By Gbenga Oloniniran
The killing of Adeniyi Sanni, an aide to Senator Solomon Adeola of Ogun West, raises concern about the illegal activities of soldiers who turned their guns against innocent citizens, GBENGA OLONINIRAN writes
Since the killing of a lawyer, Bolanle Raheem, in Lagos, allegedly by a policeman, Drambi Vandi, on Christmas Day, extrajudicial killings appear to have left the police, with suspected soldiers now wearing the killer uniforms.
The positions of some analysts post-EndSARS period that extrajudicial killing is systemic within the armed forces, and not just limited to the police, now seem justified, as suspected men in military uniform have allegedly perpetuated the killing of innocent citizens in recent times.
Lagos, a state that was the hotbed of mass protests against police brutality in 2020, has become the new “war zone” for the “soldiers.”
While many residents are still calling for justice three years after the alleged killing of protesters in Lekki by soldiers, suspected killer-soldiers have gone on the prowl allegedly killing innocent citizens.
For Senator Solomon Adeola and his associates, the murder of the lawmaker’s aide, Adeniyi Sanni, in the early hours of August 5, 2023, allegedly by soldiers cannot be allowed to go unpunished.
The senator representing Ogun West, through his Media Adviser, Kayode Odunaro, had said that late Sanni was stopped by security agents at a checkpoint in Ojodu, on his way to his home in Isheri, Lagos, and he was asked to provide the documents of the car he was driving, which he did through his wife who sent all the documents to his phone via WhatsApp.
According to the senator, it was later learnt that passersby through the next-of-kin phone number on Sanni’s driver’s licence, notified the family that his body was dumped around the Toyota Bus Stop in Oshodi, Lagos with gunshot wounds.
Senator Adeola had since claimed that his aide “was killed by a syndicate of soldiers operating under the newly-deployed Commander of 9 Brigade, Ikeja Cantonment of the Nigeria Army, Brigadier General Nsikan Edet, through the mounting of checkpoints and robbing of lone occupants of cars.”
On August 17, a driver, identified simply as Lawal, was killed by suspected soldiers while on his way to deliver a vehicle to its owner in Abuja.
His friend who was said to be driving ahead of him was said to have witnessed the incident and reported it to the police.
The said soldiers allegedly told Lawal that they were taking him to their barracks only to move him to Iyana Ipaja area of Lagos, where they shot him dead and threw his body into a bush.
The acting Deputy Director of Army Public Relations, 81 Division NA, Lt. Col Olabisi Ayeni, said the army was investigating the matter.
“In as much as information into the allegation is still scanty at the moment, being a responsible organisation, Headquarters 81 Division Nigerian Army considers it appropriate to bring the occurrence to public notice and the steps taken to identify the alleged persons in military uniform, believed to be soldiers and bring them to justice if truly they are serving soldiers.
“The Division is currently investigating in conjunction with the Nigerian Police, Lagos State Command, to unravel the identity of the alleged suspects and the circumstances surrounding the alleged unfortunate incident. At the end of the investigation, if the suspects are identified as serving soldiers, they will be made to face the full wrath of both military and civil laws,” Ayeni said in a statement on August 20.
In June, a commercial driver, Bolaji Sunday, was hospitalised after two yet-to-be-identified soldiers allegedly shot him for parking his vehicle in front of the Oriental Transport Company around Magboro Bus Stop. He fell into a gutter along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway where he was bleeding profusely. The Ogun State Police Public Relations Officer, Omolola Odutola, confirmed the report to our correspondent, saying the suspected soldiers were on the run. The Army also said it was probing the matter.
“I thank God, I am faring well,” Bolaji, who narrowly survived death, told The PUNCH on Wednesday when he was asked about his health.
Contacted on Wednesday for a reaction and an update on the investigation into the recent killings linked to suspected soldiers, the spokesperson for the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Lt. Col. Ayeni, simply said, “Investigation is ongoing.”
The spokesperson for the Headquarters of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, when asked for a reaction to the reports linking Army officers to killings, only shared the earlier released statement of Ayeni with our correspondent, which was silent about the killing of Sanni, linked to suspected soldiers.
Pattern of killings: ‘Uniformed men after new vehicles’
What is not clear is what the suspected soldiers had with vehicles, most of which were said to be new cars being driven by the two murdered victims.
When our correspondent was at the Tuesday candlelight procession held in honour of Sanni, whose remains were later buried on Wednesday, some of his friends and other well-wishers who mourned him wondered why the uniformed men were after new cars.
“It’s because Sanni was a senator’s ally, that is why the matter is popular. It happened to him today, who knows who is next? If it were another person, nobody would hear; ordinary persons have been killed in that manner and nothing came out of it,” one of the deceased’s friends who demanded anonymity said in a random chat with our correspondent.
Another one said, “They have killed a lot of people before Niyi (Sanni). They would kill some people, put them in a vehicle, and take the bodies away, you would think they were knocked down by a vehicle. Many well-dressed people, looking good, and you will just meet their corpses beside the road.”
“The other man (Lawal) was coming from Badagry taking a vehicle somewhere when he was killed at Iyana Ipaja.
“What they are looking for these days are new vehicles. You dealers should be careful,” another man, likely to be a friend of Sanni, was heard telling the next man, being referred to as a car dealer.
“The man killed at Iyana Ipaja, the vehicle he was driving was a Benz (The PUNCH cannot verify the details of the vehicle yet). It was easy to be traced because it was a registered vehicle. If it was not registered, it would have been taken away. No security under this state government. At night, they (uniformed men) wreak havoc, and during the day, they extort,” he added.
Senator Adeola in a statement on Monday had also said that there was a similar pattern in the killing of his aide and the Lagos driver, known as Lawal, alleging that it was a pattern of robbing people of their cars.
“To date, the black Toyota Camry of Mr Sanni, his phones, and other valuables have yet to be recovered,” the lawmaker noted.
Sanni’s brother, Opeyemi, while mourning his brother on Tuesday, said his brother taught him so many things, including how to dress, run, and drive, among others.
“Niyi is still with us in another way, not physically but in spirit,” he said during the procession programme on Tuesday, adding that he did not know how to say his brother was no more.
While the army said it was jointly investigating the killing of Lawal alongside the state police command, the spokesperson for the police in Lagos, Benjamin Hundeyin, said he did not have any update on the matter yet.
“There is no update for now; I don’t have any update for now,” Hundeyin told The PUNCH.
When asked if he knew whether any soldier had been identified over the case, the PPRO said, “You need to speak with the Army for that. I can’t give any information yet.”
Assembly demands state security meeting
The Lagos State House of Assembly, on Tuesday, called on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to convene a security council meeting in the state in a bid to stem the rising spate of killings of residents by men in uniform.
The Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, said, “Where we begin to have one, two, three killings in the state, it calls for concern.
“I quite agree with the prime mover of the motion to call on Mr Governor to quickly hold a meeting with all heads of security agencies in Lagos State to nip this in the bud.
“At least three people have been declared dead, said to be killed by men in either police or army uniforms and we cannot conclude if they are security men or otherwise.”
Speaking earlier under ‘Matter of Urgent Public Importance,’ Hon. Kehinde Joseph (Alimosho 2), had said, “The funny thing is that the series of killings took the same pattern.”
Lagos is still peaceful, govt reacts
Reacting to the call for a security meeting, Gboyega Akosile, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, said the governor had called a security meeting before the Assembly even raised it. He assured that Governor Sanwo-Olu was on top of the security situation in the state.
“It’s a good thing that the lawmakers are talking about it now. It’s not unknown to the governor; he has taken care of the security situation in Lagos State and that is why Lagos State continues to be the most secure state in Nigeria.”
He said addressing insecurity would not be limited to the security agencies alone, but the entire security architecture in the state.
“Just last week, the governor held a security council meeting. The governor is on top of his game and he will continue to hold security meetings to review the security situation,” Akosile said in an interview with our correspondent on Wednesday.
On the killings, Akosile said one could not refer to the perpetrators as soldiers until an investigation revealed such. “Reports say they are men in army uniform. Anybody can masquerade and disguise as a soldier. Until the investigation has been conducted, anybody who perpetuates a crime is a criminal. The government is on top of it and I believe that we are going to stem the tide in Lagos; we will not allow it to snowball into where the state will not be comfortable for residents to live in,” the CPS said.
Groups blame govt
Human rights organisations have, however, condemned the trend, with some describing it as degeneracy in society.
The Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project, Kolawole Oludare, said the killings could be blamed on the government for not putting adequate security architecture in place.
Oludare said, “It is an effect of negligence on the part of those who are supposed to ensure the security and welfare of the citizenry, and that is the purpose of governance. If the government cannot control the criminals that are perpetuating any type of evil leading to the injury and loss of lives of the citizens, the blame is squarely at the doorstep of the government. No excuse is good enough on the part of the government, it is an index of incompetence and negligence.”
Oludare, however, charged residents to be swift in alerting security agencies, saying the victims of the killings might not have died if timely information reached the authorities from citizens. He also wondered why cameras were not at strategic locations in a city like Lagos.
Saying the reason for the killing was unknown and it was not certain if they were soldiers, Oludare, however, noted that the clash between soldiers and officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority was also glaring.
On his part, the National Publicity Secretary, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Gerald Katchy, said it was a result of the overstretching of the military officers.
“The previous administration of the Federal Government made so much use of the military; even in most areas where police are expected to police the society, the government use soldiers, exposing them to many dangers,” Katchy said.
He said the military is now intervening in so many areas where they are not expected, ‘especially in Lagos, we have seen videos of military brutality against policemen or LASTMA officials and it’s on the rise. One of the things that give room to it is impunity and lack of respect for the rule of law.”
Fearing that the situation could give room for anarchy, Katchy called on service chiefs to put officers in check.
Meanwhile, the National Coordinator, Advocate for People’s Rights and Justice, Victor Giwa, blamed it on the economy, saying “It’s a disturbing sign that shows the disconnection and discomfort of people within the military.”
He said when there was hunger and poverty and pressure from the family, and there was a slight provocation, this kind of killings would occur.