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INSECURITY: Tension As The Mystery Behind Armed Northern Vigilante Group In Lagos Is Unveiled

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SUBAIR MOHAMMED and LEKAN OLABULO tried to connect the links in the operation of a controversial vigilante group, causing a stir in the state.

AS controversy deepens over the viral picture of an alleged member of an arm-bearing vigilante group in Lagos State, the police command has reportedly issued a search-and-arrest warrant on the group.

A few weeks ago, the state was set on the edge when a social media user who claimed to be a resident of Lekki posted on Twitter the photograph of a man wearing a blue sleeveless vest with ‘Gallant Vigilante, Makoko Division’ boldly written on the back of the vest. He raised the alarm on not just the alleged increasing number of armed Northern youths on the Island of the state but also their assemblage in places that should have been considered sacred to them.

The curious resident said: “I took a bike from Tantalisers to Elf Estate. When we got to Oba Adenekan Estate, there were five Northern guys with the rider making it six of them. They spoke Hausa and my okada rider opened a plastic bag and brought out a vest with the inscription ‘Gallant Vigilante, Makoko Division’ and wore it. The rider dropped me off and then turned back. However, I took another bike and traced them to an uncompleted building by Zenith Bank around Elf Estate. The gateman and the first bike rider were conversing and that was when I took the picture posted above (referring to a picture of an okda rider in a security man’s vest). It seemed he showed the gateman an ID and he was let in. There were at least 50 people in that building. Why would someone wear a Makoko Vigilante shirt and be in Lekki? The first rider had a tear gas canister and a knife on him and another okada rider had a pistol. Makoko is far from Lekki and they are all in Lekki holding a meeting. That means that they are throughout Lagos. Let us all be careful.”

The viral photo obviously caught the attention of the state police command which has now empowered the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in the state, led by Mr Kehinde Adetayo and Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN), to fish them out and arrest the members wherever they are found.

In an interview with Saturday Tribune, Adetayo said: “I have lived in Makoko for many years. There was a time when cases of theft and armed robbery were rampant in the community. As concerned residents, we felt we could not rest and do nothing. So, we decided to gather ourselves together, old and young, to form a vigilance group that watches over the community throughout the night. This has been the situation for many years. It is our way of contributing to the security of lives and property at the grassroots. I was surprised when we were invited by the police asking if we knew anything about the ‘Gallant Vigilante, Makoko Division’. Until the picture surfaced on the social media, I had never heard of them. The only security formation we have in Makoko, apart from the police, is the Vigilante Group of Nigeria and their uniform is black and brown, contrary to the blue jacket worn by the person in the picture in circulation. We have started combing the nooks and crannies of the community in search of them because we have been given an instruction by the police to arrest them if we come in contact with such a group.”

Makoko, a floating city of crime?

Beneath Africa’s second longest bridge, Third Mainland Bridge, lies Makoko coastal community in the Yaba Local Council Development Area. The community largely populated by the Egun from the Republic of Benin and Badagry has over 250,000 inhabitants whose major occupations are dredging, wood work and fishing. Dwellers of this world’s largest floating city not only live on the lagoon, they also depend on the water for their survival. The community is now home to people from a variety of riverine communities where multiple languages like Yoruba, English and Egun are spoken. Living in the fishing community, according to Sola Akintola, a resident and security guard in one of the private estates located on Makoko land, comes with lots of challenges. Residents, he said, contend with seasonal flooding, bad roads, poor drainage system, cultism and insecurity, primarily caused by supremacy battles among rival street gangs.

Akintola said: “I have not seen or heard about any armed robbery incident in my almost a decade of living and working in Makoko community. I will give it to the vigilance group and frequent patrol of the community by the police. They leave nothing to chance when it comes to responding to security issues in the community. But rivalry and street fighting are common among cult groups and street gangs. You see this often on various streets. Makoko is mainly populated by the Egun and Yoruba natives. They mix freely together and perform intermarriage. You can hardly differentiate between the two. Makoko is a riverine community and this explains why many of the people here are into fishing, which they smoke and sell. Their lifestyle is heavily influenced by their low level of education. They are uneducated and uninformed, which is a reason teenage pregnancy is an issue among them. It is not a thing of shame for a 13-year-old girl to be pregnant in Makoko, especially among the Egun. This is a common sight. They are influenced by the street and the unguided lifestyle of area boys. Makoko is a lowly community where people of little means live and do anything to survive. It is a relatively peaceful community but for occasional fights among gangs.”

An annual report on crime and safety in states across the country for the year 2020 was recently presented by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the United States Consulate General in Lagos. According to the report put forward by the advisory council, the mainland portion of Lagos, which includes Makoko, has experienced periodic outbreaks of violence resulting from clashes among localised street gangs known as area boys. The report further stated that armed robbers invaded waterfront compounds and businesses by boat, using waterways as a means of escape. Corroborating the claims in the report, Makoko residents claimed that some young men believed to be natives of Egun were recently sighted in security vests patrolling the waterfront in the community.

 

vigilance

We’ll hunt down the illegal vigilance group –Vigilante Group of NigeriaReacting to the viral picture of the arm-bearing Northern youth in Makoko vigilante vest, the commander of Area F of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) in Yaba Local Council Development Area, Mr Israel Omisore, said his command had no connection with the group sighted in Lekki. He said he had no knowledge of the existence of any security outfit called Gallant Vigilante or its division in Makoko.

The VGN also outsources its personnel as guards to homes across the state.

Omisore told Saturday Tribune in an interview that the official uniform of personnel of the VGN throughout the country is black vest on brown trouser. This, he said, differentiates his group from the arm-bearing Gallant Vigilante group in the viral picture on the social media whose uniform is sleeveless blue jacket. He explained the steps being taken by his group and the police to unravel the identities of the people behind the armed group.

He said: “I got a call from the State Criminal Investigation Department on the instruction of the Area C commander inviting all security formations in the LCDA to a meeting. At the commander’s office, we were shown the video of a man wearing a blue sleeveless vest with ‘Gallant Vigilante, Makoko Division’ boldly written on the back of the vest. He wanted to know if we had any information about the security outfit. We don’t have any link with the group. I was shocked to see Makoko written on the uniform. Why did they choose Makoko of all locations? I was worried about the security implication of such impersonation. What if they had committed grievous crimes using Makoko? If not for the high level of professionalism and understanding displayed by the police and for our integrity and the recognition of our efforts in community policing, we would have been in trouble. Rather, we were instructed to be on the lookout for them in our community.

“Permit me to state that there is only one Vigilante Group of Nigeria throughout the country and we have commands in states and local government areas, not divisions. We don’t have any division in Vigilante Group of Nigeria. Our operational and organisational structures are divided into commands. There is nothing like Gallant Vigilante, Makoko Division because Makoko and other districts fall under my purview. The Lagos State command is supervised by my boss, Commander Olusola Olawale, who doubles as commander for South-West operations. We also have commanders controlling the operations of the group at the local government level, while I am the commander of Area F, Yaba LCDA command. My command covers Itire-Ikate, Surulere, Coker, Aguda, Lagos Mainland Local Government and Yaba LCDA under which we have Makoko community.

“I have been living in Makoko since 1964 and I make bold to tell you that as far as community policing and securiting lives and property are concerned, we are adequately on the ground complementing the efforts of the police. It is therefore worrisome to see some impostors flying the Makoko flag without having any connection whatsoever with us. I am stating unequivocally that we don’t have any connection with the Gallant Vigilante as they called themselves and they are not part of our security team. Perhaps there is a connection between the Gallant Vigilante and some men that were sighted at the Makoko waterfront in 2015. They were non-Nigerians. They were Egun, to be precise. When we engaged them, they said they came all the way from Badore, Ajah to secure the lagoon in Makoko. ‘On whose invitation?’ I asked. How can you have your office in Ajah and you are claiming to be securing residents in Makoko without the knowledge of security handlers in the community. I felt something was not right and that they were up to some mischief. For these unknown faces to be patrolling the lagoon in the middle of the night, they must be up to something. I wrote letters to the Lagos State Commissioner of Police and the Department of State Security Service at that time. The letters were dated November 30, 2015 and they were intended to inform them about the activities of these illegal security guards on the lagoon before they would register their evil presence.

“Months after the letters, I got no response from the police and the DSS and we continued with our operations complementing efforts of the Lagos State police command to secure our community. Some of them claimed that they resided in the wooden shacks on the lagoon. Even at that, does this give them the right to establish a security outfit and name it as a division of the community? We know ourselves in the community. We can easily identify any strange faces. So, there is no way anybody will claim to be a part of us without our knowing. The Vigilante Group of Nigeria has no division. The Gallant Vigilante, Makoko Division, as written on the vest that surfaced on the internet, is not the same as the Vigilante Group of Nigeria and therefore they are not known to us. The difference between us is very glaring. We don’t bear arms but Gallant Vigilante does. We rely mainly on our knowledge of the community where we reside and operate to provide useful information to the police to curb crime and protect lives and property of residents. And we have had impacts on our community and the homes we are contracted to secure. I am therefore appealing to the Federal Government and the National Assembly to give the Vigilante Group of Nigeria the necessary legislative backing to enhance our operations of securing the grassroots.”

Our women daily smoke fish till 4am –Makoko chief

Makoko community comprises seven villages spread across land and water. These villages include Oko Agbon 1, Oko Agbon 2, Oko Agbon 3, Yanshiwhe, Sogunro, Migbewhe and Appollo. All these villages except the last three are floating communities.

A community head in Mighewhe Makoko, High Chief Stephen Ajuwhe, while reacting to the crime wave in Makoko waterfront, said: “My territory is far from Makoko waterfront. My territory is very safe and secure. We haven’t heard of any invasion or armed robbery attack in many years. Even the allegation that some illegal security operations were going on at the waterfront, for me, I don’t think it is true because our women are at the waterfront every night smoking fish. They are there every day util around 4.00 a.m. daily. I would say if there is any invasion or security breach, they should know and report to me. Makoko is peaceful but that is not to say that we are not lacking. We need the Lagos State government to improve on infrastructure in the community. We want good road, good drainage system and improved healthcare and security.”

Emerging flashpoints: Concerns over influx of northern youths, Malians and others into Lagos

Findings by Saturday Tribune showed that residents are becoming apprehensive of the activities of Northern youths in the state, including aliens among them from Togo, Benin Republic and Mali who are operating as commercial motorcyclists despite the ban by the state government. More worrisome for the residents is the fact that many of the commercial motorcyclists bear arms and are often very aggressive on the road. These motorcyclists are accused of using the arms and other dangerous weapons to attack law-abiding people who cross their paths. There have been reports of violent attacks and extrajudicial killings involving these men in the Ikorodu area of the state. Saturday Tribune gathered that in recent times, residents of Lekki, Ajah, Alaba Rago, Badagry, Fagba, Ikorodu, Ayobo Ipaja and Agege have expressed concerns on the perceived infiltration of their communities by suspicious youths from the North and neighbouring countries.

George, a resident of Badagry, said the activities of these youths should be checked by the government through the necessary security agencies so as to prevent breakdown of law and order and bloodletting. He described the way the Northern youths now “rule” the Lagos-Badagry Expressway as “alarming.”

The resident said: “There are hundreds of them around Alaba Rago International Market. Some of them are traders, while others are commercial motorcyclists. They are always aggressive. Every Sunday, they go in their hundreds to the Suntan Beach. Woe betide anyone that has a disagreement with them on the road. Males and females, with three or four persons on a motorbike, they go in convoys every Sunday to the beach. They go around 3.00 p.m. and return around 7.00 p.m. They take over the road completely during that period. Nobody dare have any issue with them. Sometime in June, they had an issue with some soldiers in front of the Ibereko Army Barracks and they were dealt with. One of their bikes brushed a soldier’s vehicle and they were about to do their usual braggadocio when they were taught a lesson by the soldiers. For some weeks, we didn’t see them again but they are back. In the last four or five weeks, they have been growing larger and larger in number. There was a Sunday I counted over 300 of them. Some of them had knives. Their number is enough to destabilise any security setting. These people rule the road whenever they go out. The state government and the security agencies must check them before it is too late.”

A youth leader in the Makoko area of the state, Abolaji Omoaje, also denied that the vest which was found on the Lekki okada rider emanated from the slum community.

They consume hard drugs openly in Gowon Estate –Activist

Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Okechukwu Nwanguma, spoke on the security concerns and called for a more proactive response.

Nwanguma said: “The way to treat such unconfirmed reports about armed youths from the North infiltrating some parts of Lagos is to provide the information to appropriate security agencies for intelligence gathering. But I have also heard people expressing concerns about the influx of youths from the North and neighbouring countries like Niger and Mail and they are mainly involved in okada riding. Many of them sell drugs like Tramadol. In a place like Gowon Estate, they have a meeting point at 31 Road with some openly selling and consuming hard drugs. They are occasionally raided by the police and then released to return to the same point. There have been reports of youths being transported in groups from the North to Lagos and other parts of the South. It is truly a cause for concern and the sponsors of such mass movement of Northern youths and the motive for such migration need to be effectively investigated by security agencies.”

Police speak

When contacted for his reaction, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Mr Muyiwa Adejobi, said: “I am going to call the DPO of the area to inquire about the case you have just mentioned. You know I am new as the spokesperson for the command. I cannot just react to it without having been briefed. I am going to find out what the issue is from the Divisional Police Officer in Makoko and get back to you.”

‘We are tackling Makoko security issues’

Chairman of the Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LNSC), Mr Israel Ajao, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, told Saturday Tribune that his men were tackling the security challenges in Makoko and its environs through foot patrols, motorised patrols and intelligence gathering. He however denied having prior knowledge of the Gallant Vigilante group.

He said: “I am not aware of the Gallant Vigilante group but residents are encouraged to form groups that could assist the LNSC and the police to check crime as long as their membership is committed to that objective. Such local groups are also expected to register with us in order to monitor their activities and ensure they conform to the law. I am directing our officers at Yaba to get more information about this group and report to me. At the inception of the Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps on 31 March 2017, the story of the safety of grassroots communities in Lagos has changed positively. The LNSC with over 5,000 personnel, including university, polytechnic and college of education graduates, is present in all the 57 local governments and Local Council Development Areas of the state. They are all residents of the areas they were recruited from and they are deployed in the same areas using their local knowledge to tackle crime and criminalities in those areas. We set out from 2017 to protect our neighbourhoods using the four time-tested, world-recognised principles of community policing to ensure safety. One of these principles is participation, which involves the stakeholders in the communities in protecting their areas. We meet regularly with community development association and committee members to not only to discuss their concerns but also to seek their inputs in safety matters thus securing their confidence and interest.

“Another one is representation. With this, we give the people a sense of being their representatives in the security of their areas and this builds their trust and confidence in us. Accountability is another principle. Under this, we give them feedback regularly on the security of their areas. And lastly, high visibility policing under which we divide communities and neighbourhoods into smaller areas called beats which are patrolled on foot and with patrol cars to deter criminals.

“We have 24-hour collaboration with the Lagos State police command such that we raid criminal hideouts together using LNSC vehicles where the DPOs are short of vehicles. We have a strong intelligence department which handles information on crime and criminals and their gangs and such intelligence is shared with the police. As the chairman of LNSC, I speak regularly with the Commissioner of Police through different methods to share information to stop crimes before they are committed. The result today, with the active support of Lagos State governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, whose THEMES agenda includes security and governance, is a safer Lagos in spite of the challenges of population and being Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre.”

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