Inside Ondo Community Where One Police Post Serves Four Towns, With Residents Living In Fear
NEWS DIGEST – Four communities in Akoko North-West Local Government Area of Ondo State live without security apparatus to safeguard the lives and properties of the residents, despite the alarming security situation in Nigeria. Adesola Ikulajolu visited the four communities–Ajowa-Akoko, Ikaram-Akoko, Ibaram-Akoko and Erusu-Akoko, and brings this report.
When the colonial government established the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) in 1820, it was Nigeria’s principal law enforcement agency. In 1930, the government merged northern and southern regional Police to form the Nigeria Police Force.
The responsibility of NPF is to prevent crime, apprehend offenders and protect life and properties of citizens. This responsibility is not evident in the Akoko North-West area of Ondo State, where kidnap cases are increasing.
Akoko North-West has a population of over 213,792 inhabitants. The local government has about 16 communities, sharing boundaries with Ekiti and Kogi states.
The entrance road into Ibaram-Akoko that links to Ikaram and Ajowa.
Fighting Insecurity with No Gun, No Vehicle and One Officer
While returning from his farm located at Eda-Ekiti, a criminal gang kidnapped Ade Gbodi, a Higher National Diploma (HND) graduate. They abducted him a few kilometres to his Iyoke-Ikaram home along Okeagbe/Ikaram road. They later demanded N10 million ransom from his family.
Earlier in May 2021, gunmen also kidnapped two residents of Ikaram-Akoko. The two abductions occurred within 48hours.
In Ikaram, one of the communities under the Akoko-Northwest Local Government, residents suffer many kidnappings regularly. While some return safely after paying a huge ransom, others never get back alive to their family.
At the Iyoke community close to Ikaram, kidnappers also took away the cousin of Sunday Ojo, a truck driver.
Like other residents, his fear increased knowing that the Police may not help him despite living next to the village’s police post that serves four other neighbouring communities.
This reporter visited the police post located in Ikaram-Akoko. Painted blue, yellow and green- the police colour, the station has only one personnel, no gun and no vehicle for operation. The officer, who identified himself as Inspector Adeleye, referred the reporter to the Divisional Police Headquarters located at Oke-Agbe Akoko, the headquarters of the local government for any complaints.
Mr Sunday was close to tears while sharing the experience of rescuing his cousin. The Ikaram police post has no security apparatus, and the two-star police officer is helpless, he said.
“What is the point of having a policeman with no gun. The whole town of Ikaram has only one police post. The officer in that station is an inspector, and he has no assistant, no vehicle, just a motorcycle,” he told this reporter.
According to the Police Command structure, a police inspector has four junior ranks, while a police post is the lowest in the organisational structure of the Police.
Despite the increase in insecurity in the Southwest, especially in Ondo State, Erusu-Akoko community has no police post. This is the same situation at Ibaram-Akoko and Iyani-Akoko. The three communities share a border with Ikaram-Akoko, where the only police post is located.
Ikaram has a population of 8,289 residents, while Ibaram has 1,529 inhabitants, according to the 1999 national census.
This reporter gathered that the population has increased with the 2006 national census and 2016 projection. But the population increase and the increasing security challenge in the four communities have not caused the Police to establish a divisional office.
Two Policemen, Empty NSCDC Outpost for Over 12,000 Residents
Ajowa-Akoko community came into existence in 1955 when eight other neighbouring villages came together and gave the town its name “A jo wa” (meaning we came together). Under Oba R.A Olusa in 1954, the community had written to the then government of the Western Region led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Action Group that smaller villages had agreed to come together in forming a single community.
In June 2021, Ajowa-Akoko was thrown into fear when gunmen invaded the home of a farmer, killed two of his children and kidnapped his two sons. The police station in the community was utterly helpless due to a lack of human and material resources.
When this reporter visited the Ajowa community, the old-looking police station was deserted, with no traces of police officers in the entire community.
On a bright afternoon, the reporter visited the police station but met an old-broken car outside, an empty counter, two chairs and a table with a case file lying on it. The board where names of offenders are always written was also empty.
The bike man who took the reporter to the police station said only two police officers in the community always are not at their duty post.
“Even when there is an emergency case involving kidnapping or robbery to report, we will have to call the police officers on the phone before they come.”
Meanwhile, according to the United Nations (UN), the standard for the Police to population is one police officer for every four hundred and fifty citizens. For the growing population of Ajowa-Akoko, with about 12,119 inhabitants, only two police officers are deployed to the community.
A resident of the Ajowa community, Mr Johnson Ogunleye, told this reporter that the two police officers could not handle the several criminal cases in the community.
“When you get to the Ajowa Police Station, you will meet only two officers. You know per square metre how many police officers are supposed to be there, but here, only two police officers for the whole of Ajowa, that is over 10,000 people. There is no way they can handle any security case.”
This reporter also visited the office of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in Ajowa-Akoko, located in Ajowa-Akoko, but as the police station, it was also empty.
The NSCDC, first introduced in May 1967 during the Civil War in Nigeria, was established by Act No 2 of 2003 with security responsibilities and later amended by Act 6 on June 4 2007, to strengthen further and empower the corps for better service delivery.
An NSCDC officer was seen playing a ludo game with himself in a building looking like an abandoned warehouse.
The officer declined to identify himself or comment on the reporter’s questions.
When asked if he was the only officer in the outpost and how many security cases have been handled in the last few months, he said only the head office in Akure (Ondo State capital) could provide such information.
“You can go to Akure to look for your information. This station is just an outpost,” the NSCDC officer told the reporter.
Meanwhile, there is an army post at Ajowa, along the road that connects to Kogi State.
“There was no security in the community before. That is why the town was porous, but immediately the cases of kidnapping started increasing in Ajowa, they deployed men of the Nigerian Army, but they sit in their base every day,” Mr Ogunleye told this reporter.
Residents Express Fear
This reporter spoke with residents of the four communities who expressed fear over the area’s inadequate security apparatus and police personnel.
Olori Abigail Atibioke is a market woman. She goes to neighbouring communities to buy and sell. She is scared to stay away from her Ibaram-home because of the numerous kidnap reports she has heard.
“If it is how they are saying is that they kidnap one person, the government should make arrangements for maximum safety. I heard they kidnapped a king recently and another person in his home close to us here. Sometimes when they report the kidnappings, I do ask if it is true or not.
In the whole of Ibaram, there is no police station. We are using the one at Ikaram, but we don’t feel safe.”
The paramount ruler of Erusu-Akoko, Oba Sunday Mogaji, told this reporter that the community had made a request for a police station, but it was never granted. He raised the alarm that “the government is the cause of insecurity in Nigeria.”
“When you allow bandits in your own country, they can do anything they like. They will kill our people, and nobody will complain; they will call you a terrorist if you talk. The government should drive the people away from the forest and stop them from terrorising us.”
With about 371,800 personnel for over 200 million populations, the Nigeria Police Force is overstretched.
A report in 2018 by The Police Service Commission states that over 150,000 police personnel were attached to VIPs and unauthorized persons in the country. Another account explains that despite the alarming rate of robberies, kidnappings and insurgencies in Nigeria, citizens are left with 20 per cent of police officers exercising their civic duties. In comparison, about 80 per cent are attached to government officials, corporate organisations, multinational companies or people in business.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015, gave an order to the police authorities to withdraw police guards from VIPs to allow them to tackle the rising insecurity in the country, but the order has been ignored.
The Vice-Principal of Ajowa Community Grammar School, Mr Yemi, said he doesn’t stay long in the school premises because of insecurity. Before he was transferred to Ajowa-Akoko, the information was that the rate of kidnapping was high in Akoko.
“I don’t know anybody here; when it is 2 pm, I take my bag and leave. I only pray to get to my place safely. There is no police anywhere.”
Community Policing Curbing Crimes
Mr Yemi told this reporter that the synergy between the vigilantes and other security agents is helping the community, noting that indigenes are part of those giving information to the kidnappers.
The four communities rely on Operation Amotekun and a security outfit made up of vigilantes and local hunters in all the six states of south-western Nigeria with the mandate to curb insecurity in the region.
The Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) codenamed Operation Amotekun was founded on January 9, 2020, in Ibadan, Oyo State, as the first regional security outfit initiated by a geopolitical zone in Nigeria.
In September 2021, a criminal gang kidnapped 12 travellers plying the Ifira-Akoko road to Lagos from Abuja. They were rescued by men of the operation Amotekun who combed the forests that led to other parts of Kogi State, where the abductors fled, leaving the victims behind.
Although of the three days this reporter visited the four communities, there was no sight of the Amotekun patrol vehicle nor police van.
From Erusu Akoko to Ajowa Akoko, there were no Police Checking-points except Ibaram-Akoko, where there is a vigilante checkpoint and Ajowa-Akoko, where an Army checkpoint is located.
Elder Tunde, as he is called in Ibaram community told this reporter that the only security they rely on is the vigilantes and Amotekun because they are part of the community.
“Nobody wants to die; even if herdsmen enter our farm, we cannot fight them. If we challenge them, they will attack us, and there is nothing we can do. We only use vigilantes, but now we have Amotekun who knows the forest very well. They have local guns,” the 70yr-old-man told the reporter.
In a statement credited to the Ondo State commander, Chief Adetunji Adeleye, he said the corps has attended to 2,633 cases and foiled 35 kidnap cases within 16 months (May 2020 to September 2021).
This reporter visited Ikaram-Akunnu Akoko road, where three construction workers were whisked away by suspected kidnappers. The reporter noticed the presence of herders as their cows were grazing around the bush.
Could these men be among those terrorising the local communities in Ondo State; time will tell.
Free Press Unlimited supported this report through the Campus Reporter Project of Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism.