Fears of terrorists among okada riders heighten

May 1, 2021
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Fears of terrorists among okada riders heighten

Posted by News Express | 1 May 2021 | 208 times

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By LANRE ADEWOLE, Lagos

Following Monday’s multiple violent acts by Hausa-speaking okada riders in Lagos State, there is growing apprehension that there might be terrorist cells among commercial motorcyclists in states outside the north. 

The administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, however, has said it remained on top of the frightening insecurity sweeping across the state. 

The worsening security situation around the country with the spiked crime rate in Lagos and other places has got authorities at different levels, including diplomatic missions and corporate bodies, asking residents to be vigilant in advisories that could pass for multi-layered red alerts. 

In three violent incidents on Monday related to the bloody faceoff between okada riders and transport union members, the youths, believed to be a combination of Northerners and foreign Fulani migrants, were captured on widely circulated videos destroying cars and other properties. 

There was another attack on police officers at Lekki Phase 1 Roundabout same day. 

A viral video which timed the attack at about 10.30 a.m. showed the riders in their numbers going violent and at a point in the 43-second video, gunshots were heard with passers-by fleeing the flashpoint. 

Lekki is one of the areas in Lagos where okada operation is unlawful. 

The day after the bloody attacks, the United States Consulate in Lagos issued a security notice, saying it had “recently seen a notable increase in crime in Lagos. Reports of robberies/smashand-grabs on the roads by armed men have increased significantly on both Ikoyi and Victoria Island. Typically, men on a motorcycle will follow a vehicle until it stops at a traffic light or intersection, then approach the vehicle, present a weapon, and rob the occupants.” 

The advisory went ahead to give residents a heads-up on surviving the times. It specifically advised residents to “stay alert in public places, including schools, hospitals, government facilities, places of worship, tourist locations and transportation hubs.” 

The day after the US advisory, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) followed suit with its own security alert to its workers. A portion of the bank’s security advisory reads: “Security intelligence reports have informed of plan by undesirable elements to infiltrate various parts of the country, particularly state capitals and the FCT, with the intention to perpetrate crimes of abduction and kidnapping for ransom or as recruits for terrorism.” 

A leaked memo from the Ministry of Interior also made the rounds on Tuesday. Officers and men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) were asked to be on red alert due to alleged plans by insurgents to attack airports across the country. 

The memo, headlined ‘Re: Looming Threat of Attack on Nation’s Airports’ and signed by Director (Joint Services), P. O. Egbodo, reportedly arose from intelligence from the office of the National Security Adviser, which coordinates the nation’s security. Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, asked residents of the state to calm down. He said:

“Lagosians should not panic when we have that kind of situation. Once in a while, we can have two groups fighting, or just one group getting into trouble or making trouble, it doesn’t mean that something terrible is going to happen. We do not pray for that kind of situation. But I tell you, Lagos does not joke with the issue of security at all. You can see that in the T. H. E. M. E Agenda of Governor Babajide SanwoOlu’s administration, security is one of the major pillars of good governance. 

“Police and other security agencies are on top of the situation because they don’t sleep. That is why you and I can sleep and also rest. So, Lagosians should not panic, government is on top of the situation.” 

Despite the official assurance, many residents are still bemused about the manifest capacity of the okada riders to mobilise and mass at the attack point where they were not allowed to operate and coming prepared with weapons, including guns, at a short notice. 

In November 2019, then General Officer Commanding, 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Olu Irefin, confirmed the arrest of eight Boko Haram suspects in Lagos who were planning to bomb an unnamed higher institution in the state. Although the army chief did not specify where the Boko Haram members were arrested, he stated that they had been transferred to the Nigerian Army headquarters in Abuja. 

The news coming from a top military brass had set the state on the edge before the state police command, a few days later, came out with blatant denial despite indications that the deadly group had been making efforts to penetrate the South West, particularly Lagos State. 

Then image maker of the state police command, Bala Elkana, insisted that the police in the state had no record of the arrest of any Boko Haram member in any of its divisions and other formations. 

He said: “I don t know where you got that information from but what I can tell you is that the Lagos State police command has no record of any arrest of Boko Haram members. The arrest was not documented with the police and we don’t know anything about it.” 

After the public row between the two security agencies, nothing was heard about the matter again. Same year, however, the state police command confirmed the coordinated killing, in broad daylight, of an Edo State-born Lagos-based businessman, Yamah Usman, in Elepe, Ikorodu, by okada riders of Northern extraction. Elkana confirmed the daytime killing and declared the perpetrators wanted. 

There is no record of any arrest made by the police over the crime. Usman had reportedly hit an okada rider with his car and was in the process of seeking refuge at a nearby police station to escape from the raging Hausa youths when he was caught and pounded to death with stones in the full glare of helpless onlookers. 

The capacity of the okada riders to mobilise in their hundreds within minutes to wreak havoc, even in areas where their operations are banned, is what is fueling the suspicion that there is an arrangement on the ground in Lagos State akin to Boko Haram cells. 

There is also widespread belief after the Monday violent acts that a reconnaissance is likely already built around the state and the South West, preparatory to sustained attacks by the insurgent group. Such warnings had been brushed off by security agents in the past. 

About seven months ago, a resident had raised the alarm over a suspicious armed Northern youth group with a viral picture of a member of the group donning a vest inscribed with ‘Gallant Vigilante Makoko Division’. The interest generated by the discovery fizzled out days after. 

In a Twitter post, the resident had said: “I took a bike from Tantalizers to Elf Estate. When we got to Oba Adenekan Estate, there were five Northern guys with the rider, making it six of them. They spoke Hausa and my okada rider opened a plastic bag and brought out a vest with the inscription ‘Gallant Vigilante Makoko Division’ and wore it. 

The rider dropped me off and then turned back. 

“However, I took another bike and traced them back to an uncompleted building by Zenith Bank, around Elf Estate. The gateman and the first bike rider were conversing, and that was when I took the picture posted above (referring to a picture of an okada rider in a security man’s vest). It seemed he showed the gateman an ID and he was let in. There were at least 50 people in that building.” 

The curious resident then wondered, “Why would someone wear a Makoko Vigilante shirt and be in Lekki? The first rider had a tear gas [canister] and a knife on him and another okada rider had a pistol. Makoko is far from Lekki, and they are all in Lekki holding a meeting. That means that they are throughout Lagos. Let us all be careful.” 

When the development became public knowledge, the police in the state ordered men of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) and Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) in the state to fish out the elements of the “dark” group. 

The WAI commandant in the state, Adetayo Kehinde, had told Saturday Tribune in an exclusive interview that “I was surprised when we were invited by the police asking if we knew anything about the Gallant Vigilante, Makoko Division.” 

He said: “Until the picture surfaced on the social media, I had never heard of them. The only security formation we have in Makoko, apart from police presence, is the Vigilante Group of Nigeria and their uniform is black and brown, contrary to the blue jacket worn by the person in the picture in circulation. 

“We have started combing the nooks and crannies of the community in search of them because we have been given an instruction by the police to arrest them if we come in contact with such a group.” 

There has yet to be any official communication on the discovery. In the video of the attack on policemen at Lekki Phase 1 on Monday, the resident who captured the melee was heard in the background saying: “You can now see… see how okada are going on rampage attacking policemen. In this country, we don’t know where we are heading to. Honestly, mehn, make stray bullet no come… (the person became inaudible at the sound of gunshots). How can they be attacking policemen like that? This is terrible. This is terrible. No, no, no. We don’t know where we are heading in this country.” 

During the war between okada riders and transport union members in Iyana-Iba, Ojo, Alaba and Volkswagen axis of the state on Monday, policemen reportedly ran away, with lives allegedly lost to the fracas. Viral videos also showed the rampaging Hausaspeaking riders taking the battle to the gate of the Lagos State University (LASU) and throwing objects at students who tried to stop their destructive acts. The students eventually ran back to the safety of their campus, locking their gate, while wondering why they should be subjected to harassment by non-natives. Gunshots were also heard in one of the recordings, though it could not be established if they came from security operatives or the rampaging Northern youths. 

In a viral three-minutes-andsix-seconds video, the riotous okada riders were seen vandalising vehicles parked in front of the school’s gate, smashing their windscreen and battering the body parts. 

At a point, the irked students surged out to confront them as they wailed about the presence of military men not deterring the vandals. Voices were heard saying, in Yoruba, ‘E je ka bo won jare (let’s overwhelm the vandals) but the students were restrained by a school security man who asked them to retreat into the premises with the gate bolted. 

Behind the gate, a voice was shouting, “Come and see what they are doing. Soldier is there o. Soldiers are allowing them to destroy everything in LASU. All the vehicles in LASU, soldiers are allowing them to destroy them. Look at how they are destroying cars and Nigerian army and police are there. Four million naira cars. Look at how they are destroying them. Innocent people’s cars. Don’t let us watch them continue this act. See what these people are doing.” 

In the course of moving from one vehicle to the other, destroying them, the rioting elements rained stones on LASU students, who also returned in kind, before the gate was shut. Security presence was obvious in the video, but nothing was done to stop the youths who swarmed the institution’s entrance in their numbers. 

In a May 5, 2016 interview with Saturday Tribune, the head of the Hausa community in Lagos, Alhaji Kabir Sani, like many other residents, worried over the influx of foreign Fulani migrants into Lagos. He said: “Because of the language and cultural similarities, they come into Nigeria easily. Some even speak Hausa language and some other languages along the border. So, naturally, it might be difficult to actually differentiate them from other tribes. But then again it is a failure of government agencies like Immigration who let them in anyhow. Our porous borders should also be looked into. You cannot also rule out the factor of poverty, because most of them look at Nigeria as the ‘big brother’. 

“For example, in Lagos, most of them are the people you see selling water and working as security guards. Yes, it is something we should be worried about. There are good people among them and there are bad people. Definitely, some of them are actually criminals. What we do is that at the level of leadership of Arewa in the South West, we are able to coordinate ourselves properly so that we know our own people. We know the Nigerians among them.” 

The Sarkin Hausawa of Hausa/Fulani in Shashaland, Iliyasu Isa-Kira, in a chat with Saturday Tribune in 2019, claimed to have detailed data of non-Nigerian Fulanis living in his area. “I have told them, especially people from Niger, Mali and Chad, to go and register because anyone that fails to do so, if caught by the government, will face the music and I will support the government to enforce the rule without looking back.” 

The interview was conducted against the background of the January 2020 deadline the Nigeria Immigration Service gave undocumented immigrants to either register or face prosecution. Warning affected migrants in 2019, the NIS leadership had said: “Failure to comply with the migrant registration is contrary to Section 57 (5) of the Immigration Act 2015 and punishable under same section of the law.” 

With foreigners very visible in all parts of the country and operating unhindered, despite no evidence of complying with the official directive, enforcement success has remained suspect. (Saturday Tribune)


Source: News Express


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