Anxiety In Ogun, Oyo, Lagos As Boko Haram Scare Seizes Lagos-Ibadan Expressway

LONG rows of vehicles crawling bumper-to-bumper, a sea of people trekking and a police helicopter hovering overhead.

It was a terrible experience yesterday for commuters on the ever-busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. They were trapped in a traffic jam that lasted for hours, following a rumour that suspected Boko Haram gunmen had seized the road – Nigeria’s busiest.

A widely circulated message on the social network and text messages early in the day said nine policemen and 11 civilians had been killed in an attack by the dreaded sect’s gunmen, who have turned the Northeast into a vast killing field.

There was anxiety in Ogun, Oyo, Lagos and other neighbouring states over the message, which warned travellers going to either Ibadan or Lagos to avoid the expressway.

But the police and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said it was all a hoax.

A variant of the message reads: “If you are on the Lagos/Ibadan Express Road going towards Ibadan, please turn back… 18 suspected Boko Haram members with AK47 riffles are on the highway now displaying their skills. Nine policemen and 11 civilians have been confirmed dead by these gunmen while trying to stop them from shooting. Please rebroadcast to save lives. May God help us in Nigeria.”

The police deployed men on the expressway to ascertain the veracity of the rumour. They mounted roadblocks, searching vehicles. This led to the gridlock.

A police helicopters was deployed to provide aerial search for the joint security team which arrived the area as early as 7am when the information spread like a wild fire.

Commuters from Arepo Bus Stop to Berger, a journey which normally takes about 10 minutes, spent over two hours in traffic.

Passengers going from Mowe/Ibafo to Warewa and Kara waited for hours to catch a bus.

Riot policemen were blocking the access road to Ojodu from Berger, searching vehicles.

It took another reporter about three hours to drive from OPIC House in Ogun State to Berger Bus Stop in Lagos between 11.50am and 2:48pm.

Residents of Ogun State and travellers experienced a gridlock at the Iwo and Ogunmakin stretch of the expressway in Obafemi Owode Local Government Area. Several motorists made U-turns on receiving the message.

Many turned back half way into their journey. Others shelved their travel plans, waiting until there was assurance of safety.

Assistant Director, Public Relations in charge of 81 Division of the Army, Lt.-Col. Omale Ochaguba, said: “You can see the presence of our men all over the state. This is as a result of the directive issued by the Nigerian Army authority to all divisions.”

Lagos Police Commissioner Umar Manko explained the source of the rumour.

According to him, a truck carting wheat fell on the expressway, spilling its contents in the middle of the road.

Policemen, he said, dispersed some hoodlums who attempted to attack the truck with a view to stealing its contents.

“It was these hoodlums that were sighted by villagers who thought they were members of Boko Haram who had come to attack them. The rumour spread from that village.

“When we got the information, we sent our men to protect our own Area of Primary Responsibility (APR), which is Lagos State. I tell you with due sense of responsibility that there is no iota of truth in the information. I urge members of the public to go about their businesses without any fear.”

NEMA spokesman Ibrahim Farinloye warned “mischief makers” against spreading such unfounded rumours.

He said in a statement: “This is to inform the general public that NEMA received a false alert about a purported Boko Haram attack along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The story is a complete lie and unfounded.

“Security agencies have combed all routes and beyond without any trace of such incidents. Included in the response team on the false alert are the military Joint Task Force (JTF), the Department of State Security (DSS), the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the police from Ogun, Oyo and Lagos, who deployed aerial chopper in the search.

“They carried out searches and surveillance in different ways. the JTF is manning the Ogere end where it was said that about 20 policemen were killed.

“Mischief makers broadcasting these evil machinations are strongly warned to desist from circulating unfounded messages in the country. The public should disregard and discourage further circulation of such inciting messages against the nation.”

Oyo State police spokesperson Olabisi Okuwobi-Ilobanafor, a Superintendent of Police, urged residents to desist from spreading false information capable of breaching the peace.

“The story that 18 suspected Boko Haram members operated on the highway with AK47 rifles, killing nine policemen and 11 civilians, is untrue. There was an occurrence of a lone auto accident involving a trailer loaded with bags of wheat.

“FRSC officials, policemen and other security officers were only at the scene to control traffic and clear the gridlock,” she said.

Ogun Police spokesman Olumuyiwa Adejobi, who acknowledged the false and alarming text messages in circulation, told The nation that there was no Boko Haram attack in the state.

Adejobi, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), said: “The police and other security agencies including FRSC, the state -owned traffic agency – TRACE, and Nigeria Army were at the point to clear the obstruction and not a Boko Haram attack.

“The command urges the general public to disregard the rumour and go about their lawful businesses as all hands are on deck to curtail any breakdown of law and order in the state.”

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