Here is a fascinating mini-documentary on Lagos, the world’s fastest growing mega-city, from current.com.
There is a cameo appearance from the infamous ‘Area Boys’ – a kind of youthful mafia, running protection rackets etc down the local markets. One of my research interests is the emergence and evolution of youth crime in African history, and this video is a nice little reminder of its modern-day relevance. There is also an awesome insight into juju policing: one vigilante claims that his magic can force a criminal to jump up and down on the spot until daybreak – that’s more embarrassing and more energetic than the stocks.
Anyway, Laurent Fourchard wrote a pertinent article about the colonial predecessors of the Area Boys, and their entrenchment in the urban economy by the late-1940s.1 He traces their origins to loosely-knit pickpocket gangs in the late-1920s, and the more organized and hierarchical Boma Boys during WWII.
Boma Boys acted as middlemen between billeted soldiers and the bars, brothels and prostitutes that kept them entertained. It was the sex trade that brought Boma Boys to the attention of the colonial government, primarily because girls as young as twelve were being kidnapped, pawned or sold to work as Lagos prostitutes. The colonial response was an ineffective crackdown on male delinquents, but also legislative restrictions on girls hawking goods on the street, or living in the city without their parents or guardian. The result, Fourchard argues, was the criminalization of the innocent, and the neglect of actual and damaging criminality: there were protection rackets in markets by 1946, and Lagos has suffered its Area Boys ever since.
The article is definitely very interesting but, as Fourchard admits, it is based on adult- and elite-produced sources. The experience of the youths themselves is not really explored – this is the side of delinquency that I’m trying to focus on in my own research. On Area Boys, for example, it would be really useful to track their life histories: what happens when they get older – do they get shoved aside by a new generation, do they become Neighbourhood Uncles, or do they never grow up at all?
1. Fourchard, Laurent, ‘Lagos and the Invention of Juvenile Delinquency in Nigeria, 1920-1960’, Journal of African History, 47 (2006), pp. 115–37.