Police recruit OPC to guard stations

Lawrence Enyoghasu

A day or two ago, a video trending on several WhatsApp platforms, and said to be from Ughelli Area Command, A-Division, Delta State, showed some police officers and men running and singing solidarity song at the same time. Momentarily, a voice-over broke in, on the tape that had since gone viral.

“The police are protesting,” it announced. “Stop the killing of police. Stop burning police stations.  You have killed our people enough. The police are human beings. We are tired. We are ready to kill those hoodlums now. They are trying to burn the station but we will overpower them and send them back. We will kill them. We will wait for them. Yes. Enough is enough. Stop killing police. Stop burning police stations.”

Apparently, speaking to his fellow policemen, the voice ordered: “Everybody go and protect the barracks there. They said they are coming. We are ready to kill now. Let them come. Yes. We are at alert. We are waiting for them now. They said they are coming. We are ever ready. The IG has given us order. We are waiting.”

Police recruit OPC members to protect them, guard stations

In Lagos where hoodlums are said to have razed to the ground over 17 police stations and allegedly killed over 50 police officers and men, the story and scenario are remarkably different. No policeman is thinking of confronting the hoodlums. None of them is thinking of waiting for them to come meet them at any of the remaining police stations. None of them is ready to carry out any order from anybody, IG or Police Commissioner, to kill or shoot on sight.

Rather, everything about security of lives and property of the police officers and men have been sourced out to members of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), the Yoruba socio-cultural cum security organisation founded in August 1994 by Dr. Frederick Fasehun, after the annulment of the June 1993 elections, and the 1994 arrest of Moshood Abiola, winner of that election, to protect and promote the interests of the Yoruba people.

A senior officer who was amongst those that were wounded during the attack by hoodlums at Ajao Estate Division of the Nigeria Police Force, Lagos State Command, confirmed this fact when he told Saturday Sun that they were helpless and had no choice than to hire OPC men to protect them.

His report: “It is horrible that we are now the target. These were hoodlums and we were not permitted to shoot at them. We had no choice than to beg OPC to help us. But this was after the hoodlums carted away our rifles.” 

In years gone by, the OPC had drawn much support from the less educated population through its use of myths and fetishes. For instance, its members are said to be protected against gunfire through magic. They are said to be armed with charms believed to prevent bullet, cutlass or knife wounds from penetrating the body. A handkerchief soaked in a concoction, a small gourd with black powdery substance, native rings which have also been soaked are believed to prevent gun wounds. Incisions are made on the bodies of the members to prevent harm from befalling them in times of battle.

The senior police officer who does not want his name in print lamented that “it is normal that they will tell you the casualty rate but the truth is that several policemen were butchered while the hoodlums raided the police stations. Hiding the figure will not change the fact that they are dead; instead they should let the world know that we were the real victims during this protest. We lost several rifles. I can tell you that not less than 100 police rifles are in the hands of hoodlums right now.” Some security experts consulted by our reporter said that unless those rifles are recovered and recovered very fast we might likely see a spike in violent crimes across the state and the country in the days ahead.

Ironically, in the past, there was no love lost between the Nigeria Police Force and OPC, especially after the Federal government outlawed the group in 1999 and urged the force to deal ruthlessly with the organisation. But overtime, the relationship between the two seemingly sworn enemies has come to thaw.

Police PRO confirms widespread destruction of police stations

Apart from Ajao Estate, other police stations which were burnt down in Lagos include those of Idimu, Ikotun, Ojodu, Igando, Layeni, Denton, Ilenbe Hausa, Ajah, Amukoko, Ilasa, Cele Outpost under Ijesha and the disbanded SARS offices under Ajegunle, Ebute-Ero, Mushin (Olosan), Ojo, and Ajegunle. Police vehicles were also destroyed and set ablaze during the attacks.

Confirming this yesterday in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), in Lagos, the police spokesperson in the state, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, warned that the burning of the stations could lead to the breakdown of law and order and waste of money on the rebuilding of the destroyed police facilities and infrastructures with monies meant for other projects in the state.

“The implication of this is that money that has been set aside to do other projects and develop certain areas will have to be channeled into repairing these damaged stations.” He said that over 17 police formations across the state have been totally or partially razed by fire caused by hoodlums. “Also, it will make our work harder now because we will have to enhance our patrols in order to cover more grassroots areas that are normally covered by the burnt stations before. I doubt if some of the grassroots stations will ever function at full capacity again, taking into consideration the damaged vehicles and computer equipment that have been lost.”

Adejobi informed that several reports reaching the command alleged that hoodlums are attacking various neighbourhoods unabated as a result of the breakdown of law and order. Earlier NAN reported that last Wednesday, the hoodlums took advantage of the fluid security situation to loot shops at Karonwi Avenue, Itire, Surulere. According to NAN, the looting which started about 8.30 pm and lasted till midnight witnessed several shops and houses broken into, while goods worth millions of naira were looted.

The police spokesman who bemoaned police helplessness in the face of widespread destruction of police stations that what the command would have done under normal circumstance, on receiving such complaints, would have been to direct the police station nearest to the area to quell whatever violent force that was threatening the peace of the residents. But now, he added, “the police have suffered a lot of damage and therefore, cannot quickly re-enforce officers to such areas of unrest because our vehicles and tools of operations have been destroyed.”

Low morale among police officers and men

Adejobi also expressed some worries over the dwindling morale among police officers and men across the state because of the psychological effects of watching their source of income go down the drain. “Every aspect of the economy has been put on hold, and a lot of repairs and catching up will have to be done once normalcy is restored,” he said.

Confirming the Police PRO’s fear, another senior police officer who spoke with Saturday Sun, lamented the psychological effects occasioned by the attacks and killings. “If you go to several police social platforms, you will see how sad they are,” he said. “Everyone is cursing the IG (Inspector General).  Why couldn’t he protect his people? They sent anti-riot team to states. I can tell you that the boys are not willing to fight. Have you heard any result since the announcement? You took away weapons from the people that can fight these hoodlums and you did not send anyone to replace them? This can only happen because the IG is an administrative person.  He spent most of his career years in the administrative section of the police. How can an IG watch hoodlums butcher his boys and he is waiting for Buhari to beg him to defend his people? In the history of Nigerian police, we have not been this demoralized.”

Another senior officer whose station was burnt down in Edo State told Saturday Sun how he narrowly escaped death. He said: “Everywhere was already tensed and I was summoned to the command to give situation report when the hoodlums attacked. Four of my men were killed and all the rifles and pistols found at the station were carted away. The three other stations had the same experience; just in a day we lost up to six policemen in Edo. No one is talking about it but the figure is much. I thank God that they did not meet me there; maybe my wife would have been turned into a widow. The major challenge is how and where to fish out those inmates that escaped. Several confirmed criminals were in the prison and they do not have any confirmed house address. We are still not safe because they will haunt us down.”

How I narrowly escaped death – Police inspector

Grateful to God for sparing his life, an inspector attached to the Orile Iganmu Police Division, Lagos, said he missed death by a whisker. His testimony: “In less than five minutes after I stepped out to buy food, they attacked. It was horrible. I ran for my dear life and was calling for a backup. But no one came till it was late. We are aware that these killings everywhere were done by hoodlums, not protesters. We have lost many men and officers and the IG is doing nothing to boost the morale of his men. I can imagine that if the hoodlums had attacked and killed two soldiers, hell would have been let loose. They would have fished them out and slaughtered them and nothing would happen. No one cares that we are suffering; the IG refused to do anything to help his boys. Majority of our boys are still in hospital battling for their lives. Have you heard or read anything about a governor or even the CP visiting them? They don’t care and I must tell you that at this stage in my career if I get a better job, I will leave.”

Conflicting figures of police casualties

Although the police command could not confirm the number of casualties, police officers in Lagos claim that they have lost more than 50 persons. Despite the uproar amongst colleagues at the number of policemen that were killed Adejobi told Saturday Sun that only two of its personnel were murdered while many were injured. The dead were policemen attached to the Orile Iganmu Division and were killed when hoodlums invaded the station. But some policemen who spoke with Saturday Sun insist that not less than 50 policemen were slaughtered and about 100 rifles were carted away by hoodlums.

Casualties mount as hoodlums go after police ‘toll’ collectors

Not also spared are people who were perceived to be friends of the police. On Thursday at the Idimu axis a young man was burnt alive by suspected hoodlums. According to an eyewitness account the victim was said to be one of those used by the police to collect bribes from motorists, bus drivers and their conductors.

His account: “We went to buy fuel at the only petrol station opened around the area, the one close to the power line. Hoodlums had formed checkpoints along the LASU Road. Suddenly, they all started chasing one man. They caught him and battered him till he could hardly move. They used an old tyre to set fire on him. They killed him and were bragging about it. Even the police patrol vehicle that passed by did not bother to stop.”

Three others were gunned down along the Oshodi Mafoluku axis. According to an eyewitness, the victims were young men who were notorious touts that decided to change and help the police rid the area of miscreants. “Seun was one of them and he has changed for good. Those hoodlums killed him in his house while the other two were gunned down while they were trying to break into Makinde Police Station. They were standing with others observing what was going on when some of the hoodlums identified them. They were butchered. We are scared because no one knows who will be the next victim.”

  As Nigerians continue to count their losses in both human lives and properties, it’s been confirmed that no fewer than 56 civilians were killed across the country while properties worth billions of naira were destroyed, at least, at the time of filing this report on Friday. But security experts and human rights groups warn that the number is likely to rise as more facts about the protests casualties emerge.

Women group reacts to spate of killings

Reacting on the Tuesday evening shooting of peaceful protesters at Lekki Tollgate by some soldiers, Nkata Ndi Iyom, a socio-political women pressure group made up of Igbo titled women, fingered the unprovoked attack by military men as the lightning rod that turned an otherwise peaceful protest into a violent and destructive one.

A statement signed on behalf of the group by its spokesperson, Iyom Josephine Anenih, former Nigerian Minister of Women Affairs, chairperson of the Federation of Women Lawyers (1994-2000), first National Woman Leader, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), 1999-2005 and former Special Adviser on Women Affairs to President Olusegun Obasanjo, read: “We watched in disbelief and horror the senseless brutality perpetrated on our children. Our hearts bleed for all those who lost their lives on October 20, 2020 Black Tuesday at the Lekki tollgate and other parts of Nigeria.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the killing of innocent and peaceful citizens protesting against the excessive use of force, brutality and extortion in Nigeria. We condemn the use of live ammunition against unarmed children. We condemn a country turning against its citizens. Is what the youths are crying for not what we Nigerians want? A better society? A more equitable society?”

It warned: “We mothers will not sit on the sidelines while our children are being massacred. We have heard you; your pain is now our pain.  We are calling on the government to ensure that justice is done by bringing the perpetrators to book. We will not allow the blood of our children to be shed in vain!”

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