The bloody confrontation, which broke out between men of the Lagos State Police Command and commercial motorcyclists at the Itire area of the metropolis, is one hell of a battle, which residents are still talking about. That day, the police shot point black at civilians while the civilians hurled stones and sticks at them. The crisis in the Itire community lasted two days before it came to a head on Sunday.
Nobody knew for sure what led to the fracas, especially as the police hierarchy in Lagos refused to make any official statement on the matter. However, our reporter, who went to the scene of the incident, returned with fresher information.
It was learnt that the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of the Itire Police Station, had to engage the services of local security personnel called “Ozemede” to protect his station from being burnt by the marauding motorcyclists. The security outfit, consisting mostly of individuals from the eastern part of the country, came together and decided to complement the efforts of the police.
The idea was to protect the police station from being burnt by the protesting motorcyclists. Our reporter heard that at least five members of the motorcyclists association at Itire died from gunshot wounds sustained during the clash with the police on that fateful Sunday. They were said to have died at the hospital, where they were rushed to for medical attention.
It was also learnt that two of the victims were first mowed down, later followed by the three others. Witnesses said the clash between the police and the motorcyclists started after two motorcycles, belonging to Hausa riders, were impounded by policemen from Itire Police Station, contravening the Lagos State Traffic Law. The owners of the two motorcycles reported the incident to their chairman, who in turn informed other members of their association.
The members mobilised and marched to the police station, to protest the seizure of the motorcycles. It was further learnt that the motorcyclists in their hundreds, besieged the station, chanting war songs in their native language, threatening to burn the station. When the DPO in charge of Itire heard the chanting, he left his office and came out to address the motorcyclists.
He urged them to leave the station, promising that the matter would be resolved amicably and that the motorcycles would be returned to their owners. One the witnesses, who didn’t want his name to be mentioned, said: “To the shock of everyone, especially the policemen, the motorcyclists, rather than leave as advised by the DPO, started hurling stones and other objects at them.
The policemen had to fire canisters of tear gas in order to disperse the motorcyclists, but they refused to leave.” A resident in the area, Mr. Alabi Kareem, said: “Immediately the policemen fired the canisters of tear gas, the motorcyclists grabbed nearby woods, broken bottles and other dangerous weapons and hurled at them at the policemen, right at the station.
That was when the policemen started using live ammunitions on the cyclists. I don’t know where the motorcyclists got the courage, but just as the policemen were shooting at them, they continued to hurl stones, sticks and other objects at them. The policemen also refused to budge; it was like a war zone that fateful day.
“The clash between the police and the motorcyclists paralysed business activities in the area on that Saturday. Thank God the incident was not on a school day, when children used to walk on the streets. We would have had more casualties. The government should regulate activities of the motorcyclists in the state, especially the Hausa. Many of them believe they are untouchable. They seem to believe they own Lagos.
The way they fought with policemen, who were armed, and the manner they wanted to burn down the police station, was shocking. In fact, if not for the quick response of the policemen in meeting fire for fire, those motorcyclists would have set the station on fire.”
Kareem disclosed that as one of the passengers in Itire, who used to hire the services of motorcyclists, he and other people had come to be cautious in dealing with the motorcyclists. He said that whenever the motorcyclists were over speeding and someone tries to caution them, they would pick up a fight.
“We’re sitting on a time bomb in this state. This was how Boko Haram started in the North. I pray we don’t experience such here,” Kareem added. A youth leader in the community, who wished to be identified simply as Ajala, recalled that when the motorcyclists invaded the police station, the policemen had been calm and respectful toward them, but suddenly, everything changed as they were making efforts to enter into the station to set it ablaze.
He said: “The excesses of these northern motorcyclists are becoming unbearable. When you go to Second Rainbow area, Apapa and Cele bus stop, you’ll see how they operate without regards for traffic laws and law enforcement officers. I heard that the clash of that Saturday clash was because two motorcyclists’ motorcycles were impounded by the police. The cyclists and their colleagues wanted to retrieve the motorcycles by force.
The police had to resort to using tear gas to disperse them. Two of the cyclists died on that Saturday as a result of gunshot wounds sustained during their confrontation with the police. Another three died on Sunday at a private hospital.” Ajala said that some hoodlums seized the opportunity to loot people’s shops and vandalised vehicles parked on the streets.
He added: “I want to urge the government to come up with a stringent law to regulate the excess of the motorcyclists in the state, especially those of northern extraction. This is because, if they continue the way they had been doing, they may go the way of what we are experiencing in the North.
I pray to God to save us, so that we wouldn’t get to that stage.” Another resident, identified as Idris, said that the police were the first to fire canisters of tear gas at the motorcyclists and this made the motorcycle riders to start hurling stones, sticks and planks at them. According to him, some policemen were injured in the process. Idris recollected that the policemen replied the cyclists with gunshots, during which a bullet hit someone and he died instantly, while another sustained gunshot injury in his mouth. According to him, that person also died at the hospital where he was rushed to for treatment.
He said: “When the police fired the canisters of tear gas to disperse the motorcyclists, the cyclists responded by hurling stones and other objects at them. The policemen then shot at the cyclists and a bullet got someone in the mouth. A bullet also got another person and he died.
But sadly, he was not part of the cyclists. He was sitting somewhere when the bullet hit him. He died on the spot.” Another resident, who pleaded anonymity, said the mayhem lasted for hours before peace was restored. He said: “The police eventually chased the cyclists away. And as I speak with you, armed policemen are still patrolling the area.
A lot of policemen were injured. It was hell in our area that day as gunshots rent the air for hours.” A motorcyclist, Abdulahi Umaru, told our correspondent that two of their colleagues whose motorcycles were impounded by the police didn’t contravene the traffic law. Umaru explained that immediately the motorcycles were collected from them, their chairman was alerted of the incident. He said: “After the chairman received the call, we all mobilised and went to the police station to retrieve the motorcycles from the police peacefully.
Unfortunately, when we got to the station, our chairman was trying to persuade the policemen, but suddenly, to our shock, the policemen started firing canisters of tear gas at us. They said we should leave their station and out of annoyance, we replied them with stones, broken bottles and other objects.
They then started shooting at us. Before I knew what was happening, two of our members had been hit by bullets, in the stomach and in the mouth. Both died at the hospital and again, three others died the following day due to gunshot wounds.” Another motorcyclist, Mr. Benjamin Yakubu, said riders were law-abiding citizens and that the police had no right to be shooting at them for demanding the release of their motorcycles, which were the source of their livelihood. He added: “We only went there to ask them to release those two motorcycles. We didn’t go there to make trouble.
We were surprised when the policemen attacked us with tear gas. Aside from the two motorcycles, which were impounded, the police also seized some of our members’ motorcycles when we went to the station to attempt to retrieve the first two motorcycles. We were planning to take those who died to Adamawa State for burial.
The unfortunate thing is that we used to give these policemen money, even when they didn’t ask but now, they are killing us. If not because of the security situation in the North, we wouldn’t be in Lagos. We have informed our elders in Adamawa about their death. We don’t know what their family members are going through since they heard the news of their death. All we want is justice for our murdered brothers.”
The Chairman, Motorcycle Riders’ Association, Mr. Ishiaku Joseph, explained that he had just taken a passenger to Ijesha from Itire when he received a phone call from one of his members, saying that policemen had impounded his motorcycle, with that of another member.
He said: “As their chairman, whenever there is any problem, they always call on me to assist them. After I dropped the passenger off, I went to the police station with other cyclists to prevail on the police to release the motorcycles to me or I should give them money. I never expected what happened next.
I was still talking to the policeman who seized the motorcycles, when one of them suddenly came out from nowhere and asked us to leave their station, that we were causing obstruction on the road. Before I knew what was happening, they had started firing canisters of tear gas at us. Our members, angry, started hurling stones and other objects at them. That was how we started hearing gunshots. I was shocked when two of our members were hit by bullets and died before we could rush them to hospital.
Unfortunately, three of our members also died on Sunday, making the total number of those killed by the police to be five. At least 15 motorcycles were seized by the policemen. We want justice for our departed colleagues and our motorcycles released to us.” The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Muyiwa Adejobi, said he was not aware of the incident. He promised find out about the facts of the case and revert to our correspondent. But at press time, he was yet to do so.