All forms of armed groups which engages in criminal activities such as; ethnic armed groups, militia groups, terrorist, insurgent, vigilantes and gang groups, including cultists pose a great threat to the security of the Nigerian state. Most of these groups use coercive force to achieve political, economic and self relevance social goals in opposition to the state.1It must be noted that much as these armed groups engage in crimes and criminality some of them also act as security guards and vigilante. For instance, in Lagos state, the ethnic militia group known as OPC was given the contract to ensure security in all Mobil filling stations around Surulere and most parts of Lagos mainland. The point in emphasis is that, several ethnic armed or militia groups in different states have emerged over the years to defend or advance their self-enlightened interests.2
In Nigeria today, a number of armed groups have taken the centre stage. As for the Oodua People’s Congress, it started as a pan Yoruba socio-political organisation which was formed in Lagos in the year 1994. Its main objective was to promote and defend the interests of the Yoruba peoples on national issues. However, by 1995 it metamorphosed into a militia group which till date has two factions due to divergence in ideologies of the leadership.3 Thus, the ethnic militia groups in Nigeria today include Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Egbesu Boys of Africa (EBA), Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and so on.4
OPC was formed by a number of Yoruba elites who tried to use the organisation to challenge and register their displeasure against the Nigerian military government. Consequently, the organisation began to spread like wild fire across Western states. Its membership today is drawn from existing vigilantes, street/cult gangs, area boys (agbero), members of National Union of Road and Transport Workers (NURTW), miscreants and even bandits.5
The Oodua People’s Congress was named after Oduduwa the mythological ancestor of the Yoruba ethnic group. The Odua People Congress (OPC) is one of the largest ethnic militias in today’s Nigeria. The OPC is very influential in the states demographically dominated by the Yoruba in the Southwest. The OPC’s official objectives are set out in its constitution. The OPC’s objectives are;
to identify with our historical and cultural origin with a view to re- living the glory of our past for the purpose of posterity; to educate and mobilize the descendants of Oduduwa for the purpose of the above; to integrate the aspirations and values of all the descendants of Oduduwa into a collective platform of an Oodua entity; to monitor the various interests of descendants of Oduduwa … and struggle for the protection of these interests; … to further the progress of Oodua civilization by protection and promoting our value, mores and the inter-generational transmission of same6
One of OPC’s main claims is the organisation of a Sovereign National Conference designed to redraw the rules of the Federation. Today’s OPC claims to have several million members spread worldwide.7The main bulk of these members obviously concentrate in Yorubaland, mainly consisting of the six states of the former South-western region (Lagos, Edo, Ekiti, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ondo) plus the States of Kwara and Kogi. Other supporters live in the Yoruba part of the Republic of Bénin or belong to the Diaspora in North America or Europe.8
Well if this is true, it must be note worthy that, the organisation is characterised by both active and inactive members. The inactive members are those who have a membership card and are gainfully employed. These inactive members cannot be seen around except on general mobilisation. While, the active ones are those who roam about aimlessly, waiting for mobilisation and are easily engaged informally for several purpose.
The OPC was created under very specific circumstances characterised by promises of democratic transition and fierce repression of political opposition, under a corrupt post-independence military rule. Interestingly, its founder Frederick Fasehun, a prosperous medical doctor, was known to be a human rights activist before becoming an ethnic leader. To him, this shift of ideological focus was self-imposed. It stemmed from his personal utter conviction that the ruling Northern military elite would not hand over power to civilians after it annulled the “June, 12” elections in 1993. These elections were supposed to put an end to the military era. Moshood Abiola, a rich Yoruba probably came first in the ballot but never enjoyed his victory as the military regime promptly annulled the vote, creating a tremendous trauma among Nigerians and, particularly the Yoruba. In the aftermath of the annulment, the fierce dictatorship of Sani Abacha, the military ruler who overthrew the Interim National Government installed by Babangida after the elections, led many human rights activists and democrats often Yoruba from the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to which Fasehun belonged to clandestine life. Many among them got killed. Fasehun’s rhetoric then clearly took a racialist turn. Defending the Yoruba “race” became a matter of survival against the hegemonic ambitions of the Northerners:
“The Yoruba are no longer considered disfavoured second-class citizens but have become enemies that must be hounded into exile, haunted into detention, humiliated, dehumanised, and marked to be wiped off the surface of Nigeria”.9
The OPC was created in August 1994, apparently godfathered by prominent Yoruba political and cultural figures.10In December 1996, Fasehun was incarcerated. This changed the nature of the movement, OPC became a violent organisation in 1996 after its founder was thrown into detention by the Abacha military junta. This incident made the OPC members feel that the Nigerian problems could not be solved peacefully. Three more years were needed to actually witness serious violence perpetrated by the OPC. For instance, in Lagos reports refer to arrests of many OPC members by the police after attacking, clashing with security forces or storming courts in order to free their colleagues. The organisation managed to recruit and mobilise followers with a remarkable rapidity. By itself, this sudden success tells a lot, it wouldn’t have been possible without the activation of already existing networks and social structures: that is, those organised around the initial prominent godfathers but also more official ones such as professional associations (e.g. transport workers unions) had been in existence prior to this time. The OPC did not emerge ex nihilo, but was built up on firm social grounds present in the Yoruba society.11
Most of the observers and actors of the OPC consider that the year 1999 was a turning point in the history of the movement: the OPC became involved in gruesome clashes against other ethnic groups, the police and alleged criminal gangs. For example, Idi Araba area of Mushin which is known as the Hausa community came under attack during this period. In the like manner Police Stations in Mushin area and neighbouring streets were burnt down by the OPC. The various confrontations are said to have claimed hundreds of lives.12This shift in OPC’s attitude coincides with the end of the military regime. The appointment of a Yoruba President in 1999 certainly weakens the legitimacy of OPC’s core argument of Yoruba marginalisation since the annulment of 1993 election.
An alleged upsurge in criminal activities and violence progressively transformed the OPC into a self-defence movement and, crucially, the rise of young and charismatic challenger to Fasehun’s hold on the OPC, in the person of Gani Adams. The OPC broke up into two factions in the beginning of 1999.13Gani Adams became the radical flag bearer of a generation which was largely of low quality of education.14Very importantly, while Fasehun seemingly considered that OPC youths “able to flex their muscles” should remain under the control of educated leaders, Gani Adams’ perspective on what a good OPC member is the “loose molecule” type presented above:
“We don’t like to bother ourselves with people from a capitalist background or rich people because they can only behave like sympathisers to the struggle and can be difficult to be devoted member. The real people are the frustrated people on the street who are deprived one way or the other. They have the will and courage to fight. For instance, take the student union movement, children of rich people do not bother to join such movement to fight for their rights, it is only student from deprived homes who are often at the forefront of the battle.”15
Gani Adams’ OPC has the same political goals as Fasehun’s. The shift is organisational rather than political or ideological.16Gani Adams’ new philosophy in recruitment is said to have provoked the partial progressive criminalisation of the OPC. As explained by an informant from the Gani Adams’ faction in Oyo State:
“When we started, we called ourselves youth activist but when the then military started dealing with us, that they killed about 300 at Mushin (a popular neighbourhood of Lagos), then we went back to recruit all sorts of people, area boys, quasi-criminal street boys and any kind of person that was interested. This, to me, led to the loss of focus of the organization leading to the derailing of its initial plans”17
The emphasis of this research is the rise of OPC in Mushin area of Lagos state. Prior to our period of study, Mushin was a suburb of Lagos state until it was later made a local government. It is bounded in the North by Oshodi-Isolo Local Government, in the East by Somolu and in the South by Mainland Local Government. The present day Mushin passed through some historical divisions; in the first place, it was part of the Ikeja Native Authority with its boundary extending to Somolu Local Government. Secondly, by 1976 with the Local Government Edict, Mushin was made independent and the council divided into two namely; Mushin West which covered Mushin, Bariga, Agege Motor Road, Isolo, Shogunle, Onigbongbo, Ejigbo, Odi-Olowo, Ilupeju and Cappa Estate while Mushin East covered Bariga, Somolu and Kosofe. Mushin East became Somolu Local Government.18
Mushin today is renowned for its commercial potentialities where there are well stocked shops and several industries particularly around Ilupeju area. When analysing Mushin, the picture that readily comes to mind is that of a ubiquitous market that sprawled in different directions. Virtually every house and bungalow in Mushin is well stocked with shops and despite the economic difficulties facing Nigeria, commerce in Mushin still blossoms.
Apart from being the center of all kinds of business activities, Mushin is one of the principal markets in Nigeria for office equipment and paper products especially around Papa-Ajao area. There are also different kinds of manufacturing industries in the area like industries producing safes and doors, paper products, shoe designing and printing which remains one of the biggest industries in Mushin. There are also several public corporations like banks owned by the Community Development Associations (CDA) in various parts of Mushin who render financial services and direct investment in the community thus aiding its development.19
However, the research will assess the OPC in Mushin from 1999-2007. This period in Mushin was characterised by series of violence which were organised by the group culminated with factional crisis. In the like manner, the research shall look at how OPC emerged in Mushin area, its ideology, recruitment patterns and how along the line, it became an organisation for the miscreants, delequents, bandits and so on.
This work shall also assess the activities of OPC in Mushin from 1999-2007, which till date have negative effect on the area due to violent clashes within the factions of OPC and more importantly, with other formal organisations like the police and the NURTW just to mention.20
Statement of the Research Problem
The Rise of OPC in Mushin area of Lagos state has drawn the attention of both civil and military governments of Nigeria to its various activities. A good number of literature exist on the Rise of OPC with reference to Mushin, pointing out possible solutions to curb the excesses of the group in the area. Much scholarly attention has not been paid on the OPC in Mushin from 1999- 2007 thereby leaving a gap in existing literature about OPC in Mushin area of Lagos. More so, the activities of OPC in Mushin within this period are yet to be studied. This research however, looks toward filling the enormous gap in the history of OPC in Mushin by appraising their activities within the period 1999-2007: that is, why did OPC which was set up to ensure internal security become a threat to security.
Aim and Objectives of the Study
The aim of this work is to conduct a thorough research on the OPC especially in Mushin which remains a core place that have witnessed the adverse effect of the activities of OPC during the period in view. In other words, the rise of OPC in Mushin, its leaderships, operations, recruitment, funding and the positive and negative effect on the political, social and economy of the environment. Hence, the study has the following objectives:
1. Examine critically the state of Mushin before the emergence of OPC. It is important to examine those cogent factors which attracted the organisation into Mushin and constituting till date a large base in the area.
2. Examine the positive and negative impact of OPC in Mushin, its inhabitants, and particularly the youths.
3. Examine the factions of OPC within the environment, challenges within factions, growth, funding and the nature of operation of the factions.
4. Assess the effect of OPC in the political, social and economy of the area during our period of study.
5. Finally, to highlight the various ways by which the government of Lagos state should follow to reduce the devastating impact of OPC on Mushin.
Scope and Limitation of the Study
The scope of this work spans from 1999 till 2007. To start with, 1999 marked a watershed in the history of the group. It was during this period OPC became involved in multiple gruesome clashes against other ethnic groups, the police and alleged criminal gangs in which Mushin area of Lagos state was not exempted. There were dastardly attacks; people acrimoniously deserted their abodes and confrontations claiming lives.21 Also, Vigilante work, which began on a large scale in 1999, helped consolidating OPC control over disputed areas, but it was also a response to a popular demand in Mushin.
The terminal year of this study is 2007. This year marked the peak of the activities of ethnic militia in Lagos state. It was the year the then governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was planning to handover to his predecessor. The OPC which had always had the support of the governor was given freehand to operate even as political tugs under the disguise of working with the government and security agents so as to together contain crime in the state in which Mushin was also a major target.22Also, it was the year the new governor launched a military taskforce name OPMESA to curb not just crimes, but to check the excesses of vigilante, NURTW, gang and cult groups and so on in which OPC was not exempted. The geographical scope of this work is centered on Mushin area of Lagos which forms a large base of OPC.
However, there is the challenge of oral interview which may limit the researcher’s ability to have access to the limited resources available. The point in emphasis is that, some of these OPC leaders and other gang members who were contemporaneous of our period in view are either late, destabilize, jailed or may not want one to give their experience or activities a voice.
With this challenge, the researcher intend to meet with sources that are closer to these figures to gain access to them or draw vital informal from them. In furtherance, the researcher looks forward to apply the knowledge acquired in research methodology to tackle the challenges of oral sources.
Justification of Study
This study is embedded in adding to knowledge on the activities of OPC in Mushin. It will identify both the negative and positive activities of the groups so that the negative activities of OPC in the area can serve as deterrent to the innocent people in Mushin. The study will be useful to the State Government in the sense that it will enable her to review its policy on security or on the role of militia groups on security matters. The study will also be useful to Mushin Local Government in the sense that it can assess the activities of the OPC and see how it can make it useful on security matters within Mushin Local Government Area.
This work shall also be useful to agencies involved in internal security operations. Agencies like FRSC, NPF just to name a handful. It will enable the security agencies to re-strategize and transform the OPC as a useful partner on security matters in Lagos State. In the like manner, private security organisations which operate within Mushin will as well find this thesis very useful. Although, a good number of scholars had written on OPC in Nigeria but no study has been centered on the Mushin area.