The Ikorodu coastal killings
The killings of some residents in communities of Ishawo, Elepete, Muti, Magbon, Ereko, Igbo Olomu and Imushin in Ikorodu area of Lagos and adjourning Ogun State, on the night of Thursday, June 23, was not the first time daredevil marauders would visit mayhem on coastal targets that harbour petroleum pipelines. Before now, activities that related to handiworks of economic vandals in fraudulent search for what to eat were rampant in these places, including Arepo and Ibafo. A lot of times, men of the civil defence will make public their seizures of countless jerry-cans and other containers, with which oil thieves store stolen fuel, as well as rickety boats.
But what happened on June 23 was markedly alarming. Instead of the usual activities of economic thieves, the criminals visited hell on the people. Different accounts put the number of those killed at between 20 and 50, while homes, hotels and vehicles were wantonly vandalized. A week before, about 15 people were reportedly killed in Imushin. Community. It had become a weekly assault, without governments of the two states under whose jurisdictions the communities fall to offer explanations regarding what was going on. The Police and other law enforcement bodies also do not have reliable explanation and data on the killings.
That prompted the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, to cry out, and attempt to bring the matter to the notice of governments. According to the group, it is a shame on the Nigerian State that it can no longer guarantee the safety of citizens in their communities. Afenifere is worried that the Police is unable to make arrests and would only announce abysmally low casualty figures that do not tally with records of residents. What is particularly troubling about these coastal killings is that there is yet no official report of the nature and motive of the attacks, even though there is a noticeable pattern. In the absence of a concerted study into the vandals’ activities, as well as having reliable police report on their mission and modus operandi, people are left to conjure their own theories on what this is all about. Some claim the attackers are Ijaw militants who are on reprisal mission to avenge their kinsmen who had been murdered. That had been denied by the leadership of Ijaw Youth Council, who dissociated the Ijaw nationality and any of its groups from the killings. Some had previously alleged that it was Boko Haram that had crept into Lagos to put to practice rumoured campaigns. Without making a case for the northeast operators, it should be general knowledge that Boko Haram, now gasping for breath in the northeast should not add to its troubles by coming to the coast of Southwest. The group has however not confirmed complicity or otherwise.
There is reason to be concerned with unproven and unscientific profiling of attacks, whether here in Lagos or anywhere. If not properly managed, baseless assumptions of this nature can fuel social discontent and generate ill feelings for future attacks and reprisals.
The matter at hand speaks to a number of governance challenges. The type of federal police that is foisted on the polity has continued to show gross lack of capacity to effectively provide law and order in the grassroots. The time it takes for the Police State Command headquarters in Abeokuta to respond to situations in Imushin or other waterside community is like eternity. The political administration in the state also seem far removed, in addition to its lack of control of the security levers, despite the governor being a gratuitous chief security officer in the state.
It was a similar situation in Nimbo communities of Uzo-Uwani, Enugu State, when Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi could not attend to the distress call of natives, 24 hours before herdsmen descended on them, killing no fewer than 15. Clearly, there is need to urgently review the prevailing federal police structure. Proponents of community policing have articulated several blueprints, but some who are apparently benefitting from the complexity of the federal Police structure are reluctant. The 2016 budget for Internal Affairs is substantial, but if it is not channeled to proper use outside Abuja, to include various communities grappling with one security challenge or the other, the much-envisaged change of this government may not happen in this sector. Security need is more prevalent in rural communities where there are no police posts. What we were told of the beleaguered communities of Ikorodu was that, in the absence of law enforcement personnel, residents kept vigil to burn tyres in order to ward off attackers. But since they were not armed, they became easy targets.
Another challenge is that of proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the country. The statistics of small arms peddled across the ECOWAS sub-region is mindboggling. But what we see on daily basis in the creeks and all over the country is sufficient evidence that arms and the peddlers are on the loose. When former president Yar’Adua declared amnesty for former Niger Delta militants, a good number of arms were mopped up, but between then and now and without proper monitoring, it will not be a surprise if the illegal armaments have been replenished. A one-off mop up of arms may not be sufficient, especially now that there is a resurgence of militancy in that region. The Benue government recently proclaimed amnesty for militias who prowled the state and got a large cache of illegal weapons. It will not be out of place for other state governments to proclaim similar amnesty and call for a return of weapons, in lieu of cash or employment opportunities. From time to time, the Police have issued advisory for owners of unregistered arms to return them. It appears such ultimatums often go unheeded, as we never see a reduction in the numbers. Perhaps, it has to do with tactics, whereas, that of the Benue government and the one pronounced by Yar’Adua worked because of the incentives. The Police should take another look at this.
The reaction of Afenifere to the Ikorodu affair, even though lacking in research, deserves some acknowledgment. Like was mentioned at the beginning of this narrative, the most recent of the attacks was not the first. Were Afenifere to be on top of its game, it needn’t wait till 50 people were killed before it launched that media advocacy. For far too long, groups that claim to work for the larger interests of their people have done too little to properly articulate and position their interests in the face of dwindling fortunes of the federation. Hear what the group said; “We are deeply troubled that all accounts from the communities show the security forces have not been of any assistance to them. Our fears are now heightened that these nibbling attacks may be precursors to organised campaign of violent attacks to seize a piece of Yoruba land and destabilize the peaceful region.” If indeed the group is deeply troubled, this is the time not to let go in the demand for a better and safer Nigeria.
Afenifere used to be a foremost group in the demand for restructuring, but politics has dealt the group some dizzying blows. The group has been shared into two, some renewal and the other comprising mostly old school politicians. The former are resident in Lagos, while the latter mostly convenes in Akure, the Ondo State capital. The lack of unity in Afenifere makes the threat of ‘organised campaign of violent attacks to seize a piece of Yoruba land’ very frightening. As it is, should there be such threat, are there enough political forces to galvanise and ward it off? Where are the foot soldiers to deploy, when the once feared Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) has been monetised and privatised?
The inertia is not only with the political class and custodians of communal/regional interests. Even the media has gone to sleep on the urgent need to articulate for a better Nigeria, beginning with the grassroots. We have all become trapped with Abuja, Fayose and the concluded, but troubled Kogi governorship election. But sooner than later, some group somewhere will blame Southwest media for not discussing Ikorodu killings because herdsmen were not involved. If all politics is local, this is the time to return home. Thank God the young and ebullient Ooni of Ife has returned home after a long sojourn. Let him now sit down and think more of how to reposition the Yoruba.