By Dayo Johnson, Akure
THURSDAY, June17, 2010 would forever remain unforgettable in the memory of residents of Akure, Ondo State capital. Reasons: it was the dayÂ a violent movie was enacted right in their very eyes as all the security operatives in the state literally went on holidays. However,Â it was a field day for a gang of heavily-armed robbers who operated unhindred.
They took their time and left after clearing all the available monies in twoÂ new generation banks and those of customers inside the banks.Â Â Even the monies in the ATMs were not spared.Â Â In the melee, five persons were killed and no fewer than 20 others sustained gun shot wounds.
The day of rage
It was indeed, a sad day as Akure residents were held hostage for over one hour as policemen disappeared following the booming of different kinds of weapons in different locations.Â The eight-man gang had barred its fangs the previous day in Akure when it snatched an AK47 rifle from a constable in the Coca-Cola area in Ondo road and came out smoking the next day.
As they operated, the sound of gun shots rent the air, booming with a deafening crescendo in the state capital and many thought it was war time.
Indeed, in his first reaction to the incident, the Police Image-Maker in the state,Â Mr. Adeniran Aremu, said it was some miscreants in the town that were at work and that the police would soon round them up.Â Later, it dawned on all that it was more that what every one including the police could imagine.
Eye-witness account said the hoodlums arrived the two new generation banks in an 18-seater bus with number-plate XY 889 FST through the Owo/Benin road. The vehicle was said to have been snatched at the Maronu junction in the state capital.Â The driver of the bus, a father of five,Â was reportedly shot dead when he resisted the robbers attempt to disposses him of the bus.
The dare-devil gang then headed for their target -Â the two banks which were adjacently located in Ilemo Street off Oba Adesida Road in Akure metropolis.
Crime Alert learnt that the robbers were led by a 23 -year- old girl who had on her three bazooka guns.Â When they arrived the two banks, securitymen there andÂ traders in the vicinity thought they were policemen who came for routine security checks.Â Â They later saw action when the hoodlums started shooting indiscriminately at the bank and other buildings in the vicinity to scar people away.
During the shoot out, three persons were shot dead from stray bullets while the robbers, moved to the entrance of the banks with dynamites with which they blew open the security doors,Â unchallenged.
They were said to have proceeded to the vaults after the bank workers had fled in different directions for dear lives.Â Â Â The female leader of the gang and another girl were strategically positioned outside while the boys were busy packing monies into several Ghana-Must- Go bags.
Police on the run
While the operation was going on, the streets were deserted.Â Â Policemen at the â€œA divisionâ€ police station about 300 metres away reportedly took to their heels while some ran to the NUJ Press Centre, behind the station.Â Â In fact, it was as if the armed robbers paid for time as they operated unhindered for over an hour without any challenge from security operatives.Â A woman, identified asÂ Mrs. Oluyi, a mother of four, with a baby girl strapped at her back was killed during the robbery.
Reports said the deceased, an hair-dresser, came to the bank to cash some money sent to her account by her husband who works in Abuja for her childâ€™s school fees.
Sad end for mother of 4
Sadly, she arrived the bank the same time the â€œaction â€œstarted and in a bid to escape the shooting, hid herself in one of the security rooms attached to one of the banks.Â Â She decided to raise her head few minutes later when she thought the operation had ended only for one of the robbers, to shoot her at close range.
Perhaps, she was mistaken for one of the security men at the bank. Her brains littered the scene of the robbery and had to be covered with cloths by sympathisers.Â Â Her killer, it was learnt, helped her to remove the baby from her back, leaving her in a pool of blood while her vehicle, a Space Wagon with number-plate BG 95RSH was parked at the entrance of the bank.
Protests after action
After the incident, residents, mostly students stormed the streets and protested to the A Division Police Station with the corpse of the nursing mother and blamed the police for their insensitivity. Not a few of the policemen yanked off their uniforms to keep anonymity. However,Â the protesters threw stones at the station. They were later dispersed after reinforcement came from the state headquarters of the police command.
For two days after, banks in the Akure metropolis closed shops while those that opened frisked customers for fear of the unknown.Â Â Â Unconfirmed reports said the AK47 gun snatched from a police constable the previous day was recovered from the spot where the nursing mother was killed.
According to sources, the police constable attached to Fanibi Police Station was robbed of his gun on Wednesday and the following day after the robbery, the gun was reportedly picked up at the scene of the robbery.
But Aremu argued that the robbery and the murder of the nursing mother should not be linked to the snatching of the gun from the policeman. He told Crime Alert,Â â€œIt is not true that the gun that was recovered at the scene was the same gun earlier snatched from a policeman.â€Â Â Â He said no arrest has been made by the police after the hoodlums’ attacks on the banks.
Gov. Mimiko talks tough
Shocked by the incident, the Ondo State Governor, Mr.Â Olusegun Mimiko, summoned all security chiefs in the state to an emergency meeting where he reportedly gave a marching order to them to track down the robbers and review the state security strategies.
Mimiko described the robbery attack as ”an unfortunate incident and an undue infraction on the peace that has been enjoyed in the state since the inception of the administration, warning that the state would not be a safe haven for robbers as such infractions would be met with the stiffest preventive measures.
Police trade blames
However, not a few residents of the town argued that the State Police Command failed to foil the robbery operation or track down the thieves because the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Magaji Nasarawa, was out of town, attending the Inspector- General of Police, IGP, conference in Abuja.
Police sources pointed out that â€œIt was a bad day for the entire command. The CP was in Abuja attending IGPâ€™s conference, leaving the deputy commissioner in charge of the command and in acting capacity.Â Â Again, the Special Anti-robbery squad,Â SARS, was on a special assignment at Ore town, to curb the spate of criminal activities in the highly- volatile and crime-rated town.
‘To everybodyâ€™s surprise, when this robbery operation was going on, no senior police officer, not even the DCP who was then the acting commissioner, was ready to give order and push other divisions and sections in the command out and trail the fleeing thives,â€ the source claimed.
Our source also alleged sabotage on the part of some unnamed police officers within the state police command but absolved theÂ police commissioner.
According to him: â€œdespite the absence of the team during the robbery operation, they hurriedly left Ore town for Akure that morning, but were unable to confront the fleeing robbers on Ondo Road, as military personnel barricaded the Akure-Ondo road at the frontage of the 323 Artillery Army Barracks.Â The team later went after the fleeing gang through Ilesa-Akure highway but the armed robbers made a detour into Ilara town and escaped to neighbouring Ilawe town in Ekiti State.