Living in the ancient town of Oyo, in Oyo State, South West Nigeria has become challenging and tough. In recent years, many residents of the once peaceful town have had to grapple with the repulsive activities of armed gangs, which allegedly enjoy the support of some of its most prominent leader.
Investigation by PREMIUM TIMES, spanning weeks, revealed that these gangs forcefully impose “taxes,” rob the residents and unleash mayhem on those who refuse to obey their “laws.” The situation has made business activities in the town difficult.
In Oyo, the seat of the Alaafin, different areas like Ilaka, Iseke, Akeetan, Akesan (garage), Agunpopo and Isale-Oyo have become hot spots, commonly known as “bases”, and are now occupied by thugs with capacity and penchant for extreme violence.
Recently, the ‘Ilaka’ gang led by Deji Oga-Ade attacked one Alhaji Memudu who now battles sight-threatening injury. A 15-year-old Senior Secondary School 2 student, name withheld, was also allegedly raped by Yemi Ojebode, the gang leader of Gbafoba base at Isale Oyo.
In 2016, Akesan market had been shut twice as rival gangs unleashed violence, destroying property and inflicting injury on people.
Combat ready, thugs brazenly gather at these bases and smoke outlawed marijuana in the full glare of the public. In Ilaka, Garage, and Iseke, PREMIUM TIMES noticed that the air was filled with hemp smoke even though it was a hot afternoon.
“You can’t just pass through Garage without inhaling marijuana smoke; it is like one even smokes,” the commercial motorcyclist conveying this reporter said in Yoruba language.
Multiple sources, including the police, residents and community leaders, confirmed that the thugs have severally unleashed violence on their respective strongholds, destroying property, sacking markets and injuring people.
“ARMED WITH GUNS”
The situation in Oyo town goes beyond just bizzare gathering of thugs in open places, smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol.
For Akesan traders, the biggest nightmare is the thought that rival gangs could unleash violence on the market used as a battlefield whenever the Ilaka gang have a fight with their rivals.
Whenever this happens, Lati Tunji explained to PREMIUM TIMES, the market would be shut down for most of the day.
“We (traders) will have to close as they will be on rampage attacking everybody,” he said.
“Everywhere in Oyo, you see bases where thugs sit day and night,” a resident, Abiola Adisa, said. “This makes one to live in fear because anytime these boys could start fighting.”
“I live at Akesan; so, I am a witness to their fights,” Mr. Adisa added; “they use guns, not just machetes and bottles.”
Guns were freely used when the Ilaka and Agunpopo gangs fought themselves on January 4.
The teenage rape victim said that she was threatened with a gun by Mr. Ojebode before unwillingly submitting her to the allegedly criminal action.7
“And this is why it may be right to say these guys are responsible for cases of robbery and murders in Oyo,” Olanrewaju Mohammed, a banker and Treasurer of Oyo Global Forum, said.
“Of course they use guns when fighting. But besides that, when you have young men sit and smoke, use good items of clothing without any job, they must be making money from robbery.”
Apparently conscious of legal implications of their attacks and possession of deadly weapons, the thugs, particularly those from Ilaka, usually wear masks, witnesses said.
Recalling a recent incident, Kehinde Ikeola, told PREMIUM TIMES, “I saw the Ilaka boys when they were emerging from their base, numbering about 120. I believe they were joined by their “comrades” from other bases in solidarity.
“It was like Boko Haram wanted to capture a town. In fact, when police officers encountered them, they (the police) fled before they later came back with reinforcements.”
FORCEFUL IMPOSITION OF TAX
Like the Ilaka boys, thugs at other areas also close roads, destroy property and attack people.
Perhaps the most brazen of this is at Iseke/Akeetan axis of the town, which goes beyond gang violence, coming close to formation of parallel government.
A gang of thugs, led by Adam Salawu and Monsuru Kazeem, notoriously known as Anabi Iseke (prophet of Iseke) and Agbara Iseke (the powerful one of Iseke) respectively, have “firm control” of the area, forcibly collecting “tax and royalty” from residents and shop owners.
In fact, the Anabi Iseke, at his seat of power, fixed a banner on which he calls himself “AUTHORITY 1”.
Shalewa, a shop owner who would not give her other name for security reasons, said, “My shop is at Iseke; we used to beg them with money and if they don’t collect it that means your shop is in trouble.”
A businessman in the area, who sought anonymity because of his closeness to Anabi Iseke, explained that, “When you are just opening shop here, you have to go to them (the gang) to inform them and give them money.
“The money you pay is to ask not to be robbed. But after the initial payment, you have to continue paying whenever they come for the tax. And if you sell alcoholic products, they may carry your goods without payment.
“If you don’t comply or don’t inform and pay them initially when you are opening shop, the shop will be burgled the following night. It is law and everybody knows it.”
He continued, “After one’s shop is burgled, one can report to Anabi Iseke or Agbara Iseke the following morning. If one is lucky, one gets some of the goods back, but that will be after payment.”
Thus, residents and shop owners do not only know who the robbers are, the robbers themselves admit to committing the crime without remorse.
“Everything you have been told is the truth,” the Baale of Akeetan, Jimoh Oyeleye told this newspaper, confirming the notoriety of the gang whose activities include robbery.
But so dreadful are the gangs that even Mr. Oyeleye would resist speaking in details.
Speaking in Yoruba, the traditional ruler declined further comments, saying “Gbogbo eniyan ni o fe jeun omo (everybody want to reap the fruits of their labour).”
“Iseke is surely more than what you people are thinking because some people even fear Anabi Iseke and Agbara Iseke than they fear God,” another resident, Abdul Tunde, who also had brushes with the gangs, said.
Enquiries by this newspaper revealed that residents have little confidence in the capacity of the police in Oyo Township to curb the criminal activities of the gangs spread across different areas of the ancient town.
Ms. Shalewa said, “You are talking about the Police at Iseke. I think you don’t know these people.”
The trader narrated an incident to buttress her point.
“One day, Iseke was doing igbo day (marijuana day) and Ilaka guys came to fight them. They had war; I mean war. Some elders called the police but once they knew it was Iseke guys, I swear they turned back. Now tell me, is that Police?”
When contacted by PREMIUM TIMES, Oyo State Police Public Relations Officer, Adekunle Ajisebutu, said the state command had no knowledge of the situation in Oyo “officially”.
Mr. Ajisebutu asked that he should be furnished with information in respect of the activities of the gangs and this was done immediately. One week after, when he was contacted again on January 8, the police spokesperson merely said, “Let’s talk tomorrow, please.”
However, on a radio program last Thursday, he acknowledged the security situation in Oyo and assured the Police was making efforts to check gang violence in Oyo. He also said many of the suspected hoodlums had been arrested.
Although the Oyo West Local Government Area Police Division confirmed cases of violence perpetrated by the Anabi Iseke-led gang and other hoodlums at Garage, it, however, said there was no report that residents were being extorted and looted.
The Divisional Police Officer, Afees Oyekan, and Divisional Crime Officer, Peter Okon, spoke with PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Oyekan said the police could not arrest people over allegations of illegal imposition of royalty without report or petition from the residents.
“Nobody is too big for the police to arrest but we need cooperation of the residents,” he said.
However, residents are scared of reporting the incidents of robbery and extortion to the police.
Mr. Oyeleye debunked the police claim, saying the Oyo State Police Command once disclosed his identity to thugs when he reported the criminal activities of the gangs, thereby subjecting him to risk of being of attacked.
Even when the thugs are arrested, never for robbery but violence, they are released “shortly without prosecution,” a resident said, adding that, “when they come back, those suspected as police informants are in trouble.”
This is why people are afraid of reporting them to the police even when they are victims of robbery, the resident added.
However, Mr. Oyekan confirmed that between December 31, 2015 and January 2, this year, five members of the Iseke gang, including Anabi Iseke, were arrested.
The police action followed the visit of PREMIUM TIMES to the ancient town and growing condemnation of the gangs’ activities among Oyo youth on Facebook.
According to Mr. Oyekan, the suspects were released on the grounds of fundamental human right ground because “courts are not sitting now.”
The police chief later said two of the hoodlums were again arrested and had been charged to court.
But residents said the two persons arrested in the latest Police raid were not thugs but those who had come to the thugs’ party to arrange musical instruments.
Spearheaded by Oyo Global Forum, OGF, a global network of Oyo indigenes, an anti-violence campaign with the hashtag #saveoyotown on social media now gains traction.
But one of the activists, Ezekiel Ayansola, has received threat messages twice since January 3 via an anonymous number customized “omo aye (child of the terrestrial powers).”
In response to the growing campaign, the police have arrested some of the members of the gangs. However, kingpins like Deji Oga-Ade (Ilaka gang) Agbara Iseke (Iseke gang), Anabi Iseke (Iseke gang), Yemi Ojebode (the alleged rapist, Gbafoba gang), Jamiu Bello (Agunpopo gang) are yet to be apprehended.
THE ALAAFIN’s LINK
As our findings revealed, thuggery and violence against people became “institutionalized” with the formation of Tobalase group around 2007.
According to a 2009 report of the State Security Services obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, Tobalase was founded by the Alaafin of Oyo, Lamidi Adeyemi, “originally to oust the Baale Ago Oja, hence the location of their base contiguous to both Ashipa’s residence and the market of Isale-Oyo”.
The Alaafin is the traditional ruler of Oyo Town, and one of the two most revered monarchs in South-Western Nigeria.
“The group (Tobalase) has included in their activities harassment and intimidation of perceived enemies of the monarch within the three (3) LGAs in Oyo,” the report added.
Amid receding moral and educational standards, and growing poverty, the Tobalase example served as motivational variable for idle youth who began constituting themselves into gangs at different areas of the town.
From Agunpopo to Iseke, pictures and name of the Alaafin were seen at different thugs’ bases visited by PREMIUM TIMES.
Some of the gangs even coin names for their bases, indicating affinity with and endorsement of the Alaafin. The names include: “Awa o ba Oba dite (we do not fight the king) at Iseke; Gbafoba (we submit to king) at Isale-Oyo etc.
Sources also said that the Alaafin was physically present at the “launch” of some these bases.
For instance, on January 3, the monarch reportedly graced such occasion of the Agunpopo gang. He was represented by his security aide, Jamiu Bello, commonly known as Aroba.
Mr. Bello reportedly led the Agunpopo gang against their Ilaka counterparts in the fights that shut Akesan market temporarily on January 11 and 12. He was subsequently arrested two days later by the police but was later released.
“By all indices, we find this to be surprising and demeaning of the institution of the Alaafin,” Oyo Global Forum said in its January 7 letter to the monarch.
“We have taken several steps to get the police to act decisively on the scourge but it appears the police are reluctant to act because of perceived endorsement of the palace of the criminal activities of the gangsters many of whom actually frequent the palace.
“In fact, whenever the police did manage to effect some arrests, there are always pressure of certain palace officials including Alhaji Nurudeen Adeyemi, one Opatola and members of group of individuals tagged “The G-4″ to release the suspect’s.”
They asked the monarch to ensure an end to the gang violence in his domain.
SCARED OF THE ALAAFIN
Many Oyo residents, who believe in the Alaafin’s complicity, would not say so publicly for fear of reprisal attacks.
“Everywhere in Oyo, you see bases where thugs sit day and night,” a resident, who identified himself as Mr. Adisa said.
“This makes one to live in fear because anytime these boys could start fighting. What’s disturbing is that those that should be our leaders are sponsoring those thugs. Go to their bases, you will see bill board displaying picture of our leader (Alaafin) who encourages the thugs openly erected.”
Similarly a top police source at Oyo East Police Division, when asked why security agencies have not been able to check violence in the town, said members of the gangs were encouraged by some known leader in the town.
“Even if you arrest them, they will call your boss in Ibadan to ensure their release. It’s a big problem,” the Police source lamented. “As of now, the problem can only stop if those leaders cooperate or want the problem to stop.”
Muideen Olagunju , the lawmaker representing Oyo East/Oyo West in the Oyo State House of Assembly was rather blunt on the issue.
“See, I have given up on the police. It is an institution that easily buckles to undue influence,” Mr. Olagunju told PREMIUM TIMES.
“The OGF sent a delegation to the Area Commander last year with a letter. I was in the delegation and we met the AC in person. As high ranking as he is, he threw a challenge at us: how do we, Oyos, break the yoke of undue influence? He didn’t have to name names. We knew what he was talking about.
“These thugs simply have and will continue to enjoy support from our Palace (of Alaafin). I am not very certain the Alaafin himself is on to this but there are certain blocs in the palace who have these boys at their beck and call.
“Police action is easily reversed by a call saying: ‘Baba ni ki e release won (Baba said you should release them)’. There is no quick fix. We need to be more direct and stop talking in hush tones.”
Also, the Divisional Police Officer, Atiba Local Government Area said he had established link between the suspected rapist Mr. Ojebode, who heads the Isale-Oyo based Gbafoba base, and the Palace.
Mr. Ojebode is now at large. But the Alaafin has disowned him and said he should be arrested anywhere he is seen, the police boss added.
However, Alaafin’s son, Akeem Adeyemi, who represents the Oyo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, insisted his father had no link with the gangs; blaming impostors instead.
“Alaafin belongs to everybody and he loves Oyo,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
The lawmaker disclosed he is planning to convene a security summit.
The younger Adeyemi also said he and his father held a meeting with the state governor, Abiola Ajimobi, on the security challenge in the town.
He said the police had been given the order to dismantle the bases.
Although, the Alaafin’s pictures have been removed from the bases, except at that of Agunpopo gang, they are yet to be dismantled at the time of this report.
Alaafin has also repeatedly denied link with gangs.
Coordinated by Oyo Global Forum, members of the public, including National Association of Oyo Students, Oyo Progressive Assembly, have continued to intensify campaign that all gangs bases should be demolished.
Also, the Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association, Oyo branch, Ayodele Olawuwo, told PREMIUM TIMES the body “is ready to offer pro bono service to victims of gang violence” in Oyo.