Oke-Afa… Living with the revolt of Okada riders

• Fear hangs in the air after four hours of police/motorcycle operators gun battle
By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
A week after residents of Oke-Afa, in Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) survived a violent riot by commercial motorcycle riders, believed to be Chadians, resulting in hours of gun battle between policemen and Okada riders, residents of the area have appealed to Governor Babatunde Fashola and the Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko, to rescue them from the menace of Okada riders and street traders at the January 27 Bridge linking Ejigbo to Ajao Estate.
In a statement jointly signed by several Community Development Associations (CDAs), which included Ilamose CDA, Peace Estate CDA, January 27 CDA, Ilamose Canal CDA and Oriade CDA, they are calling on the state government to intervene in regulating the activities of the commercial motorcycle riders in the area.
“We appreciate and understand that some commercial motorcycle operators are genuine in their task to be responsible people, but we want to be able to identify them and also limit their numbers for ease of operation and identification. We also want to see visible government intervention through the ministry of transportation in the operation of these operators who have converted our streets, drive ways, properties into bus parks, okada parks, keke parks and constituting serious nuisance value and security risk to our lives and properties,” the statement said.

Okada operators riding against traffic on January 27 (Canoe) Bridge,

Okada operators riding against traffic on January 27 (Canoe) Bridge

Making the observation that about 95 per cent of the commercial motorcycles operating in Oke-Afa and Ajao Estate do not have vehicle licence and can be easy tool for criminal activities, the CDAs want action to be taken on the illegal street market activities, which is causing traffic gridlock on the newly commissioned bridge.
“Also, there is a clear threat to the upsurge of the canal, which will ultimately threaten properties along the canal through the indiscriminate dumping of waste by the traders. We will appreciate if a team of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) taskforce can carry out a holistic removal of these actors. We suspect the shanti houses at the bank of the canal by Aarester school harbour men of the underworld and their weapons. A visit to this place will reveal serious criminal activities.”
Apart from the menace of the Okada riders, so many businesses thrive on the bridge daily as petty traders see the location as a hub due to the influx of human and vehicular traffic. Traders display their wares on the bridge and line the road every evening, which include pepper, bread, fairly used clothes, shoes, and rechargeable lights to the admiration of passersby.

The house that came under siege

The house that came under siege

Seventy-two hours after Tuesday, August 12 incident, there were tell-tale signs of a community under siege. The worst hit was a single-storey building at No. 33, Kudirat Adenekan Street, where the Okada riders had converted into a park. The violent riot against the police had began over claims of extortion within and around Kudirat Adenekan, January 27 bridge, Chivita Avenue all in Ejigbo and Isolo LCDAs.
According to an eyewitness, many of the rioters were not Hausas because he is fluent in the language but what he heard the okada riders, in their hundreds saying, were not Hausa language. “They must be Chadians who took to the streets. They, in a violent rage, resisted the police and destroyed their vehicles. They police called for reinforcement and that was when the shooting spree began with the arrival of two police vans,” he said.
After more than three hours, the combined police team was resisted and they retreated from the scene. Thereafter, the band of okada riders took over the whole stretch of the road in exuberant jubilation at repelling the policemen when another incident lead to another shooting splurge.

One of the cars destroyed by the protesters

One of the cars destroyed by the protesters

While the hostility lasted, the road was shutdown by the protesters, preventing motorists from plying it at the Ejigbo and Ajao Estate end. Incidentally, a resident, Uche Ikeobi, living in the area, dared the odds and ventured out. Unfortunately, he ran into a mob that was still chanting victory songs and knocked down one of them.
Uche was immediately pounced on by the mob, unleashing mayhem on the young man, who broke away through the help of onlookers, but not without serious life-threatening injuries. He was pursued and the rioters attacked the property where the man escaped into. The young man in turn brought out his father’s dane gun and started shooting at his pursuers, which left three people seriously injured.
This incensed the mob, who began to destroy everything in sight, including three vehicles damaged beyond recognition. They broke loose the main entrance, took down doors leading to different apartments in search of the driver, looted valuables and threatened to kill the young man until the eventual arrival of Ejigbo DPO and some of his men, who whisked the man away.
While they were leaving, the mob continued to throw stones and other dangerous object towards the vehicle, leaving one policeman seriously injured. Not satisfied, the mob returned to the property and continued with their threat to burn down the house when members of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) intervened to broker a truce and calm frayed nerves.

A daily rowdy evening at the Ejigbo-Ajao Estate link bridge

A daily rowdy evening at the Ejigbo-Ajao Estate link bridge

Since Tuesday’s incident, it has been brazen acts of impunity displayed by the operators of motorcycles and tricycles. With the gloves off, residents have since been living with fear while such tendencies such as parking on the bridge and trading on the roads leading to the bridge have gone unchallenged.
An occupant of the house that was under siege, Mr. John Odi, said he has never witnessed such barefaced resistance to armed men in his life. “I have always believed a man’s resistance is weakened when he is confronting a gun but what I saw last week is difficult to explain.
“Some youths, majorly from the north, were raising all manner of weapons, planks, iron, stones and whatever they could lay their hands on to challenge policemen who were firing gunshots to discard the protesters. But the more they were firing, the more the boys were getting agitated. I went back in to avoid being hit by a stray bullet when five minutes later I saw my landlord’s son throwing stones back into the crowd.

Aja2 “We had to lock ourselves inside the toilet and we heard gunshots for more than two hours. They entered the compound and started smashing everything in sight. The cars parked in the compound, including mine were completely destroyed.”
Another occupant told The Guardian that his children are yet to recover from the trauma of the incident. “My children have been extremely traumatised. Each day, they beg me to move them out of the house and since last week, I have been taking them with me to the office, as they can’t stand being left at home. I am seriously considering relocating from this area,” he said.

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Compensation calls reecho at 12th bomb blast memorial

By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor

At long last, victims of the January 27, 2002 bomb blast have not died in vain, particularly for the hundreds that drowned at the Oke-Afa canal while trying to escape the thunderous sounds of explosive device that horrific Sunday.

   First, they got a befitting well-managed cenotaph built at the mass burial site, then the street adjoining the canal was renamed January 27.

   Every year since the catastrophic disaster, markets around the Jakande/Oke-Afa axis are shut on January 27, while families of victims congregate to pray for the repose of the souls of their lost ones.

   During the 10th anniversary in 2012, Lagos State government responded to calls for compensation and handed cheques of N250,000 each to 70 surviving victims.

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Kudirat Adenekan Street, Oke-Afa, Ejigbo… road leading to the newly constructed January 27 Bridge, linking Ejigbo to Ajao Estate.

Also, a healthcare centre built by Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), which initially bore the name of the governor, Babatunde Fashola, was renamed January 27 Health Centre when the governor commissioned the facility for use.  

   The ceiling came at the 12th memorial on Monday when a much-needed link bridge connecting Ejigbo to Ajao Estate was named January 27. It was a fitting acknowledgement of the sacrifices of those who perished at the spot, as it would keep their memories in perpetuity.

   Monday’s commissioning of the January 27 two bridges and four roads, however, did not put an end to clamour for compensation by some of the victim’s relatives.

   Nurudeen Oyegbemi, who led the Ikeja bomb blast victims to the venue of the commissioning, said the state government left out 84 people when it handed out cheques during the 10th memorial.

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Some relatives of the bomb blast victims awaiting the arrival of Governor Fashola to stage a protest over compensation issues

   “The state government has the full list of victims numbering 154, which was published in the national dailies when the incident happened. We did not just assemble ourselves to defraud government. It would be unfair to leave out 84 of us. What the governor has done is heart warming, but the exercise should be completed,” he said.

   Oyegbemi took a swipe at the Federal Government for abandoning their responsibility to families of victims 12 years after. “It’s sad that the Federal Government, who should take all responsibility for the disaster, has abandoned us to our fate.

   “In 2003, they set up a committee, headed by then Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Ufot Ekatte, to look into our matter. We were attended to at the former House of Assembly complex at Race Course, Onikan. Since then, we have not heard from them. Several letters have been written to concerned ministries in Abuja with no response.”

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Embattled traditional ruler of Ejigbo, the Ojon of Ejigbo, Oba Moruf Ojoola (left), making his first public appearance since the story of the three women tortured for stealing pepper at Ejigbo Central Market broke. With him is the Osolo of Isolo, Oba Kabiru Agbabiaka at the commissioning of the January 27 Bridge

In his address at the commissioning to traditional rulers, community leaders, politicians, party stalwarts, residents and corporate citizens, which included the Ojon of Ejigbo, Oba Moruf Ojoola; Osolo of Isolo, Oba Kabiru Agbabiaka; and managing director of Chi Limited, Roy Deepanjan, Fashola said he was willing to bring closure to the issue of compensation for victims’ families.

   “I still hear that there are issues of compensation. As willing as we have been to pay compensation to survivals of victims, there is no amount of compensation we pay that can bring back the lives we have lost. You must assist us in a way that helps us to verify who the real beneficiaries of compensation are and we cannot have compensation every anniversary.

   “I am ready to pay compensation to anybody we may have missed out, but you must give us a very clear basis for verification so we can put a closure to it.”

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Governor Fashola giving his address before the commissioning

The governor berated the Federal Government for failing in its duties and causing the avoidable death 12 years ago. “It was because a national government led by the PDP failed to do its duties. It was their responsibility to manage bombs and the military.

   “Since then, they have pretended as if nothing was wrong. But the Lagos State government responded by rebuilding the schools and hospital damaged in Ikeja cantonment. That is not our responsibility but the people who suffer and live in this community are our responsibility.

   “In the same vein, my predecessor promised that a bridge would be built to link the two communities; I have come here to fulfill that promise. We not only now have a bridge; we have two bridges and four roads.

   “The reason you have two bridges is because there were houses on the alignment and instead of demolishing the houses to build one bridge, we decided to redesign the project to preserve your properties. It cost a little more but it shows the character of our government that unless there is no other way, we will not touch your houses.”

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Mass burial site… Final resting place of the bomb blast victims

Fashola used the occasion to address the issue of lingering Iyana Ejigbo road repair. “Our contractors are on that road. The problem, which the Commissioner of Works has briefed me, is finding a major drainage solution that if we do not solve and we attempt to do the road, it would not last. Be patient with us,” he pleaded.

Agonizing wait for commissioning of Ejigbo-Ajao Estate Link Bridge

By Tope Templer Olaiya

AFTER much agitations spanning decades, the long-suffering residents of Isolo, Ejigbo, Isheri-Osun, Ikotun, Abaranje, Igando, Idimu, Ijegun and beyond heaved a sigh of relief when the Lagos State government awarded contract for the Ajao Estate-Oke Afa link bridge to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) in November 2011.

   The Oke-Afa community benefitted from the 2002 Ikeja cantonment bomb-blast disaster with construction of the bridge to pass over the Oke-Afa canal, even though it took the government nine years the accomplished that after the promise was first made in 2003 on the occasion of the first anniversary of the tragedy.

   With few months short of the stipulated period of 18 months, the 2.1km dual-lane road, which starts from the NNPC depot at Ejigbo and ends at Chivita Avenue, Ajao Estate, was completed two months ago with modern-day road furniture, which included covered drainage on both lanes, a walkway for pedestrians, road barrier and streetlights.

   On completion of the project in September this year, the road was unofficially opened for public use even as the contractor waited on the state for the project handover and commissioning. 

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However, though the road was only partially opened for test running, it was praise galore for the governor for shunning resistance from some quarters to make the project a reality.

   Residents felt reduced pressure on the agonizing Isolo-Ejigbo-Ikotun traffic, as commuting from that axis of the state to mainland Lagos was smooth sailing.

   But at the peak of the residents’ joy an incident spoilt the fun.

   An accident on the yet-to-be-commissioned road, which broke the leg of a pedestrian, forced CCECC to abruptly shut the bridge and allowed only pedestrians to use the facility, forcing road users to endure the excruciating traffic on the busy Isolo-Jakande Estate road.

   After the incident, there were some readjustment to the project design as Oke-Afa residents and a group, Nigerians Unite For Road Safety (NUFORSA) pushed for more user-friendly road infrastructure like pedestrian crossing and speed bumps to protect the anticipated high pedestrian and vehicular traffic on the densely populated community.

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Faced with a new challenge, efforts are on to make sure critical road furniture, particularly road signage, are completed before the facility is ready for use. Some roads have already been designated one-way route and the directional signs are expected to make traffic diversion in Ajao Estate easier for motorists.

   The project supervisor, the state Ministry of Works and Infrastructure, explaining why the commissioning of the link bridge is delayed, told The Guardian that after the accident, there were agitations by the communities – Ajao Estate and Oke-Afa – on the need for safety of road users. This resulted in the postponement of the commissioning to ensure all safety facilities are in place.

   “To avoid the situation that occurred at the Lekki-Epe expressway recently, where a truck killed some pupils and residents in the area requested for a pedestrian bridge, we decided to redesign the Ajao Estate-Ejigbo link bridge by first sending a memo to the Ministry of Transport to inspect the road and come up with possible recommendation,” an official of the ministry said.

   According to him, the project redesigning would be completed before the end of November or if there is delay, it would be first week of December,” he pledged.