By JIMITOTA ONOYUME, PORT HARCOURT
This is certainly not the best of time for the Police in Rivers State. Between June to date no fewer than 25 of them had been gunned down in the state while on duty. The most recent was the incident of Tuesday where a robbery gang reportedly led by a lady shot dead a Sergeant and two civilians on Rumuola road in Port Harcourt.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Ben Uguegbulam, was obviously saddened by the development as he tactically avoided calls from media men on the issue. After several pressures he finally sent a timely text message to correspondents in the state confirming the sad and painful development.
According to his message, the Police Sergeant was in a Jetta saloon car with the driver and a lady who were both staff of Multinet Communications, a major dealer in GSM recharge cards. He said they were moving large quantity of the cards from one point to the other when they were attacked by some gun men who apparently were on their trail.
The bandits led by a lady shot sporadically into their vehicle killing the Sergeant, the driver and the third occupant said to be a female.
The sporadic gun fire caused panic and tension in the neighbourhood as pedestrians and motorists scampered for safety. Some drivers reportedly abandoned their vehicles in the middle of the road and fled for dear lives. Continuing, the Police spokesman said the hoodlums succeeded in disappearing with the cards.
His words: “Along Rumuola Road, Port Harcourt , a Jetta Volkswagen, navy colour conveying goods belonging to Multinet Communications – GSM recharge cards dealers was ambushed and attacked by armed men. A Police Sergeant in company of two staff were shot and robbed of yet to be determined quantity of GSM recharge cards.
They were rushed to hospital where a doctor confirmed them dead. Stray bullet by the hoodlums also wounded a passerby who received treatment in a clinic. Investigation is ongoing while search for the hoodlums has intensified”.
Some eyewitnesses believed the vehicle was not only carrying recharge cards. According to them the robbers also fled with huge sums of money.
It would be recalled that barely a month ago about six police men reportedly lost their lives around Rukpoku area of the state capital in similar circumstance. They were allegedly on escort duty for a bullion van conveying cash when they were suddenly attacked by some bandits that had laid ambush for them.
The hoodlums, according to eye witnesses, after killing the police men took time to remove every available cash in the bullion van and disappeared into thin air. Before the foregoing, the Police had earlier recorded a tragic loss on Ikwerre road where one of them was brutally shot dead by a gang of four. The police man had accompanied the driver of a Hilux vehicle to make huge withdrawal from the Mile One branch of a commercial bank.
According to eye witnesses, the driver of the Hilux was also killed by the rampaging robbers. They said the vehicle was driving out of the bank when suddenly three members of the robbery gang who were lying in ambush suddenly appeared, killed the driver and within split of seconds also snuffed life out of the police man. The robbers who were reportedly decked in Mobile Police uniforms successfully made away with about N28 million in the Hilux.
The dust generated by this sad development had hardly settled when within one week another group of about three police men were reportedly shot dead by a gang of robbers on Omerulu Street, in GRA. They were escorting a vehicle moving cash from a branch of Everyday Emporium, a major supermarket in Port Harcourt to another branch of the departmental store when they met their premature death. A female staff of the supermarket also lost her life in the incident.
In June when the state Police Commissioner, Mr Suleiman Abba, had an interactive session with media men he lamented that within two weeks about six of his men were gunned down while on duty. Also the state Police spokesman, DSP Uguegbulam in separate text messages confirmed that a total of three police men were shot dead at Eliozu bridge and Rumuekini police check point while on stop and search operations last June 7 and 8.
On June 15, the daring bandits made attempt to overrun the Mile One Police Station but they met firm resistance from police men on ground.
Governor of the state, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi had on several occasions expressed serious worries with the ugly developments, assuring residents that his government was doing everything possible to make the state a safe haven for all.
On his part, the state Police boss, Mr Suleiman had continued to call for information from the public that would assist in effective policing of the area.
Obviously the Police, the government and other security agencies need to do more to guarantee safety of lives and properties in Port Harcourt.
Meantime, some residents who commented on the spate of armed robbery attack said there was urgent need for most of the banks to look inward. According to them, it was worrisome to note that some of the victims were trailed after transactions from banks or were heading to banks for big ticket transactions. They also advised business outfits to occasionally review their modus operandi, particularly as it relates to movement of cash and staff handling their finances.
What most residents of Port Harcourt said they expect from the government and security agencies was a peaceful Christmas atmosphere, devoid of panic, fear and tension.