BY EMMA NNADOZIE, TONY EDIKE, Enugu DENNIS AGBO
IT was like a war situation in Nsukka, the host community of the University of Nigeria, yesterday, when a dare-devil gang of armed robbers attacked four commercial banks, bombed the Nsukka Urban Police Division and shot dead the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Joe Ejitaga.
This is just as another gang of robbers killed two Ebonyi PDP officials and two cops in Anambra state.
Robbers kill 2 Ebonyi PDP officials, 2 cops in Anambra. The dare devil robbers believed to be fleeing from AwkaÂ Anambra, State,Â after robbing a bank, on Thursday, gunned down two Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) officials and two policemen attached to the convoy of politicians from Ebonyi state that attended the burial ofÂ father to the PDP National Vice Chairman in the South East, Olisa Metu at Nnewi.
Among those who escape death was the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rural Development Mr. Paulinus Igwe who report has it at yesterday that doctors were still battling to remove the bullet lodged in his head.
Those that reportedly died on the instant are: former chairman of Ezza_West Development Centre, Moses Ugorji, a former Special Adviser to former Governor Sam Egwu on Food Security, Hon. Chukwuma Ofefe and two other security details died instantly from gunshot wounds.
Other people who also sustained serious injuries were a former Majority Leader of Ebonyi state House of Assembly, Chief Tobias Okwuru, a prominent politician from the state, Chief Christopher Ngwuta also known as GNG, among others.
The incident was said to have happened at about 3.30pm on Thursday as the convoy of Paulinus Igwe ran into the robbers at Nnobi area of Anambra state.Â The robbers who reportedly occupied an open black Toyota Jeep and a Nissan bus painted in Anambra State Governmentâ€™s acquired ANIDS bus in yellow colours were said to have opened fire on the Ebonyi convoy and killed four persons while many were injured and nor battling to stay alive.
The Nsukka incident which occurred between 9.30 and 11.45am Friday also claimed unspecified number of casualties including security agents attached to the bank, bank officials and their customers as well as traders and passersby who were hit by stray bullets fired by the gunmen.
The entire Nsukka town was thrown into confusion as people scampered for safety on hearing the sound of the sporadic gunshots by the bandits who were armed with sophisticated weapons.
The armed robbers numbering over 20, on arrival at the popular Enugu Road where most of the commercial banks operating in the town are located, blocked the two ends of the road with their commuter bus and Hillux van thereby preventing vehicular movement from St. Theresaâ€™s Catholic Church junction up to the Motor Park.
Having blocked the road, they started shooting into the air to scare away policemen attached to the banks as they made their way to the banksâ€™ premises.
The Bank PHB was the first to be attacked followed by Intercontinental Bank where they surrendered the private and police security guards as well as customers and carted away bags of money.
After succeeding in the two banks with no resistance from the security men most of who were disarmed and ordered to lie face_down, they shot their way into Fidelity Bank where they looted millions of naira before moving into Zenith Bank, where the Branch Manager, Mr. Dennis Ani, was shot several times allegedly for refusing to open the strong room, as ordered by the criminals.
The DPO, who was in his uniform, was said to have visited one of the affected banks for a transaction and was coming out of the bank when he was gunned down. He was lying at the spot throughout the period of the operation which lasted for over an hour.
The police officer was rushed to Nnaji Hospital at Odenigbo area of Nsukka from where they were referred to Bishop Shanahan Hospital, but he died before they got to the hospital.
Ejitaga, who had headed the NEPA and NITEL security taskforces, was redeployed to Nsukka from Igbo_Etiti Police Division where he also served as DPO.
The Zenith Bank branch manager, Ani whose case was also said to be critical having sustained several bullet wounds, was taken to Bishop Shanahan along with other victims, but was referred to Enugu because of the severity of his injuries.
Several other victims were still being treated at Bishop Shanahan and other private hospitals in Nsukka by press time yesterday.
An eyewitness said after raiding the banks, the armed robber drove in their two vehicle to the police station shooting indiscriminately as policemen on duty abandoned their officers and fled for safety.
The police station was bombed with some explosives suspected to be dynamites leaving the entire building, files and furniture in rubbles.
The gunmen were said to have broken the cells and set all the detainees free before bombing the station.
From the station they continued shooting as they zoomed off through Adani road which leads to Onitsha in Anambra State.Â It was learnt that the gunmen attacked some policemen on checkpoints along the road but details of the attack were not available by press time.
However, it was gathered that a team of Policemen from State Headquarters in Enugu who raced down to Nsukka immediately news of the attack got to them succeeded in accosting the fleeing bandits at a point near Nkpologu.
Eyewitnesses said the robbers used their sophisticated weapons which unconfirmed reports said may be rocket propelled grenades (RPG) to check the advancing team of Policemen by totally demobilising their vehicles.
The leader of the Police team, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) was reportedly badly wounded while others fled in different directions.
It was also learnt that news of the bloody operation which spread like wild fire stopped the Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu and Senator Joy Emordi from paying their scheduled condolence visit to the hometown of the zonal leader of Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metu who lost his father recently.
They were reportedly avoiding being caught up in the raging fire, especially at the popular ninth~mile corner,Â on their way to the venue of the ceremony.
The State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mohammed Zarewa refused to comment on the incident yesterday.Â He told Vanguard that he was in a crucial meeting when called after the incident. He said he was in mosque when called the second time.Â But the State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Ebere Amaraizu confirmed the death of the DPO in the incident even though hÂ said he had no details.
Saturday Vanguard investigations yesterday revealed that the police within Nsukka area including those in six neighbouring local government area could not respond to distress calls sent by their colleagues in Nsukka because of shortage of manpower.
About 140 policemen were drafted from the seven divisions in the area to Enugu to maintain peace during the NLC rally that was held in the coal city yesterday.Â This, observers said, may have contributed to the success of the robbery.
â€œAll police divisions in Nsukka sent at least 22 police men to Enugu to maintain peace during the NLC rally that was held yesterday and when the operation started there was no enough men to defend the masses.
The CP had no business sending up to 140 policemen to Enugu with 140 guns leaving the people of the area to defend themselves. This is very unfortunate,â€ a concerned resident of Nsukka told Vanguard yesterday.
Reacting to the incident, former Governorship candidate of Labour Party in Enugu State, Chief Okey Ezea said: â€œThe operation lasted for about three hours and if Enugu had sent reinforcement from Enugu they would have arrived Nsukka within an hour.Â Where were all the men on numerous police checkpoints between Nsukka and Enugu?
â€œI think the incident at Nsukka says much about how insecure people have become in Nigeria.Â We expect Federal and State government to join efforts in equipping the police to protect lives and property in Nigeria.
â€œIt is ridiculous that armed robbers can terrorize police with general purpose machine guns and grenades and the federal government has no answer to this. The State and Federal Government should earmark special funds for equipping the police and providing them with the necessary arsenal and superior firepower over and above this criminal.â€