In dwindling daylight, past sparse traffic, two motorbikes ride side by side. If you looked closer, you would see that both riders are partially dressed in police uniforms. The first man wears the bottom half of his uniform, trousers and boots, over a black t-shirt. A rifle leans on his potbelly sitting across his lap. The other man wears only the top half of his uniform, the police shirt above dark jeans and leather slippers. They are undercover.
Behind them, a ways off, a police pickup truck follows the pair slowly. This is the sharpened tip of Operation Crackdown.
Two weeks earlier, the Lagos state government announced a statewide ban on motorcycles on major roads. Like every other law, the ban was meaningless without a corresponding show of force so a smart superintendent had come up with the framework of what became Operation Crackdown.
A man riding a motorbike passes the two policemen barely noticing them. He is dressed like an office worker in a loose suit that flaps and would fit him if he wasn’t so thin. His briefcase is slung around his neck.
In spite of the ban, he is confident he will be safe as long as he stays around other motorcycles. He rides oblivious towards the truck. Another policeman jumps out of the back of the pickup, gun in one hand and length of wood in the other. He stretches both hands out blocking the road in front of the man. The office worker rider notices the truck and baton wielding policeman too late. He slows down and attempts to turn around but the two undercover policemen have circled back, cornering him and sealing the trap. His motorcycle sputters mid-turn and dies. Calmly, he dismounts with slumped shoulders. He clutches his briefcase to his chest and begs the policemen as his bike is taken from him and wheeled up the ramp into the back of the pickup.
Few of the takedowns are this simple.
The two police point riders resume their positions ahead of the pickup truck. They chat to each other, and try to look inconspicuous. Another okada passes them, this one commercial carrying a female passenger. They turn their bikes around and follow him into the net. The rider sees the police pickup and wavers for an instant as he weighs his options. Then he accelerates towards the police truck intending to rush past it.
The pickup turns sideways blocking off the left half of the road. The policeman in the back swings out, standing in the gap on the right side of the road. He adjusts, dropping his gun to dangle from its strap at his side. He wraps both hands around the piece of wood, sidesteps the speeding bike, and swings the baton high into the okada rider’s neck.
The impact snaps the rider’s head back into his passenger. She tumbles off the bike and hits the tarred road loud enough that a roadside observer screams.
The bike wibbles and wobbles and crashes to the ground. It screeches along the road and skids to a stop trapping the rider beneath it. The point men ride to it. They ignore the fallen passenger and pull up to the downed motorcycle where it rests with the okada man pinned beneath it and its rear wheel still spinning.
As they park their bikes, one of them, the. one wearing the boots, says something that cracks his slippered partner up. They are still chuckling at the joke when they lift the motorcycle off its rider. The headlamp, now broken, hangs from a wire and spills glass shards onto the street. The slippered policeman rolls the okada into the back of the truck with the other seized bikes while his partner delivers targeted kicks into the side of the supine man.
They repeat this, sweeping through the streets of Mushin, cracking, crashing, stomping, leaving a trail of injured people until the back of the pickup truck is filled with captured bikes. Then they sign off for the night and head back to the station.
In the news, the Lagos state government reports great success and says next it intends to tackle the scourge of begging which threatens to overwhelm the streets of its megacity.
In dwindling daylight, past sparse traffic, two otherwise healthy looking men on crutches hobble side by side. Behind them a dark blue pickup truck crawls, an armed policeman hanging out of its open back.
This is the brunt of Operation Crackdown 2.
At the intersection, a man with underdeveloped legs sits cross-legged like a yogi on a padded skateboard. He propels himself with his hands, weaving between cars to pick up money dropped for him. And the two beggar-disguised policemen close in on him.