By Emma Nnadozie

Early this year, Imo State Commissioner of Police, Aloysius Okorie took the bull by the horn by instructing all the banks in the state to bring their armoured bullion vans to the state Police headquarters, Owerri.

Cash Centre Managers and Branch Managers of Commercial banks were equally invited to the Police headquarters.  In all, about five of such vehicles were brought to the Police headquarters.  After addressing all the people present, they all agreed that there was need to test the vehicles if truly they were bullet proof.  The modalities were clearly spelt out and action commenced.  Each of the vehicles was fired at five times and at the end of the exercise, four out of the five vehicles woefully failed the test   All the people around including the police boss were stunned beyond description.

* Bullion vans

The visibly shaken Police boss therefore immediately ordered four of such bullion vans to be impounded while he directed that detectives should spread their dragnets to impound any such fake bullet proof vans in and around the state.

Earlier before this incident, dare-devil armed robbers, in a movie-like operation in the Coal City of Enugu accosted a bullion van conveying cash for one of the commercial banks and rained bullets on it before carting away their loot. During the incident, not less than three Policemen were felled by the robbers’ bullets even as other members including bankers sustained varying degrees of injuries.  Most of the fortunate ones are still lying bedridden in hospital till date. This is not an isolated incident. In many Nigerian cities, this is more or less a regular occurrence with many lives of policemen, bank staff and in some cases, by-standers, wasted in what have become avoidable circumstances.

The police authorities in Nigeria have tried to nip this brand of dastardly robbery incidents in the bud through its directive that movement of huge sums of money be modernised. However, the management of some of the financial institutions in the country have failed to act on the directives given to them by the Police High Command thereby putting innocent lives at risk.

Investigations carried out by Crime Alert recently revealed that , Alhaji Uba Ringim, Deputy Inspector-General of Police in-charge of Administration sent out circulars to his colleagues in the high command and the 36 state Police Commands and the FCT,  re-emphasizing the commitment of the force in using bullet-proof vans to halt bullion bank robbery incidents. Titled: Re: Need to Re-emphasize the Force Commitment in Permanently Eliminating Bank Robbery Bullion Van Attacks among others in the Banking Sector, the circular expressed dismay of the Inspector-General of the Police at the non-compliance with his directive on the cancellation of Specie Escort for banks with sub-standard bullion vans by Commissioner of Police Commands/Formations in the country.

Ringim’s circular stated that the directive to banks contained in a letter No. CB: 2002/IGP.SEC/ABJ/Vol.25/215 dated September 28, 2007 was issued to the Bankers Forum with respect to conditions for cash movement at the peak of bank robbery, bullion van attacks among others. The directive warned banks to use bomb, fire and bullet proof bullion vans in cash movement and to also adequately kit policemen on escort duties.

Part of the circular to the Police Commands and Formations throughout the country reads: “Recent observation revealed that banks, with exception of few, still flout these directives with impunity thereby endangering the lives of our policemen on specie escort. The non-compliance with the Inspector-General of Police directive is a danger signal bearing in mind the fact that these directives and strategies were responsible for the massive reduction of bank robberies and other related crimes.

“Experience has also shown that criminals would always utilize any loophole to perpetuate their nefarious activities, more-so that the Force is taking giant and successful strides in containing the crime of kidnapping.

“This circular will serve as a reminder to all the Command Commissioners of Police/Formations that the conditions and strategies regarding the movement of cash are still in force. More so, that the safety of our officers and men should be paramount in such movements. The Force cannot afford to continue to risk the lives of our Policemen and expose depositor’s money to criminal gangs when there is a solution to the problem.

“The Inspector-General of Police therefore directs all Commissioners of Police and Police Mobile Force Commanders not to honour request for Specie Escort from any bank that failed to procure the ideal bullion van duly certified as meeting the ideal specification by experts.”

The circular further noted that the directive has now become necessary because banks have apparently become reluctant to acquire these ideal bullion vans as directed.  However, although the DIG warned in his circular that disciplinary measures would be taken against breach of the circular, it has come to light that huge sums are still being moved without the approved bullet proof vehicles. This has been sorely responsible for the criminal gang’s effrontery in the latest rounds of attacks in which lives of innocent people have been lost.

Speaking to Crime Alert on the directive above, the Divisional Police Officer for Apapa Division of the Nigeria Police, Mr. Mohammed Ali, CSP, acknowledged that there was such directive to banks operating in the country on the use of Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) to move large sums of money around.  He however observed that the directive to banks has been observed in the breach by most operators in the country. The attitude, he said, does not augur well for the security of the men of the Nigeria Police and even some bank personnel, who also accompany the vehicles.

Besides the care-free way drivers of vans conveying cash drive on the highway, the incidence of robbery attacks, which have left innocent road users as victims in the ensuing cross-fire, has often left Nigerians bewildered.

A Lagos based security expert, Mr. Sunday Acheme who also spoke on the development noted that since the successful banning of the use of siren by this bullion vans, the fear of Nigerians now is the seldom attacks of armed robbers.   Acheme opined that if the robbers knew that the vans are bullet proof with escorts carrying arms, they would think twice before they strike.

“The robbers also fear death. If they are aware that launching an attack on a bullet proof van would not produce any result, they would not put their own lives in danger. That is why I whole-heartedly support the directives of the Police that banks and other institutions that move huge sums from one place to another should acquire the APCs. It will not only curb robbery attacks, it would have saved the innocent lives often killed in such confrontations,” Acheme stated.

He recalled that the directive is not new for he has been abreast of the information since the turn of the millennium. He wondered why it is taking banks such a long period to modernize their operations especially, one that will preserve the sanctity of the human person. He allied himself with the suggestion that the Police High Command should withdraw their escorts from defaulting banks and organizations to protect their own men since the first law of nature is self-preservation.

The statement by Acheme was corroborated by another document, which emanated from Alhaji Suleiman D. Fakai, CP, erstwhile Police Commissioner in-charge of Enugu State. Dated May 21, 2008 the Commissioner ostensibly directed his letter to bank managers in his state. The letter reads: “You may wish to recall the incessant attacks on policemen on bank escort by armed robbers of recent and the subsequent loss of lives and valuables particularly, cash in transit.

This ugly development has raised the need to evolve a safer and sustainable way of conveying cash in transit and minimizing casualties on the part of the escort personnel.

“The Inspector-General of Police has therefore directed that all banks must provide bullion vans, one rear and one back-up vehicle for escort specie, which must be bullet/fire proof. Failure to comply with the above directive will entail rejection of application for the escort.”

Some bankers that spoke with Crime Alert anonymously stated that their management may have the good intentions to fulfil all that Police authorities directed but noted that most of them have been deceived by criminally-minded auto dealers that supplied the bullion vans.  “ That is why some banks have complied with this directive, while others are still foot-dragging.

Honestly, if Police authorities should wield the big stick against erring banks, it will save a lot in terms of human beings and cash”, he stated.  To this, the security expert, Acheme opined that the situation is prone to dire consequences stating that, “ the earlier all the institutions complied with the directive of the Police High Command, the better for all citizens. A stitch in time saves nine, “he stated.

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