Militants: South West as the next target?

Reports from Ogun and Lagos communities recently attacked by some gangs of gunmen indicate a relief in sight with the deployment of the military to their hideouts. TUNDE BUSARI writes.

If the sack of some villages in Imushin, Ogun State community where 20 were gruesomely murdered by some gunmen did not make a serious meaning to the people of Yoruba nation, the abduction of the Oniba of Iba, Oba Yisau Oseni on July 16, seems to have sent a loud message suggestive a subtle declaration of war on the South-West geo-political zone.

Following the Imushin bloodbath, communities such as Isawo, Igbo Olomu, Magbon, Oke Muti, Elepete, Pakisa, Ola Imam, Boluwaduro, Ereko junction, Igando and Ajegunle have also come under fire of the aggressors, thereby forcing the residents to flee to places beyond Lagos and Ogun States.

Consequently, some fear-stricken landlords are hurriedly putting their property up for sale at give-away prices to disconnect with the places.

Nigerian Tribune, however, gathered that the pan Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere had risen and indeed held a meeting with the leadership of Ijaws in Shagamu, Ogun State.

At the meeting, Afenifere was said to have, in clear term, expressed its displeasure at the attacks and, thus, asked the Ijaw leaders to call their sons to order to avert inter-ethnic war.

The Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin declared that the Yoruba would not continue to fold their arms in face of what he called unprovoked attacks on their territories.

While Odumakin was not calling his kiths and kins out to take law into their hands, he, however, encouraged them to embark on self-defence.

Odumakin stated that encouraging the people to resort to self-defence is nothing new, stressing that when Boko Haram was proving to be invincible to the military, people in the North-East had to resort to self help.

”That is why there is what is called Civilian JTF. They fought gallantly against Boko Haram and that is why the Nigerian Army has recruited some of them. It is evident that the state has failed in its responsibility to safeguard its citizens and therefore we urge our people to resort to their traditional means to ward off attacks from their communities,” he said.

Given the danger, which the incident portends due to the strategic and commercial importance of Lagos and Ogun States to the nation, the federal government has also responded with a reprisal which is yielding result now.

A Joint task force comprising Army, Navy and Air force, had last Thursday, been deployed to suspected hideouts of the gunmen in the creeks. Operatives of Department of State Security, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and Nigeria Police are also providing auxiliary service to the ongoing bombardment of the target enclaves of the gunmen.

The operation, codenamed Awathe, has demystified the gunmen with scores of them paying the supreme prices. The presence of the military in the affected areas has made access to them a risk for fear of arrest.

It was learnt that the troop has commenced house-to-house search for the gunmen, a development which has restricted the movement of the few residents left in the communities.

A landlord in Isawo, who spoke on condition of anonymity, disclosed that he had to move his family to Mile 12 where they scot with some family friends, hoping to return after the military operation.

“I am just here this evening to see if I can go and pick some documents I forgot inside my briefcase. The military intervention is effective and I am sure by the time they are through those criminals will not try it again. The magnitude of crime they have committed can best be read in the newspapers. We saw hell in their hands. They operated as if there was no government at all,” he remarked.

Of all the communities Arepo is regarded as the most dangerous spot, hence the military focus on the area with Air force surveillance helicopter providing aerial monitoring for the task force operation.

With the troop’s special concentration on Arepo, notorious for pipeline vandalism, sources hinted that the gunmen might not be Niger Delta Avengers as claimed in some quarters including the media.

The view is shared and more articulated by the National Coordinator of Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams, who clarified the true identity of the gunmen, describing them as a gang of common criminals who must be treated as such.

Adams revealed that the gang started out as vandals of pipelines, freely engaging in illegally sale of stolen fuel and allegedly compromising security agents.

They, Adams added, later metamorphosed to kidnappers having realised the bleak future staring them in the face with the intensified surveillance of the spots.

“They are not Niger Delta Avengers or any other groups. They have no focus, no structure and no direction. They don’t have a base but only moving from one riverine community to the other. Whenever they cannot siphon fuel, they come to Lagos to rob banks and highbrow areas,” he said.

In the same vein, the Spokesperson for the Ijaw Youth Council, Eric Omare in an interview on Sunday exonerated the Niger Delta militants from the attacks on those communities. Omare revealed that the perpetrators were Niger Deltan who have lived and long integrated with those communities.

It was also learnt that the gunmen and the people of the communities work hand in hand until things fell apart, resulting in the recent violence. The people are said to have benefitted from vandal activities and, at different occasions, acted as shield to the vandals against security agents. Adams recalled how youths of Arepo in particular rose against OPC when the group was given a contract to secure pipeline in 2015.

“They protested and did all they could to attack our men on ground but failed. They said we were denying them their source of livelihood. That is why I called them the gang of criminals. It is funny that majority of these youths got burnt at the last inferno which occurred at Arepo,” he said.

Before filling this report, a pastor of The Redeemed Christian Church, who was kidnapped had been rescued. The pastor whose name was given as Bajomo was rescued on Sunday.

Local chapter of OPC is doing a yeoman’s job in providing clue leading to uncovering the hideouts of the gunmen. But the group lost a member on Saturday to the gunmen during another attack in which four members of the gangs were arrested.