The killings – and kidnappings – in two separate attacks this week alone tell the chilling story of the alarming rise in the activities of so-called militants in Lagos State.
Last Sunday, gunmen raided a developing community called Isawo in Lagos, and killed one army officer, four policemen, a soldier, and a member of the Odu’a People’s Congress (OPC). Also, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the Owutu Police Station, Ikorodu, Superintendent of Police Ajagunmo, a police Inspector whose name could not be confirmed immediately, and a two-year-old child also suffered varying degrees of injuries, as the violent ‘militants’ engaged the joint task force codenamed Operation Awatse, comprising army and police personnel in a three-hour shootout, before they kidnapped seven members of the community.
As the Isawo community leaders awaited the kidnappers to contact them to table their ransom demands, gunmen again struck on Wednesday in Oko-Asagun village in the Ibeju-Lekki area of the state, killing three policemen and two community leaders who are said to have tried to resist them. The kidnappers then abducted five workers of two telecommunication companies working in an estate in the area before escaping through the Ode-Omi waterway which links Lagos with Ogun State.
In only one week, in two attacks, kidnappers killed 11, even as their onslaught continued. The latest incidents underline the scope of terror that the deadly kidnappers have been wreaking on Lagos State, especially in the Ikorodu, Epe, Isheri, Iba and Ibeju-Lekki areas. The Lagos State Police Command was unable to offer Daily Trust official figures of deaths and kidnappings in the last one year, but a source put the official figures of the dead, including government and private security operatives at about 30. The number of the abducted, including schoolchildren and teachers taken away in a series of coordinated attacks, could be as high as 60 according to the source. Many of the abducted people were, however, released after the kidnappers had been paid ransoms, oftentimes running into large sums.
The spokesperson of farmers in Epe, during a protest to Government House, Alausa, Ikeja, Mr. Ayokunle Ore, said they have been under attack by kidnappers since September 2016.
Ore said that 33 persons had been kidnapped from different farms in the community, with 26 of the victims released after payment of ransoms. He added that seven other victims remain with the kidnappers.
After Ore’s visit to Government House, the kidnappers, numbering about 20, struck again in Epe in November 2016 when, dressed in military uniform, they abducted seven people from the Kodjo Farm, Igbodu. The victims included 65-year-old Kakaja Joseph, four poultry workers and two customers. Ore lamented that the engagement of the police, the military, members of the OPC and other local vigilante groups to flush out the kidnappers remains fruitless.
While family and friends were making efforts to raise the ransoms, the militants again struck on February 24, 2017 and abducted two sand dredgers at the Eleko village in Ibeju-Lekki. Those abducted were actually said to be the dredging company’s manager and its machine operator. The gunmen, it is understood, came through the lagoon around 9:00am shooting sporadically before they grabbed the two dredgers away in a speedboat.
In March 2016, the kidnappers stormed the Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary located at the Agunfoye-Lugbusi village, Ikorodu and owned by the Anglican Communion, Lagos Diocese in Ikorodu by 8:00pm and abducted no fewer than three students. The students were freed after the kidnappers had been paid ransom.
Kidnappers also attempted to abduct students of the Molajoye Community High School from the school’s assembly ground, but this time policemen attached to the Rapid Response Squad, Area N Police Command, Navy and Army foiled the abduction.
In February 2017, gunmen abducted the Secretary of the Isheri North Estate, Lagos State, Dayo Adekoya. Before then, kidnappers had abducted nine landlords of an estate close to the area who were jogging in themorning, along with their trainer.
Off Lagos, the kidnappers were at work again at the Nigeria Turkish International School in the border town if Isheri where they kidnapped five students and three staffers. The victims were released after ransom had been paid.
On July 15, 2016, gunmen stormed the palace of a first class traditional ruler in Lagos, Oba Yushau Goriola Oseni, the Oniba of Ibaland. The militants, who arrived at the palace through the creeks behind it, abducted the monarch, but not before killing a palace guard, and injuring the king’s wife.
Until six years ago, killings and kidnappings in the currently-affected areas were unheard of, as a resident of Isawo told Daily Trust, adding that today former Niger Delta militants are contributing to the death and terror that abounds. This, he said, includes illegal bunkering and oil theft.
However, in Isawo, as well as in some other areas in Ikorodu like Isawo, Elepete and Igbo-Olomu in Lagos State, and Arepo in Ogun State, pipeline vandals realised they could burst fuel pipes belonging to the Petroleum and Products Marketing Company which pass through many homes and channels in the communities and sell the product at cheap prices. Soon, the business became a big one for many as patronage boomed.
And soon, many militants found in Ikorodu a safer place to do the illegal fuel business than the Niger Delta, and flooded the area. Two factors allowed the business to continue unchecked for so long: the Goodluck Jonathan administration was soft in its handling of the militants’ issue. Secondly, as a resident of one of the major communities where pipeline vandalism thrives admits, the communities were also benefiting from the business, with perpetrators of all ages involved.
But after the exit of the Jonathan administration, officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation eventually woke up to the illegality that the fuel business in the area was and the danger it posed to the inhabitants. The pipeline vandals were consequently dislodged. Since then, there has been no peace in the Ikorodu axis and virtually all the communities that border the creeks in Lagos State where the militants are at home. With no illegal fuel available to finance the ostentatious lifestyles they had gotten used to, the militants went wild.
Following last Sunday’s killings, the Isawo community, which used to be a bustling environment of commercial and vehicular activities, has become a ghost town as residents have been fleeing. The streets are deserted, as the few people left behind remain indoors, peeping through windows whenever they hear anything unusual.
When Daily Trust visited the once-bubbling town last Thursday, skeletal presence of security operatives was observed, though the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, had promised the inhabitants heavy security presence. The residents said the scanty number of security personnel deployed to the area cannot allay their fears.
A resident, Shola Kuditi, said: “We are afraid that our place is a theatre of war because the militants were quoted as threatening to come back for us. We are running away from the place because it is going to be bloody when the security agencies come for the militants.”
A few community leaders were seen in small groups, looking visibly worried. One of the leaders, Mr. Raheem Olanrewaju, admitted that the remaining residents are terrified.
Owoseni has vowed that the killers of the security operatives at the Isawo community, Ikorodu, Lagos, will be fished out and dealt with. He said: “There is no way you can kill security agents on national duty and go scot-free. Wherever they are, we will hunt them down. At the moment, we are assuring Nigerians that whoever and wherever those criminal elements are, we shall make them face the wrath of the law.”
The commissioner said the police are working with sister agencies, particularly the military, “and with their cooperation and synergy, the militants will not escape.” He also added that undercover cops have been dispatched all over the area.
“Considering the circumstances of the incident, you don’t have to see policemen in uniform. It is part of our operational strategy. However, there is a police division at Isawo, which buttresses police visibility in the area. The Nigerian Army are also physically present there. For people to say that there are no policemen is false,” Owoseni said.
The fact that security operatives have a big battle in their hands is underlined by the reality that despite arrests of some major players among the militants, the attacks have continued unabated. The alleged mastermind of the kidnap of Dayo Adekoya, the Lagos Isheri North Estate Secretary, Joseph Omoni, has also been arrested. The 38-year-old suspect, who hails from Ajapa community in Ondo State, was arrested in Century Village, Ogijo town, in Ogun State.
Similarly, Chukwudi Solomon, a.k.a King Solomon, who is said to be a kingpin of many kidnapping syndicates, and was behind series of kidnapping in Lagos State, was arrested. A house that was described as his lair, may be forfeited, according to Owoseni.
Also some of those behind the kidnap cases in Epe were arrested. They are 38-year-old Felix Silver (a.k.a. Tradition), Samuel Andrew, 38; Richard Ugwu, 34; Daniel Osaimayu, Sulaiman Muhammed, nicknamed Sergeant, Michael Adeoya, 53, a.k.a. Corporal and Lucky Onofuwa. These figures are alleged to be responsible for the kidnapping of the students of Babington Macaulay Seminary School at Ikorodu.
There have been reports that security operatives are preparing to once again bomb the creeks in the Ikorodu, Epe and Arepo areas where the militants are believed to be residing, and from where they take off to execute deadly attacks. Security agents had done it once, but from the seemingly unending incidents of murder and kidnapping, can they do it again? Only time – which is running out fast – will tell.