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Border community terrorised by kidnappers has only one policeman who carries no gun

•Abductors attacking Lagos and Ogun operate from our islands – Residents

BY JOSEPH UNDU

 Ode-Omi, a border town between Lagos and Ogun states, came into prominence due to the activities of militants who relocated to the once peaceful town from Arepo in Ogun, following the bombardment of their camps by air force jets. Meanwhile, the militants’ stay in the area is causing nightmare to residents known for their farming and fishing activities.

According to them, Ode-Omi has now become a safe haven for kidnappers and other criminal elements.

Sunday Vanguard visited the community and had interaction with several residents.

Inset: Oba Okuniyi

Oba Adenuga Okuniyi, Ojafoyewa 11, the Lenuwa of Ode-Omi Kingdom, who received Sunday Vanguard reporter in his palace alongside his chiefs, gave the historical background of the kingdom.

“The history of the community is deeply rooted in oral tradition like many other precolonial Nigerian towns and cities of today; hence it becomes difficult to specify when it was founded.

“Before now, we have been enjoying peaceful co-existence in our community. But since last year, life has become dangerous here due to the activities of militants in the creeks. That is why we want Ogun, Lagos and Ondo  states’ governments to come and save us from these kidnappers. Both Lagos and Ogun states are providing infrastructure to the community. The first security challenge we had started last year. It was from herdsmen who were grazing on our farms but that one stopped before the menace of  militancy.”

How militancy started

A 40-year-old villager, who narrated the genesis of the militants’ migration to the creek island, said on the condition of anonymity: “We do not know how they managed to get there. But one day, some farmers saw them while on farm and came back to tell us that they saw some strange looking people in the bush. They live in the creeks of Moha Inland and Ito-Egbeyin. When they first came to the creeks, they drove the villagers who were mostly Ijaws away and inhabited the place.

“General Ossi, who was killed recently by security forces in the Niger Delta, we learnt, was the first militant commander to relocate to that place.

“They have not really kidnapped anybody in our community and they don’t rape our women but I can’t tell what happens in the creeks because I have never been there. But they have killed one person who is an indigene of Ode-Omi. Their activities are hindering our people from going to their farms. Our people are afraid to go about their fishing and other activities like they used to do. Our people cannot go anywhere anytime they want as usual. Everybody is afraid of being kidnapped.”

They come in military and police uniforms, well-armed with sophisticated weapons

The source continued that: “When they first relocated to the creeks, they would come to the community both in the night and day time, according to information I got from residents, to buy foodstuff. They would eat eba and also take it away. They come in military and police uniforms, well-armed with sophisticated weapons. Some of them would come in flying boats berthed at the jetty while some would come to the community to do shopping.

“They were always with arms whether they were coming to buy food or to play in the community, they would carry their arms and they don’t put face mask. Anywhere they wanted to go, they would divide themselves into two. They were friendly then. They would buy the things they wanted and go back. But after sometimes they started harassing people, fighting and beating up people.

“When their activities started having negative effects on residents, the youths came together and stopped the militants from coming to the community whether in the day or in the night. None of us in the community has peace of mind because of these people. They have flying boats and canoes that they use.

“Last Wednesday, they attacked some residents of Ode-Omi in the boat as they came back from the market. They stole their goods worth millions of naira. They were many in number. We do not know whether they have women there with them in the creeks and we are not sure for now whether anyone of our people is involved directly or indirectly with these militants.

“The activities of the militants are having negative effects on the social and economic lives of the community. It was when we discovered that they were not genuine security personnel that our leaders wrote to the police. That’s why we are appealing to government to save our souls. We want government to drive them away from where they are living.”

How they attempted to kidnap Oba Okuniyi

Another source, a member of the local vigilante group who also spoke with Sunday Vanguard anonymously, said: “I do not know much about these militants apart from the fact that they live in the  creeks next to my community. They even made an attempt to kidnap our Oba about three months ago and since then he has been hiding from them, his escape was a mystery.

“This is how it happened. One day, about five men came and met him around 7:00pm. He had travelled that day and was coming back to the palace when he saw them he asked, ‘Who are you?  Where are you coming from?’  They said they got a contract from government to come and clear the leaves on top of  water (water hyacinth) so that boats could pass easily.

“When they introduced themselves, one of them said he was from Kogi, another said he was Ilaje, the third said he was Ijaw but he has forgotten where the other two said they were from. How he escaped from remains a mystery. From there he began to suspect that those people could be the kidnappers that he has been briefed about. When he came to town the second day, he narrated his encounter with those strange fellows to us and we told him that those men were kidnappers. Since then, he and his family have not been visible in the community.”

Their exploits

Sunday Vanguard gathered that the militants operating within Moha Inland and Ito-Egbeyin Inland creeks migrated to the place from Idaleketa Inland where they settled briefly last year after the series of bombardment of their camps at Arepo by air force jets.

The slain kidnapping kingpin, General Ossi, is believed to be the first militant leader to have arrived the Island with his men. Though their exact number could not be ascertained,  it is believed that several of them numbering in hundreds, according to sources, are living there.

They are believed to be the mastermind of the recent kidnapping incidents in Lagos and environs. Another villager, who confided in Sunday Vanguard, said: “The recently kidnapped Lagos students alongside many other kidnapped victims are believed to be kept in the two well-fortified islands. Their latest exploit was the kidnap of Ebbute-Lekki who was taken some weeks ago and has since been released after his family allegedly paid ransom.

Sunday Vanguard has also uncovered the next target of the gang. The target is said to be the Oba of Ise Town in Lekki Local Council Development Authority (LCDA), Oba Ganiyu Adegbesan, who they have accused of exposing their illicit activities to the media.

According to a source, the militants do not want to hear anybody talk about their evil deeds publicly. “They have informants everywhere. They get privileged information from them. That’s why people are afraid to talk. But now, the police are fully aware of their occupation and operation in the affected islands.”

We don’t get any benefits from militants

Debunking the allegation by security agencies that Ode-Omi residents have been hobnobbing with the militants for pecuniary benefits, Oba Okuniyi told Sunday Vanguard: “We don’t derive any benefits from the kidnappers, there is nothing the community is benefiting from these misguided elements, rather residents are at the receiving end of their illicit activities. Personally, I cannot support this kind of thing and I strongly believe our people are not among these kidnappers.

“Their illegal activities have paralyzed social economic activities in Ode-Omi as schools are now shut down and teachers fleeing for the fear of being kidnapped. Other residents of the community are also deserting their homes. We have reported to government, we wrote letters to the Area Command, Ijebu-Ode and the Commissioner of Police, Ogun State Police Command, Abeokuta.

“We are not part of them and they are not part of us,  our community has been enjoying absolute peace until their arrival here. They are not welcomed. Please let government help us.”

We have just one police man in Ode-Omi

Sunday Vanguard investigation revealed that Ode-Omi, a community of over 76 villages with estimated population of about 6,000 people, has no functional police station and with just one policeman attached to the collapsed building being used by the lone policeman.

“We do not have any functional police station in Ode-Omi. The one we do have is not a standard police station and it has collapsed. We have one policeman there and I’m not sure he carries a gun because I have never seen him with one”, a source said.

“As of now, it is the local vigilante group that is protecting our community but they are not armed, they only carry machetes and sticks. They have imposed a curfew that movement within the community should stop by 10:00pm just to check the excesses of these militants”.

Our plight

As things stand now, the major challenge in Ode-Omi is that residents can no longer move freely, they cannot go to the farm, they cannot go to the sea for fishing; even going to the market is a problem now. Apart from the security challenge, there is the problem of infrastructure deficit. They have just one road linking the villages and the road is deplorable state. No standard hospital, no potable drinking water, no police station and no standard educational system in Ode-Omi not to talk of electricity supply even though the community plays host to big companies like the OKLNG.

In fact, the company is now shut down because of the activities of these militants. All the community needs now is adequate security.

The sea battle that killed over 20 militants

Some weeks ago, the marine police had a very fierce gun battle with the militants on the water ways. An eye witness narrated the battle to Sunday Vanguard: “The police were on patrol when they sighted the militants coming towards them in their flying boats. The militants were said to be going for an operation.

“Immediately the militants saw the marine police, they opened fire on them. The police overpowered them with their gun boats and killed over 20 of them. Their two boats each carrying no fewer than 10 militants were sunk by the police firepower. There were casualties on the police side as well.

“It did not happen in Ode-Omi community but the gun shots from the waterways scared residents as many ran into the bush while the incident lasted. It was after that, that the police came down to the jetty near our community to take some of the injured officers to nearest hospital for treatment.”

 


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