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Amotekun, others fill void as soldiers withdraw from checkpoints, highways in Ondo

Few days ago, soldiers from the 32 Artillery Brigade in Akure, Ondo State, abandoned checkpoints in the state and returned to the barracks. In this report ADEWALE MOMOH and BABATOPE OKEOWO write on the efforts of other security agencies, particularly the Amotekun Corps, at filling the void and how residents of the state have been reacting to the development.

Amid the heightened dire security situation of the country, military personnel in Ondo State took everyone by surprise when they suddenly withdrew from checkpoints and inter-state boundaries in the state last week. The absence of the soldiers was noticed across the inter-state boundaries as well as checkpoints along Ago-Ajayi, Owo-Ikare Junction, Owena, Ajue, Igbara-Oke and Uso-Owo highways some days back.

Although no official confirmation has been issued in this regard as the brigade was yet to react to the development. However, according to a security source who confided in our correspondents over the development, the withdrawal of the soldiers was due to a cold war with the Commander of the Amotekun Corps in the state, Chief Adetunji Adeleye.

The soldiers were said to have been ordered to dismantle all military checkpoints with the directive that the affected soldiers should return to the barracks. According to findings, the withdrawal of the soldiers from the checkpoints was the climax of the cold war between Adeleye and the soldiers even as the intervention of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu was said to have failed to yield any result. According to the source, the operations of Amotekun had been protested on the ground that the outfit’s operations in the state were allegedly targeted against some persons who are from another part of the country.

“How do you expect our Oga to cooperate with Amotekun when the targets of the operations of the outfit are all his people? “We are not against Amotekun as long as they are fighting crime and criminality but why are they always arresting only people of a particular ethnic group and expect the man to be happy here?

“So we are leaving for Amotekun; let them take the roads and protect the people because the government does not want us to work and even help to fight crime,” he said. Also, it was alleged that the Brigade Commander of 32 Artillery Brigade, Brigadier- General Yakubu Yerima has reportedly stayed away from State Security Council meetings in the last six months over the situation. Efforts to speak with the spokesperson of the 32 Artillery Brigade, Omojokun on the development proved abortive as he did not answer calls made to his lines and did not reply to text messages sent.

Concerned over the situation as criminals might take advantage of the withdrawal and returned to the highways across the state after a long absence of their nefarious activities on the road, most residents as well as motorists had expressed fear over the move by the soldiers.

The residents had thought that the peace currently being enjoyed in the state may be eroded if urgent measures were not taken by the government to fill the void created by the withdrawal of the soldiers. According to a motorist, Abiodun Fatunbi, the way the withdrawal was done by the soldiers was not the right move as the entry points into the state were not mounted by security operatives a few days ago.

Fatunbi said: “When I drove into Ondo State after leaving Kogi State, I noticed that something was amiss after I did not see any soldier at the boundary. I was a bit scared because it was quite unusual in the last six years that I have been going that route.” The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the government have exchanged brickbats over the withdrawal of the military from the checkpoints in the state.

There was allegation and counter allegation between the opposing sides. The spokesperson of the party, Kennedy Peretei in a statement blamed the removal of the military men from the checkpoints on the inability of the government to pay stipends to the soldiers at the various beats.

The PDP said: “Soldiers that man security checkpoints in Ondo State, especially at the inter-state boundaries have abandoned the checkpoints. This is as a result of the refusal of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu to pay allowances due to these personnel. Over the years, the Army high command approved the mobilisation of soldiers to 32 strategic locations in the state to stem the activities of kidnappers and other criminals on the condition that the state government pays a token as allowances to the soldiers.

This arrangement preceded the incumbent administration under Akeredolu.” However, in a quick response the Commissioner for Information, Mr Donald Ojogo slammed the opposition for politicizing the security situation in the state. In his statement titled “Removal of Military Checkpoints and PDP’s Undiscerning Position”, he said: “The spurious efforts of the opposition PDP to weaponise a seeming situation of near sabotage, clearly shows how detached they are from the arena of vigilance.

To them, everything is politics and politics must be infused into everything, including the safety and welfare of the people. No discerning group could have bought into such cheaply brandished propaganda. “The Ondo State Government desires not to go into the merits of the flying story about non-payment of allowances to any arm of the military. It deserves no such efforts more so, that the concerned arm of the military has yet to issue any statement in that regard. “It must be noted that notwithstanding the politicisation of any situation, the Ondo State Government ably led by Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu (SAN) shall not, under whatever circumstances, succumb to blackmail and allow any puerile allegation wrapped under ethnicised platforms to wrought further violence on our people. “It must be clear to all, including the PDP, that the target is Amotekun.

Unfortunately for whomever whose motive is to perpetrate violence under any guise, our resolve to sustain Amotekun remains unwavering. We won’t be deterred in any form. Our time-tested character and attitude toward tackling insecurity even at odd times shall not be compromised.”

Luckily though, other security agencies in the state, however, rekindled the hope of people in ensuring the security of the state following the mobilisation of the abandoned checkpoints as well as arrest of suspected bandits and criminals during the period that the highways have been deserted by the soldiers. About two days after the development, some youths from the Northern part of the country were apprehended by the Ondo State Security Network Agency, also known as Amotekun Corps, for allegedly arriving the state without any cogent purpose.

With 30 of them tagged as “wanderers” still at large, the Amotekun Corps stated that they constituted a security threat following the suspicious manner in which they were seen moving in the state. Parading the wanderers, who were all young men at the headquarters of the corps in Alagbaka, Akure, the state capital, the Commander, Chief Adetunji Adeleye disclosed that the suspects were first sighted along the Ilesa-Akure Expressway. Adeleye added that following when they were noticed at Ilesa-Akure road, the suspects were trailed by his men to Arakale road after they were caught hiding in a trailer load of beans.

“Our men while on duty saw a suspected vehicle loaded with beans and they then trailed the vehicle to Akure. They finally stopped it along Arakale road and while searching the vehicle we realised they were carrying not only beans but also 18 young men.” Adeleye emphasised that following the interception of the men, they failed to provide genuine answers to the questions posed to them as regards their destination and mission in the state. While stating that the suspects would be handed over to the Head of Hausa community in state to take them back to their various destinations, Adeleye said that they could constitute nuisance in the state if they had not been intercepted.

Less than 48 hours after the “wanderers” were nabbed, no fewer than 18 suspected bandits were apprehended by operatives of the Amotekun Corps over an alleged plan to ‘invade’ the state. The suspected bandits were arrested with guns as well as over 500 weapons secretly concealed in bags filled with tiger nuts.

It was learnt that the bandits were pursued by Amotekun Corps operatives before they were caught in Ondo town, headquarters of Ondo West Local Government Area of the state The bandits were said to have taken off from Katsina State in three 18-seater passenger buses before arriving in the state on Thursday, November 4. According to the Amotekun Commander, two of the three buses which stormed the state escaped but the gallant efforts of his men and other security operatives led to the arrest of one of the buses.

Adeleye, who disclosed this while parading the suspects at the Amotekun headquarters in Alagbaka, Akure, added that the bandits had escaped from various checkpoints after entering the state before their arrest in Ondo town. He added that an intelligence report regarding the movement of the bandits before entering the state aided the operation. He said: “We got Intel that a group of men are coming to invade the state, so we set out our monitoring devices. And precisely at about 1:30am on Thursday we saw three hummer buses that we had actually been trailing till they entered the state.

“They had a brief stop just before they entered the town and we tried to stop them, but the three buses escaped, so we had to radio all our control points and we were able to bring the three buses to a stop at a point on Ondo Road with the combined team of police and civil defence. “The buses attempted to overrun the security agents and speed off. In fact, the speed with which they took off, that is after stopping, was so much that they hit all the barricades on the road and they took off.

“We found out that it was difficult pursuing them and decided that we don’t want to cause any accidents, so we radioed our station on Owena, so the security men on Owena blocked the road for all vehicles. On getting there, they were able to escape by hitting the barricades again. We continued pursuing them while we called the Ile-Oluji junction, saying that they should block the road there but they also escaped.

“After that we now had a solid and complete blockage before the Akure garage in Ondo town and we were able to apprehend them. “They claimed that they were coming to Akure and the driver said somebody commissioned them from Kaduna State but that he doesn’t know the content of the bag filled with tiger nuts. On opening the bags we found some guns, rounds of ammunition and under the seat found about 500 types of different types and sizes of dagger and poisonous jack knives cleverly concealed under the seats.

“When we asked them what they intended to do, they told us that they were just given instructions to go and that further instructions will be given to them.” Adeleye, who maintained that the two other buses that escaped would be nabbed, stated that the arrested suspects would be charged to court as soon as investigations were concluded. The leader of the Hausa community in the state and the Chairman, Miyetti Allah, Mallam Bala Umaru and Usman Bello, lauded the Amotekun Corps for the prompt moves to squash the planned attack.

Bala and Bello, who said they were born in Ondo and have taken the state as their home, denounced the suspected bandits and condemned any attempt to move such dangerous weapons from the north to the state. According to them, the incident would have caused internecine clashes between the Hausa/Fulani communities and their hosts if the security agencies had not been proactive.

They rained curses on the sponsors of such deadly acts and prayed that the security personnel arrest the other suspects at large. Also, to further fortify the security of the State after the soldiers’ withdrawal, men of the Nigeria Police were deployed to man the various checkpoints on highways within the state.

The Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, in the state, DSP Funmi Odunlami stated that the deployment was due to the withdrawal of soldiers from all military checkpoints on major highways in the state, adding that the move became imperative due to the apprehension among residents of the state. Odunlami said: “After what happened, we have deployed our men to that axis because people have been apprehensive of probable breach of security in those areas and that is why we have to act now to allay fears of residents and motorists.” She urged commuters and motorists to go about lawful businesses and report any extortion by any police officers to the command.

 

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