By Evelyn Usman, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Bose Adelaja & Ifeanyi Okolie
THE relative peace hitherto experienced by residents of Yewa, Isawo community in Ikorodu area of Lagos was, yesterday, shattered following sporadic gunfire by suspected kidnappers, which left six persons, including an Army Captain, four policemen, a landlord and a member of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, dead.
The OPC member was set ablaze and police patrol van was also burnt during the two-hour shoot-out.
Vanguard gathered that two members of the kidnap gang, who were felled during the cross fire, were carried into speed boats by their colleagues and ferried to an unknown destination in the creeks.
Information at Vanguard’s disposal revealed that the kidnappers numbering over 20, stormed the area at about 1am in 10 speed boats. While some of them positioned themselves strategically around the creeks, others marched into an estate in the community where they broke into buildings and abducted occupants.
The armed kidnappers fired sporadically, warning their victims to co-operate or be killed. Vanguard learned that no fewer than 18 persons – 14 men and three women were abducted . Among them were four landlords.
Security operatives’ response
However, while taking them to their operational speed boats in the creeks, security operatives comprising policemen from Owutu division and a Joint Military patrol codenamed Operation Awatse, who were contacted by fear-stricken residents, arrived the area.
A resident, Jibola Ajiboye, revealed: “When the security agents arrived, the kidnappers were already heading towards the creeks with those abducted. They chased them into the creeks unknown to them that the kidnappers had laid ambush for them.
“The gunshots lasted between 1am and 3am. From our windows, we saw some of the security vehicles retreating and responding at the same time. We also saw some of the kidnappers jumping out from the uncompleted buildings by the creeks, where most of them hid. Some of them tied red bands on their heads and arms.”
Some of the brave victims, who managed to escape during the shoot-out, were said to have sustained varying degrees of injuries. At press time, some policemen and injured victims were still receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital.
Siren gave security agents away
Another resident, who simply gave his name as Musibau, said the blaring sirens apparently gave the security agents away. “It was the sound of the siren that gave the security agents away. Perhaps, if they had come unannounced they would not have suffered much casualty. My brother was among those that was kidnapped. His wife called me immediately the bastards (kidnappers) were banging on their door. I was among those who contacted the Police. But when I tried to reach her later, I could not. About 10 minutes later, she called again and left the phone on, from where I heard different voices giving orders to them to march out quietly. One of them said, ‘Scorpion, if he tries to misbehave, waste am.’
“At that point, I concluded that they had abducted all of them, until few minutes later when she called in tears, informing that her husband had been taken away. This whole place was like a theatre of war. Most of us hid under our beds and covered ourselves with objects in order to prevent being hit by stray bullets.
‘’The shooting was both on land and in the creeks. In the confusion, some of those who were abducted managed to escape because they are conversant with the terrain. My brother was among those who escaped but he had a deep cut on his leg, as he was pierced by a broken bottle. Even after the shooting on land died down, it continued in the creeks until 5.30am.
‘’Nobody could go out of his house until 7am. Some of those going to work had to call their offices because we were unsure of what the situation was. By the time we summoned courage to leave our rooms, we were made to understand that an Army personnel, four policemen and one of our landlords were killed.”
A police officer’s account
A senior Police officer,who pleaded anonymity, narrated how the incident occurred to Vanguard.
He said: “There was a distress call in the middle of the night and my colleagues led by an Inspector went there in a patrol vehicle, where they met some military men on ground. They jointly rescued some of the victims.
‘’Unfortunately, they drove into the ambush of the militants, who opened fire on sighting them. Leader of the team and three other policemen lost their lives in the process. Three other policemen were critically injured, while an undisclosed number of military personnel also lost their lives.
OPC member set ablaze
A landlord and an OPC member simply identified as Osase volunteered to join the team but when bullets from the militants could not penetrate the OPC man, the militants tied him with a rope and set him ablaze, with the patrol vehicle.
Why kidnappers struck
Vanguard gathered that yesterday’s incident was a reprisal attack on the community, following the killing of a leader of the kidnappers, popularly called “Big Fsh” by some members of the OPC, few weeks ago.
When Vanguard visited the area, residents were still gripped with fear.
Expressing fear over the safety of their lives, they disclosed that yesterday’s incident was not the first time militants would storm the area.
A petty trader, who would not want her name in print, said: “It all started after they were dislodged by the military. The dislodgement came as a huge relief for us, after years of being under their claws. They were using this area as exit point after stealing petroleum products. Later, they turned it into a kidnap den. Nobody could talk for fear of being killed. The military rose to the challenge after the killing of some DSS men and policemen.
‘’Our relief was short lived as they started raiding buildings and carting away valuables, including cash. Woe betide anyone, who does not have money in the house. This started immediately the military left their post at Ishawo. We complained but there was no response from security agents. Today’s (yesterday) incident is the worst since they returned.’’
How Captain Mohammed died
Captain Mohammed has been identified as one of the officers who lost his life during the ambush.
Vanguard gathered that the Army Captain and his colleagues, were among those attached to Operation Awatse, who were deployed to Ikorodu to dislodge militants who had in recent time, vandalized several petroleum pipelines belonging to the NNPC and robbed many bank within Ikorodu, Lekki, Festac and Agbara areas of Lagos and Ogun states.
Sources disclosed that the militants, who were formerly dislodged from Isawo and Arepo were forced to move deep into the creeks in Ajegunle areas of Ikorodu, where they formed a new base.
They had one ‘General Stone’ as commander and had, last week, kidnapped four persons around Isawo area of Ikorodu.
Vanguard learned that the police intercepted intelligence that the notorious gang had kidnapped some people and also got a tip-off, identifying the exact locations where the kidnappers kept their victims within the Ikorodu creek. Our source disclosed that following the intelligence report, Captain Mohammed, was asked to lead the team of operatives which also included policemen from the Owutu police station.
According to the source, a senior military officer attached to the unit said: “our men had rescued the men successfully and they were leaving when they were ambushed and killed. Captain Mohammed, was a dedicated officer, who is brave and highly supportive. I am yet to get the full brief of what happened but this was what I was told. I want to assure you that we will respond accordingly. We will not allow killers of an army Captain to go free.”
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, in a statement, said: “At about 0100 hours of today 09/04/2017 (yesterday), the Police received distress call that a group of militants/kidnappers had entered Owutu-Isawo in Ikorodu through the thick swampy forest surrounding the area.
‘’They were reported to have kidnapped some residents. In response, the Police and the Army immediately mobilized personnel to the area, where the kidnapped victims were rescued. Sadly, however, five out of the gallant, brave and patriotic officers lost their lives during the rescue operation. One of them was a Nigerian Army Captain, while the remaining four were policemen. One of the residents in the area also died.
“Meanwhile, the Command will like to assure the public that with synergy from sister security agencies, the criminal elements involved in this dastardly act shall be apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law.”
Spokesperson for the Zone 2 Command, comprising Lagos and Ogun states Police command, Dolapo Badmos informed that the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in-charge of Zone 2, Onikan, AIG zone 2, “has put well coordinated intelligence team within the area and activated the Anti-Kidnapping section of the zone to work hand-in-hand with Lagos State to forestall a recurrence and to ensure the arrest of the fleeing hoodlums.”
Abducted infant rescued during foiled kidnap attempt — Army
Acting Deputy Director Army Public Relations, Olaolu Daudu who reacted to the incident said the joint Army and Police teams were able to release nine persons who were abducted in the area.
Daudu in a statement said:”The combined team in a swift response was able to successfully foil the kidnap attempt and rescued all the abducted victims. Nine of the victims including an infant of about two years old were rescued from the criminals.”
However, on their way back, they were ambushed by a suspected criminal gang. During the clearance of the ambush, four policemen lost their lives while the Army officer who led the operation sustained gunshot wounds and died on the way to the hospital. Similarly, 4 of the rescued kidnapped victims including the infant sustained injuries during the encounter. They have all been evacuated to a hospital and are responding to treatment.”
LASG commiserates with Police families, vows to go after perpetrators
Also, reacting to the development, Lagos State Government commiserated with the families of the four policemen and Army Captain, who lost their lives in the incident.
The state’s Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, in a statement, described the incident as unfortunate but assured that it would only strengthen its resolve to root crime and criminality out of the state.