South-West governors, end omo onile illegality now!

PENULTIMATE week, tragedy struck in Osogbo, Osun State,  as some suspected hoodlums popularly known as omo onile beat a commercial motorcyclist to death while ‘raiding’ construction sites in the area. The motorcylist simply identified as Seun reportedly gave up the ghost at a hospital on Saturday, January 21 following the injuries he had sustained the previous day. According to eyewitnesses, the hoodlums numbering three had hired Seun around noon on Friday, January 20 and mandated him to take them round some construction sites in the area. However, after the deceased had fulfilled his own part of the bargain and his pleas to the hoodlums to pay for the services rendered failed, he refused their request to take them to other construction sites. It was at this point that the infuriated hoodlums pounced on him, beating him to stupor.  Some of his colleague bike riders who  were near the scene of the commotion then took him to a hospital for treatment. Sadly, he died in the early hours of Saturday, January 21. Naturally, the incident sparked a protest as irate residents of the area who learnt that policemen from Ota Efun Division had arrested some of the hoodlums in question stormed the Police Divisional Office and demanded that they  be released to them. They threatened to burn down the station if the police failed to comply.

Omo onile violence in Osun State and indeed the entire South-West geopolitical zone is of course not a new phenomenon. For instance, in January last year, the gang of hoodlums, whose stock in trade is to invade construction sites and beat and torture workers for daring to work in their domain without first obtaining their consent, caused chaos in Ilesa, Osun State as they stormed a new building that was being roofed at Omi-Tuntun area of the town and demanded money from workers in the site. They were resisted by the workers on the site, and five lives were lost in the ensuing pandemonium. This regime of violence is witnessed in other states of the South-West where omo onile felons have wreaked havoc for years. From Lagos to Abeokuta, and from Ibadan to Osogbo, omo onile tactics are the same. They have caused bodily mutilations and shed blood for years.

The omo onile demand outrageous sums from the owners of the sites they invade, and they (site owners) can only refuse if they are armed or protected by uniformed men, particularly soldiers, who can contain their (omo onile) violence. Often, the prospective landlords are ordered to pay up on the pain of death. Armed with cudgels, machetes, knives and sometimes guns and reeking of alcohol, the omo onile habitually turn construction sites to war zones, warning construction workers and their employers to do their bidding or be dispatched to hell. They have been known to seize people’s lands while working for some well-connected, wealthy criminals in the society. In most cases, these omo onile are relations of landowners who have already received payment for the lands on which houses, shops, offices or religious centres are being built, but they do not care a hoot; they are either obeyed or they create utter chaos.

Because the omo onile phenomenon has lingered for rather too long, the perpetrators have become even more daring in recent times. For instance, in Ibadan, Oyo State, a certain gang of omo onile are said to have an office in the New Garage area of Ibadan where they ask “suspects” to make statements like people do at a regular police station. In a particular case, a prospective landlord who resisted the omo onile antics was said to have been taken to Osun State and detained! Indeed, the omo onile’s sense of imppunity is so expansive that they have been known to fleece even shop owners taking delivery of goods to restock their shops. Borehole drillers dare not do their work without paying omo onile levies. The felons have made life miserable for many people.

The omo onile killing in Osun State and their continuing violence in other states of the South-West ought to invite the deliberate and purposive action of the state governments, not only by asserting their authority as the single valid and legitimate authority in the land, but also by precluding all forms of illegal exercise of authority on the people by criminals. It is true that some of the states have promulgated anti-omo onile laws and consequently prosecuted suspects but the omo onile phenomenon has persisted, in part because of the unholy relationship between the outlaws and some unscrupulous police officers, and because most of the cases involving them are not even reported to the police.  In December 2021, residents of Onibuku, Baba Ode, NAHCO and other communities in Atan area, along the Sango-Idiroko expressway in Ado-Odo/Ota Local Council of Ogun State reportedly fled the areas in droves following the incessant onslaught of omo onile. This was despite subsisting law, as the Ibikunle Amosun administration in the state had enacted the Anti-land grabbing Act in 2016, stipulating 25 years imprisonment or the death sentence for culprits, as the case may be.  Last year, the Oyo State government said that land grabbing would no longer be tolerated in the state as offenders could face up to 15 years jail. The government stated this while inaugurating a task force unit in Ibadan, the state capital. It insisted that the Seyi Makinde administration placed priority on peace, order and security of lives and properties in the state.

We urge the governors of the South-West states to see the takeover of the civil space by omo onile as a direct challenge to their authority. They must respond with enough vehemence to stop this overlordship of non-state actors within their territory.  They must promulgate necessary laws and regulations to outlaw the activities of omo onile and ensure that the laws are strictly enforced to put a stop to this menace. There should be awareness on anti-omo onile laws across the zone. Hapless citizens are continually subjected to agonies by these outlaws. This is a development that the governments should stop, if only to show that there is only one government within their territory and that citizens would not be allowed to be subjected to extortion by criminals. We also urge civil society and the media to take up the advocacy against omo onile, giving them no breathing space until they are completely rooted out of the society. Needless to say, the perpetrators of the Osogbo killing must be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed by law.



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