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3 Nov 2018

'Killings turning our community into a ghost town' - Lagos Island residents, traders cry out

Palpable fear has enveloped some streets on Lagos Island over what residents described as recurring violence between Onola boys and their Okepopo counterparts.

 Streets affected by the bloody clashes include Itafaji, Olushi, Massey, Asiko and Evans, which is said to be the major battleground.
From residents’ accounts, no fewer than 30 persons had reportedly lost their lives in the gang war which started about three years ago.

 The killings, Saturday PUNCH learnt, had forced many residents to relocate while business activities in the neighbourhood had nosedived with many shops under lock and key.

 In the recent attacks which happened last Saturday and Sunday, no fewer than five persons were reportedly killed.

 Our correspondent, who visited the troubled community on Wednesday, observed that the hustle and bustle the streets were reputed for had waned considerably.

 Armed policemen were stationed in front of a hospital, Massey Hospital, which links Okepopo Street.

 It was also observed that no fewer than 15 shops were under lock and key while traders around the volatile spots operated in fear.

  Some traders, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH on condition of anonymity for fear of being attacked, said the clashes had taken a toll on commercial activities in the area.

 A woman, who sells confectionery, said, “You can see some shops did not open. Everywhere is tense and people are moving around in fear because the fight can start anytime. That is what we have been living with for about three years now.

 “This place used to be very busy when there was peace. Sales have really dropped.  I used to close the shop around 11pm, but now, I can’t stay beyond 6pm. The clashes are more intense this year. Many people have been killed, including passersby who were caught up in the fights. I leant five persons died in the recent clash.”

 A middle-aged woman, who runs a beverage store, explained that the hoodlums cashed in on the violence to rob people and burgle shops.

 Our correspondent observed that the woman’s shop was half-open, with a few of her wares displayed outside.

 She said, “The community has been turned to something else. People can no longer walk around comfortably. There is no limit to the clashes. You may be attending to a customer and suddenly the fight would break out and people would be running helter-skelter.

 “In the last three months, the attacks were more serious. Evans Street is their major battle ground and often times, innocent persons were trapped in the clashes. Many people have been forced to shut their shops.

 “There was calm today (Wednesday) because the police were on the ground. They usually resume the fight as soon as the police leave. We are appealing to security agencies to find a lasting solution to this crisis. Many people don’t know why exactly they are fighting one another.”

 But our correspondent learnt from some residents that the remote cause of the crisis was a disagreement between two transport unions over the collection of ticket fees from commercial drivers in the community.

 A resident, who gave his name only as Yekini for security reasons, said many lives had been lost in the gang war, adding that residents were relocating from the area in droves.

 The elderly man said, “The hoodlums exploited the attacks to rob people of their phones and valuables. They also burgle shops. Residents are fed up. About two months ago, I was returning home from work when they started fighting again. Some policemen came to where I ran to and arrested me.

“Just some weeks ago, one man called Jema from Onola died. He was an elderly person. Some boys from Okepopo waylaid those who were taking his corpse to a burial ground and a fight broke out. Some people were killed that day too. If they stop the fight for two months, they will resume again. They usually shoot and attack one another with cutlasses.

 “There was a time one boy from Oluyole (near Okepopo Street) was caught up in the fight. He was hit by a stray bullet and he died. The government has a lot of work to do on the issue. People are packing out and the community is turning into a ghost town. At least, 30 persons have been killed since the crisis started three years ago.

 “The latest attacks started last Saturday, in the evening. Boys from Okepopo killed one tricycle rider from Onola. Onola boys mobilised and went to Okepopo on Sunday. They killed three persons there. Okepopo boys returned to Onola in the evening and killed one person. Afterwards, soldiers and policemen were stationed around the community.”

 Another resident, a landlord, who wanted to be identified only as Paul, said three of his tenants packed out within three months owing to the incessant clashes.

He urged the police to go after those fomenting trouble rather than arresting innocent people just to make money.

“The situation is so serious that many families have relocated. Children are exposed to dangers  You can see there are pockets of activities on the streets. This area was always bubbling with life.

 “If you want to rent an apartment on Evans Street now, for instance, you can get it without paying agreement and commission fees. Landlords are looking for tenants,” he added.

A leader in the community said residents remained indoors the moment it was dusk, urging the government to restore lasting peace to the neighbourhoods.

“The hoodlums were shooting on Sunday. It took a while before the police were able to repel them. At the end, I learnt three persons were killed. By 7pm, most residents are indoors,” he added.

 A tenant on Olushi Street, who preferred to be identified as Gbolahan, said he had stopped going for Subhi (5.30pm prayer) since a man was killed in an early morning clash between the gangs.

 The Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Chike Oti, who said the command had a record of one fatality in the latest clash, stated that detectives had been drafted to the community to fish out the hoodlums.

 He explained that police were working with the community leaders, adding that over 20 persons had been arrested in the wake of the violence.

On cases of indiscriminate arrests, Oti said, “We are not saying that when we carry out a raid, it won’t affect one or two innocent persons, but we have our mechanism of identifying such people. By the time we are able to establish that you have nothing to do with the crime, we will let you go. We have been raiding the entire area and our raid is intelligence-driven.”

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