TOLUWANI ENIOLA writes about the transformation that has taken place in the Soka community in Ibadan, Oyo State, where a kidnappers’ den was uncovered four years ago
A stunning school structure, pupils running gaily to their classrooms with bags strapped to the backs and a serene mien were what confronted our correspondent during the week while on a visit to the Soka community; the former ritualists’ den in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
Exactly four years ago, the Soka community was thrown into confusion when a ritualists’ den was uncovered in the community. The kidnappers’ den was located amid factories, specifically at the back of Macmillan Publishers, a few metres from the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway leading to Iwo Road in the state capital.
Residents of the area were surprised to find out that an expansive area, housing some buildings, initially used for a local clinic for mentally deranged persons, had become a slaughterhouse for ritual killers.
When the news broke on March 22, 2014, the initial reactions were that of shock, but what attracted more attention was the fact that many people had lost their lives in the place before the discovery. Those who were lucky to be rescued at the den, though distressed and traumatised, recounted how they were abducted at different locations.
At the kidnappers’ den were corpses, malnourished victims who were about to be slaughtered for ritual purposes, mutilated hands and legs as well as human skulls, clothes and shoes of dead victims. Also discovered were women’s bags and shoes, identity cards, including those of some students of a private university, Lead City University, Ibadan, and other personal items which belonged to victims of the ritualists.
The kidnappers’ den was uncovered after a tip-off by some commercial motorcyclists, popularly called okada. The motorcyclists were reportedly searching for two of their members, said to have taken two passengers to the area but never came back. Rescue operations followed after the okada riders raised the alarm and victims rescued at the place were reunited with their families. For many months, the dreaded den made the headlines.
For Soka, it’s a new lease of life
Many people feared to go to the area. Things started to change following the visit of Governor Abiola Ajimobi to the place. The building was eventually demolished.
Four years after, although the name ‘Soka’ still evokes memories of horror, the community has since gone beyond the negative incident and transformed remarkably. One remarkable change that has taken place in the erstwhile dangerous community is the transformation of the former “evil forest” to Oyo State Comprehensive Model School. The new school sits on an expansive land on the former dungeon.
Many of the residents took turns in sharing their experiences of living in the once dreaded place, including their challenges with SUNDAY PUNCH. They recalled that the incident suddenly turned the area into a notorious place which no one wanted to identify with.
Just beside the new school were cows grazing on a sprawling field while some women were busy sorting disposed wastes from a nylon factory in the area. One of the women, Mojirayo Ajao, 45, makes a living selling used nylon opposite the former kidnappers’ den.
“As you can see, Soka is now a school. There is no problem again. I come here almost every day but we still remember the incident well,” she said while gathering the nylons in a sack to sell.
One of those who spoke to our correspondent in the community was a 79-year-old retired soldier, Pa Isaac Akinloye. Akinloye has been living in the community for over six years. The retired soldier witnessed the discovery of the ritualists’ den in March 2014 and was part of those who visited the scene when the news broke.
Akinloye’s building is a stone’s throw from the former kidnappers’ den. His home overlooks the Ogunpa River channel which seems to have divided the community from the strings of factories in the environment where the former kidnappers’ den used to be located.
Plucking vegetables from a small farm behind his house, Akinloye recounted with joy the amazing things that had happened to the area four years after the shocking discovery. The Ilesa, Osun State-born ex-soldier said residents of the community would always remember Soka because “it is one of the many shocking discoveries made in the state.”
The man told our correspondent that since the government cleared the forest and turned it into a modern secondary school, residents of the community had overcome the fear and trauma that followed the ugly discovery.
The retired soldier added, “I relocated to this community in 2012, just two years before we discovered that we were living right at the back of a place where many human beings were being slaughtered for ritual purposes. In 2013, whenever we attended the landlord’s association meeting, we used to hear noises down the Ogunpa River channel which divides this community and the den. We wrote to the government and the police. The police told us the noises were emanating from mentally-deranged people who they assumed were being treated in the area.
“Later, we heard that an okada man was kidnapped. I was here then. When the place was discovered, those that were rescued were up to 30 malnourished people. Yes, we remember that but there have been good changes in the community since then. No negative things have been heard since then. What delighted us in the community was the decision of the government to turn the location to a modern school after the Federal Government’s delegation from Abuja paid a visit to assess the place.”
New dawn for residents
Sola Ogunmokun relocated to the community a few years after the den was demolished. Ogunmokun, who now runs a mechanic workshop, located near the former kidnappers’ den told our correspondent that he had no reason to be worried since he came to the area.
Ogunmokun said he decided to relocate to the community despite the negative tales about the place because he “needed a space to work.” The technician, however, revealed that the negative memory of the area had made them to be more vigilant.
He stated, “Like you know, Soka is no longer a kidnappers’ den. It is just like any other community in Ibadan where people live their lives normally. When I came here, I had heard terrible tales about Soka but I was not afraid because the den had been demolished. I work from 9am to 6pm; there is really no room for concern. As you can see, everything goes on normally.”
Perhaps, the most important development witnessed in Soka after the ugly discovery four years ago is the establishment of the model school on the former ritualists’ den.
Although the school had been completed long before now, academic activities did not start until the beginning of this year. SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that the school currently has about 20 pupils. The school parades different buildings on the spacious land. It was learnt that some of the buildings would be used as residential quarters when the school eventually begins to operate boarding.
Our correspondent noticed some of the pupils trooping out of the school gate a few minutes after the closing bell reverberated in the area. The pupils, clad in cream and golden red uniforms with ties, spoke about their joys and fears learning in the one-time kidnappers’ den. A JSS 1 pupil of the school, identified only as Richard, said he was five years old when the den was discovered, adding that he had a faint memory of the incident.
The nine-year-old said he and some of his colleagues were withdrawn from other schools when the model school began session earlier in the year.
The JSS1 pupil smiled when asked if the site’s past evokes fear in him and his mates.
Richard said, “No, we have no fear. The teachers are good and the environment is also good for learning and also very close to our house. Yes, I remember what happened there four years ago but I was very small then. I was initially in JSS 1 in another school but because this school is closer to our home and because of its good facilities, my father asked me to study there.”
Other students of the school, Mubarak 13; Fatima 11 and nine-year-old Ridwan also expressed similar feelings.
The past still haunts
But what happened in the area four years ago still haunts the school. Although equipped with facilities, only about 20 pupils currently attend the school.
Investigation by SUNDAY PUNCH showed that the site’s negative past was responsible for the low enrolment of pupils in the school.
A resident of the community, who identified himself as Ahmed, said the fear that the environment could still harbour evil discouraged many parents from registering their children in the school. Ahmed said, “You know that in this part of the world, people read meanings to things. Even though the kidnappers’ den has been cleared and turned into a school, the pupils are not up to 20 because of the fear. This is because of the past issue regarding the location.”
This fear was confirmed by some parents of the pupils. Speaking with SUNDAY PUNCH, Richard’s father, Adesanya Sikiru, said the decision to send his child to the school was not an easy one because of the past event. Sikiru, a tailor in the New Felele area of Ibadan, revealed that he was part of the Islamic leaders delegated alongside other Christians and traditional religion leaders to do “cleansing” prayers in the school to make it suitable for learning.
He said, “When the incident happened, it scared many people away from the area. There is probably no Nigerian now that does not know Soka. I withdrew my son from his former school because of the good facilities in the new school. My son is supposed to be in JSS2 now. I encouraged him to go to the school because we wanted to appreciate the efforts of the government. We were very happy when the government established a school there.
“I asked Richard to repeat the class. He was formerly in St. Louis in Molete. The model school insisted on starting with JSS1 pupils. I realised that the standard of education there is quite good. I also surveyed the environment and marvelled at the beautiful buildings in the school compound.
“What gave me the courage to send my child to the school that used to be a kidnappers’ den was the fact that we prayed on the site. The Muslims, Christians and traditionalists prayed separately on the land. Since then, we have forgotten that ugly incident. I have the belief that there is no evil there again. My child does not have any fears because he trusts my judgment.”
An Islamic cleric, Alhaji Abdulmuhmeen Esalaye, who has three children in the school, shared a similar view. Esalaye said some residents preferred not to send their children to the school because “they believe there is still evil on the land’’ because of what it was used for.
Esalaye said, “But that is not true because my three children attend the school and they are doing fine. I decided to send them there because it’s only God that can grant one protection. I withdrew them from their former school because of the crowded classrooms which did not give room for proper learning. In fact, there was nothing to show for their education. But at Soka, the classes are spacious and the teachers know what they are doing.
“They are going to the school without fear because we encouraged them to go and they know their parents cannot push them to danger. This is why I am encouraging other parents to enrol their children in the school.”
When our correspondent visited the school, its Principal, Mr. Oladokun Solomon, declined to speak because he was not authorised to do so.
“I am not authorised to speak to journalists. Please direct your enquiries to the Ministry of Education,” he told SUNDAY PUNCH.
Many rivers to cross
Though the community is wearing a new look, one of the challenges facing the community is the need to construct a bridge across the Ogunpa River to ease transport in the area.
The channel, which runs through the expressway, divides the community from the factories in the area. The water level of the channel has gone up owing to the rains which have made it impossible for pupils and residents to pass through. Pupils of the new school, such as Richard, Ridwan and Fatima, have to pass through the expressway to navigate the roads to their homes even though the school is at the back of their homes.
Aside from the need for a bridge on the water channel, the residents are also disturbed by the environmental hazards posed by the stream which has become a dump site. Putrid smell of garbage dumped in the canal channels oozed out of the stream when our correspondent visited the area. Mosquito larvae were also breeding freely in stagnant portions of the stream.
A middle-aged man, living in the community, identified only as Olalekan, told SUNDAY PUNCH that if there was a bridge across the water channel, the pupils wouldn’t need to risk their lives trekking through the expressway to their homes after school hours. “The link bridge will make commuting easier for us. The stream has become an environmental problem for us because some residents now freely dump refuse into it.
“When the rain reaches an alarming level, nobody can pass through the area. We have to go through the Iwo Road to access the community,” Olalekan stated.
Speaking with our correspondent, the Faruku of Soka, Baale Isiaka Bello, stressed the importance of a link bridge to the community and the pupils. Bello added that he was excited that the establishment of the school had erased the old memory of Soka as an “evil forest.”
He said many buildings and factories had also sprung up in the area. “There was a bridge before in the place but it was demolished during the military era. The bridge linked the community to the road where Macmillan Publishers is. The bridge has been abandoned for years and as you can see, there are blocks and materials on the site. We have written to the governor and other necessary authorities for assistance,” Bello stated.
Bello noted that though Soka evoked an ugly past, it taught the residents a lesson to be more vigilant. He said, “It has taught us a lesson to be vigilant so that we don’t have a repeat of what happened in our environment. The government should build a police post in the school. They should build a bridge to link the community.”
On his part, Sikiru urged the government to start bridge construction in the community, adding that rods and blocks and other materials abandoned many years ago in the area for the project were being stolen.
We’ll continue to transform the community — Oyo
Meanwhile, the Oyo State Government has promised to do its best in transforming the community.
The state Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Toye Arulogun, said the fact that a school had been established at the former kidnappers’ den meant that the government was interested in changing the negative image attached to the community.
Speaking on the demand of the community for a police post, bridge and good road network, the commissioner said the government would attend to them in phases, promising that their desire would be met soon.
He said, “I can assure you that whatever they need, the government will provide. I am sure the community knows the process to follow on such demands. The resident association should approach their local government to state their demands.
“The government has to take such demands one at a time considering that there are many areas that it are trying to do.
“Definitely, the government will attend to their needs. The fact that the government has established a school in the place is a testament to the fact that it has not forgotten them.”
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