.19 worshippers killed in 2012 church attack;
.8 policemen, military officers killed between 2012 and last Tuesday; 27 insurgents killed within same period
.We’re not safe even with the Police – Okene traditional ruler
A violent sect, Al-Sunnah which is rooted in Okene, the socio-political capital of Ebira land, gets bloodier as authorities act in denial of its existence.
Last month, September 25, suspected insurgents numbering 40 attacked the headquarters of the Department of State Security (DSS) in Kogi State capital Lokoja in a bid to free their members from detention. Eyewitness had said the gunmen arrived at 9:40 pm and waited till about 10:30 pm before commencing their operation after three offensive groups were strategically positioned at intervals on the Hassan Usman Katsina Road.
The road leading from the Nigeria Police Zone 8 headquarters, the new Confluence Stadium, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and to the DSS office was barricaded by the gunmen shortly before the NAN Junction with a long truck placed across.
The gunmen, it was gathered, planned to launch attack later that night but a sudden emergence of a police patrol vehicle on routine patrol to the area which was apparently oblivious of the operation triggered the attack, an eye witness explained. The police vehicle which was caught between the first and second groups was shot at from both directions and the occupants had to abandon the vehicle and crawl out to report the happening and call for reinforcement.
A combined team of security forces from the Police, the Nigerian Army and DSS later engaged the insurgents in a gun duel that left an assistant superintendent of Police (ASP) from Kaduna State and three of the gunmen dead.
The gunmen carried out their assaults on the DSS office with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and destroyed vehicles and structures with some of its members reportedly released from detention. It was gathered that the attack was launched on the DSS facility by the group primarily to secure the release of its members detained at the facility.
Commenting on the incident which lasted about four hours, Emmanuel Ojukwu, Commissioner of Police in the state confirmed the death of the ASP in the operation but could not say whether the gunmen were of the Boko Haram sect.
“I cannot confirm whether they are Boko Haram or not. All I know is that they are criminal elements and the law will take its course. We are investigating the circumstances that led to that attack, their motive and others”, he said.
Following the attack on the DSS Office in Lokoja, it was gathered that some of the detainees who were freed from detention were later traced to somewhere in Okene, the central part of the state where the sect is said to have its hideout. The military, acting on intelligence reports, stormed the hideout somewhere at the Inike Ward in Okene Local Government Area of the state last Tuesday.
It was gathered that the ensuing gun battle which lasted several hours left over 15 insurgents killed while a soldier reportedly died. A security source hinted that the sect which allegedly had their link to the Republic of Iran were with large amounts of money in both foreign and local currencies at the time of the raid.
The source added that the fundamentalists who later mobilised their other members against the military set ablaze some operational vehicles belonging to the soldiers. In turn, the soldiers who called for reinforcement set their mosque ablaze.
Police Spokesman in the state, William Aya, who confirmed the incident said he could not comment more since it was a military operation.
Speaking on the activities of the group, a resident of Okene, Omeiza Salihu, said their existence dates back to 1985 when one Baba Sadiq Omuya, now late, founded the group. He said the group propagated some teachings that were against the teachings of Islam and have been accused of being responsible for some of the criminal activities perpetrated in that axis. According to him, the group’s teaching was against traditional masquerade festivals and payment of dowry before marriage in Ebira land.
He said some politicians patronized the group to advance their political interests, thereby empowering them in the process to the point that they became overbearing in their activities.
Commenting on the persistent high rate of criminality in the central part of Kogi especially in Okene, a retired police officer, DSP Adai Unoko, blamed the people of the area for not exposing such bad elements to the security agencies. “Until the people decide to stand against evil and expose the perpetrators, it will be difficult to wipe out crime in the area”, he said.
On his part, the Okene paramount ruler, Ohi of Okene, Alhaji Yakubu Yusuf who expressed bitterness over the activities of criminal elements in the area, complained that the development has given a bad name to the entire Ebira race.
He said some politicians are instrumental to the rising level of criminality in the area as they often sponsor these youths for their selfish interest only to dump them. The traditional ruler also mentioned poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and hunger as some of the factors that fuel various shades of criminalities in the area.
He said the traditional institutions in the area are not sleeping over the situation as, according to him, ‘commercialization of security challenges’ in Ebira land remained a major issue, alleging that some of the criminal elements often strike deals with some security agents, thus making the matter complicated.
He lamented that there were occasions whereby members of the public that volunteered information to the police about activities of such criminals often get killed as the security agents would disclose the identity of such informants to the criminal elements, making many people to keep quite over criminal activities.
Kogi State had long be experiencing confrontations with criminal activities similar to those of Boko Haram insurgents around North-east, but constant denial of such activities by various stakeholders in Kogi State, including the state government, kept the group of youths perpetuating such activities out of national consciousness and blocked necessary security checks.
Tongues would only wag in the state, especially in the Central Senatorial District, after they would have carried out an attack that typically leads to some deaths.
The October 13 confrontation with the military is the second clash with this group called Al-Sunnah in about three years and in each confrontation the gunmen always suffer more casualties than the military.
Violent activities of the group started in the area in 2012 with the production IEDs which was then used in attacking banks during robbery operations. Many banks in the state were raided with the IED devices in which several millions of naira was carted away while many deaths were recorded.
The year 2012 marked the discovery by security agents of IED making factory in Okene town of Okene LGA and in Eika Adagu community in neighbouring Okehi LGA of the state. At the Eika factory chemicals and other bomb making accessories were found in a room and parlour apartment occupied by the gunmen while in Okene, a police vest, a Quran and a sack of can used in making bomb were found inside a room apartment.
It was believed then that they were manufacturing the IED in Kogi State and taking them to Boko Haram strongholds in the Northeast for operations.
Sometime in April 2012 gunmen engaged the military in a gun battle for several hours at a cave in a hill in Idoma area of Obehira, about five kilometres from Okene heartland. The operation was so tense that the military had to send for re-enforcement from Abuja and were only able to overpower the suspected gunmen after a military helicopter smoked them out of the cave.
The operation which lasted for over seven hours left nine of the gunmen, a military officer and an SSS official dead. The gunmen were suspected to be Boko Haram elements and the incident was the first time that the sect which had been launching attacks mostly in the Northeast demonstrated its presence in Kogi State, though it was greeted with denial as usual.
As the area was getting over the killings, sometime in June 2012, gunmen attacked worshipers in the Deeper Life Bible Church at Eika Dagun in Okehi LGA at 7 pm, instantly killing 19 people and injuring several others
The gunmen on reaching the church were said to have switched off the generator set before shooting the worshipers at close range, and the church flowed with the blood of the victims.
A few days after the killing at the Deeper Life Church, gunmen attacked soldiers on patrol at a mosque in Okene, killing two officers. The gunmen who were clad in white garments, according to sources, turned up in a Hilux pickup van chanting some Islamic songs before opening fire on the military men on patrol at the mosque.
Also sometime in January 2013, the gunmen struck again like Boko Haram when they ambushed Mali-bound soldiers at Abobo village on the Okene – Lokoja road, killing two soldiers and injuring five others. The soldiers were being conveyed in a convoy of two luxury buses from some military formations in the southern part of the country to Kaduna when they were attacked by the gunmen about 6 am of that day.
Then in July 2014, a car loaded with explosive devices waiting for Deeper Life worshipers to close from church service at their church located on the outskirts of Okene and along the road to Obehira, exploded before the close of service, injuring those handling the devices.
After that, in November 2014, gunmen attacked the Kotonkarfe Federal Prison and set free 144 inmates, including their gang members. The attack which lasted for over four hours led to the death of two FRSC officials and one prison inmate.
The suspicion that the criminal elements harassing Kogi State have bearing with Boko Haram derives from certain characteristics that have been established over time. The spokesperson of the Boko Haram sect, Abu Kaka was said to hail from kogi State while a lecturer at the State University is still being held in prison on the allegation of being a member of the sect.
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday on the issue, a member of the Okene community still believes there are no Boko Haram in the area but Islamic fundamentalists. The member (name withheld) said they are fundamentalists fighting the police and State Security Service over the arrest of their members.
“These are the people who attacked the SSS office to release their members. The gang according to what we heard had promised to engage the military in a gun battle anytime they would come to arrest their injured member. And that actually happened when the military came to the area,” he said, adding, “We have not really had Boko Haram sect in the area. These boys had been in the area for long. They call themselves Al-sunnah and have been using the Mosque where they had confrontation with the military.”