The News (Lagos)

Nigeria: Rumble In The Jungle

Lagos — The Ijaw-Ilaje war assumes a wider dimension as the Oodua People's Congress (OPC), joins the two ethnic groups to turn Ajegunle, Lagos State, into a bloody threatre of war.

An uneasy calm reigns in Lagos State and the Niger Delta area consequent upon the bloody clash between the Ijaw and the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), in Ajegunle, Lagos, last week.

Although, leaders of the two warring groups have agreed to sheath the dagger, there are palpable fears of a resurgence of the mayhem. In Lagos, especially in Ajegunle and its suburbs, the Ijaw now relate with their neighbours with apprehension and suspicion. Last Wednesday, the leader of a faction of the OPC, Mr. Gani Adams, underlined the determination of his group to sustain what he called the defence of the interests of the Yoruba. His assertion came in the wake of a claim that the Ijaw had deployed some rampaging youths to Ojo, Amuwo- Odofin and Badagry local government areas to stir violence. There was also unease in Kosofe Local Government where an appreciable number of Ilaje, the Ijaw arch-enemy reside.

The youths in Delta State are also on edge. The Meinbutu boys, an affiliate of the Ijaw Youths Movement in Warri, last week, threatened the Yoruba in the city that unless the OPC produced two Ijaw youths allegedly kidnapped in the Ajegunle imbroglio, a retaliatory attack would be visited on the Yoruba living in Warri. A statement signed by Kuku Kingsley, an Ijaw youth leader alleged that penultimate weekend, 14 Ijaw youths travelling to Lagos were attacked by the OPC. According to the statement, 12 of the youths escaped the ambush with severe wounds. Two-Pare Gowero and Angonimi Peretuemo were, however, kidnapped. Kingsley said 26 Ijaw, including six women, died in the Ajegunle fracas. His group warned: "OPC should take caution because Yoruba reside everywhere in this country and if we go all out tribal, they will lose more. The Meinbutus will retaliate violently if the two youths are not produced after the expiration of the one-week ultimatum.

The ultimatum has been waved off as a joke by Adams. The OPC leader, who said four of his men were also missing, declared that the mandate of the OPC is to defend all youths anywhere in the world. A counter-statement to the Meinbutus' signed by Kayode Ogundamisi, OPC's national secretary and Bisi Olayemi, chairman of the group's Lagos State chapter spoke of the group's preparedness to meet the Meinbutus' threat force for force. The OPC statement said that all the group's resistance movements nationwide had already been put on red alert.

Fears heightened last week that the warring sides may bring home their threats. It was believed that more militant Ijaw youths may have secretly arrived Lagos via the waterway from Warri and Akwa Ibom State. They were believed to be lodging at Amuwo-Odofin and Festac Town. Some Ijaw youths dressed in their traditional blue and red uniform were seen on a major bridge at Amuwo- Odofin.

The state governor, Alhaji Bola Tinubu, hoped that the peace agreement signed last week will be adhered to. Mr. Joel Bisima and Mr. T.M. Seigha signed for the Ijaw, while Ogundamisi signed for the OPC. The Ilaje were represented by Mr. Busayo Oroyo and Yinka Arokoto. All the representatives agreed to cessation of hostilities.

Victims of the three-day rage are still picking up pieces of the destruction which officially left no fewer than 12 persons dead and 50 houses burnt. The mayhem, which began on Friday 29 October has its chief victim in Alhaji (Chief) Rasheed Olatoye, Baale of Ayetoro, Ajegunle, battleground of the gory sight. What formerly served as palace for the chief is now a relic of ruins. Threatened with death, Olatoye said he miraculously escaped lynching and possible burning in the hands of the warring youths of both sides. Three houses and his Volvo 760 car were, however, razed.

The state government is expected to get to the root of the clash through an independent judicial panel of inquiry. But, conflicting reports in Ajegunle traced its cause to a feud between some Ijaw and Ilaje over a lady, a disagreement between the combating groups over crime-control area or, as related by the Baale, the arrest of three young men by some Ijaw youths. The panel of inquiry will be charged with sifting the truth from several rumours.

Publication date: November 15, 1999

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