Ekiti State has in the past few weeks witnessed an upsurge of arson, killings and kidnaps, especially in Ado-Ekiti, the capital, raising concerns regarding security of life and property in the 19-year old state, writes SULAIMAN SALAWUDEEN
What reportedly started as a mere skirmish in the morning of last week Monday had by same Friday worsened into a full-scale ethnicity-coloured war. Fears of more bloody confrontation between the Yoruba and Hausa had become rife. Clearly, prompt measures had to be instituted and were being put in place by security minders to protect lives, which had apparently become endangered. The Atikankan area, inhabited mainly by the Hausa, had been cordoned off from Post Office, Ijigbo junction, Irona and Old Garage ends to disallow possible invasion of the area by hoodlums mostly of Yoruba extraction.
Detachments of regular and mobile police personnel and soldiers in vans speeding round in frenzied urge to nip unsavoury like lies in the bud were noticed, firing tear gas canisters about Atikankan, Okesa, Ijigbo-Fayose Okeyinmi axis, and other contiguous communities across the capital.
As at the morning of Friday, unofficial sources had put loses to human lives at five while nearly thirty who had suffered various forms and degrees of injuries had been hospitalised across private hospitals in the capital, even according to official figures. How more lives would not be lost remained yet unsure as at the time of filing this report about noon of Friday as shops and other business establishments about Ijigbo-Atikankan-Ojaba Market axis were going up in flames in what some assessed as reprisal uprisings.
Several shops lying by the road side on the way to Ijigbo from Old Garrage and inside Ojaba Market had already either been razed or looted by hoodlums who allegedly were mainly of the Yoruba stock, a development which had remained unhalted since Monday.
The looting and burning had been superintended by hoodlums, mostly in their thirties and forties. The elements were said to have gone berserk in the very early hours of the (Monday) day, killing, maiming looting and burning. Not many could have imagined the possibility of such horrendous waste and permissiveness in a 21st century Nigeria.
Littering the scenes of mayhem which spread from Old Garage through Erekesan (Oja-Oba), market, Odo-Otu to the Atikankan areas, a distance of about half a kilometre, in the immediate periods following the Monday uprising when journalists went round on assessment, were charred heaps of foodstuff materials, ready-made and unsown clothing materials, horribly vandalised lock-up shops including bureau de change outfits, and other unmistakable sights of waste. Cursory estimates supported by objective intuition, when accounts of either looted or burned foreign currencies are factored, would put the value of losses at a minimum of two or even three hundred million naira.
The hoodlums, barefaced and undaunted, had dared security agents who had mustered tepid influence the past four days, as the hoodlums embarked on the looting spree, entering into and coming out of shops and kiosks apparently unfettered and scurrying off with stolen bags of rice, beans, other cereal stuffs, cooking oil varieties, crates of egg, everything, anything they considered of any immediate value.
Some of the shop owners themselves, who still had a modicum of bravery, especially the males, dared the looters and wrested some of their good off to safe spots. While some women succeeded in evacuating some of their effects as well, many of them were not so lucky, looking on in stunned flabbergast, as the daredevils feasted on their lives’ entire accomplishments, even as some of the shops exploded in bellows of thick fire viewable distances away. Such ones could be seen bemoaning, rather than lamenting, their fate to the hearing of all who cared to venture near enough.
The miscreants, numbering in the range of fifty or a little less, seen all about the place, had flaunted such dangerous weapons including guns, broken bottles, charms, clubs, knives, machetes, pestles, daggers, petrol inside small containers, used tyres, everything, anything that could second attainments of their condemnable ends. Some of the shops were still on fire about 9 am while journalists went round.
As at the time of filing this report, the entire stretch of the area from Old Garrage-Erekesan market to Atikankan, Odo-Otu, and Sabo areas, had been levelled and mostly viewable, some shops still burning while soldiers and mobile police personnel had mounted checkpoints and patrols across parts of Atikankan, the very hotspot of the mayhem. Vehicular and pedestrian movements round the area had also remained curtailed and security situation obviously tenuous.
What went wrong?
Findings indicated the problem started in the evening of Monday when some miscreants/touts reportedly waylaid a woman said to be the wife of a member of a transport union around Atikankan, raped and seized from her a bag said to contain a sum of N36,000.
Some drivers, in consequence were said to have visited the area the following day (Tuesday), demanding the masterminds of the rape and robbery be produced by those who traded in the area who apparently were mostly butchers and Hausa. Failure of the latter to offer needed answer was said to have moved the drivers into burning a building in which the butchers and Hausa plied their business. Some of the Hausa traders and bureau de change operators reportedly joined in physically beating the drivers.
“But the issue was settled soon afterwards and we thought it had all ended until today (Wednesday) again”, a man who craved anonymity said.
Not a few of the traders had alleged the crisis had become ethnicised, saying Hausa traders had gained the upper hand over the Yoruba, noting the three men who died included two Yoruba and a Hausa. But findings proved the contrary as more Hausa were found across some private clinics within the capital. Some were also noticed taking refuge at the Okesa Police Station.
The police through the State spokesperson, Mr. Alberto Adeyemi, did not confirm the deaths. The force admitted only 24 were injured.
Banks and other commercial outfits around Old Garage, Mugbagba, Atikankan, Ijigbo, Okeyinmi had shut their gates and closed business hurriedly, pedestrian and vehicular operations and sundry commercial activities had been halted for the rest of the day.
The state Governor Ayo Fayose who was in Atikankan, the hotspot of the mayhem in the morning of the Thursday and Friday appealed to the Hausa and Yoruba communities in the area to allow peace. The Governor explained whether Hausa, Ibo or Yoruba, everyone is a Nigerian, adding that it was not good for anyone to see him/herself first as belonging to this or that ethnic origins before being a Nigerian.
Fayose, who announced a dusk to dawn curfew in Ado-Ekiti township in the course of the meeting to arrest further escalation of trouble, maintained the masterminds of trouble would be fished out and dealt with the way of the law.
“You said you love me, this is the time you have to show this love. I want to plead with you to submit whatever lethal weapon you have in our possession to the police. And if you refuse to do this, whether you are Yoruba or Hausa, the police will arrest you. “Nigeria belongs to all of us and for the sake of our country, I plead with you to allow peace to reign,” Fayose said.
The Chairman of Hausa Community in Ekiti State, Alhaji Adamu Imam, appealed to the government for monetary assistance to those whose property were damaged or looted by hoodlums during the crisis. Imam said the names of the perpetrators of the violent attack had been compiled and would be made available to the governor and security agencies for necessary actions.
The assault of kidnappers
Ekiti has however seen more forms of insecurity lately. Weeks before and amidst the current mayhem, kidnappers, in brazen show of braggadocio, had held sway across the state, recording a minimum of ten successful operations. Currently in their captivity are Mrs Magaret Aladeneka, a nurse at the Federal Teaching Hospital (FTH) in Ido-Ekiti, Ido-Osi Local Government Area of the State. Aladeneka, whose whereabouts had since remained unknown, was abducted while traveling to Ipere from Ido in company of two others. It was reported that one of the occupants of the vehicle in which the victim was traveling was shot and killed at the spot.
Another of such was the kidnap of Dr Adegun, a former Chief Medical Director (CMD) of Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH) who was abducted alongside his wife right in front of their residence at Goshen Avenue, Oke-Ila within the capital while returning from a function within the town.
While Dr. Adegun had been released and had returned, though yet unreachable either physically or on phone, it was learned that his wife, Dr (Mrs) Kikelomo, had remained with the abductors who were said to be demanding huge ransom as condition for her release. Others who have been in captive and who equally have been unreachable are Dr. Mrs Modupe Alade, a lecturer in Ekiti State University and Dr. Femi Omisore, another lecturer at the Obafemi awolowo University. There were others in the kidnappers cage whose identity could not be ascertained as at press time, however.
The CMD of FTH, Ido, Dr Lawrence Majekodunmi had expressed his worries, saying
“Up to now, no phone call has been received from the abductee and this calls for serious concern”.
But the kidnappers, who were said to be threatening some others through letters to prepare for their own abductions as well, had been operating in Ekiti for a long time before now. It would be recalled that a monarch was abducted alongside another person in 2009. The monarch, a first class chief in the state, eventually lost his life in the process.
On the development, the State Governor Ayo Fayose alleged the kidnappers had links within the rank and file of the various security outfits in the state. He promised to expose them soonest.
The governor, while addressing some aggrieved staff of the Federal Teaching Hospital, (FTH) Ido-Ekiti, who were protesting the kidnap of Nurse Aladenekan assured them the victims would be rescued alive.
His words “ If they were robbers, we can go after them, but kidnappers, you have to strategise first because the kidnapped is still with them. I can’t expose our strategy. The kidnappers have agents among the security apparatus and the public. What Aladeneka and others need now is your prayers.
“When we had a jailbreak, they regrouped and started terrorising Ekiti but we subdued and got them. We have rearrested over 199 and others have fled.
Assuring the staff, Fayose said: “Mrs. Aladeneka would soon be with us. I appreciate you for being your brothers’ keeper. It could be anybody. It could be your brother. Let me tell you that I share this sorrow with you. This is one of the burdens I carry with you. I am sure that she will come back to join us.
“It is not about APC or PDP. Everybody must join hands with government to unravel the security issue, and bring it to an end. We are calling on all Ekiti indigenes, irrespective of political affiliations and all security agencies to support the government to bring this unholy development to an end.
“My government will do everything to protect lives and property. We will strengthen the borders and the streets. Let experienced people handle this. They are already working. You have elected me to do this. You know I have the capacity. You are important to us. If you have any issue, call me. My number is in the public domain”, Fayose said.
The Labour Unions’ protests
Labour Unions had severally protested the kidnappings, with their leaders insisting “We may have no option than to call on all members to down tools if the situation persists”.
Led by the Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Com. Ade Adesanmi, Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), in a latest protest last Tuesday urged the state government to ensure immediate and safe release of its members currently in captivity of the kidnappers.
Adesanmi maintained members of the Union had continued to receive kidnap threats from the faceless camp, adding that many of JOHESU members had in consequence, gone into hiding as the situation remained largely uncertain.
He explained the ongoing strike action may continue until those in captivity were released and incessant physical attacks of its members across the state stopped, adding that promises by the state government had not yielded concrete results as more members had become victims, and huge ransoms being demanded.
Adesanmi clarified the Tuesday protest was necessary ss the situation rather than easing had been worsening, adding the health workers would not resume work until the state government resolved apparent insecurity of the workers in the state, especially the health workers and their incessant harassment brought under control.
Why criminality seems to thrive in Ekiti
Although such factors as the hash economic situation, politics, and the recent Jail Break in Ekiti Federal Prison had been recognised as factors in the surge in criminality, a male security expert who preferred confidentiality had maintained other reasons, including largeness of unexplored and uncultivated forests around the state, insufficient police personnel in the state and the level of sophistication of their weapons provide better and more reasonable explanation.
The expert said: “Let me quickly say criminality is a universal trend. It happens all over the world. Ekiti therefore is not unique in the prevalence of criminal conducts among certain elements.
“However, some factors aid the prevalence of certain unsavoury elements in any location at all. Criminals ordinarily desire hideouts and the vast expanse of thick forests in the state offer ready attraction. From Erio to Omuo, from Ado to Erijiyan, and from Ido to Efon, thick forests are available as hide-aways for the miscreants.
“For proper surveillance around such fearful forests, the number of police personnel deployed in the state would have to be increased, patrol vehicles doubled, logistics including the sophistication of their weapons, improved for an all-round and competent patrol of spots across the forests.
“Whatever the government does in the stated regards, the people who inhabit our communities would have to support it in better policing the state. Hoodlums and miscreants live and move round among the people who live in the communities. Suspicious movements, if and when promptly reported to the police, would go a long way in safeguarding peoples’ lives and their legitimate accomplishments.
“So far, our community people have not proved ready in exposing criminals who live with and among them. From the latest upsurge of violence in Ado in which hoodlums had seized the show, the rage of the kidnappers and sundry other criminal activities, including armed robbery and petty thieving within communities, the prove of lack of or grossly insufficient support from the people seem well revealed.
“A criminal whose identity is concealed today may return to attack the concealer the very next day. Their own art is to steal and the best protection measure is to expose them, soon as they are suspected”, he said.
An elder in the state who also spoke under anonymity explained unemployment and the hash economic situation were factors in criminality, a situation which he said might be difficult for state governments to deal with singularly.
According to him, issues of lack of power supply, poor infrastructural facilities, pervasive and endemic unemployment had gone into the roots of criminal conducts, occasioning various social dislocations, adding that the government, particularly at the federal level, had to reverse the situation through faithful implementation of critical policies and programmes.
The share of the security personnel
The police has not been without blame, however. It is said that the various official security outfits, especially the police, have not really learned how to live up to its billings, failing almost at every critical moment when positive action is desirable.
According to public opinion, while the invasion by kidnappers might be a bit difficult to check, the latest uprising which has seen to losses of life and property could be blamed largely upon the unreadiness of the police to act proactively.
The security expert maintained that the consistency of the police to arrest such situations before getting out of hand was a pointer to a fundamental lack with them.
His words: “The Nigeria Police needs full-scale re-orientation to be relevant in a Nigeria of today. Except we want to deceive ourselves, the police have not discharged the primary duty of maintaining internal security in the country for a long time. In fact, they can be said to have got many things right except maintaining law and order across the communities.
“Why is it all the time you critically need them to save situations that they fail? The only answer is that real reversal must be brought to bear upon their operations. Today, it is not news to hear officers of the Nigeria Police aiding and abetting crime. Armed robbery attacks of whole street would have been planned and conducted before you see them coming in to arrest innocent people to make money.
“The specific case of Ado is very relevant also. Imagine the losses already recorded within a space of four days within a market area that is far less than half a kilometre in entire radius. How can they prove so inefficient to watch and allow things to degenerate to this level. Go to Atikankan and you will see the implication of their entire lack of professionalism.
“Reversing this decrepit police formation in the country is a critical first step for the incoming administration at the federal level if this country must move forward at all. Whether this is admitted or not is not my business, how many agencies today have been put in place to duplicate and perform same function as the police?.
“Truth be told, there is no reason whatsoever for such a waste and looting to have occurred, given the small space to deal with, the familiar environment and the obvious sensitivity of the situation. As I speak with you, the looting and arson is still going on. Within the three or four days the value of losses had approached almost a billion naira. What does it take to use one or two of the elements as scapegoats,” the expert queried.