The joy that goes with festivals was abruptly terminated Monday when an Islamic cleric identified as Mallam Lateef Sabiu was allegedly shot dead by some followers of a masquerade during the ongoing masquerade festival in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
It was gathered that the late Sabiu was riding on a motorcycle (okada) with two others when he was shot by the followers of the masquerade popularly called “Lehin Aponle” who were said to be armed with guns and other weapons.
Although traditional masquerades usually parade communities merely frightening children and women, and sometimes bearing long canes, the practice of bearing arms and ammunition is strange.
As a result of the murder, enraged youths from different Islamic organisations in the city razed a building believed to belong to traditional worshippers of the deity whose masquerades allegedly killed the cleric in protest against the murder of one of their members.
The youths also torched the house of the owner of the masquerade at Anigbio’s compound in Oja-Ale area of Ijaye within the metropolis.
Consequently, the Ogun State Police Command has suspended further activities on the 2013 edition of the festival not only in Abeokuta, but in the entire state, to forestall the escalation of violence.
The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Muyiwa Adejobi, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, told reporters in Abeokuta yesterday that the police had arrested three persons along with the bearer of the masquerade over the murder.
Those arrested were Ajayi Olabintan, Shittu Adeyemi, Waheed Babalola, as well as the bearer of the masquerade whose identity was undisclosed.
Speaking with reporters on the incident, one of the community leaders, the Balogun of Ijaye and Aare of Egbaland, Chief Ganiyu Babayeju-Alemo, said the crisis had forced the Egba Traditional Council in consultation with the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, to suspend other activities of the 2013 Egungun festival in Abeokuta.
Babayeju-Alemo, who emphasised that the masquerade has a penchant for violence, added that its followers were shooting sporadically into the air before they attacked the deceased.
He said that the community was forced to invite the police following the attack on the family compound of the masquerade early yesterday by the Islamic youths.
In a reaction to the murder, the Ogun State chapter of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) described the incident as “disheartening and callous”, adding that the state government has over the years, turned deaf ears to letters and calls from the association over what it called terrorist acts of the traditionalists in the state.
“It is totally disheartening and callous that the current state government in Ogun State has allowed emissaries of doom to invade the state and kill innocent citizens," it said.
In a statement signed by MURIC's Chairman, Soliu Luqman, in Abeokuta, the organisation called on the state government to, as a matter of urgency, prosecute those arrested to prevent any reprisal from the aggrieved youths.
It also called on the Muslim community to exercise patience and desist from taking the laws into their hands and allow security operatives and the state government to take charge of the situation.