Area boys, also known as Agberos, are loosely organized gangs of street children and teenagers, composed mostly of men, 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 urbanized 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.
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.
According to Momoh, much of the extortion from Igbo merchants by area boys is instigated by Lagos landlords, indigenous inhabitants of the city.
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.
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.
Nearly 100 people died, area boys took advantage of the chaos and joined in the mayhem, throwing glass and bottles at shops.
At the Mile 12 Market (also in Lagos), soldiers were reported to work hand in hand with gang members as late as 2004. However, in May 2005, after a Nigerian soldier was assaulted and stabbed by several area boys as he tried to prevent them from taking money from a bus driver, the military began a crackdown against the group. Following this, the group’s activity was noted to be in decline.