Fears of violence in ‘Operation Wetie’ epicentre as campaigns begin

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Ibadan, the capital of the old Western Region was the seat of power and the epicentre of the political crisis of the early 1960s in the South-West, which was christened ‘Operation Wetie.’

The crisis, which gave the region the infamy sobriquet of ‘Wild Wild West,’ led to massive destruction of lives and property which those who witnessed it never prayed to see again.

Operation Wetie, which was used to describe the large-scale violence which trailed the protracted political struggle for power between Chiefs Ladoke Akintola and Obafemi Awolowo, both deceased, after the two political allies had fallen apart, culminated in the eventual coup of January 15, 1966, which truncated the First Republic.

Ibadan has become a hotbed of political crisis since that time, and to prevent a recurrence of such a situation where urchins and miscreants capitalise on political campaigns expected to start on September 28, some residents said security agencies must be neutral and deal decisively with anybody caught perpetrating any act of violence to serve as a deterrent to others.

There have been allegations and counter allegations from the ruling party and the opposition parties on plans to unleash violence during the campaigns. The defections of some notable leaders in the Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress to other political parties may even stretch the police and other agencies more because some of the defectors left acrimoniously and this may increase hostilities during electioneering.

A former chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, Alhaji Adebisi Olopoeyan left the umbrella party due to his strong disagreement with Governor Seyi Makinde. Moment after his declaration for the New Nigeria People’s Party, Olopoeyan said Park Management System members attacked his residents and that the policemen attached to him, with the help of some people, arrested some of the attackers.

But the PMS also debunked the allegations and said Olopoeyan’s boys were the ones that unleashed terror on PMS members.

The All Progressives Congress in a recent statement asked the police to investigate a video clip wherein the Chairman of the state PMS, Alhaji Mukaila Lamidi, aka Auxiliary, threatened the APC governorship candidate, Senator Teslim Folarin.

The party’s statement read in part, “We wish to express our concern about the safety of Senator Teslim Folarin based on the vicious antecedents of Lamidi, which have resulted in the loss of many lives and property in recent years. The infamous clash at the Iwo Road Interchange that killed a medical student of Ahmadu Bello University and countless travellers; the bloody attack on innocent telephone sellers at Iwo Road that claimed the life of one of the phone sellers; and the recent attack on residents of Ali-Iwo area that killed two people are still vivid in our memories.

“Owing to Lamidi’s violent tendencies, we have no choice but to call on the state security agencies, particularly the Oyo State command of the Nigeria Police Force and the Department of State Services to expedite the investigation on Lamidi’s threat to Folarin’s life before it is too late.

But while reacting to the APC allegations, the Publicity Secretary of the PDP in the state, Akeem Olatunji, described the claims of the opposition party in the state as a false alarm. He said the police should focus their attention on Folarin, who he said had become desperate in his bid to occupy the Oyo State Government House at Agodi.

The PDP statement read in part, “We have on good authority how Folarin and his cohorts are recruiting and rearing political thugs and hoodlums, especially in Ibadan in his desperation to become governor, and we are not oblivious of the fact that he may start springing up surprises in form of attacks on popular individuals not on the same political page with him just as he is notable for and then raise false alarm to divert suspicion away from him.

“We want to use this medium to call on the state Commissioner of Police, Adebowale Williams, and the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Baba Usman to immediately beam security searchlights on Folarin to prevent his desperation from rearing its ugly head as it allegedly did with the late Eleweomo.

“For the sake of emphasis, we want to state unequivocally clear that absolutely nothing untoward must happen to the PDP governorship candidate, Governor Seyi Makinde, or any of the state government officials under this present government, including Lamidi as our party will not hesitate to deploy every means within the confines of the law to fight Folarin and his APC.”

The governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party in Oyo State, Mr Michael Lana, has also accused Auxiliary and his boys of destroying his campaign billboards and those of other political parties except the ones belonging to the PDP.

Lana, who is a former Attorney General of Oyo State, said this in a petition written to Williams, in which he accused the police of refusing to investigate all criminal allegations against Auxiliary.

The petition read in part, “It is on record that some thugs shot at an APC candidate in the state last week. Everyone already knows that the only instrument the present governor of Oyo State relies on for the forthcoming election is violence to be perpetrated by Auxiliary and his boys.

“However, what is worrisome is the refusal of the police to investigate all the allegations of criminality made against Auxiliary.

“Be informed that these actions are an invitation to anarchy, especially in a city where the oft-talked about ‘Operation Wetie’ tragedy took place. I wish to inform you that the PDP or Auxiliary does not have a monopoly of violence. And we are sure that the reason for the destruction of billboards is because I am the solicitor for the National Union of Road Transport Workers who instituted an action to dislodge Auxiliary and his boys from the motor parks and account for all the monies they have illegally appropriated in his illegal usurpation of my clients’ duties with the connivance of the governor.”

However, the PMS said described the claims by the SDP governorship candidate as an attempt to tarnish the image of Auxiliary. The PMS said Lana should back his allegation with evidence or stop making “spurious allegations against Auxiliary.”

The organisation’s Public Relations Officer, Emiola Jelili, said this while speaking with our correspondent on the allegation.

He said, “We are unaware of his allegations and besides, there is no truth in it because Lana does not have any evidence to back up his claims. We are also aware that the oppositions in the state are just looking for ways to tarnish the image of Auxiliary. We have told all opposition parties in the state to look inwards into their parties problems to stop accusing Auxiliary wrongfully.”

An octogenarian in the state, Pa Samuel Olaniyi, told our correspondent that security agencies, political parties as well as religious organisations have a role to play to avoid plunging the state into a conflagration.

Olaniyi said, “Elections will hold in 2023 and the campaigns will start very soon according to the timetable released by INEC. My advice to contestants and their supporters is that they should tell the electorate what they have for them. They should tell us about their programmes and the plans they have to deliver on their promises.

“We don’t want violence. We cannot add political violence to the tragedies that have befallen the people. We ought to have outgrown this crude method of politics. Even smaller countries in West Africa don’t engage in political savagery which has almost become synonymous with us here in Nigeria.”

A political analyst, Tayo Adegbola, also told our correspondent in an interview that the politicians and security agents have a big role to play to prevent the breakdown of law and order during the period of the campaigns.

He said, “We have to talk to politicians to avoid making inciting comments. If the main actors are not violent, their supporters won’t gravitate towards violent activities, but when the contestants and party leaders are making incendiary statements, the state may go up in flames.”

Also, the Secretary-General of the Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide, told our correspondent that the politicians must okay the game by the rules to avoid crisis, while also calling on security agencies to arrest and prosecute diligently anybody who ran afoul of the law.

The YCE scribe said, “My advice will be to the security agencies and to the politicians themselves. But security agencies must do their job. There used to be a notification or permit to security agencies if there is going to be a political campaign somewhere, with this the police and other agencies must ensure that politicians abide by the rules.

“It is very important that there should be no use of offensive language and provocative statements during campaigns. If the police are notified, they should be well prepared for such rallies to make sure that nothing goes wrong.”

Speaking with our correspondent on the telephone, the Police Public Relations Officer for Oyo State Police Command, Adewale Osifeso, said Williams had invited political parties and contestants to a meeting slated for Tuesday on the need to shun violence as the campaign starts.

He said, “The CP will make known the outcome of the meeting to the public.”

The police commissioner had in August called on political stakeholders in the state to a similar meeting where he told them to shun any act capable of truncating the relative peace and tranquillity being enjoyed in the state. The CP said this at a Security Sensitisation and Awareness meeting ahead of the commencement of the political campaign for the 2023 general elections.

The CP, in a statement by the PPRO, said, “Part of the measures being taken include regular high octane patrols across the length and breadth of the state, intelligence-led stop and search and technological aided surveillance.”

The CP added that the Oyo State Police Command had formed a special crowd control unit to cater for cases of crowd management before, during and after the campaigns.

He, however, tasked parents, guardians and community leaders to prevail on their children, wards and proteges not to yield to the temptation of being used “as cannon fodders by agents of mischief to disrupt the polity, as heavy sanctions await violators in accordance with the laws and statues of the land.”

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