great mood that day because my interview went so well. I was just very carefree, and maybe I let my guard down from the happiness I was feeling,” she said.
“I went to withdraw from a nearby Point of Sale (PoS) terminal. My phone was in my hand, then this bus driver just parked in front of the POS, then looked at me and called Oshodi. I signalled at him and I entered the bus.”
Aisha said she initially wanted to sit in one of the rear seats but the bus conductor swiftly opened the front door and gestured for her to sit in the front passenger seat.
She did not think much of the situation as she sat at the front. But trouble started to brew when the bus conductor attempted to adjust her seat belt a few minutes into the journey.
“Before then, as soon as I entered the bus, the driver told me to put my phone in my bag, and I was like, ‘What’s his business with my phone being in my bag?’ But then I thought the phone was going inside my bag after all. That was my first mistake. I put my phone in my bag. I was carrying a tote bag, by the way, and it wasn’t exactly zipped up. It was closed up, but I think they could have easily slipped their hands into it.
“After a while, the bus conductor started to say, ‘Sister, help me adjust the seat belt.’ Mind you, someone was already sitting in front when I entered the bus. So I was seated by the door next to this other person, who was in a shirt and tie and looked very responsible.
“Also, at the back, it was just the first front row that was filled with passengers. The rest of the bus was not filled. So, the conductor told me to adjust the seat belt. He was now pulling the seat belt next to me and was asking me to help him bring it out. After a while, I was wondering why he wanted me to pull it out. I said there was nothing wrong with it and asked why he was bothering me.
“When he saw that it wasn’t working, he started to open the door while the bus was on speed. Don’t forget that I was by the door. He kept opening and closing it. I was there, wondering why he was doing that while the vehicle was in motion. Obviously, I got distracted, and I did not know that while he was doing that, whoever was beside me was already putting their hands inside my bag, taking out my phone.”
SUSPICIOUS BUS DRIVER AND CONDUCTOR
All of a sudden, she added, the driver said he was no longer going to Oshodi, her intended destination. Taking a cue from the driver, the conductor then told her there was no change, as she had previously given him a N1000 note to pay for her fare.
Even when Aisha offered to pay with a N200 note to save the conductor the hassle of getting lower denominations, the conductor and the driver did not budge.
Aisha said: “Everything happened so quickly. The bus came to a stop. The conductor threw my N1000 on the floor. He apologised and claimed it was a mistake. I got down, confused and trying to figure out what was going on. And then, as soon as I got down, it dawned on me that these people had probably sped off with my phone. Then I searched my bag, and truly, they had taken my phone.”
Apart from Aisha’s phone, her journal was also stolen. She told FIJ that the journal was probably taken because it got in the way of the thief.
As she recalled the robbery incident, she said the presence of a female passenger was one of the reasons she boarded the bus. She also said she could not bring herself to report the issue to the police.
“I don’t enter buses that have just guys in them. I also didn’t report it; it’s funny because I didn’t even think about it as an option, given the way we know the Nigerian Police to be. Luckily, I had a small Nokia phone in my bag as well. I used that to call my mom on the spot and she helped me block my bank accounts.”
‘I NOW AVOID FRONT SEATS’ — ANOTHER SURVIVIOR
Like Aisha, Blessing is a survivor yet to fully heal from the trauma that stemmed from her encounter with one-chance robbers in the Oshodi area of Lagos.
Blessing was heading back home from Oshodi Market one Saturday evening in 2023 when she boarded a vehicle at the bus stop.
Just as some passengers were already seated in the bus Aisha boarded in Gbagada, the bus Blessing boarded in Oshodi was equally filled with some passengers.
FIJ observed some similarities in their experiences: Aisha and Blessing sat on the front seat near the door, conductors in both incidents tried to assist with seat belts, and both were dropped off on the road before reaching their destinations.
“It rained all morning, so I did not go to the market in Oshodi quite early like I used to. And because of the rain, I did not wear my wristwatch. After I had finished buying what I wanted to buy, I went to the bus stop. I usually paid N200 to my destination, but the buses were demanding N300. This particular bus stopped at that bus stop, and when I bargained for N200, the conductor said I should enter,” Blessing told FIJ.
According to Blessing, everything seemed pretty normal, considering that there were both female and male passengers on the bus as the conductor opened the door to the front seat for her.
Blessing would later remember a particular oddity as she recalled the incident months later. She said: “Normally, when you want to enter the front seat, where two passengers can sit, and someone is there already, most guys don’t like shifting for you. They will rather come down and let you in first than allow you to sit beside the door. But in this case, the guy just adjusted and shifted close to the driver, so I sat close to the door.”
She also recalled that the conductor did not immediately request her fare. She made the first move to pay moments into the journey. Then, a few minutes after paying, she said, the conductor asked her to help him check the time.
“I brought out my phone, checked the time and put my phone back inside my bag. “
‘I STRUGGLED WITH THE SEAT BELT’
After Blessing had made payment, she would then experience bouts of frustration while she attempted to fasten her seat belt.
“The conductor asked me to wear my seatbelt, which was a normal thing for passengers in the front seat of Danfo. But another odd thing was that seat belts are usually very loose, but this one was stiff and tight. I was struggling to wear the seatbelt,” Blessing told FIJ.
She said each time she tried to fasten the seat belt, the conductor would tell her she was not doing it the right way.
“After about three, four attempts, I felt stupid, and I was wondering why I could no longer fasten a seatbelt, and this was different from every other one I was used to. Then he said I should remove my bag so I could fix the belt.
“I usually drape my bag across my chest, so I obliged, and he was trying to help me. At a point, he asked the other guy, who had adjusted for me towards the driver’s side, to help me fix it. I won’t call it jazz, but they just manipulated me and got me confused. Also, something like that had not happened to me before. So, I did not know what was going on.”
According to Blessing, she got tired at some point and told the conductor not to bother about the seat belt. But she was persuaded to try again to avoid getting into trouble with the traffic task force.
“So, I tried to fasten the belt again. They took my phone between the point the conductor asked me to remove my bag and when he tried to adjust my seat belt.
“At a point, the conductor asked the driver, as though to confirm if I was to pay N200. The driver now said he was not going to collect N200, and that the fare was N300.”
Blessing said she was furious, considering that the conductor had allowed her aboard the vehicle after agreeing to accept the N200 from her. Also, she had already paid the money, so it was incredible to learn that the fare was no longer the amount she had paid.
“Then the driver said I should come down, and I asked the conductor to return my money. He did. I was still reluctant to get down, but the driver shouted at me, asking me to get down. Immediately I got down from that vehicle, they zoomed off,” she said
“That was when I noticed that my bag was not as heavy as it previously was. I opened my bag, and my phone was no longer there. They stopped me on the highway. It was not a bus stop. I felt stupid. It was like I was dreaming. I even shouted afterwards, but they had gone far. I boarded another vehicle and got down at the nearest PoS point to block my bank cards.”
‘THE TRAUMA IS STILL THERE’
Speaking on how that encounter affected her, Blessing said she had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As she revealed that she now had to take extra caution before boarding commercial vehicles, FIJ gathered that the trauma never really goes away.
Blessing mentioned that she used to enjoy sitting in the front seats but the traumatic incident has now made her hesitant and cautious about choosing those seats.
“I had PTSD. I still have trauma even now because each time I want to enter a vehicle, I look at everybody inside the vehicle. If they look odd, I will not enter. I will have to look around very well to be sure,” she told FIJ.
“Also, I try to avoid the front seats. I used to like sitting in the front seats of vehicles, but since that incident, I have been avoiding it. And even if I must enter the front seat, it must be for a single passenger, not the one that I will have to share with another passenger. I am sure it was the guy I shared a seat with who took that phone. And I’m sure he was working together with the driver and some other people in the vehicle.
“I will never check the time for anybody again. I’ve become extra conscious and careful and more alert each time I’m trying to enter a vehicle.”
Abimbola Abatta is a reporter with FIJ writing reports in partnership with Report for the World which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe.
Source: Foundation For Investigative Journalism