No fewer than two persons have been feared killed after a group of Yoruba nation agitators clashed with men of the Lagos State Police Command around the Gani Fawehinmi Park in the Ojota area of the state.
Recall that the police shot a salesgirl, Jumoke Oyeleke, to death while dispersing the Yoruba nation protesters at the same park on July 3, 2021.
A coroner’s inquest into the circumstances surrounding the events that claimed the life of the 25-year-old indicted the police, but no suspect was released for prosecution.
The agitators were protesting again on Monday when the policemen fired tear-gas canisters to disperse them.
A tricycle operator, who refused to disclose his name for fear of being arrested by armed policemen parading the premises, said the protesters were demonstrating peacefully when a policewoman gave the order to disperse them.
He said, “I saw the woman receiving a call; she did not wear any uniform but she was part of the police team that was mobilised to the area. Immediately after she finished receiving the call, she gave an order for the protesters to be dispersed and they started shooting the protesters.
“The bullets could not penetrate the protesters’ bodies, so the policemen fired tear-gas canisters. What the protesters did was use kerosene to rub their eyes so the tear gas would not affect them. There was confusion when they started shooting and firing tear gas; many of us ran away.
“The protesters injured two of the policemen; I don’t know whether they died or not but I saw them carrying them away from the scene. A vehicle was also burnt.”
Another eyewitness, who runs a business in front of Ojota Park and spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the protesters arrived at the park around 3am.
He explained that as buses dropped off the protesters, he saw them clustering and thought that they were stranded passengers.
“No one was scared that they could be armed robbers because if they had that intention, we were just few that were around at that time.
“But it was in the morning that we knew their true intention was to protest as we saw them clustering around the Ojota Park and displaying banners and the flag of the Oodua Nation. This was around 8am and they never acted in a manner that showed that they wanted to fight.
“They were just protesting peacefully and it was when the police came that everything scattered as they started shooting tear gas canisters to disperse them.
“I saw somebody lying motionless on the ground but could not wait to confirm if he was dead or alive as I had to run because the tear gas was too much and it was affecting me,” the businessman said.
While speaking to the businessman, a policeman, who was unaware that our correspondent was sourcing information from him, said one of his colleagues was hacked with cutlasses.
The policeman said, “If they were protesting peacefully, then why did they resort to damaging people’s property? They chased and caught up with one of my colleagues who fired tear gas canisters and used cutlasses to hack him.
“He has been rushed to a hospital; if he dies, nothing will happen. There would be no compensation to his family. All we will just hear is that he died on active duty.
“Why did the protesters burn an innocent man’s vehicle? They also vandalised the windshield of some of our vehicles. I would have also been a victim of the attack but had to release two bullets to scare them when they were coming in my direction.”
At the scene, our correspondent observed uneasiness due to the presence of heavily armed policemen.
No fewer than 28 police vehicles, including officials of the Lagos Rapid Response Squad; Lagos State Environment and Special Offences Enforcement Unit; the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and policemen from a nearby station, were sighted at the scene.
Also, a Black Maria was sighted and people, some of whom eyewitnesses claimed were innocent, were seen in the vehicle.
Shattered glass also littered the road as signs of a bonfire were observed at the spot where the vehicle was burnt.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, who confirmed the incident in a post on Twitter, said one person died.
He said, “In the early hours of today (Monday), miscreants masquerading as Yoruba Nation agitators came out in their hundreds, disrupting social and commercial activities in the Ojota area of the state.
“A team of police officers, comprising Alausa division and the Raid Respond Squad promptly stepped in to disperse the unlawful gathering and prevent a breakdown of law and order.
“The miscreants attacked the police, shooting, and destroying two vehicles in the process. One person has been confirmed dead, while two police officers shot by the miscreants are currently receiving treatment.
“Four suspects have been arrested and investigations have commenced. Meanwhile, normalcy has been restored in the area.”
Reacting to the incident, one of the leaders of the Yoruba self-determination group, Prof. Banji Akintoye, said two people lost their lives.
Akintoye, while speaking in an interview monitored by our correspondent on YouTube, said the protesters gathered to carry out a peaceful rally in support of their agitation for the Yoruba nation.
He said, “Their purposes are clear; self-determination for the Yoruba nation. Their methods have always been clear. A peaceful rally, no weapons, no violence of any kind, no regarding the police as enemies, no regarding any officials of the Nigerian state as enemies, those were the conditions upon which the young men gathered this morning to carry out a rally.
“Even before they settled down as they were arriving at the centre where they wanted to carry out the rally, the Nigeria police approached them and started shooting them. Already, we learnt that two young men have been killed as a result of the police fire.”
Newspot with Additional report from The Punch