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Gun for hire: Nigeria security fears spark boom in Private protection Many guards for wealthy

Many guards for wealthy and middle-class people are hired police officers.

The white Toyota Hilux pickup truck pulls up hard at a roundabout in Ikoyi, a district of Lagos, Africa’s biggest city. The driver hits the horn — an aggressive, deafening bark — at the car he is now two inches away from. A big man has arrived and the message is simple: make way.

The knot of traffic swirling around the digital billboard in the centre of the roundabout begins to loosen. The big man — or woman, or their child and nanny — is seated in the vehicle behind the Hilux: a black Mercedes G-Wagen SUV with tinted windows, which is trailed by another truck in a quasi-military shade of brownish-green. Inside are police officers, on secondment to a private security company. One leans out, AK-47 in hand, and slaps the bonnet of the car alongside. The message is clearer because he shouts it: “Move. Now.”

More laconic looking police officers can be found outside every fancy apartment building in Lagos. They typically hold assault rifles by their trucks, which are usually parked next to the armoured Mercedes, Range Rovers or Toyota Land Cruisers their bosses drive. When the big man comes out, the officers mount up, sirens blaring, and cut through the Lagos traffic like a knife, pounding on the bonnets of cars as they pass. As the security situation worsens across Nigeria, escort and guard services for wealthy clients in Lagos are booming. By one count, about 40 per cent of the country’s police officers are working for private services.

“Nigeria is going through this serious insecurity now,” says Ademola Onalaja, managing director of Proton Security Services, one of the country’s biggest private security companies. It employs some 9,000 guards, not counting police officers on secondment. “And so the protection of VIPs and national assets is paramount to the survival and economic growth of the country.”

Ademola Onalaja of Proton Security Services © Grace Ekpu, for the FT