Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
Before the incident of March 14, 2020, which rocked Imasayi to its very foundation, the sleepy community in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State was never in the news for wrong reasons.
Sandwiched between Ibooro and Ibese, Imasayi, was a peaceful town with majority of its residents engaging in farming. It is also one of the towns, which produce a popular local snack delicacy known as “kokoro.”
The age-long tranquillity of the town was, however, shattered that Saturday, March 14. That was the day some youth clashed with the men of the Joint National Border Patrol Taskforce comprising of the Military, Police, Customs, Immigration and the Department of State Service (DSS). The bloody clash left one Police Inspector attached to the team dead, while several vehicles were vandalised.
Daily Sun gathered that the task force had traced some suspected smugglers, who allegedly stored bags of foreign rice at a warehouse to the town and evacuated 50 bags of rice. In the process of transporting the rice from the warehouse, the suspected smugglers, aided by the youth of town, engaged the border task force in a bloody clash.
The dead police officer was reported to have shot at a particular youth during the melee, but the bullet could not penetrate the youth due to local “bullet proof” worn around his waist.
The youth, whose identity was yet to be established as at the time of writing this report, was said to have “commanded” the police inspector to hand over his AK-47 and subsequently used the rifle to shoot and kill the security operative. He was also reported to have absconded with the weapon of the slain officer.
Apparently felt that they could not subdue the mob, other JTF members bolted from the scene to escape being killed. But the “triumph” of the youth was a short one as the task force reinforced few hours later and hit the town hard. In what appeared as a reprisal attack, the JTF swooped on Imasayi and unleashed terror.
Many residents were severely beaten and injured, while property worth millions of naira were vandalised. The palace of the town was reported to also have been burnt down in the fit of rage by the task force. An 18-year-old boy was equally said to have been hit by bullet in the shoulder region.
Residents who were lucky to escape the wrath of the rampaging men of JTF ran into the bush, while majority of the youth who allegedly partook in the attack on the security personnel also took to their heels.
By the time the dust settled, Imasayi residents had started counting their losses. In fact, the town was reported to have been deserted.
Ogun government reacts
Governor Dapo Abiodun condemned the clash and declared that his administration would not condone assault on any serving officers of the military, Nigeria Police and the paramilitary who daily sacrifice their lives to serve the public. A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, called for restraint in the use of lethal arms by the law enforcement agents against the residents.
The governor said his administration had to intervene before normalcy could return to the community. He said he is in contact with relevant authorities in the Army and the Nigeria Customs Service, adding that talks were on going towards apprehending the suspects. Somorin:
“Already, the manhunt as at Sunday morning yielded result with the recovery of the said stolen rifle, but the search to identify and arrest the culprits continues under the strict directive of the governor.
“Fortunately, suspects already arrested in connection with this criminal act are giving useful information that would lead to the arrest of the main suspect. Governor Abiodun, however, urged law enforcement agents to exercise restraint and be humane in carrying out their duties.
“While he commiserates with families of the slain officer, he promised that no stone would be left unturned to unearth the circumstance of the crisis. Peace has since returned to the axis with the presence of riot police and officers of the Nigerian Army.”
Residents recount ordeals
Femi Adesiyan, a resident of the town described the incident as unfortunate. He said he was jolted from his sleep by the gunshots of men of the JTF who invaded the town, hours after the clash between it and the youth:
“It was like war had erupted in Imasayi as the gunshots were deafening. I had to quickly wake up and ran into the bush to escape the attack. I thank God that my wife and kids had travelled to Lagos, what would have been their fate could be better imagined. Anyway, peace has returned but I tell you, our people still shudder from the incident.”
For Wuraola Akinade, a food vendor, the incident would linger on for a long time in the memories of Imasayi residents. She thanked God that she was alive to recount her experience and appealed to government to ensure peace is sustained in the town.
A 60-year-old farmer, Emmanuel Daisi, said the incident was not only unfortunate but uncalled for. He blamed the youth causing the clash. He called on government not to leave any stone unturned and unravel those behind the incident and hold them accountable.
Another resident, Fatai Olorunkemi, said his only source of income – a Toyota Picnic – was vandalised by the rampaging JTF. He explained that the car, which he used for commercial purpose was parked since the last four months he developed sight problem. He appealed to the state government to come to his rescue.
Alhaji Fadare Fatai is no different as his Honda car parked in front of his residence was not spared.
Though, he blamed the youth for being the harbinger of the crisis, he chided the security agents for what he described as “over reaction.”
Eight suspects in police net
Police said no fewer than eight persons suspected to have participated in the attack and the eventual death of the Inspector, were arrested. Its state spokesperson, Abimbola Oyeyemi, told Daily Sun in a telephone conversation that police would continue to hunt for others who participated directly or indirectly in the attack.
He said innocent residents would not be arrested or harassed during the manhunt. He could not ascertain whether the culprit who pulled the trigger and killed the Police Inspector was among the suspects arrested, but said investigation was still on going.
Calm after the storm
When Daily Sun visited Imasayi during the week, calm had returned to the town as residents were seen going about their normal activities. The traditional ruler, Oba Adesola Gbadebo Oni, who spoke through the Asoju Oba of Imasayi, Yemi Oluyomi, condoled with the family of the slain officer and the state police command, describing the incident as tragic and regrettable:
“It is normal that when something like that happens, the security agents have to do their job. They came to the palace to look for the monarch but the palace was never vandalised.
“They came to my house when they did not see the Kabiyesi (monarch). They came to me to explain what happened.”
He disclosed that residents who fled the community in fear of a reprisal from security operatives had started returning to their houses:
“Social economic activities have also returned to the town. We are law-abiding citizens we are telling them (residents) that they should go back to their normal businesses. And for the past few days, things have come back to normal.”
He pledged the town’s readiness to work with the police and other law enforcement agencies in their investigations to unravel the case. The monarch charged residents on the need to maintain law and order, warning them against harbouring criminals and people with questionable character in their houses.
IDAD calls for thorough investigation
The Imasayi Descendant Association in Diaspora (IDAD), called for thorough investigation to deliver what it described as “true, swift and open justice.” Its president and secretary, Toye Moses and Tunde Elegbede, in a joint statement appealed to law enforcement agencies not to intimidate or harass innocent residents, but conduct thorough investigation, “so that anyone found responsible in the break down of law and committing the crime of homicide should be made to face the law.”
It noted that Imasayi remained a peaceful town, which abhorred criminals and criminality. It equally sued for peace among the people and the security authorities, urging them to always respect human dignity and sanctity of lives.
Some other members of the association in USA, EU and Canada, also extended gratitude to Abiodun, Senator Representing Ogun West, Tolu Odebiyi, the Olu and Paramount Ruler of Yewaland, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle as well as the Commissioner of Police for their intervention in the crisis.