The One Million Boys: My “Vigilante” Experience

The One Million Boys: My “Vigilante” Experience

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 2:18 pm


Dotun Adekanmbi

By Dotun Adekanmbi

And that was how we gathered for an emergency meeting of the Community Development Association (CDA). There was only one item on the agenda: security!

As Chairman of the CDA, I had been inundated with calls from fellow landlords and residents. Subject matter: growing fear arising from daily reports of the activities of hoodlums in Lagos who ceaselessly attacked innocent citizens and robbed them of their hard-earned money and other possessions. They whispered the name of the group – ‘One Million Boys’ – with a tinge of dread, even if one detected some measure of, for want of a better description, grudging admiration or forced respect. The stories were pretty much scary, yet the same.

A relevant cartoon. Credit: Vanguard

Depending on the frame of mind of the narrator, the population of the hoodlums ranged from 20 to 30 to 50 or even 100 each time they went on a rampage. All moving at the same time, wreaking havoc as they went from house to house. Their weapons of offence were also listed as the spirit moved: machetes, spears, daggers, dane guns, AK-47 and ordinary fists, the latter to box or to slap victims so as to reset their memories to Baba God’s default factory mode. The ‘sweetener’: they carried POS machines for fast money transfers in addition to the whatever cash was available. Why won’t my people be afraid?

“Chairman, e je ka wa nke ṣe o (Chairman, let’s fashion out a solution),’ a member spoke out on the need for pre-emptive action to deter the One Million Boys from invading our territory. Majority of members supported his cry of concern. And that was how we all agreed to carry out nightly vigilante assignments. Every able-bodied man. All young men. No ‘big’ man. No nobody.

‘But these boys are armed and dangerous; how do we confront them, if they show up?’ I asked.

‘’Chairman, e fi’yen le (Chairman, leave well alone).

At 11pm, we converged on the meeting point. Cutlasses of all shapes and sizes surfaced. Even as an Ekiti man and son of farmer-parents who thought he’d seen it all, I was shocked. Whistles of all description and decibels were many. Aside at funerals, I’d not seen a vast assortment of black apparels…apparently to enable ‘operatives’ to blend with the dark. The women refused to stay at home. We were given emergency lessons in security operations by folks who claimed to have participated in ‘peace keeping’ operations and confronted miscreants in some of the hottest zones in Mushin, Oshodi and all such places. We were sufficiently assured. The excitement was palpable. Everyone bayed for action. Sentry positions were assigned.

The neighbourhood vulcaniser was the first to raise an alarm: all his customers’ tyres and the disused ones he had hoped to sell were gone! What happened? They’d been taken away for use to make bonfires. Gbèsè re o (aah, unanticipated debt)! The first night went. No untoward incident. Thank God. How I managed to stay awake from 11pm to 5am still remains a mystery.

Day Two started on a note of excitement. Exchange of notes across various communities. Gists galore. Of course, we’re more than ready should these boys show up. We are united. Nothing can shake our resolve. Government can keep their policemen. The Governors can eat their beggarly palliatives. We flaunted so much bulging muscles. And spread rumours, too. This village was attacked. The other one received a letter that the boys would come on a certain day. Still very quiet on our front. No wahala. 

Then tales of individual exploits began as neighbours felt a need to fill emerging void in conversations. Some funny. Many ludicrous. The one I found most amusing: ‘some of you know what I do in daytime; but few know what I do by night.’ Each man looked at the other, without voicing the obvious question: ‘Is this fellow what you think I think he is?’ The braggart never openly disclosed what he does at night. We kept our opinions to ourselves, and you bet, they were not flattering. What he, perhaps, had meant to say was that he works part time as community service security operative recognised by the police and the Baale in-council in the community. The night went without any incident. We slept all through the day. When most of us saw the fellow in broad daylight, most people sniggered and mentally high-fived the ‘chronic liar’).

By end of week, spirits had begun to flag. No One Million Boys. No wahala. Aren’t we just punishing ourselves staying awake all night? Still, we converged on the meeting place and shared duty posts. A few dropped off to go sleep at home. Those on patrol adopted a new strategy along the line of the Yoruba proverb: the child that says its mother would not sleep will also not sleep a wink. But the anger was not directed at the One Million Boys. The target were members who had gradually began to dodge calls to duty. Whenever they got to the gate of the member who had gone AWOL, they banged the gate so hard and so insistently that sleep would be impossible for the occupants of the house. Neither the people on the streets nor the ones in their houses enjoyed sleep until after 5am.

Then, one day (can no longer recall what day since all days, including weekends had merged into one), our younger boys came up with a great idea of how to keep everyone at alert.

At 11pm, we again gathered. Gists started. The tales were quite interesting. The one that got me in stitches was the one that involved a young man who left his immediate area of assignment and was challenged in the new territory. Rather than identify himself, he began to harass his interlocutors with the typical braggadocio of Nigerian big men: ‘do you know who I am?

A fellow in the crowd gave him a resounding slap to reset his brain since he had forgotten who he was. Only an appeal for calm prevented the crowd from giving him the beating of his young life. After he recovered from the impact of the slap, he snapped his fingers at the angry men that surrounded him and with the panache of a ‘Mushin Boy’ told them: “Gudugudu ni mi; mi o fi’gba kan tu’ra s’ilẹ (sorry, translation won’t do justice to this show of bravura; just guess the meaning of the statement if you do not understand the nuances of the Yoruba language).”

He thereafter ran home the way a man would when he is confident of his source of power. As quickly as he ran, he returned flinging what seemed like an amulet whilst mouthing incantations. One of the landlords took a look at him as he advanced and told our boys: ‘grab him; if you catch him, beat the living daylight out of him.’ The juju-wielding young chap ran for dear life! Not sure he has returned home after the incident.

As we all had a hearty laugh at this story, hell was let loose when a group of boys came running, shouting: “E jade o, won ti de oooo!”

People scattered into the four corners of the compass: North, East, West and South. Whistles could not be blown because there was no wind left in the blower’s lungs. Who remembered the use of cutlasses? The funny spectacle of a fleeing Alfa (Moslem cleric) with ‘tesbiu’ in hand and pockets of air in his billowing jalamia brought tears to the eyes amid laughter that turned into cough that no one dared to release for fear of NCDC being called in to investigate possible presence of COVID-19 in the community.

Since that day (what day again?), it’s been extremely difficult to assemble people for vigilante duty. Who wan die? Rather, we now have an upsurge in incidents of malaria as excuse for non-participation in community security management. Report for treatment in hospitals now! No way, hospitals are now the principal conduit for the spread of Coronavirus. Report for duty. No way, my body is rather weak with joint aches. Please excuse me. What are we then to do? 

‘E wo, Chairman, we can only do what we can do jare. May God continue to protect us all.’

-Dotun Adekanmbi, journalist, writer and Public Relations consultant, writes from Lagos

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