FUN TURNED AWRY

FUN TURNED AWRY

Why street carnivals end in violence

Intense rivalry among youths, cult gangs and quest for political positions have been responsible for the recent mayhem during street carnivals in the neighbourhoods of Lagos and Oyo states, reports KUNLE AKINRINADE.

The ambience of Anifowoshe Street, Somolu area of Lagos State, on Easter Sunday, was filled with joyful excitement. The youths, in a carnival-like procession, danced round the street as music wafted from big loud speakers mounted by a Fuji musician, Fatai Akanbi Valentine, who entertained them at the event.

A few hours later, precisely at 8 pm, what began on a peaceful and merry note slipped into violence, when the music stopped in the middle of magisterial dance by guests, including the chairman of Somolu Local Government, AbdulHamed Salawu aka Dullar, and others. It happened that some hoodlums suddenly invaded the party and smashed broken bottles and iron of shapes and sizes on guests as people scampered into safety.

The council chair was among those brutally assaulted at the event. The hoodlums first poured alcohol on his face, before smashing a glass cup on his face. His brother, Sulayman, who managed to rescue him and took him to a hospital was not spared. His hand was wounded in the fracas, while one of the council chief’s aides called Dare Ibironke was injured too.

The Somolu bloody carnival was not the first in the state; not a few carnivals had been turned into theatre of war by youths in recent times.

All hell was let loose on Sunday January 14, 2018 after hoodlums unleashed terror on residents of Ipaja, a Lagos suburb, during a fracas at a carnival organised by a white garment church.

The pandemonium broke out between 7pm to 9.30 pm following a fight between some youths during the ceremony organised by Fogofoluwa Cherubim and Seraphim Church on Gbadamosi Close, Pako area of Baruwa, Ipaja.

Witnesses disclosed that the church was celebrating one of their members who had just returned from trance, when a disagreement between two youths over a girl led to a scuffle. One of the youths at the event was said to have attacked a boy for dancing suggestively with his girlfriend.

The altercation led to a fight during which the girl’s boyfriend was brutalised. The boy was said to have angrily left the venue of the event, only for him to return with over 100 hoodlums to attack anyone in sight as people ran for their dear lives.

Scores of residents were brutalised and stabbed as the warring youths freely used dangerous weapons, including cutlass and broken bottles, to attack themselves and innocent bystanders. The hoodlums were said to have moved freely from house to house to attack people and dispossess residents of their valuables.

It took the intervention of men of Ipaja Police Division to restore peace in the community, while some of the perpetrators were arrested. The police were said to have rushed some of the victims to a nearby private hospital where they were treated for machete cuts.

It was learnt that some of the perpetrators were arrested and detained at the Ipaja Police Station, but they were later released on bail following the intervention of some community leaders.

One of the victims, Sheriff Aremo, a bricklayer-cum-commercial motorcycle operator popular called okada had barely returned home from a visit to his pastor when the hoodlums swooped on him. He was stabbed on his head and robbed of a sum of N40, 000 as the hoodlums searched his room for valuables.

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Aremo recalled the attack on his life saying: “I am a bricklayer but I usually used my motorcycle to carry passengers whenever I am broke. The incident happened on Sunday January 14, 2018. There was a C&S church beside my house and the church staged a carnival to celebrate a member who had just returned from a trance. It was during the ceremony that a fight broke out among the guests and some people were said to have been brutalised by some hoodlums. Those who were brutalised later left to reinforce and returned to unleash terror on innocent people around.

“I had just returned from the residence of my pastor at about 9.30 pm on my motorbike when those who were earlier beaten up at the event returned with some hoodlums. They stormed my residence and beat me to a stupor and stabbed me with machete in several parts of my head. They also stole my handset and went into my room and stole a sum of N40,000 I had saved up to start a small business later this year.

”The hoodlums also attacked other people, especially those who were taking fresh air outside their homes. We were later brought to the hospital by policemen attached to Ipaja Police Division who arrived the scene to disperse the mob and arrested some of the perpetrators.

“There was a young man like me who was also brutalised and stabbed on his head. The wound on the man’s head was so deep that two fingers could be slotted into it without being seen at all.”

Another victim, Ahmed Jimoh, 24, said he was at the venue of the event to see his two siblings, who were invited to the ceremony as guests. According to him, it was while he was waiting for his brothers to finish with a discussion they were having with some guests that the hoodlums arrived and pounced on him.

The hoodlums inflicted deep machete cuts on Ahmed’s head and passed him for dead before abandoning him in a pool of his blood. He said he woke up in the hospital where the police brought him for treatment after dispersing the hoodlums.

“I live at Oluwaga area of Baruwa, Ipaja, but I went to the church to call my brothers who were attending the ceremony but they were engrossed in a discussion with some people. So I went out to buy some snacks and I was eating outside the church premises when some hoodlums emerged from nowhere and pounced on me.

“I never knew that there was a fight among the guests before my arrival. So, when the hoodlums arrived, they unleashed terror on everyone in sight and I was among the victims. The cuts inflicted on my head are so deep because the hoodlums used a combination of machetes and broken bottles to attack me and I passed out in a pool of my blood.”

Also, on Sunday February 25, 2018, a street carnival organized by youths oft AIT Road, Alagbado, area of Lagos State, turned bloody after some unidentified operatives of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) allegedly killed three persons.

The FSARS operatives allegedly went to the party to arrest a youth leader and chieftain of Tricyclists Operators Association (TOAN), a transport association locked in a running battle with a rival association affiliated with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).

Angered by the killing, the youths were said to have burnt two vehicles parked inside the nearby NURTW’s Alagbado motor park in the early hours of Monday, while some drivers who slept in the park scampered into safety.

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Witnesses said while two persons shot by the policemen died on the spot, the third victim died at a private hospital where he was rushed to. It took the intervention of men of the Rapid Response Squad of Lagos State Police Command to restore normalcy in the area.

Reason for mayhem at carnivals

The violence-marred carnivals can be traced to rivalry among youths and residents of streets in the neighbourhoods and the infiltration of politicians who often use the event to either launder their image, intimidate opposition or score points as the ‘supreme’ political leaders in their domain.

This was the case with the Alagbado mayhem where some youths loyal to a transporter were singled out for reproach by a rival transport association. A resident who asked not to be named said: “There has been a rivalry between two commercial tricyclists’ association in this area. We learnt that a top member of NURTW at the nearby motor park asked some FSARS operatives to trail one of the youths, who is also a chieftain of a rival tricyclists’ association to the carnival organized by the youths in this community. Unfortunately, the policemen missed their target and shot at the youths who queried their presence at the party.

“Three youths were killed in the process and the youths retaliated by setting ablaze two buses parked inside the NURTW-owned motor park near the Kollington Bus Stop. We are calling on law enforcement agencies to help contain possible reprisals.”

The Somolu violence had political undertone. An unidentified politician was said to have orchestrated the attack to demonstrate his supremacy over some politicians, including the assaulted council chief.

A source had said: “Dullar’s people went to report at the police station. On their way back, they learnt that Dotun Taiwo, who works at the local government Revenue Department, had been stabbed by the touts. He was unconscious when we got back to the scene. He was also rushed to the hospital.

“We later learnt that the attack was premeditated to kill the council chairman. It was orchestrated by a politician who cannot stand any opposition in next year’s election.”

In the case of Agbelekale violence-marred carnival, rival youths from other streets were said to have launched the attack to affirm their perceived supremacy over other youths in the community.

“The boys felt they were not given their place in history for being the ones who organised the first street carnival in the community, hence, they disrupt the event after one of them was insulted on the stage,” said a youth who identified himself simply as Adewole.

Failed intervention

Worried about the incessant loss of lives and property during carnivals, especially in Ibadan, the Oyo State Police Command on October 3, 2016, vow to enforce a law prohibiting the events.

The state police command issued the warning in reaction to the bloody Eid-El-Kabir carnival in Ekotedo area of Ibadan, during which some lives were lost and property destroyed. The police also declared wanted the two leaders of the rival cult groups identified as Ogungbemi and Ojoweli alleged to be masterminds of the crisis.

Youths in Isale Osi area of Ibadan, however, defied the order by staging a street carnival on Sunday October 22, 2017, during which hoodlums attacked the organisers, guests and innocent residents. A number of residents were robbed and battered by the hoodlums, while some ladies were also raped.

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In Lagos, despite a warning by the state police command in December 2015, banning street carnivals, youths in different parts of the state are still in the habit of throwing street parties, many of which assumed a bloody dimension and destruction of lives and property.

In the first week of January this year, a street carnival staged in the Agbelekale area of Abule Egba ended on a violent note after some youths from other adjoining streets attacked guests and destroyed vehicles parked on the streets.

A security expert, Mr Usman Aleji, said the beauty of carnivals had been overshadowed by their violent end. He urged law enforcement agencies, especially the police, to ensure strict enforcement of the law banning carnivals in the state.

“Whichever way you look at it, street carnivals have become a platform to exhibit bellicosity, hatred, reprisals and supremacy fight among youths, community leaders and political leaders.

“Given the inadequacy of police personnel and overwhelming challenges facing other law enforcement agencies in the country, which hamper effective security of lives and property, the only way to prevent fracas at such events is to discourage people from organising carnivals or compel organisers to sign undertaking in case mayhem occurs during such events.”

In his view, the Chief Executive Officer of Lagos-based Systems Security Solutions Limited, Mr Rowland Onos, urged the police to always engage the leadership of community development associations in order to prevent breakdown of law and order during street carnivals.

“The leadership of community development associations should be engaged by the police and other security agencies with a view to making them responsible for any breach of peace at street carnivals, since they are closer to the organisers, who are mainly youths in their neighbourhoods.”

The spokesman of Lagos State Police Command, Mr Chike Oti, said it was unlawful for anyone or groups to organise street carnivals without police permission.

He explained that organisers of carnivals that degenerate into fracas would be held liable for any breach of peace or breakdown of law and order.

He said: “What we have come to realise is that street carnivals often degenerate into violence or free for all. Sometimes, street carnivals have become an opportunity for cult groups to settle scores and attack their perceived enemies and at times it leads to bloodshed.

“Our position is that anyone that wants to organise street carnivals must first write to us for permission stating the date, time and venue. If we approve the carnival, that means we are going to provide adequate security protection to ensure that the event does not degenerate into violence or bloodshed. But during the Yuletide (Christmas and New Year) period, we don’t grant permission for street carnivals because a lot of carnivals are organised during the period and we don’t have enough manpower to secure all the places where such carnivals are being staged.

“If anybody organises a street carnival without police permission and the event degenerates into violence, the organisers would be held responsible and we can also stop the occasion to forestall breakdown of law and order. However, the punishment for organisers of such carnivals would depend on what happens at the occasion. We can arrest organisers and charge them for breach of public peace if the carnival endangers public peace and other sundry offences that will depend on the outcome of what happens on the occasion.”