The OPC has been responsible for numerous acts of violence and its members have killed or injured hundreds of people. While many of their most serious attacks were directed against Hausa, or people suspected to be northerners, their victims have also included Igbo, Ijaw and people from other ethnic groups. There have even been cases where they have attacked Yoruba, both civilians and policemen. Most of their victims have been men.
Numerous eye-witness testimonies gathered by Human Rights Watch confirmed that contrary to their leaders' denials, the OPC have used a variety of weapons, including fire-arms, machetes, cutlasses, knives and daggers, which they are often seen carrying openly. There have also been several cases where they have poured acid on their victims. Frequently they set fire to the corpses of those they had killed, sometimes after mutilating them. It has been difficult to confirm the sources of the weapons used by the OPC. Small arms proliferate in Nigeria and it is easy to purchase guns and other weapons. In addition, the OPC have sometimes seized weapons belonging to the police or to suspected criminals that they have apprehended during their vigilante activities.
In the cases documented below, the victims and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed that the perpetrators were specifically OPC members, as opposed to other Yoruba. They had been able to identify them in a variety of ways. In some cases, the OPC explicitly identified or announced themselves as OPC. In other cases, witnesses identified them by the clothes they wore: although there is no full OPC uniform, their members typically wear a red or white cloth tied around their head, and wear charms and fetishes. Some wear T-shirts or head-bands with the words "OPC" printed on them. In some cases, they arrived in large convoys of vehicles bearing OPC banners or flags. In a few cases, the victims or witnesses recognized local individuals known to be OPC members.
Most of the incidents in which OPC members have been responsible for killings fall into one of two categories: large-scale ethnic clashes, creating many casualties, or isolated incidents in which individual OPC members have attacked or killed other individuals, for example in the course of vigilante activities or attempts at extortion or theft. In addition, there have been situations where the OPC has intervened or been used in political disputes, such as that in Owo, Ondo State, where it has ended up attacking supporters of rival political factions.
There has been a pattern of killings by the OPC in the context of disputes or clashes with other ethnic groups since at least 1999. Often these clashes were sparked off by a minor argument between two individuals from different ethnic groups, which typically then escalated when the Yoruba party brought in the OPC to fight their cause, while the other ethnic group retaliated by calling youths from their own community to the rescue. The incident would then rapidly degenerate into a violent ethnic conflict within hours, or sometimes within minutes. The widespread availability of small arms and traditional weapons and the readiness of youths from all sides to use them meant that community leaders were often unable to stop the violence or restore calm, despite efforts to do so.
By the time the violence reached its peak in the second half of 2000, hundreds of people had been killed, many by the OPC, others by other groups. Some of the most serious incidents are described below. A journalist commented: "Around 2000 was the worst period of OPC violence [...] The police were incapable of controlling it. The OPC could shut down a whole street [...] Every other week there were clashes."33
These clashes had repercussions far beyond the southwestern states or the locations where they occurred. One of the immediate effects was that many Hausa-who were one of the most directly-affected groups-fled the southwest and moved back to the north; some have not returned since. A seventy-five-year-old Hausa man, whose thirty-five-year-old son was killed by the OPC in Ajegunle in October 2000 (see below), told Human Rights Watch: "My son Sahabi was killed. He was on his way home with his family. The OPC stopped them. They pushed his wife and children into the house then slaughtered him. His wife saw it happen. They cut his body into pieces with a cutlass. He had two children. The wife was traumatized. She couldn't speak for two months. She left for the north and has stayed there."34
In several instances, attacks by the OPC on Hausa or northerners in the southwest were followed by reprisal attacks on Yoruba in the north. For example, following the killings in Sagamu in July 1999, violence erupted in the northern city of Kano, widely seen as an act of retaliation by the Hausa. Similarly, riots broke out in Minna, capital of Niger State, following the violence in Ajegunle in October 2000. The same has been true in reverse: clashes in the north between Yoruba and Hausa have had repercussions in the south and appeared to strengthen the resolve of the OPC to "fight the Yoruba cause." This was notably the case with the explosion of violence between Christians and Muslims in the northern city of Kaduna, in which an estimated 2,000 people were killed in February and May 2000, and which was followed by violence in the southwest.
In mid July 1999, there was a major clash between Hausa and Yoruba in Sagamu, Ogun State. Scores of people were killed. The violence began following an argument over customs observed during the Oro festival, an annual Yoruba event which had not been disrupted by any disputes either before or since 1999. Yoruba and Hausa had agreed to respect a traditional night-time curfew usually observed during the festival. However, according to local residents, a fight erupted between the Yoruba and the Hausa after a Hausa woman was killed by a group of Yoruba because she had broken the curfew. The fighting escalated and the OPC intervened to support the Yoruba. Both sides were armed. At least sixty-eight Hausa were killed, including three boys between the ages of ten and fifteen; some were killed with guns, but the majority were killed with cutlasses. A number of Yoruba were also killed, including one of the Oro leaders. Some people were burnt inside their houses.35
According to another local resident, two or three days later, the OPC came back to Sagamu in five vehicles, but there was a curfew and they were stopped by the police near the central police station. Local residents reported that there was a shoot-out and that the police killed some OPC members. Some policemen were also attacked by the OPC, including Sergeant Danda Shahibu; the OPC poured petrol over him with the intention of burning him, but he survived.
The OPC, while agreeing that both Hausa and Yoruba were killed in Sagamu, offered a different version of events. They alleged that the fighting was pre-meditated by the Hausa, and that the police in Sagamu had sided with the Hausa and provided them with ammunition. A report on the violence in Sagamu, circulated by the Gani Adams faction of the OPC, states that the OPC "is seen to have been the saviours of the town, as their members, also known as the Oodua Warriors, did battle to save the town."36
A Hausa man in Sagamu told Human Rights Watch that after the violence, "the local government gave us forms to fill in for compensation, but nothing happened. Even the Seriki's [Hausa leader] house was burnt. The president, who came here on the Monday, promised there would be compensation, but there wasn't. There was an investigation but nobody was arrested. The governor of Ogun promised to rebuild the Seriki's house, but didn't."37
According to an inside source within the OPC, the violence in Sagamu marked a turning point for the Gani Adams faction of the OPC. Fasehun and those close to him apparently had not wanted to intervene, and it was Gani Adams who decided to mobilize large numbers of OPC members as reinforcements to the Yoruba in Sagamu. This decision was popular with many rank-and-file members and resulted in a surge in membership of the Gani Adams faction.
On November 25 and 26, 1999, scores of people were killed when the OPC clashed with traders in Ketu / Mile 12 market in Lagos. The exact number of victims has not been confirmed, but is estimated to be more than one hundred. A senior police official who was at the scene said he saw an estimated two hundred bodies, but that others had already been buried in mass graves.
The fighting is thought to have been caused by jealousy on the part of Yoruba about the perceived dominance of the market by Hausa traders. There had also been disputes between particular individuals for control of key leadership positions within the market traders' committee. According to some of the traders, some Yoruba had been threatening to challenge this dominance and "claim back" the market from the Hausa. Consequently, many of the victims of the OPC attack were Hausa, or people of northern origin suspected to be Hausa; however, a number of Igbo and members of other ethnic groups were also attacked by the OPC. Some Hausa also attacked and killed Yoruba. Both groups were well-armed. Most of the violence took place in the market and on the roads surrounding it. However, witnesses reported that there were also house to house searches, in which the OPC targeted Hausas and Igbos. Market traders who witnessed the violence confirmed that large numbers of OPC members were involved (some estimated as many as 1,000) and that many of those carrying out the attacks were wearing vests with "OPC" written on them. They carried a range of weapons, including guns, machetes and daggers; some were wearing charms. Some traders believed that OPC members had been drafted in from other areas.
A woman who had been trading in the market for five years said she had never witnessed anything like it: "People were shouting: `OPC! OPC!' We started hearing gunshots. I had to find my way out of the market. [...] The expressway [the main road which runs along the market] was blocked by the OPC. This expressway was turned into a killing zone. For days a lot of dead bodies littered this road. [...] Many traders lost their lives and even some customers that were unfortunate to come to the market at that time."
A representative of the Perishable Foodstuffs Market Association told Human Rights Watch that sixty-eight Hausa traders had been killed in the food market alone; thirty of them were women. The Hausa traders sent a list of the victims they had counted to the Lagos State Governor; dated December 3, 1999, it lists sixty-eight people confirmed dead, including four blind men killed at a mosque; eleven unnamed people burnt at Ketu bus-stop; twenty-four people missing (who were never found), including nine schoolchildren; and details of buildings and property that were burnt or looted.
A Hausa trader described how the OPC were specifically targeting Hausa and Igbo in and around the market. Some northerners who were not even Hausa were among those they attacked:
An Igbo trader in the yam market narrowly survived being burnt to death:
The attack of November 25-26 took place in the context of increasing tension in different parts of Lagos and followed a series of other attacks and incidents of intimidation involving the OPC. A trader at Ketu/Mile 12 market mentioned that some days before the attack on the market, about forty or fifty people wearing OPC uniforms had come to the market and threatened some of the traders: "They attacked Hausa and Igbo boys here. They kicked several of them with their boots. People started running away, shouting `OPC is in the market!' The OPC were telling Hausas and Igbos: `We're giving you fourteen days to leave this place.' They said the place should be controlled by Yoruba. It was a warning, but they didn't kill anybody that day. [...] There were also attacks in other places around. It started from the Tin Can Port. We first heard they had attacked Igbos and others there, including labour leaders. Then it happened at Sagamu, then here. This was all one or two weeks before."
Witnesses of the violence at Ketu/Mile 12 market on November 25-26 described how the security forces had failed to stop the attacks, and only intervened after many people had been killed. A trader told Human Rights Watch: "Eventually the police and army were deployed, after the crisis had lasted for several hours. The police were here while the OPC was busy killing people outside. The military were brought in later." Another said: "The police came after two days and dragged them away. They were not present during the crisis." He also deplored the lack of action on the part of the government: "We have a list of the victims [killed in the food market]. We recorded everything. We sent the list to the federal government but nothing happened. There was no investigation." Another said: "The fight lasted for two days before the police took control of the situation. The market was closed for several weeks and when we resumed business, all our goods had been either destroyed or rotten. I lost all my goods to the crisis. I saw a lot of dead bodies. I know a lot of traders that were killed. [...] I think the government is encouraging these OPC people because the way they carry out their mission suggests that they are not afraid of the law."
Some OPC representatives denied any involvement at all in the violence at Ketu/Mile 12, describing it as "an intra-market issue which did not involve us and in which we have not involved ourselves in any way."39 Others denied that the OPC had initiated the fighting but admitted that it had been present; however, they claimed that many people had been killed before the OPC arrived on the scene. As usual they denied having any weapons other than traditional charms, and claimed that the police had supplied the Hausa with guns. They stressed that the Hausa had also been responsible for violence and mentioned an incident in which a group of Hausa men had allegedly killed several Yoruba schoolchildren at the Baptist primary school. Human Rights Watch tried to cross-check this information but was not able to confirm that these killings had actually occurred. A senior school official at the Baptist school confirmed to Human Rights Watch that a group of Hausa had tried to break into the school, but denied that any children had been killed. She indicated that the media reports which had also mentioned the incident at that time had been based on false information.
In mid July 2000, a private dispute between a landlord and a tenant escalated out of control and several people were killed in the large Alaba electronics market in Lagos, as OPC members clashed with Igbo traders. The incident began when a Yoruba landlord, who had lost patience with a court case to resolve a dispute with his tenant, called in the OPC to deal with the problem instead. The tenant, an Igbo trader called Ike who dealt in electronic goods in Alaba market, returned from work one day to find his landlord and a group of OPC members waiting for him. On instruction from the landlord who pointed him out to the OPC, the OPC members attacked him, accusing him of being a criminal. Despite his denials, they beat him into a coma, allegedly in the presence of the landlord who did not respond to his pleas for help, even when the OPC set him on fire; he later died from his injuries.41
Some of the victim's neighbors, wanting to avenge Ike's death, set fire to the landlord's building. The market traders, the majority of whom are Igbo, also mobilized to protest the death of their colleague. According to one of the traders' representatives, when they went to complain to the Baale [local Yoruba leader], OPC members were assembled there and attacked them. Several traders were injured. The traders ran back to the market and tension escalated. The OPC members apparently sought reinforcements and within a short time had invaded parts of the market. They smashed many of the buses owned by the Igbos and barricaded the roads. The traders decided to fight back after they discovered the body of another Igbo man who had been macheted to death by the OPC at a nearby petrol station; he was apparently found dead, clutching a Bible. As the traders tried to defend themselves, and some of them took up arms, the OPC extended the attack to other Igbo residents in the area. The police, who were called to the scene by the chairman of the electronics market association, were initially unable to stop the violence and had to send for reinforcements. Eventually, the paramilitary mobile police brought the situation under control.
The fighting in Alaba market lasted for at least two days. Trading was suspended, although the police advised against closing the market completely to avoid a further escalation. One trader, who was present at the height of the violence, described it as "a big fight. The traders were at the Alaba end of the road while the OPC were at the Ajamgbadi end. The battle was fought at Sabo Onigba between St Patrick and Chemist bus stop. [...] I was watching from a safe distance. When the battle became so fierce, we hid in the shops because it was unsafe to venture out. Some traders were killed outside the market and their bodies dumped in the canal. [...] In the night, the OPC went from house to house searching for Igbos. Some were killed while others sustained serious injuries at the hands of the OPC."
The participation of the OPC was confirmed by several eye-witnesses. One trader told Human Rights Watch that they were wearing OPC vests and carrying charms, and saw a truck full of OPC members. Another said: "I knew it was OPC members that fought with the traders. They were wearing their white vests and white handkerchieves." Other Yoruba youths, who may not have been OPC members, also became involved in the fighting; some of them were armed with knives, stones, and sticks.
It has been difficult to confirm the exact number of deaths in Alaba market. Several traders told Human Rights Watch that they knew of at least four Igbo traders who had been killed in just one part of the market and several others injured. It is likely that there were other victims in other parts of the market. A number of Yoruba were also killed when the Igbos retaliated. One trader mentioned that at least four Yoruba were killed, including the local OPC leader: "When I saw how the OPC leader was killed and burnt, I became scared. I decided to rush home. I ran into a roadblock mounted by OPC members. They asked us to raise our hands, they searched us and found nothing and passed us on. That same day, about four Igbo traders were killed in a house at Ajamgbadi."
There was also a clash between the OPC and the mobile police who were called after the civilian police had been unable to restore order. The mobile police commander who led the operation confirmed to Human Rights Watch that both the OPC and some of the Alaba community were armed. He said that as he and his colleagues were talking to the OPC to try to calm the situation down, three OPC buses arrived and opened fire on them. He and a police inspector were both injured.
Some local residents and traders believe that the incident between the landlord and the tenant was just the trigger for the expression of a deeper, underlying tension in the area, particularly feelings of jealousy between the local Yoruba community and the predominantly Igbo traders in Alaba. In addition, according to a local resident, the day before the tenant, Ike, was killed, the OPC had killed five other Igbo men. Apparently they too had been killed because they owed rent to their landlord, who had called the OPC in to deal with them. The man who related the incident to Human Rights Watch did not see them being killed, but saw the dead bodies of four of them, three in a compound and a fourth in the gutter; they had apparently died from gunshot wounds. He also saw around thirty OPC members patrolling the area, in two buses; they were easily recognizable by the red bands they wore on their heads and their black T-shirts.
Whatever the real cause of the violence in Alaba, one of its direct effects was to increase ethnic polarization in the area. A market traders' representative told Human Rights Watch: "It was after this crisis that we initiated another association, the Alaba United Traders' Association, for the Igbo traders alone. The former association had comprised every trader in Alaba, irrespective of tribal affiliation. [...] It was a good thing that peace was restored because at a time, we were thinking of acquiring arms and even declaring the Alaba area a Biafran territory."42 However, he added that a prominent Yoruba leader had come to apologize to the traders.
"We get on all right with the Yoruba here. Our only problem is with the OPC."
There were two waves of clashes in Ajegunle, an area of Lagos. The first occurred in around September-October 1999, when Yoruba clashed with Ijaw, in what was seen as the aftermath of earlier, violent confrontations between Ijaw and Ilaje (a sub-group of the Yoruba) in Ondo State. Human Rights Watch did not carry out an in-depth investigation into these clashes, but spoke to some local residents of Ajegunle, who said that more than forty people were killed, most of them men. The victims included both Ijaw and Yoruba. Some were killed with machetes, others were burnt, others were shot dead. The report of the tribunal of inquiry set up by the state government into civil disturbances in Lagos State (see Section VII, 2 below) stated that the fighting did not appear to involve the entire Yoruba community in the area, but was more specifically "fighting between OPC members and Ijaw boys."
The second clash occurred about one year later, in October 2000, this time between Yoruba and Hausa. It was one of the most serious incidents of violence involving the OPC. More than 250 people were killed and at least as many were injured as Yoruba and Hausa fought each other for several days, from October 15 to 19, 2000; thousands of people were displaced by the violence. While both Yoruba and Hausa took up arms and participated in the killings, the majority of the victims were from the Hausa community. Almost all the victims were men, of different ages. According to the Nigerian Red Cross, which provided assistance to those wounded in the clashes, most of the injuries were caused by gun-shots, machete cuts, and clubbing. A foreign journalist who covered the incident said some of the bodies had been decapitated; many of them had been burnt after being killed. He said he saw at least one hundred OPC members, many of them carrying long sword-like knives.
The incident which triggered the violence was a minor dispute between Hausa and Yoruba which occurred after a man accused of stealing some goods was taken by a group of Yoruba to the Hausa community. The Hausa apparently refused to hand over the alleged thief to them, the Yoruba protested, and a fight broke out. Within a short time, the Yoruba had called in the OPC, and the killing spree began. All those interviewed by Human Rights Watch, with the exception of some OPC members, confirmed that the OPC had been central to the violence and that the killings were ethnically motivated. One man who was present during the violence heard OPC members saying: "We have to punish Hausa people here."
A Hausa man who sold meat in Ajegunle explained what happened after the argument over the allegedly stolen goods:
Another Hausa man, who was injured in the violence, also saw several people being killed:
An Igbo baker who witnessed the violence explained how the OPC specifically sought out and targeted Hausa residents of the area. He described how the OPC led the operation: "The people that carried out the killings were OPC members. But they were joined by other Yoruba youths. The OPC were in front but a large mob made up of area boys were following behind and helping to apprehend the Hausa. The OPC were not in uniform but some of them had red or white ribbon tied on their heads. They were also carrying guns, charms and machetes." He told Human Rights Watch that he saw them kill at least ten people before he had to turn away:
A Hausa community leader narrowly escaped death after he and a large group of other Hausa were rounded up by the OPC:
Victims and witnesses of the violence confirmed that the OPC members involved in the violence seemed well organized and that some of them, believed to be their leaders, were giving instructions to others-as illustrated by the testimony above. Another witness said he was sure those who were carrying out the killings were OPC members and described how they operated: "They said `O'odua!' as a signal to others and `Shoot! Shoot!' I knew of two commanders. I saw them openly in communication with each other." Another man said: "One big OPC was giving orders: `Pack everything away! Put fire!'" Another man, who was shot in the head as the OPC opened fire at random, said: "I saw about thirty OPC with guns, stick, pieces of iron, broken bottles. They wore red on their head with their symbol. They were just shouting `Kill them!' and other things which I didn't understand. There were many senior ones among them."
The police failed completely to stop the violence in Ajegunle. All those interviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed that the police did not intervene at any stage of the killings. The military only intervened on the third or fourth day, after they were called by local residents and community leaders, who had to pay the soldiers themselves to be evacuated to the barracks for safety. A Hausa community leader described how they desperately begged the police for help on several successive days, in vain:
Thousands of people, the majority of them Hausa, who had been evacuated to the barracks, remained there for one or two weeks until they were sure the violence had ended. While they were there, the OPC looted or burnt their property which was lying in their empty houses.
Many residents of Ajegunle testified to the commission of inquiry set up by the Lagos state government to investigate the violence. They provided detailed information on the number of victims and extent of the damage. For example, a list compiled by the committee chairman of the local Hausa community includes the names of more than one hundred people who were shot dead between October 15 and 19 in the areas known as Hausa Line (Taiwo Street) and Achakpo scrap market, and many others whose property was destroyed. Residents told Human Rights Watch that the government had promised compensation to those affected by the violence. Two years later, none of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch were aware of any compensation having been paid.
One of the more recent incidents of ethnic violence involving the OPC took place in Idi-Araba and surrounding areas in Mushin, Lagos, on February 2 to 4, 2002. Clashes between Hausa and Yoruba claimed more than seventy lives. Human Rights Watch spoke to many residents of the area and eye-witnesses of the violence, including members of the Hausa and Yoruba communities, and people from other ethnic groups who found themselves trapped by the violence. Most of them confirmed that OPC members had participated in the violence; however, Human Rights Watch has not been able to ascertain whether the violence was planned in advance by the OPC, or whether OPC members or supporters joined in to support the Yoruba once the fighting between Yoruba and Hausa had already started. A journalist who covered the crisis told Human Rights Watch: "The OPC galvanized people. They just provided the leadership and the others followed. The OPC was like a vanguard. It started off with a minor disagreement which escalated into an ethnic conflict. Many of the people involved didn't even know what had sparked it off until later."
The incident which apparently sparked off the fighting on February 2 was an argument which developed after a Hausa man defecated in an area not intended as public toilet, close to where the OPC was holding a meeting. Some Yoruba (who may or may not have been OPC members) challenged the man and asked him to pay for use of the area as a toilet. The man refused and a fight ensued. He reported the problem to his community. A larger group of Hausa then returned with him to the scene and a fight broke out between them and the Yoruba. According to the leader of the local Hausa community, the OPC then came back in a big group, armed with guns, and started fighting the Hausa, who were also armed. The situation escalated and the fighting lasted for two days.
According to residents of the area, the police did not have any visible presence until the evening of the second day. There were reports that several people were then shot dead by the police. Eventually, the military were also sent in to quell the violence and it was they, and not the police, who finally restored order.45 By that time, scores of people had been killed, both Hausa and Yoruba; more than a hundred others had been seriously injured; hundreds of houses and public buildings had been burnt to the ground. Most of the victims were adult men, but there were also several teenagers among them, and several women. The majority of deaths and injuries were inflicted with machetes; some people were also burnt to death. Some people were killed in their houses, others as they were trying to flee, yet others were shot at point-blank range or stabbed where they stood. The victims included both Hausa and Yoruba, but the evidence collected by Human Rights Watch indicates that a higher number of those killed were Hausa.
The same journalist told Human Rights Watch what he witnessed:
A Hausa man described what he saw:
A young Hausa man described to Human Rights Watch how his twenty-three-year-old brother, Alhassan Uba, was killed:
Another young man described how his own nineteen-year-old brother, Abubakar, and another friend were killed:
A man originally from the east of Nigeria, who was not involved in any way in the dispute between Yoruba and Hausa, observed some of the fighting in Ishaga Close, a predominantly Yoruba area adjoining Idi-Araba:
Thousands of people were displaced by the fighting in Idi-Araba; 2,500 were evacuated by the Red Cross alone, while many others left spontaneously, in the general panic. The violence had a lasting impact in Idi-Araba, an area where previously, Yoruba and Hausa had enjoyed good relations; there were many mixed marriages, and past disagreements had generally been resolved peacefully. When Human Rights Watch visited the area three months after the violence, the fear and shock were still palpable. Many residents were genuinely shocked by the violence. A Hausa man whose thirty-one-year-old brother was killed said: "We knew Yoruba people well. We grew up together with the OPC people. People were killing us within us." His brother, who had been close to the Yoruba, was shot by the OPC when he was trying to intervene to prevent the violence. "They shot him when he went to talk to them. One party wanted to accept his mediation but the other didn't. I advised him to leave. He moved away. Someone called him. He turned round and was shot in the chest."
The violence in Idi-Araba came at a particularly tragic time for the residents of Lagos-only days after a series of massive explosions at a munitions depot at Ikeja military cantonment had killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands, at the end of January.
There have been several other incidents in which OPC members attacked people on the basis of their ethnicity, particularly Hausas, other northerners, and people suspected of being sympathetic to the Hausas. A Hausa trader in Lagos told Human Rights Watch how, during violent clashes at the Agege abattoir on the outskirts of Lagos, in late 2000, the OPC had targeted anyone suspected of being a Hausa: "They killed Alhaji Zubairu, a father of three from Kogi State. They asked him where he was from. He said Kogi. They said he was a Hausa man, and killed him. Actually he was a northerner, but not a Hausa."46
An Igbo man witnessed an OPC operation in around January 2001 in which Hausas were specifically targeted. Apparently the incident was sparked off by a minor dispute between a Hausa man and a Yoruba man; the dispute escalated, the Yoruba man killed the Hausa man, then the Hausas retaliated and killed the Yoruba man. The Yoruba people then mobilized the OPC to come to their aid:47
Hausas were not the only targets of the OPC. In some cases, the OPC attacked people from other ethnic groups with whom they had had disputes, including Igbos; in other cases, they would simply attack anyone who was not a Yoruba. An Igbo man from the Yaba area of Lagos told Human Rights Watch about his experience following a clash between Igbo traders and Yoruba youths, in December 2001:48
There is no point reporting it to the police. They are helpless.
In an incident which attracted much publicity at the time, the Fasehun faction of the OPC succeeded in almost paralyzing the ports of Apapa Wharf and Tin Can Port in Lagos in September 1999, following clashes with dockworkers. Some reports alleged that the Yoruba had been protesting against perceived domination of key positions in the ports held by Igbo, and brought in the OPC to strengthen their position; other alleged that it was an internal dispute between individuals fighting for control of influential positions in the dockworkers' union. The OPC launched a major operation in the ports, as did the police who were then called to restore order. There were violent clashes between the police and the OPC. Several people were killed, including a number of OPC members shot by the police. 50
Separately from the well-organized operations involving large numbers of OPC members, such as those illustrated above, individual OPC members have been responsible for killing and injuring a number of people, sometimes in the course of their vigilante activities, sometimes in an attempt to extort money or possessions from residents of the areas in which they operate, sometimes when they intervened in private disputes. During 1999 and 2000, the OPC became notorious for its brutal treatment of alleged criminals. There were frequent reports of OPC members apprehending people they suspected of being robbers, beating them, killing them and burning or mutilating them in public. In many cases, it was not clear on the basis of what evidence, if any, they apprehended these people. Civilians may of course apprehend persons engaged in criminal activity and turn them over to the authorities; however, OPC members who beat, murder or otherwise physically harm any persons in their custody should be criminally prosecuted.
In late December 1999, the Gani Adams faction of the OPC launched an operation in Akala, an area of Mushin in Lagos well-known for drug-dealing. Many media reports portrayed it as an attempt by the OPC to cleanse the area of criminals. In reality, the OPC entered the area to avenge an attack on one its female members by an alleged criminal in Akala. The OPC claimed that the woman was deliberately targeted and killed because she was wearing an OPC vest. There was a major clash between the OPC and Akala youths, many of whom are Yoruba and had previously supported the OPC. The OPC burned down many parts of the area and killed several people. The Akala youths also destroyed buildings and property. In January 2000, there was further violence in Akala, in which the Gani Adams faction of the OPC was reported to have killed at least four people and injured several others.
In one case, Dele, a man in his twenties who was a part-time worker for the African Petroleum oil company, was killed by the OPC as he was going to visit his girlfriend one evening, at Ijora Estate, in Apapa local government, Lagos, in the second half of 2000. Earlier, a group of thieves had been in the area, some of whom had been wearing suits. Dele, who happened to be wearing a suit, was stopped by the OPC who suspected him of being one of the thieves. He showed them his identity documents, but they refused to believe him. The OPC members asked him to give them the name of the person he was visiting. He gave his girlfriend's English name, but she was generally known by her Yoruba name, so after asking some residents, the OPC members claimed there was no one there by that name. They accused him of lying, beat him to death, then set him ablaze. His body was left there for two days.51
A resident of Idi-Araba in the Mushin area of Lagos told Human Rights Watch that the OPC had begun operating there in early 2001: "They used to go people's houses. They accused a Hausa man of buying stolen property. He wasn't in when they went there, so they took all his belongings out and burned them. They went around killing people, cutting their heads and burning people in public. Once I saw a dead body of a Hausa man at the junction of Idi-Araba bus-stop. He was an armed robber who had been burnt alive. I saw him roasted with his bones sticking out. The body was on the street with the flames still burning. He had been left there. On Adekunle Street in Idi-Araba, a Yoruba boy was accused of being an armed robber. They chopped off his head and put it on a pillar. These two cases were within a few days of each other, later in 2001."52
Residents of Idimu, in Lagos, told Human Rights Watch how the OPC had killed an alleged criminal and two other people in December 2000. A local shoemaker described the scene:53
Another local resident explained the background to the incident:54
The local Baale (Yoruba community leader) in Idimu claimed that nobody had ever reported any case against the OPC to him, nor had he received any complaints about arrests or torture by the OPC.55
In around October 2000, in one of the most serious cases of OPC vigilante violence documented by Human Rights Watch, the OPC apprehended and killed between seven and twelve people suspected of being armed robbers, in Ojo local government, Lagos. After killing them, they set their bodies on fire opposite the military barracks at Ojo cantonment. A local barber described what happened: 56
Another local resident was among the people who were rounded up by the OPC on that day, on the basis that they were suspected criminals:57
Another man confirmed this information and explained that the OPC had already raided the area a few months earlier:58
Often those picked up by the OPC in the course of their vigilante work did not even know why they were targeted. The OPC night patrol teams, in particular, would often arrest people arbitrarily. A driver from the Efik ethnic group (from the east of Nigeria) was stopped by a group of OPC members on patrol in Maryland, Lagos, on July 2, 2002. It appears that they suspected him of being a criminal simply because he was out late at night:60
Another man, who lived in the Idimu area of Lagos, was stopped by the OPC in similar circumstances, purely on the basis that he was out late in the evening:61
Two Igbo men in their thirties, Silas Onyebuchi Ihenacho and Kingsley Izuchukwu Anaso, were shot dead on October 9, 2000, in Isolo, Lagos, by OPC members who accused them of being armed robbers. According to an investigation by the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), residents of Ire-Akari Estate, in Isolo, including the two victims who were staying there, heard gunfire and came out to find out what was happening. They were told that there had been a clash between the OPC and armed robbers. Silas Onyebuchi Ihenacho and Kingsley Izuchukwu then ran into a group of OPC members, who were wearing red bands on their arms and forehead, who accused them of being armed robbers. Despite interventions by local residents who confirmed they were not criminals, the OPC members shot and stabbed the two men, then took their bodies to other locations where they set them ablaze. The sister of one of the victims who tried to intervene on their behalf was also attacked and stripped, but managed to escape. Another man who had come to visit the same family was also attacked by the OPC, but was saved when the police arrived. It was reported that the chairman of the local landlords' association, who was present at the time, had pointed out the victims to the OPC alleging that they were armed robbers.62
A cabinet-maker, who also worked as an okada (motorcycle taxi) driver in Lagos, remained seriously injured and unable to work almost a year after being attacked by OPC members:63
In some cases, the police managed to intervene to save people who had been arbitrarily arrested by the OPC. For example in one case, a landlady near Ikotun in Lagos had hired the OPC to arrest her two Igbo tenants. At about 1 a.m., the police intercepted a vehicle carrying the two tenants, who had been stripped naked and had their arms tied behind their backs. The landlady was also in the vehicle, along with eight OPC members. The police found six guns and sixteen cartridges in the vehicle, as well as two gallons of petrol and several tyres. The tenants said they were being taken to an unknown destination to be burnt. There is little doubt that they would have been killed if the police had not intervened. Another group of OPC were alerted to the police's intervention and attacked the police from behind; there was a shoot-out. Eventually the tenants were set free and the landlady was charged. It is not known whether the OPC members were also charged.64
In other cases, the OPC appeared to stop people with the principal aim of extorting money. In a typical case, an okada driver was shot dead in Surelere, Lagos, in March 2002, because he refused to hand over money to people believed to be OPC members. According to his colleagues, groups of OPC members would normally appear in the evening, at around 10 p.m., armed with guns and cutlasses, under the pretext of guarding the area. They would often extort money from the okada drivers. In this instance, they ordered the driver to stop but he refused to do so. He drove off and dropped his passenger; when he returned, the OPC shot him dead.65
On October 11, 2002, in one of the most recent cases of OPC violence, a group of OPC members reported to belong to the "Ajagura group", a section of the Fasehun faction, attacked students of the Lagos State Polytechnic at their Isolo campus, killing at least one and seriously injuring between ten and fifteen. 66 As in so many other cases, the incident which sparked off the violence was a trivial argument between four students and a bus driver over a bus fare. The driver was asking them to pay twenty naira, while the students were prepared to pay only ten naira. According to the students, as they could not agree on the fare, the driver called on a group of youths in the bus garage to beat up the students; at least one student was seriously injured, while three others were taken to the police station.
While the students were waiting for the police to release their three colleagues, they saw a large number of OPC members advancing towards their campus at Isolo. According to eye-witnesses, the OPC then started shooting indiscriminately into the campus. A student leader told Human Rights Watch: "The OPC rushed at us. They overpowered the police and started shooting indiscriminately in front of the school gate. A few students who wanted to resist were overpowered by the firepower of the OPC. They equally used charms on us [...]." Some of the students apparently recognized some of the assailants as OPC members. Others described them as wearing white singlets and white handkerchieves. They said there were about twenty OPC members, who came to the campus on foot after parking their vehicle outside.
An eyewitness, who was not a student, claimed that some of the students involved in the initial argument with the bus driver had also beaten up the bus conductor and driver during the dispute over the bus fare.67 However, his account about the OPC attack on the campus confirmed that of the students:
One student, Ezendu Stephen Okechukwu, died on the spot; between ten and fifteen others, all of them male, were injured and were taken to hospital. One of them, Shelle Akinwunmi Dipo, sustained about seven bullet wounds.
The student leaders contacted both Frederick Fasehun and Gani Adams about the incident. Gani Adams denied any knowledge of the Ajagura faction of the OPC. Frederick Fasehun acknowledged that they used to be part of his faction, but claimed that they had been expelled and were no longer part of the organization. The police confirmed that there had been a fight at Isolo garage, but denied any knowledge of an attack by the OPC.
The OPC have attacked and burned several police stations, sometimes in protest at the arrests of their members, and killed and injured policemen. OPC-police violence was particularly fierce in the period immediately preceding and following the 1999 elections. As the OPC protested against the elections, they burned down several police stations, particularly in Lagos and Ogun states. According to the CLO, in 1999 at least ten police stations were attacked by the OPC, including those in Okota, Alakara, Mushin, Area B, Apapa, Apapa Wharf, Sango, Ifo, Isolo, and Idiroko.68 OPC attacks against police stations and against policemen have continued sporadically since then, resulting in deaths and serious injuries. According to police sources, between 2000 and 2001, about eighteen policemen were either injured or died as OPC members poured acid on them; such cases were also common in 1999. The victims included police Inspector Gabriel Makanjuola and Sergeant Philip Achor, who had acid thrown on them during an attack by OPC members on January 3, 2000, at Iyana-paja bridge in Lagos, and Assistant Superintendent of Police Akpan Ekwere, who was hospitalized for two months after acid was poured all over his body during a clash with OPC members near Bariga police station, on 1 September 1999.69
One of the notorious cases of killings of policemen by the OPC was that of Amao Afolabi, Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Bariga police station, in Lagos, on January 9, 2000. DPO Amao was himself a Yoruba and had been a sympathizer of the OPC. This case illustrates how in some situations, the OPC's hostility towards the police has taken precedence over ethnic solidarity or blinded them to the individual identity of those they were attacking. According to senior police sources who were closely involved in investigating the case, the problem began when the police arrested a man found in possession of three guns, which he claimed he had hired from the OPC headquarters in Bariga. The OPC learned that the man had denounced them and went to talk to DPO Amao, with whom they enjoyed good relations. DPO Amao indicated that the man would be charged with illegal possession of weapons. The OPC came to see him again the following day. That day, in an unrelated incident, the Gani Adams faction of the OPC was holding a meeting near the Somolu area. As the meeting broke up, there was a clash between the OPC and the police; some OPC members poured acid on a police vehicle and abducted a mobile policeman, who was never found. At around the same time, DPO Amao and a police team, accompanied by the man they had arrested, were traveling in a vehicle to search for other suspected criminals who had been denounced by the man they had arrested. At Odusi Junction, in Bariga, a policeman in DPO Amao's team noticed an OPC bus coming in the opposite direction. He alerted DPO Amao, who told him not to worry because he was friendly with them. As DPO Amao stepped out of his vehicle to talk to the OPC, they abducted him. He was just able to alert the police on his walkie-talkie, shouting that he had been abducted.
The police sent a team to search for him throughout the night. Eventually, a man who had been present when the police had clashed with the OPC after the meeting led them to the place where he claimed DPO Amao had been killed, at Third Mainland Bridge. They saw fresh blood there. The man who led the police there told them Amao had been butchered and the pieces of his body thrown into the lagoon. Later, an OPC leader independently led the police to the same spot. Apparently the OPC had taken Amao out of the bus in which they had been traveling when they abducted him, put him first in one vehicle, then another vehicle, then they killed him. His body was never found. According to the police, several people were charged with his murder but had not yet been tried by late 2002.70
OPC representatives have denied responsibility for the killing of DPO Amao, some claiming that he was killed by armed robbers, others claiming that he was killed by colleagues within the police force. The OPC produced its own account of the incident, entitled "How Amao was killed by the police/armed robbers."71
DPO Amao was not the only Yoruba policeman to be killed by the OPC. A senior police official told Human Rights Watch that the majority of policemen killed or injured by the OPC were Yoruba. Among them was Sergeant Afolabi Samuel, who was killed along with Inspector James Ebiloma on July 16, 2000, in Alafia Street, in Mushin, Lagos, by OPC members believed to be from the Gani Adams faction. The police had first been tipped off to the presence of large numbers of OPC members after they received a call about a group of people calling themselves "OPC police", who were apparently wearing black T-shirts and trousers similar to those worn by the Mobile Police. The police found about one thousand OPC members gathered at Agege and used tear-gas to disperse them. The police then received a second call informing them that about fourteen buses full of armed men had gathered at Ikotun garage. When the police arrived there, they met the OPC convoy and there was a shoot-out between the police and the OPC. On the way back, the OPC ambushed the police at Mushin, and killed Sergeant Afolabi Samuel and Inspector James Ebiloma. They fired at the policemen and attacked them with machetes and axes. Sgt Afolabi apparently refused to fire back, on the basis that the OPC were "his people" (meaning Yoruba).72
On August 12, 2000, police corporal Bayo Tijani and his brother-in-law Kenneth Okafor were killed by OPC members in Ojo, Lagos. They were reportedly killed in a restaurant by a group of six men wearing white handkerchieves tied around their necks, who announced themselves as OPC and fired shots into the restaurant. They apparently targeted Bayo Tijani first because they saw from his identity card that he was a policeman. They fired several shots at him, then at his brother-in-law, and left their bodies lying by the side of the road.73
On April 10, 2001, a thirty-five year-old policeman, Corporal Akpa Agbafun, was killed by OPC members on his way to work in Mushin, in Lagos. This attack did not take place in the context of a clash between the police and the OPC or any other outbreak of violence. The victim was singled out and killed purely on account of being a policeman.
Corporal Akpa Agbafun was attacked shortly after 7 a.m. He had just left his home in Mushin to go to work at the Trinity Police Station. Crowds suddenly gathered in the street near his home and neighbors said that the OPC were there, shooting. They said a man had been attacked and left in the gutter; people gathered round and identified him. The police were alerted and went to the scene. When his wife also arrived, Corporal Akpa Agbafun was still alive, lying less than 100 meters from his house. The OPC members had poured acid over him and his skin was peeling off all over his body. He was rushed to Ikeja hospital. From there, he was able to tell the police and his family what had happened:
At about 4 p.m. the same afternoon, he was transferred to the general hospital in Lagos, but died later that evening, at about 7 p.m.
Eye-witnesses left no doubt that those who attacked Corporal Akpa Agbafun were OPC members. They were reportedly wearing their uniforms and headbands. They also confirmed that there had been no incident or crisis between the OPC and the police on that day prior to the attack. As of June 2002, no one had been arrested or prosecuted for the death of Corporal Akpa Agbafun.
41 According to some reports, before the incident, the landlord had told the OPC that Ike was a criminal and had given them his photograph so that they could identify him. See "Human rights abuses by vigilantes" by Okechukwu Nwanguma, in an article on vigilantes and policing in Nigeria, in Law Enforcement Review (Lagos), July-September 2000, magazine of the Centre for Law Enforcement Education (CLEEN).
42 Biafra was the independent republic proclaimed in 1967 in the Igbo areas of eastern Nigeria following the end of the First Republic by two military coups in 1966. The ensuing civil war, known as the Biafran war, claimed between 500,0000 and two million lives before it came to an end with a federal victory in 1970.
50 Human Rights Watch did not carry out an in-depth investigation into this incident, but it was widely publicized at the time in the Nigerian media and other reports. See for example "Eight killed as OPC seizes Lagos ports," Guardian (Lagos), September 10, 1999.
59 This was one of the rare cases where the OPC cooperated with the police. Witnesses described how the police were raiding some areas and the OPC raiding others. According to local residents, it had not been planned as a joint operation, but the police and the OPC spontaneously agreed to work together.
66 The information on this case is based on Human Rights Watch interviews in Lagos, October 16-18, 2002. See also statement issued by the Students' Union Government, entitled "The account of the October 11th attack on the students of Lagos State Polytechnic."
69 A press release of eleven pages issued by Mike Okiro, then Commissioner of Police for Lagos State, details many such cases in which policemen were killed or injured by the OPC and police stations attacked during 1999 and 2000.