|File photo (Image: PUNCH)|
It was a locate-and-arrest operation at a community in Ijebu Waterside area of the state. The SARS team had got a tip-off about the hideout of an armed robbery suspect.
But within moments of locating a house in which the target was holed up, what was supposed to be a routine arrest quickly became a gun duel.
Daniel told our correspondent, “I was one of the first sets of people to get into the house and before we could sight him, we heard gunshots. We thought we were there to arrest one person. There were two other members of his gang with him and they just started shooting at us.
“If I had not used my amulet that day, I would have died without doubt because I was not wearing a bullet-proof vest. A couple of bullets hit me but did not enter my body. A member of our team, who was hit by a bullet in the leg, died that day.”
Stories like this are common among operatives of Nigerian security agencies in a country where many policemen face armed robbers without protective gear.
According to Daniel, who did not share his real name for security reasons, the use of traditional protection is an open secret among security agents in the country, especially policemen.
In the absence of the needed kit like standard body armour, otherwise known as bullet-proof vests, protective helmets, and so on, in the country’s ill-equipped police force, many policemen like Daniel are toeing the traditional path of the warriors of old.
In February 2017, a police sergeant in Imo State, Chukwudi Iboko, who was on a bank protection duty in Owerri, the state capital, lost his life after a gang of armed robbers, attacked a customer at the bank. Despite his gallant effort to repel them, he sustained fatal injuries while his colleague lost an eye in the attack.
The incident stirred up a fresh national discourse at the time about how policemen in the country had been performing their duties with barely any protective gear. PUNCH Newspapers ended up raising more than $21,000 through public donations for the family of the victims.
‘I was sure I was shot, I saw the bullets’
Daniel is one of the policemen who do not want to end up like Sergeant Iboko. Our correspondent asked him if it was possible that any of the bullets just did not hit him as he thought and he said that he was certain it did.
“I saw the bullet after the exercise. Two of the suspects died in the shoot-out. The bullet left a mark in my right side where it hit me,” he said.
He explained that he got the amulet through a herbalist he was introduced to by a colleague, who was not a member of the squad.
Daniel said, “When I joined SARS, a colleague asked if I was ‘fortified’ because of the criminals I might encounter on the job. I told him I was not and he asked if I wanted to get an amulet to protect me against bullets.
“I told him I did not mind. He took me to the man and we actually did some rituals as requirements to seal the efficacy of the amulet. I cannot reveal those things because they are also things that can be used to render it powerless.”
The SARS operative explained that since he got the amulet, he had only been in a situation where he was shot at once; and that still, he had total belief in the efficacy of the amulet.
He said he never went for an operation without wearing it under his uniform. Even though, Daniel also wears bullet-proof vests each time he goes for exercises, his amulet remains his most trusted bullet-proof.
He told our correspondent, “The bullet-proof vest we wear only covers the chest. God is the only protection that covers all parts of my body. This amulet is my protection kit and I consider it as a gift from God.
“Some people make the mistake of thinking that because I am a Christian, it is wrong for me to use something like this to protect myself. This amulet may have been created by a herbalist, but the power in it is endowed by God.”
One other policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also admitted that he was “protected” the traditional way, saying he felt more confident anytime he went on an operation with his charm under his bullet-proof vest.
“Even my wife knows about the charm and we are both Christians. She does not complain because at the end of the day, she does not want me to lose my life facing armed robbers. There is nothing wrong with double protection,”he said.
A SARS operative in Delta State also told our correspondent that only “ strong men” were drafted into the unit, considering the kind of criminals they deal with in the state.
“How you protect yourself is your decision and it would be your fault if you are shot dead by all these kidnappers or robbers. We get to use bullet-proof vests when we go out. But in addition to that, we protect ourselves with charms,” he said.
‘I have protection against gunshots and ‘ordinary’ knives’
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the use of traditional “bullet-proofs” among members of Nigeria’s security forces is not limited to the policemen, especially SARS operatives, who face danger most of the time.
Among local vigilance group, especially the Oodua Peoples Congress, it seems to be a thing of pride to be protected.
A correspondent spoke with the Head of Operations, Vigilante Group of Nigeria’s Lagos Mainland Local Government branch, Mr. Ishola Agbodemu, who believed he might have lost his life without the protection of his gunshot-repelling charm.
“The use of traditional bullet-proof called ‘ayeta’ is very common in our circle because of the sort of dangers we face daily,” Agbodemu said.
Agbodemu, who prides himself on being from a lineage of powerful warriors, was shot in December 2010 by the police, during an enforcement of government-sanctioned eviction at the Makoko slum in Lagos, while working for a non-governmental organisation fighting for the protection for slum dwellers.
He vowed that he would never become such a victim again.
He said, “After the incident, I consulted with my father and told him that I needed protection against gunshots and he made me a charm, which would not allow bullets to penetrate my body. I was particular about protection against gunshots but he might have prepared the charm to include protection against knives and machetes (called ‘okigbe’) as well.
“It is only foolishness that would make people think these things no longer exist. Personally, I can attest to the fact that I have cheated death a few times because of it.
“Four years after I was shot by the police, some hoodlums I believe were assassins, came to my house in 2014 with guns and cutlasses. To my surprise, each time they pointed their gun at me and tried to shoot me, it failed to fire. They would shoot the gun in the air and it would respond but the moment they pointed it at me, it failed.
“They tried to hack me with a cutlass but it did not penetrate. They finally brought out a small knife called ‘Mak’eje’ (a knife charmed to be deadly) by Yoruba people. It was only when they stabbed me in the belly with this that I was hurt because the knife was not an ordinary one. If not for that charm that was still working in my body, I would be long dead.”
‘We survived spray of bullets’
A member of the Oodua Peoples Congress in Ado-Odo Ota area of Ogun State, Mr. Raheem Adetola, also shared his experience using a traditional bullet-proof.
He claimed that during the election of former Ogun State Governor, Gbenga Daniel, he and another member of the group were chosen to work with the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Adetola said that two of them were chosen after an Ifa oracle was consulted.
He said, “In our OPC branch, we like to do everything traditionally. So, we consulted Ifa to know who should go and a retired soldier, who is also a member and me, were chosen.
“During the assignment, a group sprayed our vehicle with bullets from the rear. The bullets shattered the windshield.
“I led the team in the vehicle that day. I told all of them never to look back. If anyone of them had looked back, it would have been instant death. Unfortunately, our vehicle was faulty and could not move fast. The shooting went on until we escaped. The protective charms we had at the time are still intact today.”
Local security men make similar claims
The coordinator of a vigilance group popularly called Onyabo, in Ikorodu North area of Lagos State, Mr. Mathew Adesanya, claimed that his men had survived gunshots on multiple occasions because he insisted that none of them must go on an operation or patrol without protection.
“People make the mistake of thinking that these things are ungodly. Without the power of God, it never works. This is why you would see some robbers who are killed despite all the charms they wear,” he said.
He also stressed that such charms are guided by taboos a user must adhere to. He even said some herbs could render such charms ineffective.
Adesanya said, “Having protection became necessary among local security men because we do not have the same apparatus that security agencies have.
“We do not encourage our men, who use traditional protection to dare anybody holding a gun. We tell them to avoid any threat of gun, be it a locally made pistol or AK47. But if such person comes after you, you can be sure of protection.
“I also tell my men to renew their protective charms regularly and we insist that none of them must go out without protection against gunshots, knives and cutlasses.
“There was a time a bank manager was robbed of his official car. He worked at Ajah and was trailed home. They shot him in the leg during the attack.
“My men, who heard the gunshot, went to the scene to investigate what was going on and as soon as the robbers saw them, they shot at them. But the bullets did not hit any of them. They had protection. Our boys picked up their own guns and killed the one who did the shooting and reported it to the police.
“It turned out that the gun he used was a service pistol. They learnt later that the robber was a serving assistant superintendent of police. The police took his body away and we never knew what happened to it.”
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