By Albert AKPOR,Â Evelyn USMAN and Ifeanyi OKOLIE
PROTEST, whether peaceful or violent is not new to residents of Ajegunle, an average size community in Ajeromi\Ifelodun LGA in Lagos state. Ironically dubbed the Jungle City,(perhaps because of the peopleâ€™s lifestyle) Ajegunle has been adjudged one of the most peaceful communities in Lagos State with nearly every resident having at least,Â basic knowledge of the other.
They know the good and bad characters amongst them.Â The people are made up of mainly low and middle income earners and so,Â live a simple communal life, totally devoid of any form of pretence.Â They are therefore,Â proud of beingÂ products of AJ City wherever they go.Â Â However,Â there is one unmistakable feature of these people: They abhor injustice in whichever form and fights it collectively!
And so,Â it is not surprising to see youths trooping out in their numbers from the various adjoining streets within the community in sympathy withÂ an oppressed kinsman.Â Such was the situation on April 1, 2010 when a detachment of the dreaded anti-robbery squad of the Nigeria Police attached to Ajeronmi Divisional Headquarters invaded a viewing centre on Sanusi Street, off Olayinka Road, ostensibly on a tip-off, in search of a suspected criminal which unfortunately,Â led to the death of one Charles Okafor, an acclaimed innocent person.
Incidentally, the death of Mr. Okafor, the 25-year-old â€˜hustlerâ€™ at the American Embassy on Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island where his mother trades on petty wares, would not have resulted in any form of violence if the immediate Ajeromi Divisional Headquarters headed by one Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Stephen Okoshoni had handled the situation well.
Police incessant raids and a peopleâ€™s anger
Irrespective of the fact that the people of Ajegunle community are peace loving, what many may not know is that the violent protest two days after the death of Charles Okafor in the hands of an ill-trained Police Corporal identified as CPL James, was like a keg of charged gunpowder waiting to explode at the slightest ignition.Â The people were visibly tired of policeâ€™s incessant invasion of their habitat, subjecting them to undue harassment, extortion,Â battering and of course,Â indefinite detention.
All these, some respondents claimed, had been on for years but assumed a fever-pitch crescendo within the past few months.Â Mr. Chidi Mitchell Onyiah is a computer engineer and member of Ajegunle community.Â He is of the opinion that the crop of policemen usually posted to Divisions in Ajegunle which includes Tolu, Ajeromi, Layeni and Trinity is no less crude, ill trained and already armed with a mind set to exploit the community.
â€œThey come with already made up minds to exploit the people because they erroneously believe that members of Ajegunle community are a bunch of illiterates and never- do- well and therefore, they can do whatever they liked.Â Again, if they were well trained, ready to serve their fatherland asÂ they vowed during their supposed training at the police college, believe me, we would have had a much more community friendly policemen and women.Â Chidiâ€™s testimony is corroborated by Messrs Jude Okoro, Wasiu Alade, Famous Atere and Jude Mberekpe.
To this set of people, the night life that Ajegunle is known for has long become history because of undue police harassment.Â â€œ Go and ask of AJ City of old and what we have today and you would have seen that those good old days have become history.Â We can no longer move freely in our community for fear of either being arrested or harassed by policemen whose salaries and welfare are incidentally being paid through the tax payers money.Â I think they believe that because somebody is living in Ajegunle therefore, that person is useless in life.Â That is wrong, you know.
Of the four Police Divisions in Ajegunle, Ajeronmi is the worst followed closely by Tolu. Now, what the police in AjeronmiÂ do is that at about 7. 00pm, they would have shared themselves in groups and mounted road blocks at Mechanic and Coca-cola bus-stops and start collecting money from motor-cyclists.Â God help you if you refuse to part with the demanded sum.
Apart from that, at about 10.30 to 11.00 pm.Â they will take a commercial bus (Danfo) to Boundary bus-stop, awaiting late comers and one of them will be chanting various destinations and when the bus is full,Â they will drive off straight to the police station and the occupants have become criminals!Â One funny aspect of the whole ugly drama is that the â€˜criminalsâ€™ are not taken before the DPO or inside the charge room.
Instead, they are taken to the back of a kiosk inside the premises where negotiation on their bail condition, which of course, is N5,000.00 per head is carried out.Â We have been living under this painful condition for the past six years.Â The most painful aspect of it is that some of us who know our rights, even if we protest to the DPO, the story will not change.Â In fact, you even get more embarrassment before the DPO.
Is that supposed to be?Â We are not saying that there are no bad eggs amongst us but must the police label us all black because one single person or a few persons are black?Â Â The worst situation in Ajegunle is presently playing itself out with the new DPO, Mr. Steve Okoshoni.Â He is not peopleâ€™s friendly to say the least.Â He is aware of all the illegality taking place in Ajeromi Division.Â Go and make any complaint to him and he would turn it against you and begin to quote law for you.Â He said he is a lawyer, and can leave the Police anytime to practise.
He has no respect for humanity and unless the police high command remove him, there may never be peace between the police and members of the community.Â It is this same nonchalant attitude that he showed towards the death of Charles Okafor that caused the April 3, 2010 violent protest which led to death of another person and injuried several others.
How Mr. Charles Okafor was killed
Three days before Charles Okafor met his untimely death, Crime Alert scooped that he was allegedly arrested by a team of policemen attached to Ajeromi Divisional Headquarters while returning from Victoria Island and was able to bail himself with N6,000.00.
So, when at about 8.15pm of April 1, 2010 a team of anti-robbery squad attached to Ajeromi Divisional Headquarters reportedly stormed a viewing centre on Sanusi Street, held everybody hostage, ostensibly on a tip-off, Mr. Okafor was there.Â The men were said to have vigorously searched and seizedÂ handsets and other valuables from those they met at the centre, including the deceased.
However, when he was asked to follow them to the station, he was said to have resisted the â€˜arrestâ€™ on the ground that he would not have the money to secure his bail, having coughed out N6, 000.00 three days before.Â His resistance was greeted with a devastating blow coming from the butt of a gun and he slumped while others took to their heels.Â Even the police man who wrecked the havoc did not know that his suspect who slumped had died.Â He left him and chased after others.
It was gathered that 20 minutes after,Â an unidentified woman came into the centre, bent of over Mr. Okafor and told him to stand saying that the policemen hd left.Â And because he could not shake his body, the woman was said to have raised an alarm which attracted other sympathisers, following which it was discovered that Mr. Charles Okafor was stone dead.
The father Mr. WilsonÂ Okafor, was said to have been contacted and the following morning, he went to the police station where a complaint was laid.Â But the DPO was said to have absolved his men of the act and said Charles may have died of natural cause.Â This utterance from the senior police man who is equallyÂ in charge of the station did not go down well with the father as well as friends and sympathisers of the deceased.
Their plans to stage a protest was said to have been stopped by the local government chairman and the â€˜Area Bâ€™ commander who begged that a discrete investigation would be conducted and perpetrators of the dastard act would be brought to book.Â However, a twist was introduced into the situation after an activist identified asÂ Daggar Tola who had lived in the community, hijacked it and it became uncontrollable.
The man who predicted the riot
Agbala Celestine is a 39 years old truck driver and lives at No 149 Orodu Street Ajegunle.Â On March 25, 2010,Â he was at the head office of Vanguard Media Ltd, publishers of Vanguard newspapers to make a bitter complaint about the misconduct of some police men attached to Ajeronmi station and his ordeal. Excerpts: â€œI was on my way back from work on March 22,Â 2010 when I met some policemen standing at the front of the school at Achakpo bus- stop.
A policeman walkedÂ towards me and screamed, â€œStop!â€ I promptly complied.Â Â He got to me and inquired where I was coming from at that hour of the night.Â Â The time was 11.15 pm.Â I peaceful told him that I was a truck driver andÂ had just parked my truck.Â Â He asked for my identity card which I showed him.Â Â He alsoÂ requested to see my driverâ€™s licence to ascertain my claim andÂ I brought it out and gave it to him. But I guess he was not satisfied with all that I did and ordered thatÂ I should enter a waiting van just like that. Initially, I thought he was joking and made to leave only for four other policemen who were at the time watching joined him and forced me into the van.
There,Â they threatened that they would shoot me if I didnâ€™t stay quiet.Â Â When they said this, I became scared and started praying quietly that they should take me to the station, at least.Â Â Moments after, more people were arrested and before long, the bus was full and they drove us out of the scene.Â Â I was expecting that they would take us into the charge room so that we couldÂ makeÂ statements, but they took us into a small office by the gate and kept us there and left.Â The later returned with more people.
It got to a time whenÂ the small office could no longer containÂ all of us and it was alreadyÂ about 12 midnight.Â Â When they came back, one of them screamed and said,Â â€œAny of you who does not want to sleep here should raise his hand,Â which we all did and said;Â the prize for not sleeping here is N20,000.00 each.Â Those who could pay, did and were allowed to go.Â Later, they reduced the penalty to N10,000.00 and some equally paid leaving 16 of us who did not have such money behind.
We were ordered back into the small office while they shut the doors and widows.Â Soon, the small officeÂ became veryÂ hot because there was no ventilation. I could not bear the pain. So,Â I started hitting the door so that people around would understand that we were locked up in an empty office.Â Â All of a sudden, about 2.00 am, aÂ policeman came and opened the door and he dragged me out,Â gave me the beating of my life, so much so that people living around came out and were pleading that they should leave me.Â Even a Police InspectorÂ who was on duty came and also pleaded that they should let go but that plea fell on deaf ears.
When it was morning, the following day, whileÂ they were about conducting their parade and the DPO was driving in, they came to us and asked that we should sit on the floor to prevent the DPO from seeing us but I refused.Â Again, they pounced on me and started beating me.Â Others started protesting and that was how we were later asked to leave the station.Â I made efforts to see the DPO but I was stopped.Â I felt so humiliated in my own country.Â I have come to narrate my ordealÂ to you journalists becauseÂ I can see serious trouble ahead if this unprofessional conduct of some policemen in Ajeronmi continues.
Police consoles bereaved family
In an apparent show of concern, the Commissioner of Police, Mr Marvel Akpoyibo, Wednesday, paid a condolenceÂ visitÂ to the family of the late Charles Okafor, in the company of the Ajeromi /Ifelodu local government chairman.Â The meeting place was at Life of Christ Assembly International Church, located on Mba street, where the bereaved father, Mr Wilson Okafor sat.Â Â In his amiable character, he smiled at his visitors , irrespective of the pains of the death of his son.
Shocked at his disposition, Akpoyibo who was represented by the commandâ€™s spokesman, Mr Frank Mba said, â€œ honestly I must confess that I am shocked at the way you welcome us. I thought you were going to be angry at the sight ofÂ policemen.
â€œI must begin by saying that the incident is unfortunate and I pray God to grant you the fortitude to bear the loss. Again, I must apologise to your family for the commandâ€™s initial stand on the matter. To put the record straight, I was misquoted as saying that your son died of a natural death. I know anybody that read that in the paper must be angry . But I never stated so.
Again , it was as a result of the information at my reach that necessitated the comments.â€
Mba further stated that the policemen that carried out the raid that fateful day were still undergoing scrutiny at the State Criminal Investigation Department(SCID) and if found culpable at the end, would not be spared. An autopsy test to ascertain the real cause of the late Charles Okafor,Â Mba informed , would be carried out at an appropriate date that would be communicated to the bereaved family, adding that they were also free to get a medical director that would represent them to avoid allegation of a foul play.â€
Mr. Wilson Okaforâ€™s response
Mr. Okafor was to shock everybody once more when he said, , â€œI thank God for everything. My son is gone and gone for good. Nothing and nobody can bring him back to life.â€ Even though he did not seem to be ready to recall how he got the shocking news of his sonâ€™s death, he continued, â€œViolence will not bring him back. That was why I did not buy the idea of people resorting to violence at my sonâ€™s death. I did not send anybody to fight for me and I was not happy with the outcome. Even, none of those who claim to be fighting for him has come to see me since the incident occurred.â€
Continuing, Mr. Okafor thanked the local government chairman for accepting to foot the bill of the medical doctor that would represent his family during the autopsy test.