Saturday, 14 November 2015

How Ikorodu Became Crime Capital of Lagos State

Ikorodu, a sprawling neighbourhood in the “Centre of Excellence” is fast becoming a refuge for daredevil robbers. In recent times, the robbers bare their fangs in banks, carting away millions of naira and leaving their victims in emotional trauma, with some sent to early graves.
This resurging trend has, no doubt, thwarted the relative peace hitherto enjoyed by the residents for a long while. But, what could be the reasons for the shift in tactics? This is the focus of this report by ISIOMA MADIKE

A few weeks ago, the Lagos State House of Assembly rose to condemn the recent pockets of robberies in many neighbourhoods in the “Centre of Excellence”. They deliberated on the new tactics of the robbers and came up with a new road map on how to tackle the menace. In one voice, they urged Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to expedite action by directing relevant agencies to secure the state waterways.

In the recent armed robbery incidents that happened in the state, armed bandits used that channel as their escape route.Sanai Agunbiade, representing Ikorodu constituency 1, drew the attention of the House to the robbery incidents that happened around Ipakodo area of Ikorodu where two banks were raided and the bandits escaped through the waterways. According to him, the state guard corps should be supported to properly carry out their functions as enshrined in the Lagos State Waterways Agency (LASWA) Law 2008.

He added that the two helicopters purchased for LASWA and the six gunboats procured by the Babatunde Fashola administration should be put to effective use. Agunbiade further recommended that Rapid Response Squad should extend their operations from the roads to the waterways, saying that the federal government should also direct the Nigeria Navy to patrol the waterways in order to check the excesses of these armed bandits.

“The armed robbers operated commando- like unchallenged and with high-ly sophisticated equipment and experienced individuals. We should wake up to strengthen the control and security of our waterways. We should work with the communities along the waterways for intelligence purposes.

We need more Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) in Lagos,” Agunbiade said. In like manner, Olufunmilayo Tejuosho, from Mushin Constituency 1, explained that the problem of waterway robbery is no longer unforeseen and that it has become rampant. According to her, “the Federal Government of Nigeria needs to strengthen the Navy and the Police.

We also need to know the challenges facing the waterways and the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF). Authorities of LSSTF should be invited to the House. We need to amend the law of LSSTF 2008 and make their corps more effective.” Lagos State has witnessed several robbery attacks on banks in recent times in which the suspected robbers escaped through the use of speedboats.

This may have been why the immediate past administration in the state donated five patrol boats to the Nigeria Police, with a view to enhancing effective policing of the waterways in 2009. Then Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Princess Sarah Adebisi Sosan, said the donation became imperative following the use of waterways as escape routes by robbers.
She stated this while commissioning the boats alongside additional ones provided by the police authority at the Marine Police on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. She said: “The effective land policing led to the use of our waterways as escape routes by armed robbers in Lagos and this became another challenge for the police and law enforcement agencies and government. We quickly rose to this challenge by providing for the use of Marine Police, five patrol boats equipped with sub-marine guns and communication gadgets.

The two tanks at the fuel dump at the jetty have also been replaced and new dispensing pumps provided for quick and efficient fuelling of the patrol boats.” Sosan maintained that the issue of security in any given society could never be over-emphasised as it was the fundamental right of every Nigerian after food and shelter.

She recalled the launch of Security Trust Fund by the state government, to among other things, “provide adequate funding for effective policing and security of land and waterways in the state.” Mike Okiro, then Inspector-General of Police, had responded by pledging the judicious use and maintenance of the equipment in order to justify the purpose for which they were procured.

But, six years after that pledge, it seemed a mirage, at least in the face of new reality in the state. According to a senior police officer who pleaded anonymity, the marine command has enough workforce to counter any attack within its territory. “The major challenge is that they do not have efficient gunboats that will withstand the strong waves.

The recent robbery incidents in which the robbers escaped through the waters has shown this deficiency. Most of the boats now are not in good condition and it would have been suicidal as the few functional ones cannot be enough to counter those robbers,’’ the officer said.

He noted that the Marine police in Lagos had been neglected in the past because there were not much of criminal activities going on within Lagos territory. “It should be noted that few years ago, the police was able to reduce to its barest minimum the cases of bank robberies within the city.

When Godogodo and several gangs were arrested no one knew that some of these pipeline vandals will suddenly switch over to bank robbery and kidnapping. The only solution at the moment is for the police to guard all their possible entry points,” he added. Sometime in July, the immediate past Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Emmanuel Ojukwu, a Commissioner of Police, reportedly said that all the unit’s broken down boats would be repaired. He also stated that efforts were on to deploy new boats to the Lagos command of the force.

“This is to enable the unit’s officers and men meet the challenges of crime, especially the ones posed by the recent robbery attacks in the area. We are re-strategising the marine police operation to check criminal activities using the inland waterways,” Ojukwu said while responding to bank robberies close to the creeks in Ikorodu.

Meanwhile, the State Police Commissioner, Fatai Owoseni, in a telephone chat with Saturday Telegraph confirmed that the gun boats are still effective. He only noted that the police cannot work in isolation but would depend on information from the public. This, according to him, will increase the partnership with the people among the working units.

“There are some measures that shouldn’t be revealed to everybody because they will jeopardise the plans. At present, police visibility in the Ikorodu area of the state has increased. We now have a detachment of the anti-robbery squad stationed there as well as a joint operation with other security agents,” Owoseni said.

The state, it was gathered, has expended N16 billion on security agencies in the last eight years. The amount, according to sources, was spent on provision of patrol vehicles, tyres and batteries (for vehicles), boots, bulletproof vests, walkie-talkies, uniforms, explosive detective kits, ballistic helmets, riders’ gears, tactical imagery cameras, handcuffs, and gunshot treatment packs.

These items, according to sources, have become essential commodities because they were no longer provided by the federal government. The N16 billion was reportedly sourced from the Lagos LSSTF, which was set up in 2007 to bridge funding gap in kitting the security agencies and improving the welfare of personnel due to poor funding by the central government, which is statutorily saddled with such responsibility.

In spite of these efforts, Ikorodu, a sprawling neighbourhood on the outskirts of Lagos State had come under attack instigated by dare devil robbers lately. Aside the robbery attacks, the neighbourhood had, before now, assumed notoriety for crime and criminality, making many to now believe it has become a refuge for thieves.

In their many operations, the bandits carted away millions of naira, leaving in their trail, blood, sorrow and tears. Some unlucky persons were equally dispatched to unprepared graves. This resurging trend has, no doubt, thwarted the relative peace hitherto enjoyed by Lagosians for a long while.
The notorious areas include Isawo, a community popular for its oil bunkering activities and home to very active cult gangs. Those in this neighbourhood told Saturday Telegraph that gun fights between pipeline vandals and the police are frequent.

Similarly, killings among rival cults groups are repeat occurrence that are no longer new to residents. Abule area is the biggest flashpoint in this community. There is also the Odogunyan community, which is home to the biggest industrial estate in West Africa comprising different manufacturing companies.

Yet, in recent times, Odogunyan has also earned a reputation for its frequent killings among rival cult gangs as they strive to dominate the area. There has also been increase in looting of shops and business in the community, forcing business owners to lock up shops earlier than normal, while some are relocating.

Majidun, another community located by the waterside is, according to residents, fast assuming the hub for criminal activities, especially oil bunkering. Earlier this year, the naval security forces took over some part of the community used by this pipeline vandals, evicted the boat operators and other residents and set up security post around the area. It is not far from Ebute- Ipakodo where the recent bank robbery took place.

And Ijede, located in the exterior of ikorodu, has also witnessed a resurgence of criminal activities lately. Report of people missing around that part of Ikorodu is said to be rampant while armed robbery activities are also frequent. The June 2, bank robbery is one of those this community would love to forget in a hurry.

For Imota, located on the fringes of Ikorodu, is reputed for its ritual and fetishness. Residents would always advise strangers to this community to thread with caution so as not to become victims of ritual-inspired killings. Other dark spots that had been in the news for the wrong reasons in ikorodu are Jaiyesimi, Ejina and Ladega. Ijede and Ipakodo have come under attack of the dare devil robbers a few months ago.

But, they are not isolated cases. Since November last year, over 30 attacks on bank customers had reportedly been witnessed also between Sadiku and Berliet along Oshodi- Apapa Expressway axis of the state as well as other numerous exploits of the felons on the Island.

During some of the operations, the race for dear life transcended age limit as both the young and old reportedly took to their heels in different directions in order not to be hit by stray bullets. In a movie-like scene, the gun wielding men said to have been dressed in military fatigue uniform, announced their presence with volleys of gun shots.

They made their way unhindered into the banks, shattering the electronic security doors, which ordinarily would have rejected anyone with metal object, with bullets. At Ijede, the robbers stormed two second generation banks where several millions of naira was carted away. That was in June.

Same month, precisely on June 24, the men of the underworld returned, this time to hurt Ebute-Ipakodo in what seemed to be a reversed version. Their destination, unlike in the first operation, were two first generation banks. In a jiffy, the robbers reportedly packed about N20 million said to have been arranged for loading into the Automated Teller Machines (ATM).

A bank official, who narrated how the robbery took place, said the fury displayed by the robbers was only comparable to an ecstasy in a game of soccer. As some of the gang members held everyone in the new generation bank hostage, while looting the cash from its strong room, others were doing the same at the nearby old generation bank, which was a stone throw in the area. Satisfied with their loot, the gunmen reportedly stormed out to challenge the policemen, whose station is opposite the bank, to a brawl.

They were also said to have displayed more bravado by setting three sports utility vehicles, which they drove to the banks, on fire. That was after they had removed the number plates of the vehicles. Four persons, including a teenage apprentice vulcaniser, identified simply as Rilwan, were reportedly injured by the robbers who fled through a jetty in the area.

The robbers, numbering about 16, invaded the banks about 9 am, and started shooting indiscriminately to scare everyone at sight. Although, the policemen reportedly tried to repel the hoodlums, they were said to have been overwhelmed due to their number and sophisticated weapons, which included dynamites.

While the shooting spree by the gang members stationed outside the banks lasted, their gun touting colleagues proceeded to the banking halls. And like people who were in no hurry to leave, they reportedly took their time to put the wades of naira notes into some bags.

At the end of what could be termed a successful operation, they made away with about N80 million, escaping through the jetty. Ogolonto area of Ikorodu has also received the unholy baptism of the armed robbers. A young man who disguised as a lady reportedly led this operation.

He was said to have sat down in front of one of the banks, bragging, as no policeman was able to confront him for fear of the charms around his neck. Sources at one of the banks disclosed that there were about 15 in number whose ages should not be more than 20 years. During the robbery, one of the bank’s safe was said to have been broken with the use of dynamite while the staff were made to lie on the floor.

The suspects were also said to have used another device to open the computerised door to gain entrance to the banking hall. Monies were carted away but no staff member of the bank was killed. Though, one person was reportedly shot in the leg and was taken to Ikorodu General Hospital for treatment.

It was also bloody for residents of Market Street in the Odogunyan area of Ikorodu on April 7. The gunmen, suspected to be cultists, were said to have stormed Odogunyan at midnight, where one Ayodele Adefiwaju lived, and shot him dead. Not done, they were said to have proceeded to neighbouring Olaleye Street, where they shot another man, identified simply as Lateef, who was in bed with his wife several times.

The bullets were said to have bounced off Lateef and in anger, the robbers dragged him outside the house and hacked him to death with machete. In that same operation, the armored tank which the policemen used to stage a pursuit of the robbers was pelted with bullets that almost penetrated the bulletproof vehicle.

The former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Kayode Aderanti, who was at the escape route, was shocked and had promised to investigate how the robbers carried out their operation successfully during the two-hour operation. A witness at the scene said: “I could not dare stare them in the face.

I just lay on the floor as they instructed and waited there until they left. I have never seen anything like that before.” Another was a bit hostile. “Don’t ask us rubbish now because we are still in shock. Why do you want to know how they escaped? Why didn’t you come here when the robbery was going on?” he fired back.

Before these operations, according to neighbours, hoodlums had resorted to trailing bank customers; particularly those they suspected had gone to withdraw money. They would pose as bank customers in the banking halls, looking out for customers who will be withdrawing huge amount.

Those in the banking hall will contact their colleagues outside once they noticed their targets, with a vivid description for precision. Sometimes, they would trail their suspects to a safe place, from where they would dispossess them of their money.

In one of such incidents, a teenager whose father had given an unspecified amount withdrawn from one of the affected banks to take home reportedly had his wrist chopped off by gunmen on motorcycles and the money carted away. Shortly after that ugly incident, another unidentified man was said to have also been attacked while coming out from another bank.

Unfortunately, the man could not leave to tell his story as he reportedly bled to death before help could come. Although, some arrests have been made in connection with the bank operations, there are indications that this resurgence of bank robbery may not be abated, except drastic proactive measures are applied by the police. This is because suspects arrested in connection with these bank robberies were discovered to have been recruited from the Niger Delta region.

They include oil bunkerers and pipeline vandals. However, residents of Ikorodu are not amused by the Navy’s inability to protect the pipelines at Majidun, which is close to the areas where some of these bank robberies took place. They described as baffling and ridiculous, the actions and inactions of the naval personnel.

“The robbers escaped thru the same water they are protecting and nothing was done from their quarters. I don’t want to talk about the one that happened not up to one month ago inside Ikorodu opposite my place. After their operation, they passed thru the front of Ijede Police station to access the water for their escape.

All the police were on a ‘mute’ mode,” said a neighbour, who does not want his name in print. Innocent Edeh, who lives in Omitoro, off ijede road, told Saturday Telegraph that the recent bank robberies have caused the neighbourhood to be at alert since the incidents. According to Edeh, the armed robbers came through the Tarzan ferry terminal at Ijede and raided the banks for hours unchallenged.

Because of the incidents, he said, shops around the area now close early to avoid cases of night theft. Another resident, Ronke Shola, echoed the sentiment of Edeh but quickly added that everyone around the Ikorodu environ has learnt to be very careful. “Once beaten, twice shy, they say.

No one would really want to be caught napping again. We are more security conscious since after the deadly robberies here,” said Shola. There has been heavy security presence in Ikorodu and its environs since these operations. According to police sources, it is part of efforts to liberate residents of the locality from hoodlums, pipeline vandals and other undesirable elements that have continued to make the ancient town the base of their nefarious activities.

Owoseni said the force is committed to ensuring that the hoodlums terrorising Ikorodu, disturbing the peace in the town and making life unbearable for residents, do not have a field day any longer. He promised 24-hour security surveillance in and around the neighbourhood even as he said that the activities of the criminals in the area had become uncontrollable but unacceptable.

“We will not allow criminal elements in the state and we want to say that the immunity for the robbers is over. The arbitrarily and uncontrollable rape, vandalism and harassment are also over,” the police boss said.

 Image Credit: Google Maps

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