Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recent resurgence of militancy at the Ishawo area of Ikorodu, has turned the community into a ghost town as the residents have since fled to safety
Ishawo town at the Ikorodu area of Lagos used to bubble. In fact, the community was a world of its own with its own market, shops and basic amenities. But that was then. The once bubbling town is now a shadow of its old self.
So on getting to the community on a certain Monday, one needed not to be told that a dreadful calamity had befallen the once vibrant town. There was nobody in sight, no shops were opened and the market closed for the day. Except for a few community leaders sighted in groups, who wore worried looks, one would have been tempted to declare the town abandoned.
The reason for this is not far-fetched. Most of the inhabitants of the town had fled for their lives due to the resurgence of militancy in the area. Although some had moved out earlier in the year, due to the pockets of attacks, majority followed suit after the deadly attack two weeks ago.
The attack saw the militants stormed the town one midnight two Sundays ago and killed two soldiers including an Army captain, five policemen and several civilians. Some civilians were also abducted.
To say the residents are living in palpable fear following the return of militants who are terrorising people in the area, is an understatement. The militants-cum- kidnappers are the pipeline vandals who were chased out of the area August last year by a joint security taskforce.
Meanwhile, the resurgence of militancy in the Ishawo area has become worrisome for the residents, who often bear the brunt of the ruthless attacks and raids. According to the residents, the militants raid their homes armed with dangerous weapons to cart away whatever valuable they can lay their hands on.
A resident, Atoba Faleye, said the militants seemed to have an upper hand over the security forces in the area, adding that in most cases, they (locales) are left to protect themselves.
He said, “When the military and the police chased out the militants from Ishawo last year, we all heaved a sigh of relief. We never factored in the idea they will come back with full force. This is the bane of the society. There is no contingency plan put in place for a counter attack. The security forces relaxed their guards after their first victory and we are the ones paying the price now.
“We are again pleading with the state government to come to our aid. This matter has gone beyond us. We are living in fear.”
Another resident, one Raheem Olanrewaju, who also decided to brave the odds and stay back, however said they live in palpable fear of the unknown, adding that they had to employ the services of the vigilante to ensure that they at least have some measure of security.
Speaking on the latest attacks, another resident Adetola Adeyemi said he had never experienced such an attack by the kidnappers numbering over 40 who dressed in military uniform and held the community hostage for more than four hours around 12 midnight on a Saturday.
He called on the government to act fast and come to their rescue security wise, adding that most of them have left Ishawo to move into Ikorodu town. He said, “We have been experiencing the attacks but that Sunday attack was the deadliest. Many people simply moved out of their homes on Monday morning and moved to perch with family and friends in Ikorodu.
“Some of us that are still here do not have any option because we are mostly landlords. Where do we run to? How do we leave our houses built with our sweat? The militants will simply move in and have a field day. For us, something is at stake and we have decided to brave it.”
Also, one Olusola Adedeji, lamented that the resurgence of militancy has become a recurring decimal without the end being in sight. He said the attack before the recent one saw the militants abducting one Chubuike Okeke. He said in most cases, when they call for help, no one comes to their aid.
Pointing at the houses down the road he said, “You can see how deserted everywhere is. Many people who could not cope with living in fear have simply relocated. But some of us don’t have any option. We have paid rent for the year. But what some of us did was to send our wives and children away to squat with relatives.”
Still on the matter, a civil servant at the state Ministry of Commerce and Industry who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was bidding his time until he gets a buyer for his house so he can use the proceeds to rent an apartment, a move he said he dreads because of the stress he went through to build the house.
Previous efforts of Operation Awatse
Recall that the operations of the militants, who were formerly pipeline vandals, at Ishawo were put to a stop last year. Whilst their reign of terror lasted, scores of people were killed, pipelines were vandalised for the content and they were a law unto themselves.
This brazen anomaly led to the deployment of a joint military taskforce in the area. The JTF comprises the elements of the navy, army and air force, as well as the Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF).
The aerial bombardment and subsequent invasion of the enclave by the JTF is part of the military’s operation tagged ‘Operation Awatse’, an Hausa word for ‘scatter’, which has both the land, air and maritime components.
Intensive offensive air strikes were initiated to flush out the pipeline vandals turned militants operating at Ishawo and Igando areas of Ikorodu in Lagos State; then Arepo, Awawa, Elepete and Ibafo areas of Ogun State, given that the JTF was tasked with the responsibility of protecting the NNPC pipelines from Atlas Cove to Mosimi Depot.
At the end, several arrests were made and their enclaves decimated by air strikes before the ground forces moved in to complete the operations. After the militants were disbanded, peace returned to Ishawo and its neighbouring communities surrounded by creeks.
The resurgence of militancy
However after a successful operation that saw the disbandment of the vandals, the security forces relaxed its guards and the militants crept back silently. They showed their presence with little pockets of attacks. They soon became emboldened and enlarged their scale of operations. Yet there was no clampdown by the security personnel.
Suffice it to say that now, the militants are back in full force. According to residents, these militants derive joy in inflicting pains on the community and its neighbouring communities, robbing and terrorising residents. Brandishing guns openly during the day, they however specialise in attacking and robbing people at night.
According to the residents, the militants often boast of how they are back to revenge their disbandment by the military and for the destruction of their source of livelihood.
The latest in a series of militancy attacks was carried out last week and it was one of the deadliest as seven security personnel were gunned down. Despite the presence of the Joint Task Force called Operation Awatse, some group of militants at the wee hours of the morning, again stormed the Ishawo area of Ikorodu and unleashed mayhem.
In what was described as a deadly ambush, the militants were said to have taken the security forces by surprise and had therefore had the upper hand. THISDAY had gathered that the militants particularly struck at Woodland Estate that is near the Ishawo creeks and engaged the security personnel, soldiers and the police, in a gun duel.
At the end of the gun duel, five policemen and two soldiers were reportedly gunned down by the militants. Later, security forces were said to have reinforced and stormed the area for reconnaissance and possible action.
When contacted, the Lagos State Police Command Public Relations Officer, ASP Olarinde Famous-Cole, had confirmed the incident, but said the actual casualty figure was six.
He said, “At about 1a.m. today (Sunday), the police received a distress call that a group of militants and 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 mobilised 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. We will continue to rely on the good people of Lagos State for useful information and their partnership.”
Nabbing the mastermind
As expected, the security forces did not take the death of their colleagues lying low. In fact, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, deplored his special Intelligence Response Team (IRT), to Lagos. Swinging into action, they trailed and gunned down one Endurance Ominisan, a.k.a Mighty, the mastermind of the recent murder of two soldiers, four policemen and countless civilians at the Ikorodu area of Lagos.
Ominisan, a notorious militant-cum-kidnapper, had first engaged the operatives in a gun duel before he was overpowered, but later died of gunshot wounds in the hospital. The native of Arogbo in Ondo State was said to have been trailed after he came out from his hideout in the creeks to pay a visit to his girlfriend.
Unknown to him, he was already on the radar of the IRT operatives led by ACP Abba Kyari and they trailed him to the apartment he rented for his girlfriend at no 20 Joel Adebolu Street, Ibeshe area of Ikorodu. To prevent his escape, the IRT teams were said to have surrounded the house but he somehow got wind of their presence and escaped to the roof of the building.
From his hideout on the roof, he fired several shots with his pistol on the IRT team, who swiftly returned fire from all angles and he was overpowered. Accepting defeat, the fatally injured kidnapper was then brought down from the roof of the house and rushed to General Hospital Ikorodu where he later died.
However, before he died, he gave the pseudo names of his gang members as ‘One America’, ‘Stone’ and ‘Vika’. He further confessed that his gang was responsible for the death of the policemen and soldiers, as well as the kidnapping of the Oniba of Iba, the Turkish School girls and many other high profile kidnapping in Lagos and Ogun States.
Recovered from him was one Turkish Fatih, one pistol with serial number 12TF00126 with four expended and five live ammunition. The police said with the information he made available before his death, efforts are ongoing to arrest the remaining gang members.
The unexpected demolition
In a bid to totally eradicate the menace of militancy and kidnapping, operatives of the Lagos State Police Command, then carried out total demolition of the hideouts of the displaced pipeline vandals turned militants, at the Ishawo Creeks in Ikorodu. This was done a day after they nabbed the deceased mastermind.
The operatives, who had earlier been deployed to secure the Ishawo riverine community, were tasked to demolish the illegal shanties near the creeks, where criminal elements hibernate to perpetrate their nefarious activities.
The state Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, who briefed newsmen in Ishawo on the ongoing operations in the creeks, said the operation was a collaboration between the state Marine Police, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), mobile policemen and the men from the anti-kidnapping squad in coordination with the local vigilante group.
He also said the operation paid off as 13 suspected kidnappers have already been arrested and are currently aiding the team to track down the remaining suspects still on the run. This move by the police was in response to the gruesome murder of four policemen, two army officers and several civilians at the hands of these kidnappers-cum-militants at the Ishawo creeks.
Owoseni said Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had immediately ordered a joint operation to hunt down the perpetrators, adding that the operation was yielding positive results.
He said, “So far so good following the attack that occurred at Ishawo where we lost four of our policemen and an army captain, we have deployed operatives in the water. What you have seen now is for us to appraise what we have been doing for the past one week. So, quality arrests have been made and we are talking to them because the arrests that were made we believe that we get some evidential value from them.”
He was joined on the inspection of the joint operation to the den of the militants in Ishawo Creeks by the Commander, Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Mr. Tunji Disu, security agencies and some newsmen.
After the on-the-spot assessment he said, “Earlier this morning, they were able to get to the proper camps of these criminal elements where they saw some of them cooking food. They however fled immediately they saw the combined team. We just feel that we should take a decision to destroy the camps. The destruction of the camps are ongoing, that is why we are here.
“Meanwhile, the operatives handling the destruction of the camps are right inside the creeks now and at the end of the day, they would share the story as they finish that operation.
Owoseni also assured residents in the area that the police would go all out to ensure that they fish out all criminal elements in the area. “We are making progress and you can see that helicopter surveillance is also supporting all what we are doing but we want to assure members of the public around this axis that the government is ready,” he added.
The royal backing
Given the backlash the state government has gotten for demolishing the shanties, the paramount ruler of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, has however backed Governor Ambode, on his recent demolition of shanties scattered at waterfronts across the state.
Akiolu, made this disclosure while receiving the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in charge of ICT, Foluso Adebanjo, at his palace at Iga-Iduganran in Isale-eko.
He also tasked the federal government to establish a Police Mobile Force (PMF) and military barracks each at Ishawo in Ikorodu and other militant-infested riverine communities, adding that “all those shanties at all riverine areas around Lagos State should be demolished. Let the full arm of the law be meted out to anyone arrested for a crime. The public must also assist with useful information. Lagos State government is spending huge amount of money on security.”
Calls for military, police bases
An elder in the community who spoke on anonymity said that since the community is surrounded by creeks, they would appreciate if the government should clear it and establish a military base so as to dissuade the criminals from further attacks.
Earlier on, Adedeji, had also emphasised the need for constant security presence in the area. He said, “With what has been happening of recent, it is now obvious that we need a military base to be stationed here. We all have the right to safety and protection and that is the job of the government.”
Another resident urged the government to replicate what is obtainable at the Majidun area of Ikorodu by deploying personnel of the Nigerian Navy to the area. Recall that the same scenario at Ishawo once happened at Majidun before the navy embarked on the operation that totally flushed them by building a base there, which ensures constant military presence.
Oba Akiolu also lent credence to this call by advocating for both military bases and police units in those volatile areas. According to him, after the ongoing demolition of shanties being executed by the state government, both police and military barracks should be established at all the waterfronts to guard against criminalities.
He said, “As I sit here, I get intelligence report from across the country. So, tell the IG to liaise with other security agencies to establish a police mobile base and military base at that Ishawo, Ikorodu axis.”