Odokekere is a small community very close to Ikorodu in Lagos. From the popular Ikorodu Garage, a visitor would first board a bus to the border town of Odogunyan and then take a motorbike to Odokekere.
“It is technically part of Ogun State,” a resident who identified himself as Gabriel said. “But many people around here are not originally from here. Many of them live here because accommodation is cheap, or because they have built their own houses here. Many of them go to work in Lagos from here every day.”
For several weeks now, many residents of Ogijo, Odokekere, Fakale, Igode, Odo Nla and Itapara, all in Sagamu Local Government Area of the state, have been in hiding, cowering in their rooms, not knowing when the next dose of horror would be fed to them.
According to residents, on July 7, 2016, a group of men stormed the villages wielding guns, machetes and other kinds of weapons. They came to mark what they called their “anniversary.” Residents said they were members of “Aiye” – a notorious cult group. As it was the seventh of the seventh month, the cult members called it “7-7”. However, to mark this occasion, they would kill seven people, a number which was eventually exceeded by at least four during the attacks.
“The cult people have been terrorising these communities,” a 28-year-old student whose parents live at Igode community, told Saturday Tribune via telephone on Wednesday. “We have been living in fear all the time. We are calling on the state government and the Federal Government to come to our aid, because nobody knows when this thing will happen again.”
It was not clear what the vision behind the “7-7” anniversary was. It was not even clear why it was called an anniversary.
A rumour began to do the rounds that yet another “anniversary” had been scheduled to take place on Monday, August 8. In the manner of the previous one, it would be called “8-8.”
When Saturday Tribune visited parts of these communities on Sunday evening and Monday morning, there was palpable fear in the air. Many of the shops were locked by their owners as most of the streets appeared deserted. Even though some members of the communities were seen in small groups discussing the developments, many of them were unwilling to share their thoughts with any strangers.
Among the few who spoke to Saturday Tribune anonymously was a pastor from a local church in one of the communities. Indeed, he lokked over his shoulders several times during the conversation to drive home the point that his identity must be protected.
“In view of what has happened in the past, it is not safe to talk about these things with anybody.” he said. “Any time anybody attempted to say anything about the cult members, or to mention their names or to talk about them either to the police or to the press, it would always blow back on the person. He may be lynched, and nobody would do anything about it. That is why I am speaking in this manner. That is why you mustn’t mention my name or the name of my church or where it is located.”
While narrating his experience during the July 7 attacks, he said the killings were part of a more complex problem, namely “spiritual darkness.”
“Wherever there is darkness… I mean spiritual darkness… all these cannot but be seen,” he said.
“On the 7th of July, there was a lot of confusion; there was a lot of violence. They were killing people. A lot of people fled. People stayed indoors for two or three days after. It was really supposed to be their affair… I mean the cult members. You know the normal conflict between two or three different cult groups. It was not an issue that concerned innocent people in the community. But for some reasons, they decided to attack innocent people. Well, we had to flee for safety after that unfortunate incident, and when we began to hear that they might strike again on August 8, we advised our members to take shelter in the homes of their relatives outside the community.”
Whether it was because many residents had fled their homes or because of the heavy presence of security operatives in the communities, or for both reasons, nobody knew. Whatever the case may be, the cult members did not surface for the planned 8-8 anniversary on Monday evening. Saturday Tribune gathered that policemen from the Ogun State command were deployed to man the trouble spots throughout the local government area.
The acting Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Ogun State, ASP Abimbola Oyeyemi, told Saturday Tribune on Wednesday that several arrests were made during the surveillance.
“We had an intelligence report that the cult groups were planning to celebrate what they called “8-8 anniversary,” he said. “And usually whenever they have this kind of anniversary or whatever they call it, they always carry out violent attacks on the residents of the communities. And when we got the information, the Commissioner ordered 24-hour surveillance on the area, extending it to Sagamu and even Sango-Ota. The CP also deployed men of Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and several highway patrol teams. All of them were deployed. All the attempts made by these cult groups to carry out their plans were foiled. And as a result of these proactive measures, a lot of them were arrested, and they have all been transferred to the command headquarters at Eleweran, Abeokuta.
“Just last week, about 10 cult members were arrested at Sango. In fact, the CP has given all Area Commanders and DPOs marching orders that we don’t want to hear anything about cult clashes and activities anywhere in Ogun State. Nobody is fleeing their houses anymore. We have assured the residents that they don’t have anything to fear.”
It would seem residents have now devised a way to “live through the fear.” Speaking with Saturday Tribune via telephone on Thursday, Gabriel, who lives at Odokekere, said the tension had eased off considerably once they found a way to joke about the situation.
“Now, whenever someone wants to go out, somebody else would ask him, ‘So, you want to go out, abi? Don’t you know today is birthday?’” Explaining the joke, he added: “Anniversary is the real name, but birthday is the joke.”