Crisis in Ajah: One person killed, hundreds displaced, houses set ablaze

Ilaje community. Inset: Martins.

Eighty-five year old, Rev. Ebenezer Megbalewon, was in his Ilaje home, Lagos State, resting on November 29, 2012 when some irate youths allegedly set his home ablaze.

The octogenarian, it was learnt, ran out with his family and watched from a distance as the place he had called home for over 28 years was razed to ashes.

“Early on Thursday morning, I was resting at home with some of my children and my wife when some youths just set my house ablaze. I ran out with only the clothes I had on my back, I lost everything. I don’t even know where to start from,” he said.

The octogenarian’s story is similar to that of over 100 indigenes of Ilaje, a riverine community which shares boundaries with Ajah. The loss of life and property, it was learnt, was as a result of a feud between youths in the two areas.

How Ajah youth was killed – Residents

Another resident of Ilaje identified simply as Martin, did not live to tell his own story.  He was shot dead by a youth suspected to be from Ajah when he was attempting to put out the fire.

“When the Ajah youths came, they looted most of the shops and houses and then set them ablaze. Martin was attempting to put out the fire but one of the youth shot him dead with a pump action rifle. The case is pathetic because Martins left a heavily pregnant wife behind,” a resident, who craved anonymity, said.

‘Collection of toll caused crisis’

PUNCH Metro learnt from leaders of the two communities that the recurring problem was associated with indigene/settler dichotomy and collection of toll from drivers..

The spokesman for Ilaje community, Rev. Oduwole Stevens, said although the Ilaje were non-indigenes, they had been living in the area for over 100 years and had as much right as any other Lagosian.

He said the Ilaje were into fishing and sand businesses which were both lucrative. He said Ajah indigenes wanted to start extorting money from tippers conveying the sand.

Stevens said, “Twenty years ago, we (Ilajes) started collecting tolls from tipper drivers whenever they come to convey sand and the money was used majorly for road maintenance. However on April 4, 2012, we received a letter from Odugbese Abereoje family that the road which we were maintaining and had since named Ilaje Road was to be named after the family. We opposed this and the Eti-Osa East Local Council Development Area supported our position.

“A few weeks ago, Odugbese Abereoje family sent a letter to Ilaje Community Development Association that they were the ones entitled to the collection of tolls from the drivers. They warned us that drastic measures would be taken if we did not comply. The matter was taken to Ajah-Ijebu Baale Council and they decided that the money would be split between the two communities but we refused.”

Stevens said the council told the two communities to select three representatives each that would be in charge of collecting the money but people of Ajah rejected the idea.

He alleged that the following day, Ajah youths wielding guns, invaded Ilaje and set houses ablaze.

“We don’t even have electricity supply again as our transformer was vandalised. Now, 20 children are missing and so many Ilajes have fled the community because of the conflict,” he said.

Police taking sides – Ajah community

Ajah residents, however, denied attacking their Ilaje counterparts. The Chairman, Ajah Community Development Area, Alhaji Rasaq Odunlami, admitted that the Odugbese Abereoje family had come up with a proposal to start collecting toll.

He said Baale of Ajah, Chief Murisiku Oseni, had called on leaders in Ilaje community and they had reached a compromise as regards the issue.

Odunlami said he was surprised that Ilaje residents did not keep their own side of the bargain.

He said, “The matter was brought before the LCDA authorities and the baale was given the authority to make peace between the two. It was agreed that three representatives from each community would be in charge of collecting the toll which was N400 per tipper and we all agreed to this. The following day, when Ajah youths went to collect the toll, they were beaten up and chased away by the Ilaje.

“The Ilajes invaded Ajah and burnt some vehicles. They also injured some residents.”

PUNCH Metro learnt that the police authorities held meeting with both parties at the LCDA. At the venue of the meeting,  the Baale of Ajah and the head of Odugbese Abereoje family were arrested and taken to command headquarters, Ikeja.

Odunlami accused the police of taking sides, saying only residents of Ajah were arrested. “The baale has been arrested for over seven days and it’s very unfair,” he said.

It was observed that an armoured tank and three patrol vehicles were stationed at the entrance of Ilaje community while over 15 policemen were patrolling.

Why we arrested community leader –  PPRO

The spokesperson for the state police command, Ngozi Braide, confirmed the arrest of the baale and two youths found with guns.

Braide denied that the police were taking sides, adding that the baale was arrested on suspicion of sponsoring the violence.

She said, “Ilaje was the affected area as many houses were burnt and because the road is not motorable, fire fighters found it hard putting it out.

“Altogether we’ve arrested about seven suspects and we gathered through intelligence that the baale was likely to be one of the sponsors of the violence that was why he was arrested.”

She said only those found culpable would be prosecuted while others would be freed after the ongoing investigation.

Punch Newspapers

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