THE fear was palpable when Saturday Sun correspondent drove into what was left of the Police barracks at Makinde Street, Mafoluku area in Lagos. The visit was to ascertain the plight of the 24 families that were rendered homeless when hoodlums under the guise of EndSARS protesters looted their homes before setting it on fire.
“Wetin una dey find there,” a mean-looking young man who noticed our reluctance to enter the com- pound screamed from a distance. That loud question drew the attention of residents who gazed as we tried to be sure that it was safe since the entire buildings were razed to the ground. Makinde Police Station and a barracks made up of 24 blocks of flats are located in a densely populat- ed area of Oshodi believed to be the abode of notorious miscreants.
We decided to access the barracks through the entrance of Makinde police division, which shares the same compound with the barracks. Luckily about three policemen who held on tight to their rifles initially queried our reason for entering the site. But they later relaxed when they realized that we were media people.
“I do not know how you people can help us,” one of them said. “As you can see for yourself, everything is gone but we thank God that none of our policemen on duty that day was killed. You are free to go inside, the barracks is at the back.” He point- ed at what was left of the two-storey building that housed 24 policemen and their families.
Tales of horror and narrow escape
One of the Inspectors who offered to take us round the ruins of the barracks recounted the horror that they passed through after they were warned not to shoot at anyone no matter the intensity of the attack. “We tried our best by shooting up but they were so many and all armed. We were helpless and we watched them loot everything,” he said. “Even toilet seats were pulled off; we just fled with our rifles. They looted all the cars and left only the skeletons as you can see. Some of these cars were not burnt but dismembered. They took all. I am happy that I am alive but I cannot say the same of the Inspector whose son was killed. She has gone to Delta to bury him. That boy who was doing his NYSC was killed while trying to save his mother. Okechukwu was his name. Normally parents in this barrack used him as an example of how a good child should behave. He loved his mother so much but his mistake was going back to pick his credentials while the hoodlums were about to set the building on fire.”
Still lamenting their fate, the police Inspector claimed that no form of help has come their way. “All we have heard are promises. We do not have an office; we are just hanging around under the tree hoping that help will soon come our way. People complain that policemen refused to come back to work; they fail to understand that most of them are homeless. They are still trying to borrow money to secure a place to keep their families. They are not even in the right state of mind to do police work.”
When asked if the immediate community did anything to help, he said: “I must commend the operators of our neighbourhood mosques. They saved a lot of lives including that of policemen who ran into that place for safety. They gave us food
and water. God will bless them. The same thing happened at Ajah police barracks; their own was even worse because a policeman lost his entire family. He heard about it and ran to see if he could salvage the situation; he was attacked and killed. You want police to come back and yet no one is talking about their losses. It’s not about coming with the media to interview us and video this place only to return to Abuja and do nothing about it. Go to the mosque and see things for yourself; most of the families are still staying there. They feed, cloth and bath in the mosque. God will surely bless them for us.”
It was like a war zone –Woman leader
As we were engaged in the discussion, Mrs Funke Elizabeth Olufowobi who is known as the woman leader in the barracks, walked to- wards us and said: “I heard that some journalists came to see the building. Madam, it is no longer about what happened but how to let government especially our governor to know that we have been stranded in the past one month. We are Nigerians and on that day 24 families with children including babies were thrown out in the open. If you live in the barracks that means that your salary is not enough to get a good accommodation out there.”
Recounting what happened on that fateful day, Mrs. Olufowobi whose husband serves in one of the stations in Lagos Island said that they never imagined that the hoodlums who were carrying Nigerian flags would set their homes on fire.
“It happened a day after the Lekki incident and we were at home when around 11am, young men and few women started gathering around the Makinde division,” she said. “Initially, they were about 100 chanting songs and threatening to set the police station on fire. In less than 30 minutes, the number increased massively; it’s as if they alerted one another to start gathering. Our policemen tried to push them back by shooting up but they kept chanting that they are going to burn the station. When I discovered that some
of them were holding Nigerian flags, I consoled myself that they will not attack us.
“Suddenly they started throwing bottles into the station. The glass bottles were in several sacks. They also started digging holes on the wall. Minutes later we saw a vehicle from the Air Force. They begged them to go back to their houses but they refused. They were the ones who rescued the policemen who were trapped inside the police station. Immediately they left, all hell was let loose. They started throwing fire into the police station. By then they were more than 1000 surrounding the whole area. It was then that we all knew that it was time to run for our lives. We jumped into the next com- pound with our children and luckily the owner of the house accepted some of us who ran to his house. They threatened to loot his house if he does not send us away. We had to leave.
“From 11am to 6pm, they took their time to raid our houses and picked every valuable within reach. It was around 6pm that they set the entire barracks on fire. Anyone that they met was not spared. All our documents burnt to ashes and every valuable looted. It felt like we were in the middle of war.
“Unfortunately, the woman Inspector Elizabeth
Obi was still around trying to find a way of escape when her son, Okechukwu, who was outside heard of the attack. He ran into the barracks to save his mother. They caught him and used a matchet to kill him. They just killed him. They also met the daughter of one of us and took turns in raping her. When she was finally released because she was bleeding, we took her to the hospital. It was bad. A lot of us were injured while some are still in the hospital.”
SOS to government
According to Mrs. Olufowobi, all the promises by government to help them get a temporary accommodation are yet to be fulfilled. “I am staying in my friend’s house while my husband now sleeps at the police station. The gifts we got from people are kept in the mosque where some of us are staying. We are just hanging around as we are already a burden to the people who accommodated us. Some are sleeping in their churches. It is hard to be the wife of a policeman because the amount of money paid is not enough to save. If I am rich, I won’t be living in the barracks.
“We thank Oshodi Local government chairman. He is the only one that gave us N100, 000 each three days after the incident. Lagos State Governor sent representatives. But we are still waiting for him to do something for us. Please we need accommodation, which is our major problem. It is over a month now that incident happened. We are begging our government. Police Officers Wife Association (POWA) also tried for us. They brought beds, gas cooker. They gave all of us two wrappers each, rice and garri. But there are no places to keep them; we kept them in the mosque. If you hear from our women what they go through in the places that they are managing, you will shed tears. Please Madam, help us to beg the governor not to abandon us.”
Like she narrated, the mosque located opposite the barracks had indeed been turned into a refugee camp. As at the time of our visit, few women and children said to be from the burnt barracks were seen discussing in groups. One Seun, an Islamic cleric told Saturday Sun that they took a great risk in accommodating the refugees. “We know most of them especially those who worship with us. Allah will not be happy if we fail to help them. Most of them had left unlike the week of that attack. I guess that the hoodlums fear Allah that was why they did not attack us even when they knew that some of them ran into the mosque. It is unfortunate; we do not know where that sort of crowd came from. The looting was too much.”
Another policeman who escaped with his family called on Sanwo-Olu to help them with the provision of temporary accommodation. “I was around when everything happened,” he said. “It started at about 11 am. I was upstairs when I heard the sound of motorcycles passing through in their numbers. I went to my balcony and watched and I saw one guy signaling that they are coming. I started seeing signs. The next thing they started throwing fire inside empty bottles. They said we should lock the gate. The police started shooting into the air and I told my children to lie down to avoid being hit by a stray bullet. Next, we saw one of my neighbours, an inspector bleeding. When I saw that the shooting has reduced I told my children to leave the com- pound and we jumped over the fence. We entered the hotel; the owner of the hotel was scared because the area boys wanted to attack him. We ran and entered another compound where an elderly woman hid us in her house for a week. She fed us and gave us clothes that we wore. I stayed there for a week while my children were moved to the island to stay with a relative.”
The police inspector whose 20-year-old daughter was raped said he received a call from the daughter when the attack started. “I told her to calm down that there is no cause for alarm as the mlitary men deployed to the station would keep them safe,” he said. “It was when I learned that they only came to ensure that the DPO and his men were safe that I realized the danger. By then it was already late. We took her to the hospital and after some days she was discharged. I have moved my entire family to So- koto while I currently squat in the mosque.
“The house over there belongs to one Inspector Ambrose; they made sure that they destroyed his house completely. He did not pick a single thing out of the house. They stole nine pairs of uniforms and everything. They keep saying that we should go back to work. But go back to work with what when our families are scattered? We are begging for temporary accommodation.”