•17 people now charged, say police
By Samuel Ogundipe
The heavy downpour that woke Lagosians up on Friday morning failed to wash away the trauma and agony of the victims of Wednesday fracas that claimed several lives and left many injured in the busy suburb of Oshodi, situated at the heart of the nation’s commercial capital.
A view from the suspension bridge on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway revealed many destroyed businesses, burnt vehicles and wreckage from the riot that erupted after road transport union members took on each other, prompting commuters and bystanders to scamper for safety.
A row of torched commercial vehicles, covered in filth, sat on the road side, many of them parked by the drivers who had closed for the day. An elderly man surveyed his two vehicles that were burnt down and business owners embarked on a hopeless assessment of their smashed windows and stolen goods.
“I started off as a motor boy before becoming bus owner. I have put 46 years of my life in this commercial transport business and everything is gone overnight,” said Mukaila Adejumo, 62, claiming he’s the worse hit of all the victims of the largely inexplicable tragedy. “I have 8 daughters that I still support, where do I start from?” Adejumo asked this reporter as he made concerted efforts to fight back his tears.
Two days after the incident that still leaves residents of this area befuddled, business owners caught in the crossfire are now beginning to access the extent of damage they’ve suffered, made even worse by the lack of insurance customary amongst small business owners across the country.
The total cost of the damages may not be known for several weeks to come, but those who had been to the scene of the pandemonium have continued to pray against a similar occurrence in the future.
The individuals involved in planning and execution of this magnitude of public disturbance have not been identified, but eyewitnesses said commercial transporters and street urchins, allegedly operating on the order of a union leader, participated in the bloodshed.
“We know who ordered these people to take this deadly action,” said an eyewitness who refused to give his name out of fear of a possible backlash. “It is one Olu Omo that has been threatening transporters in this area, especially in our unit.” Police identified “Olu Omo” as one Alhaji Musiliu Akinsanya, a long time leader of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, in Lagos State.
Five Killed… Police Confirm 3 Dead
Initial reports said 5 people were killed and several injured in the incident, but police put an updated death toll at 3 as at Friday morning, as against just one it first claimed to know about.
“The commissioner has confirmed that three people died in the incident, that is an additional two people,” Mr. Kenneth Nwosu, Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, told WESTERN POST on Friday.
He confirmed that “17 people have been charged in connection with the fracas.”
There’s also a disagreement between eyewitnesses and the police over the number of vehicles burnt or damaged.
The police said they have a record of 8 vehicles vandalised or completely burnt, while two eyewitnesses told WESTERN POST in separate interviews that 28 vehicles were torched.
“I counted 28 buses but not all of them were fully burnt, some could still be repaired,” said Ndubuisi Henry, a sophomore of Lagos State University at Anthony.
“Yes, 28 buses were damaged,” said another eyewitness who pleaded anonymity because she’s a trader in the neighbourhood. “Yesterday (Thursday) morning, I counted from the bridge side to the front of LAMATA office,” she added. LAMATA is the Lagos State Transport Management Authority, which is located across the expressway.
But this reporter counted 21 buses on Friday morning, including seven that were left with smashed windows only. The remaining 14 were completely burnt, barely recognisable by their iron skeleton.
The Commissioner for Police visited the scene of the incident on Thursday. With little left to salvage, he used the visit to issue a 24-hour appear-or-risk-being-declared-wanted deadline to the man at the center of the bloody conflict, Alhaji Akinsanya.
“If Alhaji Akinsanya refuses to surrender himself to any of our security agencies, we are going to declare him wanted. And it is going to be between us and him. He will not have any hiding place in Lagos State,” Mr. Kayode Aderanti, Lagos State Commissioner for Police, told newsmen during his visit to to scene of the fracas. He also dismissed unconfirmed reports that the mayhem had a political connection.
Spontaneous unrest amongst road transport union members is a regular occurrence across the country. Hardly does a month pass by that a riot will not ensue between rival union factions. Just last month, innocent commuters were said to have been killed after they ran into a multitude of angry union members who had taken over the Ijebu-Ode-Ibadan Expressway by Oru Junction.
Many travellers left their vehicles on the road to take refuge in the nearby bush.
In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, the notoriety of transport union members is widely acknowledged. At least 31 vehicles and 16 trucks are said to have been vandalised following a union-linked fracas that happened there in November. Last year alone, the union members were allegedly responsible for 8 major outbreak of violence around the city.
Transport union violence is always at its worse whenever the need for a change of executives arises. The incumbents, it is said, are not expected to vacate their positions without putting up a deadly fight. The power struggle will be extremely bloody at its climax, leaving untold sorrow in its wake.
Ms. Dupe Abolaji, 36, recounts how she almost left her 8 weeks old baby when a bullet allegedly fired by Wednesday rioters pierced through her make-shift beauty shop.
“I was preparing to close for the day when I started hearing a loud noise from under the bridge, I just assumed it was a political campaign,” she told WESTERN POST in Yoruba. “I thought some politicians were embarking on a procession around the city with their supporters, only to discover few mins later that it was something extremely sinister. I bowed my head down as bullet started coming into my shop, I crouched to look for a hiding place, then I realised I didn’t carry my baby and ran back in to carry her. I thank God we’re both alive.”
She made a narrow escape home that night, but by the time she returned to her shop the next day, she said she broke down in tears. The rioters had broken into her shop and carted away all her equipments and financial savings.
“I couldn’t believe what they did to my shop. They took everything away. All the money that belongs to me and other people was taken away. I have entered an insurmountable debt,” she cried out, her miserable life now made even more precarious.
Hafiz Aremu, 41, is also bewildered: “What kind of country is this?” Like Abolaji, he and his wife, Fatimat, are ensnared in a security nightmare unfolding in an unfavourable atmosphere.
“I took out a loan and added it to my life savings to buy this bus,” said Aremu, a professional welder whose 18-seater Mazda bus was burnt beyond repair. “I don’t think I have done anything to warrant this level of callousness against me and my wife.”
The Aremus are counting their loses which include their home appliances shop, which the wife runs adjacent his welding kiosk, and the 18-seater commercial bus.
Similar cases like these are rife at the location of the fracas, and many still have no idea how to respond. This reporter was told about the case of a middle-aged woman who attempted suicide out of shock, many others are living on the edge. Perhaps the union goons wrought these devastations because they’re fully aware of the fact that the authorities are either milquetoasts or too clueless to bring them to condign justice.
Help on the Horizon
But there appears to be a help on the horizon, at least on the surface.
The Justice, Development and Peace Commission, a Catholic Church-backed public interest think tank that has represented several victims of both public and private oppressions in the past, is consolidating the cases of several victims of the insidious act for a civil lawsuit against the state government who it said failed to protect the citizens from untold damage that is of no fault of their own, the center’s director, Rev. Fr. John Patrick, told WESTERN POST. The suit will be “massive and far reaching.”
While there are almost no buses or shops still intact, a few people were still mulling around the opened containers and piles of vehicles scattered around the scene on Friday. One teenage scavenger walked away with a scorched steering wheel from the remains of a burnt vehicle that is one of the many Adejumo lost to the crisis. “I think I am still better than some people, I am sure I will recover from this”.