Ogun State government moves to make the state uncomfortable for armed robbers who have unleashed terror on some parts of the state, forcing bankers and residents to live in fear
It was one meeting that lacked the expected fireworks despite the fact that it had all the raw materials to make it explosive. For two weeks, banks in Ijebu-Ode and Sagamu closed their doors to customers due to the incessant attacks by armed robbers. The government is concerned because of the threat to the local economy and the hardship it was inflicting on the populace. On the other hand, the Ogun State Bankers Forum is concerned about the safety of customers and its members. In order to checkmate the scourge, a meeting between both parties held last Monday March 12 at the office of Kemi Adeosun, the Ogun State commissioner for finance. But what had been feared might climax into a thunderstorm deflated into roaring whispers when the commissioner apologised to members of the forum for the poor communication channel between the finance ministry and the bankers. She reportedly told them that had the communication been made better, the forum would have been apprised of the efforts made by the state government since the bankers’ meeting with Governor Ibikunle Amosun last year. If the bankers had any ill feeling, the approach of the commissioner doused the tension. The meeting then teed off on a friendly note as both parties expressed mutual concerns about the security situation in the state. The commissioner told the bankers about the steps the administration had taken, which include the procurement of 200 Hilux vans, delivery of five armoured personnel carriers, APCs, out of the expected 13, a number of rifles and bullet-proof vests. But the bankers insisted on the deployment of the listed equipment as the precondition for calling off the strike. The commissioner however informed the bankers that the facilities would be deployed to the security formations by last Friday. The meeting, which lasted for about 30 minutes, ended with everyone looking forward to Friday.
But two days after the meeting, Olusegun Olusoga, chairman, Ijebuland Bankers Forum, at a press conference in Ijebu-Ode, announced that members of the forum had agreed that banks in all the zones in the state be shut down. A member of the committee who pleaded anonymity noted that such a move was necessary to drive home the security demands of the bankers. “I hope you know that for the many days that banks have not opened, we are losing a lot of money. So this closure affects us too. But we are doing this essentially because many of our customers have died due to the robberies and we do not want any more of such loss of lives again,” he said.
As the banks insist that their closure is meant to save customers from stray bullets, it has however had a toll on many businesses in both Ijebu-Ode and Sagamu. The economies of both towns have been thrown into turmoil as businessmen can no longer access the funds they need to thrive. Not even small businesses are doing well as many now complain that customers have become a scarce commodity. “Since the banks closed their doors I have been finding it quite difficult to sell my goods, as many of my customers now complain that they do not have money. Before the closure, we made about N50,000 a day. But now, we find it difficult to even realise N5,000 a day,” says Kolawole Ahmed, a spare parts trader based in Sagamu. Arike Kafilat, a building material merchant based in the same town, also sings the same sad song. “Business has been at a standstill. You can see that I have lots of stocks. I can’t sell them, neither do I have money to buy new stock,” she laments. While Kafilat worries about unsold stock, Razak Timi, a managing director of a hotel in Ijebu-Ode, is having sleepless nights about the unoccupied rooms in his hotel. Timi who also doubles as the chairman of Hoteliers Association of Nigeria, Ijebu zone, says that the business has spiralled into recession due to the cash crunch induced by bank closure. According to him, “The insecurity situation has affected us adversely as most of our customers do not patronise us because they do not have cash due to bank closure. And we cannot even save or deposit money into banks.”
Currently, the only option for business owners and traders, if they seek to withdraw or deposit money for their businesses, is a trip to neighbouring states like Oyo or Lagos. This comes with the attendant risk of robbery or even car accidents. But it is not only business owners that are crying about the bank closure, civil servants in Ijebu and Sagamu-Remo areas have also been thrown into lamentation. Many of them have not been able to access their February salary unless they travel out of base. Debo Ojedele, technical instructor, Government Science and Technical College, Ijebu-Ode, sums up the bank-induced crisis in sharp vitriol. Hear him: “I have got no confidence in the banking system; they are inflicting pains on the people. Are they the only ones that robbers are attacking? Many of our colleagues have not been able to access our February salaries; it is very terrible. The banks should just pack up and go.”
Many homes have also been feeling the pains induced by the closure of banks. In some cases, it has created cracks and fissures in the relationship between spouses. Olaiya Mukaila, a cassette merchant in Sagamu, reveals that his family has plunged from taking three square meals a day to one. He also observes that meat has since disappeared from the family staple. “My family and I have not found it easy. My business has been down and it has affected the money I drop at home,” he says. Taiwo Osho, a cable television repairer, also shares Mukaila’s fate. Due to the cash crunch, he now finds it difficult to buy pampers and other baby necessities for his seven-month-old daughter. This often causes friction between him and his wife. “Nobody has money to repair cable or to fix new ones. Life has been difficult since the banks closed,” he complained.
But those who have been victims of armed robbery attacks willingly support the bankers’ move. Tosin Ibrahim, a furniture maker, is one of such persons. Ibrahim nearly lost his life to a stray bullet. It all happened when a gang of daredevil robbers descended on banks along Sabo, Sagamu, Ogun State, on November 24, employing warlike gunfire. In the mayhem that ensued, motorists abandoned their cars as their feet seemed faster. Nursing mothers abandoned their babies as survival instinct overruled motherly care. Traders and hawkers threw their wares away scampering for safety. But as Ibrahim, in that commotion, attempted to rush over to a nearby bush for cover, what happened next was so swift. He did not see it; all he knew was that something fast and furious hit him.
At once, he felt a burning sensation inside his stomach. Craning his neck downwards, he saw blood oozing from his belly. It was at that point that he realised that he had been hit. Instinctively, he started screaming hysterically, “Help me, help me I have been shot. Someone please help me. I am bleeding. I don’t want to die, please help me.” As he gasped for breath, eventually collapsing, he could feel his strength slowly ebbing away. But no help came.
For over one hour, no one could come to Ibrahim’s rescue, as everyone was preoccupied with his or her safety. Later, when the pall of commotion had been lifted, after the robbers had left, Ibrahim and the nine others who sustained injuries were picked up and taken to the hospital. He had however lost significant blood. At the hospital, the doctors battled hard to save the young man’s life. The other battle was finance, as the hospital was demanding for over N150,000 that Ibrahim’s family could not immediately afford. They had to sell property and resort to begging and borrowing. But Ibrahim is lucky that he is still alive; eight others were however not as lucky. “It was not easy. My family is quite poor. But I thank God that some of my friends did not let me down as they provided some of the funds,” he recalled.
Though Ibrahim was discharged late January, he is still scheduled for more operations to remove some of the bullets that were lodged near his spinal chord. He is indeed fortunate that he can still walk, though he has lost the strength to continue with his profession. “Since then I cannot work, because I don’t have the strength,” he noted, showing the reporter the bullet and the surgical scars etched on his body. “Life has been difficult. I now depend on the charity of friends and family.”
But while Ibrahim survived the stray bullet from the robbery attack, Margaret Kikelomo, a trader, did not survive the raid by a party of trigger-happy robbers on five banks at Olabisi Onabanjo University, OOU, permanent site, Ago-Iwoye, also in the state, about seven days before the Sagamu incident. That Thursday afternoon, when pupils were returning home and traders were preoccupied with their businesses, a convoy of vehicles innocuously came to a halt in front of one of the five banks at the school’s permanent site. Some of the students around had been fascinated by the exotic nature of some of the cars in the convoy. Suddenly, several men wrapped with bullets and wielding submachine guns streamed out of the bus and tore the air with indiscriminate shooting. For about one hour that they operated the campus resembled a war theatre. When the turbulence that was raised by the robbery incident had settled down, Kikelomo was one of the three persons whose lives had been cut short by stray bullets. The other two were students, while several people were injured. A mournful pall descended on the institution. Kikelomo’s remains were eventually buried about a week after the incident. Her family and friends are still haunted by the tragedy.
But OOU is by no means the only institution in Ogun State, where banks domiciled within the campus, have proved irresistible targets for robbers. Babcock University, Ilisan-Remo, unfortunately has also been a reluctant host to these menacing agents of destruction on two occasions. The latest visitation from men of the underworld occurred February 29 when a horde of robbers swooped on two banks located within the school premises. It was indeed a textbook replay of the groundbreaking Coffeyville bank robbery in the United States in 1892, which had captured the imagination of the country then. For about 25 minutes, the robbers with the aid of dynamite, AK 47 rifles and submachine guns bulldozed their way to the vaults of the two banks. Of course, the security details at the bank had already voted with their feet when they heard, let alone saw, superior firepower. For the students and customers who were trapped within the bank, life assumed an untimely trial of hell on earth for the period that the robbers operated. Surprisingly, no life was lost to the raid. Sources say that plain-clothes security men opened fire on the invaders, thus sending them running in panic.
The armed robbers probably got information that due to a partial shutdown of the banks in the adjoining towns, the hitherto skeletal services undertaken at the branches on the campuses had assumed the nature of the operations in bigger banks, since customers can now do bank transactions anywhere else, other than their branches.
But while it took seven robbers to launch the attack on the banks inside Babcock University, it took a gang of 30 to break into a bank at Ijebu-Igbo on February 22. The raid, which threw the sleepy town into a feverish uproar, was an essay on how to rob a bank with overwhelming firepower. Perhaps, the leader of the gang had been a disciple of the military doctrine which advocates the use of overwhelming and disproportionate force against an enemy. The armoury the robbers had employed to tear open the bank was mind-boggling, as they could have successfully prosecuted a small war against any state had they chosen to. It was however a miracle that the raid did not lead to any loss of life despite the use of heavy firepower. But the robbers went home with latge tonnes of cash.
Sadly, the frequent spate of robbery attacks on banks in Ogun State has made the lives of inhabitants a nightmare. Those who work in banks or have offices or homes near them now live in perpetual fear of impending attacks. Many have lost their goods, loved ones, money, or sustained life-threatening injuries whenever such raids occur. And there is usually not enough immediate resistance from security agencies around to fend off such attacks or at worst engage them in a duel. This security gap seems to have emboldened robbers so much so that in a brazen disregard for security agents, robbers now inform banks of their impending attack. It was one of such notices last December that threw Sagamu and Abeokuta, the state capital, into turmoil as the banks within this jurisdiction closed their offices for a week after being served such letters. Needless to say, it inflicted untold hardship on bank customers, especially those who had not warmed up to the idea of using automated teller machine, ATM, cards.
It is not only banks that have attracted attacks by robbers. In fact, while the daring robbers with superior weaponry prefer banks, their comrades who perhaps have less appetite for risk opt for homes, shops, offices and the expressways, where they waylay people among them, those who go out of town to take cash from places not affected by bank shutdown. For instance, on November 4, a gang of youthful robbers broke the tranquility of the pitch-dark night as they ransacked several homes and offices in Isabo, Abeokuta, Ogun State. The raid which lasted for hours fetched them over N500,000 in cash and other goods. Luckily no life was lost, but some residents complained that they had suffered some battering. If Isabo residents suffered battering, a worse fate was dealt on their counterparts at Oke-Ejigbo, Abeokuta, when the underworld lords visited them on November 29. Apart from unwillingly parting with tonnes of cash, handsets and electronics, several residents were injured while two persons were killed. But strangely, last February these underworld agents decided to up the ante as they took their craft to the seat of power in the state, perhaps to prove that no area was impenetrable. In their attempt to steal a car parked at the Governor’s Office, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta, they were repelled by security agents.
But this was one of the scanty occasions in which the robbers ran out of luck. Thanks to the security features of the car. One of the robbers was killed by the police while others escaped. But if the alarm features of the car helped abort the robbery, the cattle traders at Igboora-Sokoto Road, Abeokuta, could not count on such a luxury when a set of robbers waylaid them. The robbers went away with over N6 million, while also killing six traders during the raid.
Against this backdrop, many residents of the state now live under the iron reign of robbers who operate without fear in broad daylight killing, maiming and dispossessing. And for many residents of the state the bullets of armed robbers have cut short their lives. “We are being killed everyday by robbers. The security situation is terrible. We do not know what the government is doing. We, residents, are in a helpless situation,” cried Ugochukwu Nwosu, a motorcycle spare parts seller based in Sagamu. Perhaps, Nwosu is too consumed by fear to observe that the government is not resting on its oars.
The Amosun administration took a step to address the parlous state of security last December, when it inaugurated a Security Trust Fund. During the ceremony, the governor disclosed that he had received the nod of President Goodluck Jonathan to set up a Joint Military/Police Task Force and a Quick Response Squad. Amosun however said that the state would need a whopping N3 billion to fight the escalating crime rate in the state, adding that his administration had stepped up effort to safeguard banks in the state. He disclosed that “We have ordered 10 APCs to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Joint Task Force. We are not oblivious of the fact that the maintenance of law and order does not come cheap. The Security Trust Fund would support the government’s efforts in tackling security challenges in the state through sourcing for resources and efficiently deploying such resources as the APCs to achieve the objective of a safe and secure environment.” Now that the facilities have started to arrive, it remains a herculean task convincing the bankers to return to their duty posts. Their argument is that the security situation is so bad they would not be encouraged to return to work until those facilities have been given out to the security agencies for use.
Yusuph Olaniyonu, commissioner for information, Ogun State, however disagrees with the bankers’ description of the state of security, insisting that bank robberies are a one-off incidence and not as regular as the citizens and bankers are making them to be. He also stressed the point that Ogun State government, in conjunction with the federal government, had taken steps to improve the security situation of the state. “I don’t want us to give an impression of insecurity in Ogun State. There is none. These are occasional incidents. It is bad enough that they are happening at all. But it is not only here, it is a national phenomenon,” he says. Olaniyonu must be echoing the stand of the state security council, which is expected to rely on the opinion of the security agencies.
This is because Abdulmajid Alli, the state’s deputy commissioner of police, who claimed that bank robberies in the state had decreased drastically, expressed the same sentiment. “Except in the Ijebu-Ode axis where the banks have refused to open shop simply because of one or two incidents that happened there. But even at Ijebu-Ode axis, we have increased our presence there. Within the Abeokuta metropolis it is calm, while Ota area is also calm. Even at Ijebu-Ode axis we have two armoured tanks there, one at Ijebu-Ode, another at Sagamu,” he explained. Steven Falusi, secretary-general, National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Ogun State chapter, also corroborates the claim of the police chief, insisting that the spate of robberies has been in a decline. “There is no city where you can eliminate robbery absolutely. It is not possible. All that the government can do is to make sure that they are not rampant. And if you go to the governor’s office now, you will see the money the government is spending on security.”
While waiting for the government and police authorities to deploy the security equipment, the Ijebuland Bankers Forum, at a press conference last Wednesday, said they would embark on strike to prompt government into action. Taiwo Adeoluwa, secretary to the state government, SSG, in a reaction to the threat last week, described it as blackmail. He also highlighted the security measures that the Ogun State administration had taken to enhance security in the state. “The threat by the Bankers Forum to deny customers access to banking services on account of security complaint is gradually turning to blackmail. For the avoidance of doubt, we need to put it on record that in the nine months that this administration has spent in office, we have invested almost N3.7 billion to provide security for our people. Last December, we ordered 10 APCs to complement the two we met on ground. Even at that, only one of the two was working. We quickly repaired the other. These were measures aimed at tackling the immediate security challenge. We equally purchased 125 patrol vans equipped with communication gadgets for the use of the anti-crime joint military-police task force that we established,” he said.
The parlous state of insecurity, however, is not limited to Ogun State. Other states of the federation are also buckling under the yoke of these messengers of sorrow and death. On February 4, in a two-pronged raid, a gang of robbers swooped on a police station and a bank in Lokoja, Kogi State, carting away ammunition from the police station and tonnes of cash from ATMs. The raid was however a rehash of similar raids which had happened three days earlier at Kabba, Aiyetoro-Gbede and Ogori, Kogi State. While no life was lost in the Lokoja bank robbery raid, the same could not be said of a similar operation at Talasse, Gombe State, on February 10. There, about three policemen were killed while the bank vault was looted. But nemesis caught up with a group of robbers that attacked a bank at Ugep, Yakurr Local Government, Cross River State, on January 24. Security forces that had superior firepower than the thieves repelled their raid. But the gang of robbers that attacked a bank in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, did not make the mistake of using weapons that were sub-par to those of the security forces. They were armed with submachine guns, dynamite and AK 47 as they operated unchallenged for about one hour. While many people sustained injuries, no life was lost. However, when a band of 15 robbers attacked a bank in Akure, Ondo State, on November 23, there were casualties. Four persons were killed during the operation that lasted for about 50 minutes.
Indeed many Nigerians have lost their lives and property to the sinister operations of armed robbers. Mohammed Abubakar, acting inspector general of police, while addressing senior members of the force last month said that his top priority was to keep the country safe. “One of my top goals will be to make sure my officers have the best training tactics and equipment to keep themselves and the communities as safe as possible. All forms of criminality will be tackled head-on with the right approach, right equipment and close cooperation with our community and collaboration of other sister security agencies,” he promised. That is certainly a riot act to criminals.
Additional report by FOLASHADE ADEBAYO, ARUKAINO UMUKORO and PORTIA ONWUYALIM