By Olasunkanmi Akoni & Monsuru Olowoopejo
An erstwhile sleepy and peaceful Ito-Agan, a riverine community in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State, has been turned into a ghost town following the alleged sacking of the over 5,000 residents including the Baale, Chief Lot Ikuesan, 84, by people alleged to be land grabbers from nearby Agbojedo.
The community in dispute, it was gathered, was founded in 1905 by some settlers said to be progenitors of Ikuesan. The settlers, according to natives, were predominately Ilaje from Ondo State who migrated to the Island as a result of opportunities in fishing and crayfish.
When our correspondent visited Ito-Agan and Agbojedo communities, it was observed that property worth millions of naira had been destroyed while some were carted away by the invaders.
Residents narrated that the crisis, which had stalled the crayfish and fishing business chain in both communities, started over chieftaincy and boundary disputes between two rival groups, even as Ikuesan was said to be the Baale of both communities before 2017 when the disagreement started.
While the Baale of Agbojedo, Abiye Akinmuleya, allegedly demanded that the two communities be separated and each chief controls his territory, Ikuesan insisted there was no boundary when his progenitors discovered and settled on the Island.
But the crisis got to a head when Ikuesan allegedly instructed his aides to collect levies from boat operators and fishermen at the shore connecting both communities.
Eyewitnesses said that while some operators and fishermen obliged, others kicked against the move, arguing that they do not reside nor operate under the community head’s territory.
A resident, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, narrated that the refusal resulted into violent confrontation at the shore, leaving several persons injured.
During an interview with Sunday Vanguard at his hideout, Ikuesan alleged: “Some people planned to kidnap me in order to take over both communities.
“When the plan failed, they resorted into attacking those who were opposed to Akinmuleya’s claims to the title. And this resulted in many abandoning their property in the community as people we believed were from them invaded the community.”
The Chairman of School Based Management Committee, SBMC, in the area, Pastor Alaba Asemudara, alleged that many were still admitted in different hospitals after sustaining gunshot wounds.
He also alleged that policemen deployed to the community to restore peace aided the hoodlums “to attack our community because while they were shooting, the policemen looked the other way.”
In the wake of the crisis, Ikuesan, through his lawyer, Mr.Ige Asemudara, approached a Magistrate Court in Apapa Magisterial District for redress.
The 17 respondents in the case, led by Mr. Abiye Akinmuleya, who were summoned to appear before Magistrate N. Layeni, shunned the court on several occasions.
Subsequently, in an interim order brought under motion exparte, the court restrained “the first respondent, acting in concert with the 2nd–17th respondents, from parading himself as the Baale of Ito-Agan village or doing any act that may undermine the lawful authority of the applicant over Ito-Agan or likely to cause breach of peace in the community.”
On August 13, 2018, the lawyer petitioned the Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, Zone 2 Command over the activities of the suspected land grabbers in Ito-Agan.
The lawyer said the suspects invaded the community with men believed to be from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS. According to him, his client and other community leaders had been displaced from their homes.
He went further to say that some of the houses had been demolished by the invading land grabbers.
Asemudara had earlier petitioned the AIG on March 29, 2018, alleging threat to the life of Ikuesan and his subjects.
“Instead of the police investigating the allegation that there was a plot to kidnap him, the community leaders and 20 others were arrested by policemen from Festac and Alakija Divisions as well as those from SARS, Ikeja.
“Ikuesan was later released on August 9, while others were charged before a Magistrate Court and are still in custody.
“While Ikuesan and others were in detention, the alleged land grabbers, accompanied by thugs, invaded the community and destroyed properties worth millions of naira, while forcefully ejecting residents. The residents cannot return to their various homes for fear of being killed.The children will also be affected when schools resume soon.”
Asemudara also alleged that his client had continuously been unlawfully arrested and hounded into detention since August 5, 2018.
He claimed the move was in a bid by the suspects and their powerful sponsors to forcefully take over the community in order to protect their oil bunkering business.
The lawyer urged the AIG to immediately intervene by investigating the allegations, restore peace in the community and bring the policemen involved in illegal job to book.
It was gathered that the AIG has directed Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, for further action.
`We are law abiding’
In his reaction, a chief in Agbojedo, Balogun Kehinde Kpenoson, dismissed the alleged attacked on anyone, saying, “We always abide by the law and that is why we report any attack on our wives and children to the police”.
Kpenoson claimed that after the confrontation at the shore, Ikuesan hired hoodlums and instructed them to patrol the communities and attack anyone that kicked against his chieftaincy title.
“After that day, Ikuesan deployed hoodlums into the communities and threatened to attack anyone that kicked against his order. The day we raised voice, they attacked us, looted and destroyed our property. As the crisis intensified, residents started leaving and they are yet to return.
“Those you see in the community are those who could withstand their attack but for those who cannot, they have left the community.
“The policemen deployed to the community to restore peace were allegedly attacked and sustained severe injuries”.