Akoogun festival in Ifo, Ogun State, is an annual celebration. During the festival, every son and daughter of the Akoogun faithful are expected to return home. It is a time for prayers for the progress of the town and Nigeria in general.
It has always been a period characterised with joy, singing and dancing. It is a celebration that had always been peaceful. But this year, everything turned from celebration of joy to one of horror and sorrow, as gunshots peppered the gathering, leading to the death of an artisan and later a motor park chairman.
The incident plunged everyone into mourning and before one could say Jack Robison, angry youths mobilised, took to the streets and started chanting songs of solidarity. They wreaked havoc on the community.
Trouble on that fateful Sunday started about 5p.m., while everyone was at the shrine at Sogo Ifetedo, Cele area, waiting for the chief priest to come and pray for them. Suddenly, the waiting crowd heard gunshots.
A witness said: “Before we knew what was happening, the policemen entered the shrine and arrested Regal. While they were taking him away, they started destroying everything in the shrine and threatened to kill anyone, who came close to them. They entered their van and zoomed off.”
The killing of 25-year-old Akeem Akinsanya, a battery charger, came barely two weeks after the Acting Inspector-General of Polic (IG), Muhammadu Adamu, warned policemen to desist from indiscriminate shootings and killing of civilians.
The second victim killed on the same day and in the same community is Monsuru Alabi, chairman of the motorcycle riders in the community.
The policemen, who reportedly killed Akeem, were said to have come from Zonal Intervention Squad (ZIS). The five policemen shot and killed Akeem while trying to escape from Akoogun shrine, after arresting Regal.
Residents said that the policemen defied tradition and went into the shrine to arrest the suspect in the presence of adherents.
The shooting generated outrage by residents who took to the streets. The incident snowballed into a violent attack on the Ifo constituency office of the Deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon. Olakunle Oluomo.
In the attack, the constituency office and five vehicles belonging to Oluomo were razed down by suspected hoodlums.
A police source disclosed that a team of operatives from ZIS, Obada Oko area, Abeokuta, Ogun State investigating an alleged case of unlawful possession of arms, ammunition and cultism went to arrest Abu aka Regal, a notorious cultist.
The source said: “Regal had been implicated by Afeez Popoola aka Level, who had been previously arrested and undergoing investigation by the team. He is said to be the curator of arms and ammunition of the Eiye Confraternity in Ifo axis of Ogun State. Regal was arrested by the team about 3p.m. while in possession of a locally-made pistol with cartridges kept in a handbag. The items were recovered by the police team. While the policemen were taking the suspects to the station along with the recovered items, a renowned tout popularly known as Obasanjo in company of a host of other suspected cult members, ambushed them.”
The police team leader, Inspector Sunday Ogundapo, who happened to be in possession of the recovered exhibits, according to the source, was inflicted with machete injuries on his head.
The source said: “He was about to be dispossessed of his AK47 rifle; in the process of struggling with the mob, a bullet accidentally discharged and killed Akeem.”
Akeem’s uncle, Chief Mukaila Muraina, said it was an unfortunate incident. Muraina said that every adherent was in the shrine performing ritual when the policemen dashed into the shrine and started dragging Regal away.
He said: “It was in the process of trying to whisk Regal away that the policemen started shooting sporadically. Among those who were also running from being hit by the flying bullets was Akeem. He was, however, hit on the thigh, buttock and penis. He fell into a stream. Before we knew what was happening, the festival ended abruptly as everyone scampered for safety. We have not witnessed such incident in our community before.”
The distraught mother of the deceased, Mrs. Sherifat Akinsanya, said: “I was with my friends when Akeem told me he was going to his sister’s house. I was still with my friends when I received a phone call that Akeem had been shot. I tried to rush down to the scene. When I was rushing there, I saw policemen on motorcycles leaving, but I didn’t know they were those who killed my son. When I got back home I saw a crowd gathered in our house, weeping. I fainted. I was later revived at the hospital.
“I also heard that some of his elder brothers and friends in the community chased the policemen to a petrol station where they hid from being mobbed. His corpse was taken to hospital, where he was confirmed dead. He was the last of my three sons. I don’t know where to start from; all I want is justice for my son.”
Akeem’s cousin, Mr. Yahaya Muraina, said that he was with the deceased when the police shot him.
He said: “Immediately the bullet hit Akeem, he called me and said, ‘brother, I have been shot by the police.’ Before I knew what was happening, my cousin fell into a stream. I screamed for help, but nobody could get close to him. I ran, but later returned to the scene and tried to rescue him. I took him to the health centre, where we were later referred to Ifo General Hospital. He was confirmed dead at the General Hospital.
“The deceased was not a politician or a cultist. Before the commencement of the festival, the committee applied for approval from the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Ifo, the Department of State Services (DSS). They were all present at the festival. But ZIS operatives didn’t have regards for their colleagues. They went into the shrine to arrest the suspect they wanted, right inside the shrine.
“After they were arrested, the policemen told the DPO of Ifo that they were trying to resist the mob. They said that was why they shot into the air to scare people. What they told the DPO were all lies.”
Mr. Mukaila Oridota, another uncle to Akeem, said that when he went to the mortuary on Tuesday for possible recovery of the corpse, he was told to pay N150,000 before it would be released to him.
He said: “Before going to the hospital, I went to the DPO office to know the next step about the burial of the boy. I was given a form to fill, which I took to the mortuary. When I got there, I was asked to bring N70,000 for autopsy, N25,000 for mortuary fee, and N45,000 for the doctor that would extract the bullets from Akeem’s corpse.
“When I went back to the DPO, he said thank God that it was not his boys that killed the victim. But when the deputy governor of Ogun State visited the hospital, they denied demanding money from me. But as a family of the deceased, I’m not happy over what happened.”
Our correspondent was conducted round Akoogun shrine, and some sacred places in the shrine allegedly violated by the policemen after they invaded the shrine.
Akeem’s elder sister, Miss Azeezat Akinsanya, said she called the victim before the commencement of the festival to come and assist her to fix her fan.
She said: “After fixing it, he was in a haste to return home. He wanted to go and attend the festival. I persuaded him to stay back and eat before returning home. He obliged me. I went to the kitchen to prepare rice for him. After eating, he dashed out of my house. He said he was going home to prepare for the festival. I told him to wait for me; I was also going to the festival. He didn’t wait. A few minutes after he left my house, I received a phone call that he had been shot by policemen. I didn’t know that the food I gave him was his last supper.
“As I speak with you now, I have not washed the plate and pot I used in serving and cooking the rice. It’s still like a dream to me. He was killed less than five minutes after leaving my house.”
It was learnt that about 8p.m. same day, some assailants stormed the community and killed Monsuru Alabi, the chairman of the motorcycle riders.
While people were still reeling in shock over Alabi’s murder, some suspected hoodlums burnt five buses belonging to Oluomo. The vehicles were parked in front of Oluomo’s constituency office, at Iyana-Coker area.
Alabi’s friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “They were still battling with the issue of the other boy that was killed by the police when news filtered in that Monsuru had been killed. Before we came back from his house, some of the buses belonging to Honourable Oluomo, one of which he uses to take children to different schools, had been burnt and his constituency office. As I speak with you now, we are all living in fear.”
The state Commissioner of Police, Makama Bashir, who accompanied the deputy governor to console Akeem’s parents, said justice would prevail.
He said: “We came to console the family of the deceased, who was killed by a policeman. Those who killed the boy were not from Ogun State Command. But they had been arrested and detained. I want to assure the family members that justice will prevail and any policeman who went against the rules and regulations of the firearms would be prosecuted.”
The four police officers, who were allegedly involved in Akeem’s killing, had been arrested.
Makama said the officers, who were attached to the Zonal Intervention Squad of Zone 2 Police Command had been arrested while a civilian suspect was also arrested.
He spoke just as the state police command declared that no fewer than 25 suspects had been arrested in connection with the violence that broke out after Akeem’s murder.
Makama, who also visited the traditional ruler of the community, said all the perpetrators and accomplices would be thoroughly investigated and dealt with in accordance with the law.
Although normalcy has since returned to the community, when our correspondent visited Ifo, shops and business outlets were still under lock and key, apparently over fear of a reprisal.
Oluomo had earlier called for the intervention of security agencies to forestall total breakdown of law and order in Ifo.
The deputy speaker, who lamented the destruction of his property and vehicles, said the incident had political undertone.
He said: “Sunday was the final Akoogun festival in Ifo and one of the boys opposed to the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the last election invited many of the political thugs and unionists that were involved in attacks against me and APC supporters during the elections.
“I learnt the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) trailed one of the boys to the venue for gun possession and got him arrested with the gun. Others surrounded the police to prevent the boy from being taken away. They took the gun back from the policemen and even attempted to seize AK47 from one of the policemen. In the melee, one of the boys was killed and the policemen escaped from the scene.
“The boys later regrouped and started attacking APC members or supporters in sight, accusing them of inviting police. They later mobilised themselves in large numbers, moved to my constituency office and set five vehicles ablaze – three Mercedes, 42-seater buses, one Isuzu luxury bus and a 36-seater coaster bus, that I use for free school shuttle. The entire office was razed and they later moved to the constituency of Ifo/Ewekoro Federal Representative, Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka, and burnt it down as well.
“They have been trailing me since I won the March 9 election. In fact, I have to seek police protection for my house and office for the first two weeks after the election because they keep threatening that they will bring me down on or before May 29.”
The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Abimbola Oyeyemi, said 25 suspects had been arrested in connection with the arson.
Oyeyemi, however, a police inspector was severely injured.
According to him, the mob inflicted severe machete cuts on the inspector officer during an attempt to arrest a suspect.
He said: “On their way back, they mobbed and attacked the officers and in the course of escaping from the attack, they released gunshots and incidentally, it hit one person and he died.”
The PPRO explained that a few minutes after the incident; some hoodlums went to the constituency office of the Deputy Speaker at Iyana Coker Bus Stop and set it ablaze along with five vehicles.
Oyeyemi described the act as criminal and vowed that the perpetrators would be made to face the wrath of law.
He said: “Some people mobilised themselves and attacked the office of the Deputy Speaker, burnt down the office and five vehicles in that area. The correlation between the incident that happened and the reaction of the people is what we cannot establish because there is no nexus between the two.
“For now, we have arrested 25 suspects. The issues are two: the case of murder and arson. But the case of arson is what the people have committed. That act is pure criminal; there is nothing that warrants such spontaneous action.”