Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos), Abbas Dalibi & Jeremiah Oke (Ibadan)
There is widespread concern among northerners in the South West over the continued harassment of their kinsmen traveling to the region for business as they are often intercepted and profiled by the South West Security Network code-named Amotekun, Daily Trust Saturday reports.
In recent times, hundreds of northerners travelling to the South West have been intercepted on suspicion of being terrorists thereby fuelling the already tense atmosphere in Nigeria.
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Daily Trust Saturday reports that for decades, agile men from the North have been travelling to the South West, South East and South South to do menial jobs especially during the dry season and thereafter return to the North during the rainy season to tend to their farms.
However, the sharp rise in insecurity in the North has forced many people to abandon their farmlands, a development that made them moving from one part to the other an all-year-round affair.
But regional security operatives in the South West said the suspicion on northerners was fuelled largely by the atmosphere of insecurity that has spread to the Southern part of the country with many cases of kidnapping for ransom and other forms of attacks being recorded.
There has been tension in the South West recently over alleged invasion of the region by suspected terrorists.
Aare Onakakanfo of Yoruba land, Iba Gani Adams, also recently raised the alarm that some terrorists are hiding in forests of Ogun and Osun states.
But in all of these security alerts, northerners have become the victims of the rage and anger by residents and authorities in the region who now see them as agents of evil in their land.
Curiously, the authorities rarely find anything incriminating with the youths who mostly engage in hawking or menial jobs.
In the last one week, the Amotekun Corps, a regional security outfit, intercepted three trucks conveying goods from the North to the South which had some northerners as passengers on board.
On August 2nd, the Amotekun Corps intercepted a truck carrying about 150 northerners travelling from Zamfara State in Ibadan.
It was gathered that the travellers, who were arrested in Bodija Market and detained near the axis, were travelling from Zamfara to Abeokuta and passed through Ogere, in Ogun State.
Some residents around Bodija Market area were said to have alerted Amotekun of their suspicion on sighting the truck loaded with bags of onions, beans, potatoes, motorcycles with northern travellers comprising men, women, youths and children stuffed in between.
The truck was, subsequently, moved to the office of Amotekun at Dandaru in Ibadan, where the travellers were interrogated while items in the truck were offloaded and the truck thoroughly searched.
Upon interrogation at the Amotekun office, driver of the truck, with number plate, Abuja BWR 143 XD, Abdullahi Aliu, said he was conveying the items and travellers to Ogere, Ogun State, and only offloaded some items at Bodija Market.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that Bodija is a major foodstuff market in Ibadan with a large concentration of northern traders just like Ogere and other parts of the South West.
But many northerners always join trucks originating from the region to the South in search of greener pastures. For those travelling regularly on major highways, such trucks with dozens of northerners and their motorcycles hung inside the trucks are common.
And this much was confirmed by the driver of the truck, Aliu, who said he assisted some of them on the journey because they did not have transport fare.
After search and interrogation, security agencies said no incriminating item was found on the travellers and in the truck while the security agencies comprising the police and DSS officers escorted the travellers to the Ogun State border to continue their journey to Ogere, after their destination had been confirmed.
The Zamfara State had issued a statement condemning the arrest but added that it contacted relevant authorities in Ondo and sorted out the matter.
From Oyo to Ondo State, two trucks conveying another set of northerners were also intercepted.
While 151 people sitting on bags of rice were arrested at the Sango area along the Akure-Ado Expressway, another set of 168 were seen on truck around Itaogbolu and Iju communities in the Akure North Local Government Area of the state during a stop and search.
Amotekun Corps in Oyo State later confirmed the release of 170 northerners intercepted at Bodija after completing their profiling.
The state commandant of Amotekun, Col Olayinka Olayanju, said after the arrest, it was discovered that those arrested were normal travellers but his men only arrested them because their movement was suspicious.
He said they were not members of the dreaded Boko Haram as speculated by the people, adding that the state police command would hand them over to the Ogun State police command since they claimed they were going to Ogun State.
“It is true they are not members of Boko Haram. They are normal travellers and we are working with other sister security agencies to release them for Ogun State police command since they claimed they are going to Ogere in Ogun State.”
‘We’re being treated as outcast’
Some of the northerners who spoke with our correspondent said this kind of harassment has become commonplace in the South West.
Umaru Shehu, an indigene of Borno State who rides Okada at Kara along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, said many of the northerners usually attach themselves to trucks heading southwards to eke out a living.
He, however, lamented that many of them now face harassment on a daily basis as they are often tagged as terrorists, kidnappers and people with criminal intents.
He said, “Many of our people are coming to Lagos but those entering Lagos have reduced because of the ban on Okada.
“Some of them come through big trucks, some will come with trucks conveying cows and they (security agencies) would just stop them and say they are criminal elements. This is what we have been facing in recent times.
“In Kara here, several of our people are in detention as a result of regular raids conducted by the Police in Ogun and Lagos State. We hope the government can look into this.”
Khalid Ismail, a 22-year-old from Darazo in Bauchi State, said northerners are not being treated fairly.
“I finished secondary school over four years ago but could not continue because my parents don’t have the means to sponsor me that is why I decided to come to the South West to do menial job.
“But it is sad that some people here are looking at us with distain. I don’t think if I would be here (South West) if not for the insecurity bedevilling us in the North. I want to call on our leaders to address the problem so that we can go back home,” he said.
Umar Shehu, who hails from Katsina, said people from the North appear to be more tolerant.
“Hundreds of people from the South West and other religions in the South also troop to the North in search of greener pasture but no one is discriminating against them.
“In fact, we respect them a lot and they are entitled to everything northerners are entitled to. They buy farmlands, houses, build shopping malls, schools and fully settle with their families.
“On our part, we are not that ambitious, we only come here from time to time but yet we are being treated as outcast. Our leaders should speak out,” he said.
We are not happy with profiling of our kinsmen – Sarkin Hausawa
Leaders of Arewa communities in South west told Daily Trust Saturday they are not happy over the recent arrest and profiling of their members who are mostly labourers, commercial bike riders and petty traders in Lagos and other parts of the geopolitical zone.
The Sarkin Hausawa of Shasha Akure in Ondo State, Alhaji Ibrahim Shehu Abdullahi, told Daily Trust Saturday that he was the one who intervenes whenever Amotekun arrested Northern travellers.
“As I am talking to you now, I am tired of going to bail our people who are arrested by Amotekun, and I decided not to go there again, because even if we told them that these people are not criminals, they are labourers and some petty traders, they would not listen to us, they don’t even want to hear from us, and we are not happy with the way and manner Amotekun is parading our people in front of newsmen, calling them criminals and all sorts of names ranging from intruders and illegal migrants even though they know they are Nigerians.
“As I am talking to you, there are more than 300 northerners with Amotekun. How can they feed them and how can they look after their health considering their numbers?” he asked.
Shehu, however, added that the northern travellers who are coming to the South through trucks loaded with goods or animals are also to be blame as they are not doing the right thing.
“Even if Amotekun is not arresting them, they should have considered their safety as traveling inside trucks loaded with animals or goods is not safe at all. I urge them to stop coming to the South in such a manner. If they want to travel, they should use the proper means. They should have transport fare and use the proper means,” he said.
The Sarkin Hausawa added that there is the need for the intervention of the northern leaders regarding the way and manner Amotekun is arresting the travellers.
Haruna Garba, a native of Kano State who travelled to Lagos in search for better life, told Daily Trust Saturday that whenever the operatives of Amotekun intercepted trucks conveying travellers, they ask for National ID cards, voter’s cards and the occupations of the travellers.
“We don’t have much money that is why you see us joining the trucks which are far cheaper. With N3, 000, a truck will get you to Lagos or any part of the South West instead of paying between N10, 000 and N12, 000.
Some of the truck drivers who spoke to Daily Trust Saturday disclosed that they are helping the travellers by carrying them in their trucks as the majority of them don’t have money to join passenger buses.
One of the drivers named Yusuf called on governors of the South West states to call the Amotekun operatives to order and stop them from indiscriminate arrest.
“The governors should tell their people to stop harassing northerners. Hausa people are not bandits; Muslims are there, Christians are there. To brand northerners as bandits, criminals, kidnappers is wrong,” he said.
We are suspicious of their movement – Afenifere
When contacted, the Publicity Secretary of the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Comrade Jare Ajayi, said as much as the constitution of Nigeria provides for freedom of movement, the current security situation makes it imperative to suspect any strange mass movement.
He said those arrested should have used the normal passenger buses if they had nothing to hide.
Jare said, “We know that there is freedom of movement. Every Nigerian has the right to live wherever he desires but the manner in which those people apprehended in Ondo State two times within this week alone and another truck here in Ibadan, were transported, did not portray them as meaning well,” he said.