ABDULLAHI OLESIN in Ilorin in this piece, recounts the harrowing tales of the survivours a recent armed robbery attack on Offa in Kwara State.
The Olofa of Offa, Oba Muftau Gbadamosi Esuwoye, has described penultimate Thursday’s bloody armed robbery attack in Offa town, Kwara State as the height of criminality.
The Olofa in an interview with newsmen after the condolence visit of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, to Offa last Saturday said, “You need to be here last Thursday to know what we went through. It was hellish. The entire town was shocked at the way and manner the armed robbers stormed the town and carried out the dastardly operations.”
The armed bandits numbering about 15 held the town hostage for more than one hour, carted away unspecified amount of money and killed no fewer than 17 persons, including nine policemen.
The affected banks were Ecobank, First Bank, Zenith, GTB, Union Bank and Stockcorps Micro Finance Bank.
The robbery incident, the fourth in the last 10 years, has been the bloodiest.
Narrating his experience, an eye witness, Segun Badejo, said two men in black and white tracksuits led the gang of armed robbers mostly in their 20s.
He said he was in a musical shop opposite the Owode police station, Offa when he heard the intimidating sound of gunshots.
“The noise was from the dynamite deposited by the armed robbers at the entrance of the facility. This made people around that area to lie down on their bellies to avoid being hit by bullets while others scampered for safety.
“The armed robbers arrived in commando style. On arrival, the two leaders of the gang asked tricycle riders who were on both sides of the road to be calm and not to move. About 13 of them came and four mounted Owode Market T-Junction, controlling movement of vehicles on the major road; three positioned themselves adjacent the police station and another three in front of the station. They did not seem to be in a hurry as they spent more than one hour carrying out their dastardly act.”
Investigations revealed that the armed robbers killed all the police officers they met at the station except those ones that escaped by the whiskers.
A policeman man who pleaded anonymity said, “We are just compounding our problems in the force. There were new guns just procured which we have not used in the station. The one I am holding is over 50 years. How can it effectively function? All have been taken away. The guns the robbers brought according to my friend who escaped with injuries, are new ones and load 90 rounds of bullets at a time.
Our gun can only load 30 of such bullets, so if our men had confronted them they would have been overpowered.”
A female member of the gang supervised the robbery operation at the banks. It was gathered that at the Stockcorps Micro Finance Bank near Zenith Bank, the robbers gained entrance shattering the doors of the bank with dynamite.
Chairman of the bank, Chief Lamidi Tolani said the cashier of the bank was shot on the leg.
He said: “I was informed by the cashier who was shot in the leg that the armed robbers numbering five were led by a lady with tribal marks and other two female robbers.
“According to the cashier three of the robbers were not masked. After gaining entrance, they shot the head of operations of the bank on the head because he refused to open the vault in the strong room. The operation manager was said to have died immediately.”
Another unidentified man was killed in front of another micro finance bank, while at Zenith Bank near Eid praying ground, the robbers did not gain access to the strong room as it was bullet proof.
Angered by ther inability to gain access to the strong room of the bank, the robbers set the Hilux van of the bank parked outside ablaze. In the process, a middle-aged man trying to make use of Automated Teller Machine (ATM) was gunned down.
Again, the robbers attempting to blow up the entrance of the Union Bank killed a man in the process, their operation at the First Bank was unsuccessful as the robbers did not meet any staff of the bank in the hall.
At Ecobank and GTB two men were killed and some cash carted away, it was gathered.
It was gathered also that the robbers escaped through Igosun road enroute Okuku in Osun state by abandoning the vehicles that conveyed them to the crime scenes. It was revealed that they killed two police officers while trying to escape.
Mr. Makinde, who is the proprietor of De Big Club, Offa whose wife, Yemisi, a chief superintendent of police (CSP) was killed by the bandits said: “She was a Christian and I am sure, it is God who called her. We spoke on the phone about five minutes to the incident.”
A lucky survivor, one Abdullahi Abdulsalami, a middle-aged man said he cheated death by providence. “I am a commercial motorcyclist in Offa. I carried a male passenger and on our way I saw people running to safety.
I tried to make a u-turn but while I was doing that the robbers first shot at the passenger and he died on the spot.
“While I was trying to escape, a female among them shot at me and that was all I could remember. I was told they took nine of us down to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH),” he stated.
Bukola, a daughter of another police officer killed by the robbers, Pelemo Ayesanmi, said her late father was their breadwinner.
Pelemo Ayesanmi is due for retirement from the services of the police command before he paid the supreme sacrifice.
She added that his death would make it difficult for her siblings to complete the tertiary education.
She called on government and public-spirited individuals to come to their assistance, adding that two of her siblings recently secured higher national diploma admission and national diploma admission into the same polytechnic.
During his condolence visit to Offa, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki called for the general improvement on the security infrastructure of the country.
“All the issue had to do on how we will improve on our security infrastructure,” he said. “It is clear that we are not responding adequately to this. That is why we organized a security summit sometime ago to address the issue and to work closely with the executive and see how we can find solution to the security problems in the country.
“We on the legislative arm are ready to come up with the real design to improve on the security challenges, whether it is the human resources, equipment, funding or legislation. There is also the issue of the actual structure of the police.
“This issue requires a very radical and serious minded approach. Unless we address this we will continue to have this kind of scenario where a bunch of criminals will hold a town for two hours and get away with it. There is no society that will allow this kind of thing to happen.
“We condole with the families of both the civilians and the policemen that died during the incident. In a place like Offa that is very vibrant in commerce, we must address security challenge so that people can continue to carry out their normal activities.”
On the question of inviting the military for assistance, the Senate President said: “There is no society that delegates the responsibilities of the police to the military. Because it also has its own fallbacks; the number of the military is very thin.
They are in most of the states of the federation. This makes it difficult for them to protect the territorial integrity of the country.”
Also speaking, the Olofa of Offa, Oba Mufutau Gbadamosi harped on the need for the establishment of state police.
The monarch said: “It will be better for the Federal Government to establish state police. With that they will be closer to the people and to the state government. This is the fourth time that we will experience this kind of robbery attacks in the last 10 years.
“One of the major problems of the police force is inadequate manpower. We discover that in Offa local government area here the number of policemen is not up to 50. Anytime we have something like this there will be no reinforcement anywhere. So what we need is manpower. The state government can afford to buy us armoured personnel carrier (APC), it can afford to build more police station but if the manpower is not there it makes no sense.
“What the Federal Government needs to do is to employ many graduates looking for jobs into the police force, Army, Air Force and the Navy. There are many of these unemployed graduates that are ready to join these military and para-military forces.”
Meanwhile, the federal government has assured Nigerians that those behind the armed robbery and killings in Offa would be arrested and brought to book.
Minister of Information, Alh Lai Muhammed gave the assurance during a condolence visit to the Kwara state governor, Alh Abdulfatha Ahmed at the Government House Ilorin.
He said the entire nation was ‘shocked and grieved’ by the dastardly act committed in Offa by the robbers.
The minister later visited Offa to commiserate with Olofa of Offa, Oba Muftau Gbadamosi Esuwoye II and the people of the town in the unfortunate incident.
He also visited the headquarters of the state police command in Ilorin to commiserate with the police commissioner, Lawan Ado over the lost of nine policemen to the dastard bank robbery. He was also at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH) where he sympathised with the victims of the armed robbery attack who were on admission there.
‘‘What happened in Offa on Thursday shocked the entire nation and is our prayers that the souls of all the victims will rest in peace and also that those badly injured would be healed and recover very soon,” the minister said.
‘‘I want to use this opportunity to also let you know that the entire country is grieving and the entire country is sympathising with Kwara state and the entire people of Offa.
‘‘But there is also a silver lining, despite the losses of the police, it is quite hearth warming to know that some of the suspects have been arrested.
‘‘I spoke with the IG and he assured me that all the people responsible for the dastardly act would be arrested and brought to justice.”
Responding, Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed thanked the presidency for its intervention so far.
He particularly expressed delight with the promise made by the Inspector General of Police to deploy an armoured personnel carrier (APC) that will be stationed specifically in Offa to prevent future occurrence of the incident.
The governor said government at this time must accept the fact that the nation was going through challenging time and needs to redouble efforts towards improving on her security architecture, saying, ‘‘this is not the time for blame game.”
He advocated for effective community policing and improved synergy through effective communications particularly between the military and the police.
At Offa, Oba Esuwoye thanked the minister for the visit and solidarity with the people of the town.
He asked the minister to use his good offices in ensuring the deployment of two armoured personnel tanks (APC) to Kwara south axis in order to beef up security in the area.
Oba Esuwoye also called for the establishment of a squadron Mobile Police Unit in the town to compliment the efforts of the regular police in tackling crime and criminality in Offa town.
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