The past five months were never the kind of life Osanya Ambrose dreamed of. She found herself in such a precarious situation after the violence that greeted the #EndSARS protests in October, 2020. Among several places in Lagos and other southern states, violence rocked Makinde Barracks, Oshodi, Lagos, where she lived with her parents.
Fifteen-year-old Osanya, her two older siblings, their parents and several other families were displaced after hoodlums freely looted the 24-flat barracks and set it ablaze.
The thugs reportedly killed a university student identified simply as Okechukwu, 21, and gang-raped a young sick woman who could not run to safety.
Like every other family, the Ambrose lost almost all their belongings and relocated to a relative’s house in Ipaja – about 17 kilometres away from the barracks.
Since then, Osanya, a Senior Secondary School 2 pupil at Mafoluku Grammar School stopped schooling due to the distance and the cost of daily transport fare which her parents couldn’t afford.
“We lost everything,” Osanya’s mother, Mrs Janet Ambrose, said painfully. “She could no longer go to school. My husband is a serving policeman. We spend all the money he gives us on feeding.”
Janet said she used to sell drinks to support her husband in the family upkeep but she lost her capital to the attack.
She said, “It was some people who gave us a few clothes to use. We are appealing to the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to assist us. Most of our children who are in primary and secondary schools can no longer go to school.
“Some of them now sleep in churches and mosques with their mothers. The government should help us renovate this barracks so that we can come back and our children can go back to school. We have lost everything.”
Our correspondent who visited the barracks on Monday observed that it was still in shambles despite promises by the government and police authorities to assist the displaced residents.
The only visible ‘development’ is some of the apartments that had been converted to offices by policemen attached to the Makinde Police Station located on the premises. The station was also torched during the violence while 29 vehicles parked in the compound were reportedly burnt.
The woman leader of Police Officers’ Wives Association in the barracks, Mrs Funke Oluwabiyi, said apart from the governor, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Police Affairs, Mohammed Dingyadi, and the state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, visited the barracks shortly after the arson.
The mother of five, who said she has been sleeping in a church with two of her children, said that apart from clothes and mattresses from POWA and cash donation by the Oshodi Local Government chairman, no help had come to the displaced families.
Oluwabiyi said, “On October 21, 2020 around 11am, we were in our rooms when we heard noises of hoodlums from outside. They were many. Shortly after, we saw some military men come into the police station. We thought they wanted to rescue us, but they only rescued the policemen and left.
“We escaped with our children through the fence. We heard them say, ‘we will pack their loads. We don’t want to see the police here again.’ They looted all our belongings and burnt the building later in the evening. We are appealing to the government to help us.
“We have been squatting around with our children. It is difficult for us to feed ourselves and get money to rent apartments. Our children cannot go to school. Our goods had been carted away. We now sleep in churches and mosques. I live in a church in Oshodi with two of my children. My other children live with my relations and their friends.”
The woman lamented that the affected families were dying in silence and could no longer bear the pain and trauma caused by the incident.
She added, “Our husbands’ salary is small. It is not even enough for our feeding let alone rent and children’s school fees. We were the ones assisting them through the proceeds of our small businesses but we don’t have any means of livelihood again. I used to sell clothes.”
Mrs Adikwe Cornerstone and her family had just spent three months in the barracks upon the transfer of her inspector husband to Lagos when the crisis erupted.
That day, her husband was on a special duty in Abuja as she and her three children struggled to escape being caught in the raid.
She said, “I just moved to the barracks with my four children and husband three months before the attack. That morning, the hoodlums fired gunshots and were armed with cutlasses. My children and I escaped through the fence along the bush path in the barracks. They looted all our property.
“Two of my children and I live with a family member at Ayobo. The two others now live with another family member in Agege. Their schools are in Oshodi; they can no longer go to schools. Government should help us. We can’t afford to rent apartments.”
A cloth seller, Mrs Jennifer Ubah, had been a strong pillar of the family, shouldering many responsibilities her husband’s poor salary could not cater to. She relinquished that status – tragically – after the hoodlums looted her apartment and cleared N850,000 in her bank account.
She stated, “Our property and credentials of my husbands and children were burnt. I had about N850,000 in my account. I left my phone in the room while trying to escape. There were bank transaction alerts on it. My account was emptied. We were so lucky that we had a bush path we used as an escape route.
“We don’t have anything again. We plead with the government to assist us with accommodation. We want our children to return to school. I live with my sister-in-law in the Ijesha area while my three children are with my sister at Abule Egba.”
A mother of three, Mrs Balkis Abdullahi, was breastfeeding her baby on the day of the violence. Both mother and child were lounging on the bed only to be jolted into commotion by the assailants.
She now squats at a mosque in Oshodi with her lastborn, a seven-month-old baby, while her two other kids live with a relation in a one-room apartment.
Abdullahi said, “I just gave birth to my last born then. I could not explain how I managed to escape with him and his two other siblings. We have been sleeping at a mosque since then.
“The suffering is too much. The state and federal governments should help us. My husband only sees me and the children once in a week even though he works in Lagos. He sleeps at his workplace.”
A policeman whose daughter was gang-raped during the invasion said he tried in vain to rescue her, adding that the thugs burnt his vehicle.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “I just returned from work that morning and was parking my car on the premises when some boys stormed the barracks. I managed to go out and called for help.
“Before I knew it, they had started looting our property. My daughter was ill. She was inside and there was no way I could go in to rescue her. They vandalised my vehicle and 28 other cars parked on the premises.
“She later told me she was raped. I took her to a hospital and spent about N80,000 for her treatment. I had taken her and mother to our hometown in the North.”
The Senior School Certificate Examination result 18-year-old Christabel George laboured to obtain after six years in secondary school was also torched. But that was not all!
George stated, “My cousin who was staying with us is a university graduate. Her certificate was also burnt,” she said. “They killed one of my neighbours, Okechukwu. He was 21 years old and was about to graduate from the university. The hoodlums also raped a female neighbour.”
She added that her plan to secure university admission this year hangs in the balance as her family still struggles for survival. She noted, “My mother, sibling and I now sleep in our father’s office at night, while my elder brother lives with his friend. The attack was like a dream. We didn’t expect it.”
Lagos promises to rebuild barracks
The Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, said that the government had set up Rebuild Lagos Trust Fund headed by the chairman of Citi Bank, Mr Yemi Cardoso.
He added, “The trust fund will raise money and call all friends of Lagos together including those overseas to say they would like to help Lagos. There is an attempt through the Rebuild Lagos Trust Fund to make all these people come together and raise money to rebuild the police facilities destroyed during the #EndSARS riot.
“Designs have been done and the kind of police stations and barracks we are going to build will be like the ones in the western world that our people will be proud of.
“However, the governor has done a lot of things. Immediately after the crisis, he visited the police headquarters (in Ikeja) and announced scholarships up to university level for children of policemen killed. Each of the late policemen’s families also got N10m. It is not correct for anybody to say they have been left alone. They should rest assured that the government is thinking about the matter and will do something about it.”
The state Commissioner of Police, Odumosu, did not pick calls to his mobile and had also yet to reply to a text message sent to him on the plight of the displaced families.