Perhaps if there was any premonition that Okitipupa, the headquarters of Okitipupa Local Government Area of Ondo State, would be wrecked in a way that will take years and efforts to rebuild, the people might have prepared to defend the town against the invaders, looters, and criminals who came under the guise of #EndSARS protesters on October 22.
The hoodlums, who clearly had nothing to do with the #EndSARS protests, have since made residents of Okitipupa describe the day the incident happened a Black Thursday.
The people of the town had no pre-knowledge of the invasion, although they knew there were protests against police brutality and other rights abuses that majorly happened in Akure, the capital of Ondo State.
Some youth leaders, who had wanted to replicate the #EndSARS protest in the town, had to call it off after a meeting with some local thought leaders, including the traditional ruler of the city, Jegun of Idepe, Michael Adetoye, the newly elected chairperson of the local government, Igbekele Akinrinwa, and the Divisional Police Officer in charge of the burnt Divisional Police Office, Alabi Abiodun, a chief superintendent of police.
The leaders counseled the youth activists against organising the protest, saying credible intelligence reports did not favor the planned protest
One of the organisers of the aborted protest, Arakunrin NG, told our reporter that they had to call off the protest when it was revealed to them that there was an unfavorable security report on the ground concerning the planned protest.
Narrating his intervention to PREMIUM TIMES, Arakunrin NG said: ”I was called by some stakeholders and student union leaders advising me to call of the protest. I am not based in Ondo State, though.
”The stakeholders said the security report concerning the planned protest was not favorable. So, I had to rush down home to meet with the Area Commander and the Jegun of Idepe,” he said.
He also said he went on air that very day to call off the planned protest in spite of the threats he received from some unnamed persons whom he said insisted the protest must go on.
While the activists bowed to the counsel of the leaders and the DPO, the hoodlums, numbering over 400, according to witnesses, had their own sinister plan.
By the time they invaded the town on October 22, the government and private properties worth millions of naira were left in ruins.
A piece of history, a compendium on the history of the local government, starting from when it used to be Okitipupa Division, which is today’s Okitipupa, Irele, Ilaje and Ese- Odo Local Government Areas, which dated back to 1900, was burnt.
According to those who know, the compendium was over 10,000 pages.
Up till now, only a few of the criminals who carried out the arson have been arrested.
The rest have evaporated without a trail, although the traditional ruler of the town said that “he had invoked the spirit of his ancestors to deal with the hoodlums”.
#EndSARS was organised by some Nigeran youth to protest against police brutality and other human rights infractions, most especially as it relates to the controversial police unit, defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad, now disbanded.
The protests, which took place in most southern cities of the country, practically brought the country to its knees.
Until some criminal elements hijacked it to perpetrate illegality, arson and looting, the #EndSARS protests were hugely peaceful.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, disbanded the controversial police unit and replaced it with SWAT, while the President, Muhammadu Buhari, acceded to the five-point demand of the protesters.
Mr Buhari also promised an extensive reform of the Nigerian Police Force in addition to an improved welfare package for police officers.
On the new welfare package, the President has mandated the National Commission on Income, Wages and Salaries to expedite action on the new salary structure for the police.
Not only that, the president also mandated state governments to set up panels of inquiry to probe police brutality and other rights abuses perpetrated by the police. Some of the state governments have since complied with the directive.
While the protests were ongoing, with pleas from some quarters that the protesters should quit the streets and allow the government to implement the demands, the Lekki shooting happened.
The Lagos State government has denied complicity in the shootings which left two people dead and several others injured.
The Nigerian Army, in one of its latest releases, said its men were at the scene of the protest in Lekki on the order of the Lagos government to ensure compliance with the curfew declared by the state. It later said the operatives only fired blank bullets at the scene.
The Lagos panel has since begun sitting with conflicting testimonies coming as per how the Lekki shootings happened. The end is yet to be heard about it.
Contrary to its earlier pledge to dialogue with the youth concerning the immediate and remote causes of the protests with a view to finding solutions to them, the Federal Government has begun to clamp down on the protesters, freezing some of their accounts and preventing some from traveling abroad. Some have also been arrested.
According to Amnesty International, over 56 people, including police personnel, died in the protests. Some unofficial figures say the number is much more than that.
Ondo curfew, no enforcer
Meanwhile, in order to curtail the #EndSARS protest from snowballing into anarchy, the Ondo State government declared a 24-hour curfew on October 20.
The governor said this was to nip in the bud the possibility of the protests from being hijacked by criminals.
However, PREMIUM TIMES’s investigation of the curfew showed that there were no security operatives to enforce compliance with it.
The absence of security agencies to enforce the curfew, some analysts noted, was the reason hoodlums had a field day.
From the preliminary evaluation of the losses, Okitipupa seems to be the worst hit among the areas where arsonists and thugs looted and burnt in the state.
By the time the hoodlums left the town after hours of besieging it, 58 prisoners had been freed at the Nigerian Correctional Centre located along Idepe Road while the building was razed.
The Police Area Command as well as the Divisional Police Office were razed down with several patrol vehicles going up in flames. Motorcycles parked in the vicinity of the police premises, numbering over 50, were also set ablaze.
The police station in Ode-Aye, a neighboring community to Okitipupa, was razed.
The State High Court Complex located along Okitipupa-Igbokoda road was also destroyed. The complex accommodated two high court halls, two chief magistrates court halls, rent tribunal and a customary court.
The building housing the Independent National Electoral Commission was not spared by the arsonists. They looted 78 new generators that were recently used for the October 10 governorship election by INEC in the state.
The criminals did not spare the building of NSCDC either, that of the Board of Internal Revenue Office or the National Airspace Management Agency(NAMA).
The Okitipupa Local Government Secretariat was also razed to the ground with virtually all its effects looted.
Four shuttle buses for conveying school children within the local government were also burnt beyond recognition.
The shuttle buses were parked within the expansive compound of the secretariat on the day the vandals visited.
The hoodlums also moved to the site of Okitipupa Oil Palm Company(OOPC), a state concern established in the Second Republic by the administration of a late governor of the state, Michael Adekunle Ajasin.
By the time the hoodlums left the scene, the company that was just recovering from years of being moribund, according to its chief executive officer, Taiwo Adewole, lost property worth over N300 million.
The hoodlums also visited the country home of Ifedayo Oyedele, executive director with the Niger Delta Power Holding and gubernatorial, an aspirant on the platform of the APC in the 2020 governorship election in the state.
The house was set ablaze after the thugs looted everything there. Mr Oyedele said the attack on his country home was politically motivated.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, in the company of some of the top government functionaries and heads of security agencies in the state, had visited the local government to assess the extent of the damage as well as sympathise with the people of the town.
Mr Akeredolu pledged to set up a committee to look into the extent of the damage and see how those whose properties were destroyed could be compensated by the government.
He also reaffirmed the commitment of his government towards getting the hoodlums who perpetrated the heinous act to face the full wrath of the law.
The state Deputy Governor-elect, Lucky Ayedatiwa, has also visited the town to assess the damage.
After his assessment of the various scenes of ruins, he declared: ”These evil miscreants will not go unpunished and I assure you, Okitipupa will rise again.”
Meanwhile, Oluyemi Bajowa, a retired major general of the Nigerian army, has donated a block of four flats for the council’s management to use pending when the reconstruction of the secretariat will begin.
He also gave the management of the council led the sum of N5 million to kickstart the rebuilding of the secretariat.
A former chairperson of the council, Larry Ogunmusire, also donated a building as temporary office space for the council’s secretariat.
Mr Ogunmusire, who decried the large scale damage by the miscreants, enjoined all notable sons and daughters of Ikale to come together and see how the council area could be rebuilt.
Meanwhile, some prominent persons in the local government led by Mr Bajowa have set up the ‘Ikale Rehabilitation Trust Fund’ to rebuild what was destroyed by the hoodlums.
Alos, a non-governmental organisation, Waterways Foundation, through its founder, Femi Ogunjumelo, has also pledged to donate towards the reconstruction of the secretariat.
Similarly, the senator representing Ondo South Senatorial District, Nicholas Tofowomo, during an on-the-spot assessment of the town on October 31, promised to rebuild the Police Area Command and restore the looted equipment at the National Airspace Management Authority (NAMA).
Mr Tofowomo said he would do everything he can in the rebuilding process, declaring that ”Okitipupa is so dear to me because they gave me overwhelming votes when I was contesting for the senate in 2019.”
Okitipupa is one of the six local government areas that make up Ondo South which Mr Tofowomo currently represents in the Senate on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).