“If you are going to bed this night, split your pot of soup into two and drop a portion at the entrance of your apartment with a big loaf of bread. When the Awawa Boys appear, they will see the sacrifice and pass you by,” a Lagos resident advised troubled citizens residing in Alimosho area of the state, the epicenter of robbery attacks in the last few days in what has been termed ‘Hungervirus’ on the streets.

As the world continues to battle the pandemic, Lagos State, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Nigeria with the highest toll of confirmed cases, is going through one of its roughest moments in decades and the worst of times amid the pandemic lockdown.

In the last few days, residents have trooped out to guard themselves against the escalating robbery attacks and cult-related activities occurring day and night. Hoodlums are using the lockdown imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari as an excuse to perpetrate criminal activities such as rape, looting and inflicting physical injuries.

Affected areas include Abule-Egba, Baruwa, Egbeda, Dalemo, Akinde, Dopemu, Ogba, Iyana Ipaja, Meiran and Alakuko. Also troubled are some Lagos-Ogun border communities like Akute, Agbado, Alakuko and Ojokoro

The cult groups: Aiye, Eiye, Alora, Vikings, Pirates, KKK, Awawa, One Million, Marindoti, Ojumilojin, Pamolekun, are also going against each other. They are attacking themselves over claims that some opposing members were the ones bursting homes and streets of supposed rivals.

Helpless citizens now at the mercy of the rampaging hoodlums are now forming emergency vigilance groups to protect themselves during the day and at night. Some neighborhoods are now being protected by youths, ‘Area Boys’, Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) members and even landlords, who take a nap in the afternoon for a vigilance duty at night.

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, several videos of Lagosians keeping vigil went viral, wielding dangerous weapons like machetes, axes, clubs for self-defense. In one of the clips, a young man raised a brand of AK-47 assault rifle and fired three bullets in the air to the cheer of those around him.

At Agege, various gates leading to the streets were locked up as early as 7:00p.m. while residents came out en-mass, burning tyres, and waiting for the notorious robbers. According to a young girl, the armed robbers came to her streets with POS asking residents to swipe their cards on it.

According to a trader, who decided to remain anonymous: “What is happening is the ripple effect of the lockdown. A lot of mini bus drivers who make money daily and motorcycle operators who also depend on their daily activities are now hungry. The irony of it is that if they can only go to the houses of those who refused to give them food, it would have been better. But they chose to go to punish innocent souls.”

Residents of Agege have cried to the state government and security agencies to rescue them from hoodlums unleashing mayhem in the area. Tension started in the area at the weekend following attacks by suspected cultists who went from street-to-street robbing and raping innocent residents.

The attacks in Agege were spillover of last week’s assault on residents and traders at Abule Egba, Alagbado, Meiran, Alakuko, Ijoko and Sango, among others by armed gangs numbering over 200, that has left at least four people feared killed.

Pockets of robbery incidents were alleged to have taken place simultaneously at Olusanya Adenire, Pen Cinema, Oniwaya, Orile-Agege, Dopemu and Agbotikuyo on Sunday, as the hoodlums armed with guns, bottles and cutlasses dispossessed their victims of cash, food and other valuables.

Most of the residents who raised alarm on social media said they were under siege both during the day and at night as the hoodlums showed no mercy on their victims. The residents also lamented that police abandoned them to their fate while the robbers wreaked havoc overnight, a development that forced youths and local vigilantes to arm themselves with sticks and cutlasses to fight the hoodlums.

Some of the robbers arrested by residents were beaten, forced to eat fresh peppers and given water to step them down before they were handed over to the police.

But the police have assured that it was facing the situation head-on. Public Relations Officer of the Lagos command, DSP Bala Elkana, told newsmen yesterday that the situation was under control. Elkana advised residents to stay calm. He confirmed that the police have increased patrol and deployed more tactical teams across Lagos.

Elkana said: “The situation was aggravated mostly by wrong messages. Some people are causing panic, creating videos and sending wrong information. People in their houses were getting scared. They say “armed robbers are on my street”, but when our men go there, nothing is happening.

“The Police received several calls and we reached the places to ensure the safety of lives and properties. We have also deployed more tactical units. We appeal to communities that want to support us to do it in our way. We welcome partnerships but people should not take laws into their hands”, the spokesman added.

The Guardian observed that the police were overwhelmed by the series of alerts they received on simultaneous robbery incidents across Alimosho and Ayobo Local Government Areas. It was gathered that most of the distressed calls responded to by the police turned out to be false alarms from apprehensive residents, a development that frustrated most of the operatives.

Elkana said the youths were responsible for the panic, adding that the Commissioner, Hakeem Odumosu, has ordered the arrest of anyone found on the streets.

“Those setting bonfires and organising vigilantes are the ones causing these panics. They are the ones making people to be afraid. They were just looking for reasons to come out and they created one. So, the Commissioner has directed DPOs and Area Commanders to disperse any gathering of youths in their neighbourhood.