The rainy season is burglary season
Conventional analyses of crime, based on European research models, are often poorly suited to assessing the specific dimensions of criminality in Africa. Development Frontiers in Crime, Livelihoods and Urban Poverty in Nigeria (FCLP) aims to provide an alternative framework for understanding the specific drivers of criminality in a West African urban context. This blog by Ahmad Muktar, reposted from the FCLP website, is the third in a series exploring aspects of insecurity in the Nigerian context that are often overlooked.
The rainy season in Kaduna usually starts in April and last for about six months, with peak periods between the months of August and September. The season brings several benefits including being a source of fresh water for domestic uses; crop cultivation, irrigation and for industrial purposes. The season also provides job opportunities for many who are under- or unemployed youth and women especially those hired as labourers by large scale farmers. Rarely discussed, however, is the spike in property crime (i.e. burglary) during the rainy season, often referred to as the ‘crime season’ by residents of Unguwan Dosa neighbourhood of Kaduna. As this blog illustrates, rain is a nuisance for local business on two levels: Fewer customers, and risks of getting burgled. It can be excellent for alternative livelihood strategies, however, that benefit from the disruption to local street life.
On some days during rainy season, heavy rainfall can last for several hours. As residents we interviewed noted, movement becomes restricted and people are careful to avoid being soaked by rain or being hit by objects when it is windy. Hence, it is common for people to rush back home, including business owners, to avoid being held out for long hours by the rain. This lack of activity around businesses and shops provides the perfect “rational” opportunity (Clarke and Cornish, 1985) for motivated offenders to commit property crime offences with less risk of being caught. The rain facilitates property crime because it serves as a sound-proof mechanism. For example, if burglars attempt to remove safety beams from windows, roofing sheets or window glass cover from targeted homes or shops, the levels of “eyes and ears” on the street have dissipated, so burglaries can be conducted without attracting too much attention. As recounted by residents we interviewed, the sound from rain drops often prevents people from hearing any suspicious noise that may suggest an act of burglary is taking place.
The sound from the heavy rainfall against the roofs of homes in any neighbourhood will depend on both physical characteristics and materials used during construction. Unguwan Dosa is a high density residential neighbourhood with the built-up area consisting of mainly paved surfaces with no visible greenery. The majority of the buildings in Unguwan Dosa, if not all, have aluminium roofing. Considering that the bearable decibel levels of noise for the human ear ranges from 55dB to 60dB under normal circumstances, it is noteworthy that the London Building Bulletin 93 (2004) describes the level of noise generated from breaking metallic surfaces, glass, or concrete as reaching up to 70dB. The scenario of heavy rainfall therefore provides the opportune context within which crime thrives in Unguwan Dosa, when levels of noise impede most residents’ ability to pay attention.
Our interviewees asserted that during each rainy season, there are frequent occurrences of burglary and theft in Unguwan Dosa neighbourhood. Alhaji Sani Garba, a resident of Unguwan Dosa, recalled how a shop in the neighbourhood was burgled a day before our interview with him, saying that:
“…The burglars were able to achieve this because it rained heavily throughout the night so loud that it prevented us from hearing any sound as they were carrying out their act. From what we saw, they were able to gain entrance through the roof. It is a very serious issue in this area and this is not the first time that burglary took place during rainfall.”
Mal. Yahya Mahmud Gumel, another resident of the neighbourhood discussing the same incident added that:
“I received the news this morning and I went there to confirm the situation for myself. I saw that they removed the roofing sheets to gain access through the roof of the shop. This is not the first time – we have had similar incidents in the past.”
Another resident of Unguwan Dosa who wants to remain anonymous revealed two other incidents that occurred a week earlier. The first was a motor bike that was stolen in the night after a day of rains. The other incident, which he considered to be more serious, involved a business owner who was sitting alone in her saloon shop and several gang members known as ‘En shara’. The incident took place in the afternoon during rainfall. He explained that:
“I think she was the only one in the shop when four ‘En shara’ gang members emerged and demanded that she either give her phone to them or they would stab her.”
Based on our interviews with residents of Unguwan Dosa, and a focus group interview with neighbourhood vigilante organizations in Malali/Badarawa, it is clear that rainfall creates a situational opportunity that burglars exploit to perpetrate criminal activities. As we start to analyse the data from our research in Unguwan Dosa, we are starting to see the following patterns: rainfall is both expected but erratic during rainy season. It would take time, coordination, and knowledge of local businesses for offenders to go out during rainfall to another neighbourhood other than where they live or work, so we hypothesise that perpetrators of these burglary acts are likely to be from (or work within) the same areas where incident take place. Residents and business owners must clearly be vigilant during rainfall especially in areas with records of burglary during rainy season, but it is also clear that further research is needed to develop a contextual understanding of how rainfall creates situational opportunities enabling the perpetration of burglary act, and by whom.