Okada riders, police clash set community on fire
Residents of Oke Afa in Ejigbo axis of Lagos are now under siege as okada riders and law enforcement agents bicker over right of way, reports Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf
FOR residents of Oke-Afa, an uptown district in Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos, the relative peace hitherto enjoyed by all and sundry in the neighbourhood has disappeared.
Reason: after a week violent riots by commercial motorcycle riders, popularly known as Okada riders, allegedly believed to be Chadians, resulting in hours of gun battle between policemen and motorcyclists, residents of the area now live in perpetual fear.According to an eyewitness, many of the rioters were not Hausa because he is fluent in the language but what he heard the riders, in their hundreds speaking was not Hausa language. “They must be Chadians who took to the streets. They, in a violent rage, resisted the police and destroyed their vehicles. The police called for reinforcement and that was when the shooting spree began with the arrival of two police vans,” he said.
Battle of wits
After more than three hours, the combined police team was resisted and they retreated from the scene. Thereafter, the band of okada riders took over the whole stretch of the road in exuberant jubilation at repelling the policemen when another incident led to another shooting spree.
While the hostility lasted, the road had been shut down by the protesters, preventing motorists from plying it both from the Ejigbo and Ajao ends, until a resident leaving in the area dared the odds and ventured out. Unfortunately, he ran into a mob that were still chanting victory songs, in the melee that ensued he knocked down one of them.
He was immediately pounced on by the mob, unleashing mayhem on the young man, who broke away through the help of onlookers, but not without serious life-threatening injuries. He was pursued and the rioters attacked the property where the man escaped to in search of refuge. The young man in turn brought out his father’s Dane gun and started shooting at his pursuers, which left three people injured.
This incensed the mob, who began to destroy everything in sight, including three vehicles damaged beyond recognition. They broke the main entrance, took down doors leading to different apartments in search of the driver, looted valuables and threatened to kill the young man until the eventual arrival of Ejigbo Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and some of his men, who whisked the driver away.
While they were leaving, the mob continued to throw stones and other dangerous object towards the vehicle, leaving one policeman seriously injured. Not satisfied, the mob returned to the property and continued with their threat to burn down the house when members of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) intervened to broker a truce and calm frayed nerves.
Since Tuesday’s incident, it has been brazen acts of impunity displayed by the operators of motorcycles and tricycles. With the gloves off, residents have since been living with fear while such tendencies such as parking on the bridge and trading on the roads leading to the bridge have gone unchallenged.
An occupant of the house that was under siege, Mr. John Odi, said he has never witnessed such barefaced resistance to armed men in his life. “I have always believed a man’s resistance is weakened when he is confronting a gun but what I saw last week is difficult to explain.
“Some youths, majorly from the north, were raising all manner of weapons, planks, iron, stones and whatever they could lay their hands on to challenge policemen who were firing gunshots to discard the protesters. But the more they were firing, the more the boys were getting agitated. I went back in to avoid being hit by a stray bullet when five minutes later I saw my landlord’s son throwing stones back into the crowd.
“We had to lock ourselves inside the toilet and we heard gunshots for more than two hours. They entered the compound and started smashing everything in sight. The cars parked in the compound, including mine were completely destroyed.”
Another occupant told The Nation that his children are yet to recover from the trauma of the incident. “My children have been extremely traumatised. Each day, they beg me to move them out of the house and since last week, I have been taking them with me to the office, as they can’t stand being left at home. I am seriously considering relocating from this area,” he said.
To forestall the crisis, the community has since sent a strong appeal to Governor Babatunde Fashola and the Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko, to rescue them from the menace of okada riders and street traders at the January 27 Bridge linking Ejigbo to Ajao Estate.
In a joint statement by several Community Development Associations (CDAs), which included Ilamose CDA, Peace Estate CDA, January 27 CDA, Ilamose Canal CDA and Oriade CDA, they called on the state government to intervene in regulating the activities of the commercial motorcycle riders in the area.
“We appreciate and understand that some commercial motorcycle operators are genuine in their task to be responsible people, but we want to be able to identify them and also limit their numbers for ease of operation and identification. We also want to see visible government intervention through the ministry of transportation in the operation of these operators who have converted our streets, drive ways, properties into bus parks, okada parks, keke parks and constituting serious nuisance value and security risk to our lives and properties,” the statement said.
Apparently discomfited that about 95 per cent of the commercial motorcycles operating in Oke-Afa and adjoining environs hardly have requisite vehicle licences and permits, and as such can be easy tool for criminal activities, the CDAs would rather serious action is taken to stop the illegal street market activities, which is causing traffic gridlock on the newly commissioned bridge.
“Also, there is a clear threat to the upsurge of the canal, which will ultimately threaten properties along the canal through the indiscriminate dumping of waste by the traders. We will appreciate if a team of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) taskforce can carry out a holistic removal of these actors. We suspect the shanty houses at the bank of the canal by Aarester School harbour men of the underworld and their weapons. A visit to this place will reveal serious criminal activities.”
Besides, the distraught residents are also perturbed that so many businesses thrive on the bridge daily as petty traders see the location as a hub due to the influx of human and vehicular traffic, to the detriment of commuters and would want authorities to put an end to the nuisance being constituted by these set of traders.
Contacted, the Lagos State Police Command spokesman, Mr. Lelma Kolle said investigation was ongoing.