He is not older than sixteen; has blood-shot eyes, a prominent scar on the face and bold smoke coated lips with two of his front teeth missing. His denim jeans has smelly indelible stains while his thread bare shirt force down the massive biceps that are beginning to grow on his hands. In his pocket are two wraps of marijuana and a substance we suspect is cocaine; he makes no efforts to conceal them. Lying on the bare floor are two bottles filled with roots and a thick slimy watery substances, “na combine be that”, he lazily tells us. (‘Combine’ is a strong drug laced drink that is taken leisurely on the streets but one with a powerful effect).
Charles (not real name), has agreed to meet with my me and my photographer somewhere in Calabar South after a few underground contacts convince him that he could part with some information for cash. He is an active part of Calabar’s latest menace, the SCOLOMBO group, a group of street bred kids who have recently taken up the inglorious role of turning Calabar South and negligible parts of Calabar Municipality into a crime resort. As my photographer brings out the camera, Charles threatens to abandon our meeting, asking angrily in Pidgin English, “wetin una dey snap me for?”. The camera is put back and we assure him that all the rules of engagement will be his.
“I be Scolombo boy and I like am” (I am a Scolombo boy and I like it), he begins. He says the street is home but that they have a place somewhere on Garden Street, Calabar, called “Barracks” that most of them stay. The Barracks is where the kingpins of the group can be found. These kingpins are also street kids who have risen to headship positions based on either age or their lethal carriage and expressions on the streets. It is to them that the proceeds from robbery operations and muggings go to. Their word is law and any member of the group who goes out of line, has dire consequences awaiting him or her, of course with the permission of the leaders.
It is amazing to hear too that there are females in SCOLOMBO. We explore that angle and he tells us that, “ehn, na our girls dey stand for road when night don go far, do like say dem want lift. If the motor stop to carry am, we go show from where we dey hide, nack the person collect am money and other things”. We are informed that IBB Way, Marian Road and the Murtala Muhammed Highway are soft targets.
On the recent violence in parts of Calabar’s Marina, we get information from Charles that it all was a turf war. Where their guns come from is what he refuses to disclose and tells us instead that, “any day you carry money for gun come, you go see gun buy”. It is a chilling statement that reveals the serpentine ease with which a gun can be illegally obtained from the underground.
In the course of our conversation, he reveals that a few of his friends were arrested by the Air Force in Calabar and handed over to the police. When we chased that lead later on, insider police sources at the Diamond Hill headquarters of the Police, confirm this information and inform us further that during interrogation, one of the boys is said to have confessed to the robbery and rape of a certain female judicial officer in the University of Calabar Staff Quarters, countless other robberies and even naming a receiver of their bounty, believed to be living somewhere around the NPA road, by Zone 6, Calabar. This receiver is even thought to be a financier of the group and has somewhat made huge profits from arming the group and trading in the stuff these kids steal. It is a disturbing dimension that we were reliably informed the Police has set sights on and hope to smash very soon.
SCOLOMBO’s territory we hear includes all of the Cultural Centre to Etim Edem Motor Park areas, Garden Street, a section of Goldie and Mount Zion, parts of the Marina, among others. At the beginning of Garden Street, on the Atakpa Police Station fence, lots of disguised SCOLOMBO kids, male and female, can be often seen, soliciting for money and playing among themselves. Those kids are the armour bearers of the group; “e go hard make person go dey search them na”, Charles tells us. This is an angle security agencies must tackle.
Painfully too, a couple of the SCOLOMBO kids are thought to have made their way out of Obioma Imoke’s Destiny Child Centre, DCC, put up to help rehabilitate street kids. “Na who wan stay for that place where you no fit live your life?”, Charles throws at us. We confirm from a DCC source that some of the kids have actually taken off from there because they have issues with living under legal authority. “They cannot have access to drugs, alcohol and sex here…we frown at those vices in DCC. It is also painful that the lure of the streets over and above reformation holds a greater attraction for them than working with us to give them a guaranteed future”, the source concludes.
Charles yawns and stretches, brings out a rizzler, puts stuff in it that he says is “Skunk”, a blend of marijuana and something else that we don’t know, then strikes a matches to it, takes a prolonged drag and exhales. We pretend we are comfortable with his indulgence and he assures us that if we indulge too, we will like it too but with a very friendly disposition, we decline. It is already close to 6pm when we beg to leave. He flashes us a smile, offers a handshake with his coarse palms greasing ours just like we hand him cash to fulfill our own part of an unfortunate bargain. Maybe, just maybe, more efforts on the part of government and all of us will help stem this ugly tide
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