Kunle Falayi, Tunde Ajaja and Jesusegun Alagbe
Like a swarm of locusts leaving destruction and desolation in their wake, the invasion of some Lagos riverside communities by suspected Niger Delta militants has all but stalled the local economy of those areas.
Walking through some parts of Isawo and Igbo-Olomu, still feels like walking through a ‘no man’s land’ with shops shut, houses deserted and streets inhabited by nothing but domestic animals.
Aside the immediate impact on livelihood and the fear forcing people to flee these parts of Lagos where many residents were slaughtered and shot by the militants about a month ago, Saturday PUNCH learnt that the attack had virtually grounded hotels in that part of Ikorodu and other areas such as Igando and Iba in Lagos.
“Only a madman will come here and lodge in any hotel at a time like this. People are running away and you want to come and sleep here?” an okada rider, who transported one of our correspondents around the adjoining communities said.
His fear echoed the general atmosphere of fear which pervades the communities.
Nothing in the façade of the first guest house our correspondent visited, Country Inn, could have suggested that it was even open for business at all. Its main gate was locked with a large padlock that seemed to scream ‘keep off!’
But a small metal door beside the gate allowed any curious eyes to see that the door to the reception was open.
When our correspondent approached the attendant, Marcus Opawale, who sat in the reception, he told our correspondent that he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who had visited the guest house with the intention of lodging in the last one month.
For the owners of multimillion naira businesses like this, business stopped the day militants invaded Igbo-Olomu and Ishawo communities on June 23, 2016 to slaughter, shot and rape residents.
Residents fled in droves from the communities, after the attacks left streets littered with corpses.
When one of our correspondents visited these communities, it was apparent many of the residents have no intention of returning anytime soon as most of the shops there still remained shut more than one month after.
Opawale, who spoke with our correspondent at Court Inn, Igbo-Olomu, said the guest house would likely remain open unless situation in the area deteriorates.
“But who knows when business will improve for us?” he said.
For others, staying open is not even an option in the face of the tremendous risk in the environment in which they operate
When our correspondent got to Money Mac Hotel, the hotel’s doors were firmly under lock and key.
An undisturbed bush around the entrance of the hotel leaves no one in doubt that it had been shut for a while.
Again, it was the same situation at Vista Hotel, at Igbo-Olomu, which has also closed down business for lack of patronage since the oil militants invaded the community.
One hotel which pleaded not to be mentioned in Ishawo said it remained open even though very few lodgers had come there in the last one month. It was running its relaxation spot though.
The manager of the hotel, told one of our correspondent that now, people had started staying away from the relaxation spot within the premises of the hotel, where people come to relax and drink every evening.
He said, “Let’s just say in the last one month, we cannot really say we have made sales because what we made in the last two weeks is not even up to what we make in one day when this place was peaceful.
“Now we have decided to watch if things improve for the next one week. If it does not, we will have to shut down for now. There is no point opening the hotel every day when we are not getting customers.”
Hotels are the biggest businesses in these desolate communities, making them a major part of the local economy of this part of Ikorodu, Lagos.
The problem of loss of revenue and lack of customers resonated in at least eight hotels one of our correspondents visited within Ishawo and Igbo-Olomu, with all of them either on the verge of closing up shop or already shut down.
Their stories tell of the huge economic toll the attack by the suspected oil militants has taken on the communities. Other smaller businesses are almost no longer operating when Saturday Punch visited the communities.
In Igando, while the hotels in the area have not been deeply affected, some hospitals and healthcare centres in the area where the militants struck have had to shut down operations to avoid casualties. Specifically, one in Pacific Estate had to quickly discharge its patients and shut down. One of our correspondents visited the hospital on Thursday.
One of the residents who fled the community after the attack, came back to meet his house burgled. He said he was relocating to Ota, in Ogun State.
Fear grips other riverside communities in Lagos
The sudden upsurge in violence by militants in Lagos and Ogun states is undoubtedly creating panic beyond the fear-induced hurried sale of properties in places like Ikorodu.
There was a time when the activities of suspected militants were unheard of in Lagos. But over the last few months, the spread of the attacks from the Arepo riverside community of Ogun State, which witnessed cases of major pipeline vandalism to Ikorodu and recently to Igando, has created the fear that the militants might be trying to exercise control over riverside communities.
The kidnappers of the Oniba of Iba in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos, another riverside community, had told his family that they were militants who needed to survive since they no longer had opportunity to make money from pipeline vandalism.
The monarch has yet to be released two weeks after he was abducted by the militants who have demanded a N500m ransom.
Just few kilometres away, militants also kidnapped a 30-year-old resident of Igando two days after he arrived Lagos and released days after, following the payment of an undisclosed sum of money as ransom.
However at the moment, residents of Festac in Amuwo Odofin, another Lagos community with creeks, fear the militants might be planning to extend their attacks to the community.
According to them, the militants could shift base to the area having been hunted by the police at Igando where they mounted attacks at dawn on Tuesday.
A resident, Femi Olarinde, first raised the alarm on social media on Tuesday evening, “Ijaw militants are presently massing up in the creeks and waterways that are contiguous to Amuwo Odofin. The Ijaw militants are planning to launch a major attack in Amuwo Odofin.”
The information has been circulated a number of times on the social media, underscoring the fear which has pervaded communities around Lagos creeks.
A senior police officer in the frontline of the operation to rout the militants from the Lagos creeks told Saturday Punch that the information has got to the Lagos State Rapid Response Squad, which is the unit deployed against the militants.
“Our team has got some vital coordinates of locations of interest through the use of the surveillance helicopters. We are already working on some vital information,” the officer said.
However, a security expert, Mr. Richard Amuwa, said the invasion of the militants could have been prevented.
According to him, when robbers had started attacking through the waterways some months ago in Ikorodu, Lekki, Festac, that was when the government should have refocused its strategy.
Amuwa said, “I think the problem of what is happening in Lagos right now is that the police have been largely reactive in their strategy.
“Before now, there have been incidents of armed robbers coming in through the waterways and creeks to operate. It was obvious that that was the new modus operandi of criminals. Nothing was done.
“When the governor came in, he bought helicopters running into billions of naira to be used in surveillance. But what is the awareness level of the public? Many people are not even aware that there is 767 or 112 they could call when these people invade their communities
“When there is shortage of manpower in the police, what are we doing with vigilantes and community policing?
“At the moment, the issue has escalated to the extent that they have to see the current military action against the militants through.”
Meanwhile, Saturday PUNCH gathered that on Thursday night, soldiers numbering hundreds engaged some militants at the Ibafo area of Ogun State.
Residents said the soldiers stormed the area in eight trucks and killed some of the militants.
The incident, which had created panic in the community, has led to some residents fleeing their homes.
A resident, Akin Oyetunde, said, “Everyone is afraid now. People have been fleeing their homes as an aftermath of Thursday’s incident. The soldiers came in eight trucks and went to the creeks to battle the militants.
“The militants’ creek is like a depot. It’s a place where they store crude oil from vandalised pipelines. Because their business has now been affected, they have resorted to terrorising the residents. They said we were the ones who spoiled their business.
“There is panic and right from the beginning of the week, people have been deserting their homes, especially those around Halleluyah Quarters down to Ebute Road. I am relocating out of the area this weekend.”
Another resident, Mr. Laolu Akeem, said he relocated his family out of the area on Friday morning.