The first sign of disquiet, which a first-time visitor may encounter in the Ikorodu area as he approaches the Igbo-Olomu and Isawo communities, is the ubiquitous presence of a dark green Lagos Task Force vehicle stationed at a major turning.
During a visit to the area on Monday morning, our correspondent observed that heavily armed military personnel had taken different positions on the road, screening and frisking commuters. There was an uneasy calm around the junction. The silence contrasted sharply with the usual cacophony arising from buying and selling in the area, as well as the sound of speeding commercial motorcycles, popularly called okada.
Beyond the junction, the plains and valleys of Igbo Olomu and Isawo, leading to the creeks separating the areas from Arepo in neighbouring Ogun State, also swarmed with soldiers.
It was less than a week after the military started an offensive against suspected pipeline vandals, who had terrorised residents on the coastline, forcing many of them to flee with their families.
But the situation was still far from normal when our correspondent visited some of the communities in the area on Monday. Muti, Elepete, Kajola, Ola Imam and other communities on the flank of Isawo and Igbo Olomu were already deserted. Haunted by endless abductions, rape, armed robbery and deaths, the residents had since abandoned their homes and fled these communities. The few that defiantly chose to stay were seen on Monday nursing the wounds inflicted on them by their tormentors.
One of the residents named Bola Omotunde, a self-employed woman in Kajola community, spoke to our correspondent from a partition on her window. Speaking in a low tone, the mother of three recounted what happened in the community on Sunday.
“It was a terrible experience. Those boys wreaked so much havoc here. We thank God that the government has started dealing with them. Throughout yesterday, the sound of gunshots would not let us sleep. It has been a traumatic experience and my children are not back yet. I paid N10,000 per night in a hotel for three days before a friend took my family in. My children did not write their third term examination before trouble broke out here. Those boys were going from house to house, kidnapping people. I know they will never come back, but it will take time for things to be normal around here,” she said.
But there was no sign of life in Omotunde’s neighbourhood, which was in the Zone A area of Kajola. Not far away from her residents, two men in a block-making factory were busy at work, unperturbed by the deafening silence around them.
One of them, who identified himself as Bello, said some residents had seized the opportunity to construct their houses.
“It is not true that people want to sell their houses. Even if you want to sell, who will buy? What I have noticed is that some residents come in to continue the building of their houses because there was no Omo Onile (land grabbers) to disturb them. You will find artisans working on a few houses between 10am and 3pm. The sites become empty as soon as it is 3.pm. I don’t live here. I live at Ogolonto with my partner. I come here before 10.am and by 4.pm, I start the journey back home to Ogolonto,’’ he said.
At Ola Imam community, the gloom was palpable. As in Kajola, the streets were deserted. This was the community where eight landlords, who volunteered to serve as security men, were slaughtered in one night by marauding pipeline vandals.
A resident, who declined to give his name, said the community would not forget the incident in a while. He berated the government for coming to the aid of the community too late in the day.
“The harm has been done already. Eight landlords in this community were murdered. They were vigilantes who volunteered to keep our community safe from petty thieves. Only one of them was spared because he was nursing his sick child that night. He thought he would be able to join the others, but he slept off. We woke up to the sight of their dead bodies in the morning of the next day.
“No matter what the government is doing now, it cannot bring back those men. Who will compensate their families? We have more widows and fatherless children than ever in the community. One man was kidnapped in his house. I learnt that he paid N5m as ransom. I think this effort of the government is too late,’’ he said.
There was nobody to attend to our correspondent when she visited the homes of some of the landlords on Monday. A female resident, who also declined to give her name, said some women who were raped by the attackers had died of trauma.
“Nobody knew this kind of misfortune could befall this community. Some women were raped right in front of their family members. Do you know that the invaders even used the barrels of their guns To Molest the women? Some of the victims died shortly after the acts. We are praying that the government will fight this battle till the end. The soldiers are more concentrated in the Elepete side which is close to the creeks. But we also feel their impact here,” she said.