…Worship centres not spared
…It is beyond hunger – banker
…It’s a higher level of kleptomania – Psychologist
…people must be more vigilant – Security expert
A week after returning from a training trip in Nairobi, Kenya, a Nigerian telecom engineer was surprised when the hotel he stayed in during the trip called to inform him that his lost phone was found and returned by a local cab operator.
“Are you kidding me, this is a dream!” He exclaimed on hearing the good news.
It was until he got the phone, which was delivered to his Victoria Island office by a Kenya Airways Nigeria staff, that he wondered if that miracle could happen in Nigeria, especially now that many are hungry and crime rate soaring.
“No, our guys here will do thanksgiving for picking such a phone because even if they sell it half the price, they will still make money from it,” the lucky engineer said.
But the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip phone seems a big deal because petty criminals now can steal anything as long as they can get money from selling it, no matter how small.
If you doubt that, a middle-aged father of two, who lost two loaves of family-size bread in an open kiosk in Abuja, while making calls and leaving them unattended to, understands better how hungry is driving petty crimes now.
But in what seems like a comedy skit, but real, a food stuff seller at Jakande-Isolo area of Lagos, was forced to curse some young men who came as though customers, but raised fire alarm that made the woman to rush inside her shop to quench the said fire and returning to see the boys running away with some of her food items.
The helpless woman resorted to cursing them, while some passersby couldn’t shout ‘ole’, rather supported the boys, saying they were hungry.
Across the country such incidents are increasing on a daily basis, pointing to a desperate period in Nigeria, occasioned by the harsh economy, which is driving many to nuts.
As expected, many more have since taken to begging to survive, but they are still begging from Nigerians who are also impacted by the harsh economy. This is making begging a bit unrewarding unlike before.
For many, petty-thieving presents an option as they lurk around looking for opportunities to dispossess people of their belongings.
With one of the world’s highest unemployment rates, Nigeria is witnessing a resultant high crime rate, as jobless and hungry citizens seek alternatives to earn a living.
According to the report by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, Nigeria ranks 6th in the world, with a crime index of 7.28, even above South Africa.
While organised crime involves more risks, petting-thieving does not; hence many are latching onto it now than before to survive.
“The trouble for me is that the Police will often ask people to go and settle petty crime issues, while forgetting that every successful petty-thieving emboldens the thieves to steal more and tomorrow to grow into armed robbers,” Julius Akesu, chairman, Mayors Community Development Association in Isheri, Lagos, said.
Akesu, who lost his Toyota Corolla brain-box at a shopping mall recently, decried the swiftness with which unsuspected persons carry out the petty-thieving, even in gated estates nowadays.
“In my estate, residents keep complaining of their car logos, side mirrors and body decorations being removed by unsuspected persons and the truth is some of those car accessories are less than N2,000 apart from the side mirror and brain-box.
“So, why will someone keep removing Camry or Mercedes logo, wiper and others, which he cannot sell for up to N2,000. I think, these are petty thieves and when you catch them and consider what they have stolen, you will get angry because they cannot get good money from selling them, but end up defacing someone’s car,” he said.
Today, they are everywhere; in the bus, on the streets, within church premises, around shopping malls and in the banking halls and ATM centres, waiting for opportunities to strike.
One of the thieves caught in the act last week in Ibadan confessed that it was hunger that drove him into pocket-picking as most of his clients hardly call for his plumbing services due to the high cost of building materials.
But the ones that remove car brain-box parked in churches on Sundays, only need to dress as worshippers and have people on the lookout while the operation goes unnoticed.
“I lost my car brain-box to these urchins in July during our half year thanksgiving service. They took advantage of the crowd, the noise and sometimes pretend the cars are theirs. I spent N120,000 to replace it, but I don’t go to church with it again. They are still stealing and changing tactics. It is beyond hunger, they are proper thieves,” Niyi Idowu, a banker, said.
Though the items stolen are often negligible, petty-thieves also face a huge risk of jungle justice by the mob that only need to hear others call them thieves to swing into action.
Last March, a 23-year- old almost lost his life in a jungle justice manner for stealing a power bank at the Ikeja Computer Village, if not for the timely intervention of the police. Many petty-thieves and a few innocent ones have lost their lives in jungle justice across the country, especially in Lagos, Aba and Port Harcourt.
Michael Ubiaja, a psychologist and lecturer at the Ebonyi State University, noted that petty-thieving is a poor state of mind, which becomes a bad habit when it is uncontrolled and the thieves may live with it in their lifetime.
“It is a higher level of kleptomania, which should be discouraged because it keeps pushing one till one is embarrassed or even killed by the mob in jungle justice here,” he said.
The way out of it, according to him, is strong family values and also pointing to jobless youths that can engage them positively no matter how small the earning is, after all, they earn very little from petty-thieving.
Edom Ekerete, a nonprofit organisation executive, who works with youths, decried that the government has not done enough to help the youth out of their jobless predicament.
“If the taxes are less, friendly policies for SMEs, agriculture is made interesting for youths, education cheaper or even free, less youths will be in the job market. But when over half of a country’s graduates are unemployed, what do you expect? The situation should not be a reason to steal, but those with little family values will do that to survive. It is sad,” Ekerete said.
However, the situation is expected to worsen as the economy gets harder.
But Andy Ehimen, a security expert, urged people to be more vigilant
and secure their vital things in the best possible way.
He noted that the country was in an austerity mode and that people should not rub their wealth on the faces of others in this period of lack.
“If you live a moderate lifestyle, you will not attract unnecessary attention, even from petty-thieves,” he advised.