In October, the world watched in bewilderment as young men and women took to the streets in cities and towns across Nigeria, to demand the disbandment of the country’s controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and an end to police high-handedness.
Several weeks after the bloody night of October 20, when soldiers in a convoy of seven trucks fired directly at a group of protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, the dust raised by the controversial incident is yet to settle down.
Following the reported arrest of 720 suspected hoodlums by the police, and the demolition of shanties by Lagos State government officials at Abraham Adesanya area of Ajah, Ripples Nigeria Correspondent, Uwana Sunday, and Cameraman, Tosin Oladimeji, visited the area to investigate the carnage as victims claimed victimization. Their findings will shock you.
In search of ‘cattle village’
It was a bright Tuesday morning as we headed for Lekki. Cruising past the tollgate, the sight of the plaza and some of its gigantic billboards brought back sad memories of the October 20 shooting of #EndSARS protesters in the area.
But the allure of Lekki, with it’s beautiful skyline, was unmistakable. I was jerked out of my reverie as we arrived Ajah, another emerging residential hub full of fresh properties under construction.
Disembarking from the commercial bus under the bridge at Ajah, we were hit by a legion of men, women and youths in struggle to eke out a living. Some hurried to connect commercial buses whose conductors beckoned on passengers in loud voices.
Confused at the exact location of the demolition exercise, we randomly inquired from settlers around the bridge if they knew of the arrest of hoodlums and the burning of some shanties by police in the area. Most respondents returned no as an answer.
After trekking a few kilometres away from Ajah bridge, and asking almost everyone we saw on the road about our desired destination, we were finally provided a guide by a petty trader roasting plantain who called our attention to a popular cattle market.
As we ventured towards the destroyed shanties, we were shocked at the extent to which we had trekked as the popular Ajah bridge was no more in sight.
‘We’ve stayed here for the past seven years’
The Ripples Nigeria team was received by the Seriki of the Cattle Village, Alhaji Ibrahim Goma, who painted the picture of a man that had been looking for an opportunity to unburden his heart on the incident of about two months ago. He at once took us round to see, first hand, the wreckage of the community.
The foul smell of sawdust, animal dung, and burnt woods enveloped the air as we moved round the once boisterous community. The ruins were evident enough to paint the extent of devastation in the community.
As children ran around in the debris and through the rubbles, feelings of frustration, and disappointment rent the air.
As we inspected the relics, we wondered what exactly the people did to get such punishment under a democratic government. After the incident many residents reportedly fled the shanty, while others who have no place to go still lurk around.
Goma told us the history of the community.
“We have stayed here for the past seven years and we have never been told to leave,” the Seriki said in a sad shaky voice.
‘DPO invited me to bring some boys’
“During the protests, the DPO of Ajiwe police station invited me to bring some boys to help them protect their station from #ENDSARS protesters.
“I told the DPO that my superior asked me not to release any boys from my area because it may lead to a tribal clash between the Yorubas and Hausas.
“After about 20 days to one month, I was invited to the station by the DPO of Ajah police station.
“He told me he was angry with me for not responding to his request and therefore I will be dealt with.”
Goma paused a while, heaved a sigh and continued.
“I was later called back to buy torch lights, about four big sizes.
“A few hours later the policemen returned to the community and arrested six persons.
“Very early the next morning on Sunday, at about 5:30 a.m, we were still in bed when the police came.”
“Two people were shot!
“The only causalities recorded handy with evidence are two persons with two bullet wounds.
“If you go to the river behind this community, there are several dead bodies.”
“They made an allegation against us, that we have guns with us but when they checked, not even a pin was found! Goma recounted.
He also spoke on the level of damage incurred and expressed his concern over residents arrested by the police.
“Property of over N200million was burnt down and over 200 people have been arrested with no bail,” Goma alleged.
Not long after our chat with the Seriki, we were led by the Mai Aunwa, Alhaji Abbas Gambo, on an elaborate tour of the community.
As we walked through rubbles, Gambo didn’t fail to tell us the story of every burnt house and shop we saw.
The Mai Aunwa said: “We all come from various parts of Nigeria. Although a majority of the people here were affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, they came to Lagos to find solace and find their daily bread.
“We are not criminals.
“The Ajah divisional police command invited the Seriki, Alhaji Ibrahim Goma, and asked him to send some boys to secure the police station.
“People without weapon can’t secure the police station, how can we do that without guns?
“We are not in support of the police neither with the protesters.
“We were all at home during the EndSARS protest!
“The police actually had us in my mind because of the disruption of their police station by hoodlums and we are not aware of those involved.”
At the sight of the camera, we were suddenly surrounded by residents who concurred to the statements made by Gambo, nodding in affirmation with little whispers. From their facial expressions, one could tell they couldn’t wait to tell their side of the story.
Few men walked up to us, and one claimed to be from Borno, and a victim of the demolitions, narrated his experience.
“On Sunday morning, I saw the Nigerian policemen and they started shooting at us.
“I’m from Borno State and we have so many other people from different states.
“People trying to save themselves ran from Boko Haram insurgents and kidnapping from various parts of the north to stay here with their families for more than five to six years.
“The police came, started pursuing and shooting at people then burnt the place.
“We want to know if we are citizens of this country or not.
“We want to know!” he spoke out bitterly
“Looking at the environment, the police felt the persons responsible for the burning of their station must be from here.
“And that’s wrong!,” another resident said.
Two other residents who could not hide their pains were Esther Balogun and Mr. Oluwashina Korode.
Speaking, Mrs. Balogun claimed her birthday was on the same day the attack occurred and that she is left with an ill memory of the incident.
“This burnt house belongs to Barr. Olayeyimi Falewumi, who is my uncle. This is not an illegal environment.
“We have been here for years, and the people here are not hoodlums. If they are, I can’t stay with them for a day!
“I’m sure the police operatives are from Ajiwe the nearby police station.
“They said we have guns, but they never took the chance to search. They should have searched, search people by sending them out of their houses and not killing them in their homes.
“These people live in kpako (wooden) houses , this is what they could afford. They can’t afford to live in blockhouses like other people. They are managing their lives.
“They burnt them inside their houses, burnt their businesses, and burnt my business. My hard-earned money what I have suffered and laboured for years all gone.”
Our tour guide, accompanied by other residents, took us to the other side of the shanty where some people allegedly lost their lives while other sustained injuries in a bid to escape police bullets.
There, we spoke to three residents and one of them was Abdullahi Gabiru.
Gabiru, who spoke in Hausa, said:
“What happened here at General Paint is not really nice at all.
“They came and put fire in our properties.
“I’m calling on the government, this issue is not a funny one, many people here are selling little market to survive with as low as N200 income. “These people are not hoodlums as claimed by the police.
“We are all trying to make our daily bread and many of us were killed by the police, so many dead bodies are at the swamp behind me. “Some died from police bullets and others died while trying to escape. The police even took some persons away.
“Myself, Abdullahi Gabiru, is a partaker of the pain, I lost my tooth as a result of police brutality. Here it is, I’m holding it in my hands!”
He brought out the tooth from his pocket and raised it to the camera.
Wisdom Isaac was another victim who escaped death by the whiskers. Sharing his ordeal, he narrated how he swam through the canal in order to escape from the police.
He said: “I ran through this canal to rescue myself, I got to Olokunla.
“They caught many of us, many were shot!”
“The police has turned me into a beggar. What I invested here, I lost all and I’m stranded.”
Another lady told Ripples Nigeria how a close relative was shot in the eyes by the police.
“They shot my brother’s girlfriend in her eyes and she is currently at the general hospital.
“The policemen said they were looking for hoodlums that destroyed their police station.
“There was no official notice. No information, just gunshots.
Abana Adams, the secretary of the community called for succour, saying:
“We need the government to look into our matter and fish out who killed our people.
“We also need the human rights agencies to help us, we didn’t do anything. We were not arrested because we fought back, we were not given the notice to leave the place, they just came killed and burnt us because they feel we don’t have anyone to fight for our rights.
“We are also Nigerians and they are not supposed to treat us this way.”
Police keep mum
Attempts to get the Nigerian police react to claims made by the Hausa community in Ajah cattle village met a brick wall.
At the Ajiwe police station, the Ripples Nigeria team had, after several efforts, met with the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) who declined comments and referred our correspondents to the Lagos State police command headquarters in Ikeja.
The conspiracy of silence persists on the claims made by Hausa community in Ajah.
On November 15, 2020, the Lagos Police Command had, through its spokesman, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said in a statement that its men carried out the ‘raids’.
“The command today, Sunday 15th November 2020, at about 7am, carried out raids simultaneously on identified black spots, reasonably believed to be harbouring criminals and hoodlums, across the fourteen (14) Area Commands in Lagos State.
“In the swift operations, police operatives of the command arrested seven hundred and twenty (720) suspects with incriminating items including locally-made guns and life cartridges, charms, weed suspected to be Indian hemp, substances suspected to be cocaine, and some items suspected to have been looted from various shopping outlets within the state during the recent Endsars violence,” the police said.
Ruins of Ajah cattle village
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