By KINGSLEY OMONOBI, ALBERT AKPOR, Evelyn Usman & Daud Olatunji
LAGOS — The Ogun State Police Command, yesterday, said it had arrested four suspected members of the robbery gang that attacked Ekene Dili Chukwu luxury bus which was conveying 42 female secondary school students to Lagos, last Saturday, at the Oke-Odo end of Sagamu-Benin Expressway in Ijebu-East Local Government Area of the state.
The arrest was made just as indication emerged, yesterday, that the attack and reported rape on the teenage students could have been averted had the driver of the bus listened to warnings by motorists that robbers were operating ahead.
Consequently, the 52-year-old luxury bus driver, (names withheld) has been arrested and detained by operatives of the State Criminal Investigation Department, Elewe-Eran, Abeokuta.
Sources at the state CID told Vanguard that the driver would remain with them until he cleared the air on the matter.
Driver ignored warning
It was gathered that the gunmen barricaded the highway last Saturday night where they attacked motorists who slowed down on reaching the spot.
Some motorists reportedly suspected danger when they saw a road block ahead and stopped before the barricaded spot as they wondered why there was a road block in spite of its ban. Most of them reportedly remained on the spot, watching the turn out of event when it was apparent that robbers were operating ahead.
Motorists flagged the driver down, informing him of an impending danger ahead. But the driver reportedly ignored them.
Police sources said: “The driver is not new to robbers’ modus operandi and should have stopped to find out what the problem was.”
Confirming the arrest, spokesman for the Ogun State Police Command, Mr Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said: “The Ogun State Police Command has arrested the driver of the luxury bus that conveyed the Enugu students who were attacked by some hoodlums at Ogbere along the ever busy Ijebu/Benin expressway at 11. 40p.m. on Saturday, 31/3/2012 and four others who have been suspected to have carried out the operation.
“The other suspects arrested are Oni Olopari, Innocent Omule, Gbenga Adebayo and Samuel Luca. Driver of the bus has identified Samuel Luca as one of those who attacked them that night.
“In the same vein, the command was able to recover some items in the suspects’ houses at Ijebu Ife and Ijebu Imushin, including some plastic chairs contained in a broken down vehicle at the scene of the robbery, the recovery of these chairs assisted the police to focus more on the suspects who were raided in their hideout at Ijebu Imushin after a tip off. The command is still intensifying efforts to arrest the fleeing members of the gang.”
During investigation, one of the suspects, Lucas, was discovered to have been residing in a military barracks in Ilese area of the the state before he was ejected for an undisclosed offence.
Transport firm blames parents
Meanwhile, the management of Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport Company Limited, in its official reaction three days after the incident said although the attack by armed robbers was regrettable, it, however, blamed the attack on some parents of the students.
The company’s General Manager, Mr. Charles Obiora, in an interview with Vanguard said the second bus sent to convey the stranded students travelled in the night because some parents insisted that their children must be brought to Lagos that night by all means. He stated that the company had a record of cordial relationship with the school and Parents Teachers Association, adding that the company has a standing policy not to travel at night following the spate of insecurity in the country.
…dismisses rape case
The company also dismissed as baseless and unfounded rumours that some students were gang-raped by the hoodlums who hijacked the bus, challenging any parents to show evidence of such from a government certified medical report.
According to Obiora, “the incident is highly regrettable, I must say but again, it will be suicidal for any transport company to send his driver on a long journey with a dysfunctional vehicle, especially that conveying students.
“On that day when we got the report that the bus conveying them to Lagos had developed fault, we promptly dispatched another one in good shape to fetch the stranded students but when we discovered that it was getting late into the night, we got through to the driver to drive them to a safe spot but some parents who were at our Fadeyi park insisted that they would not leave until they set their eyes on their wards.
“This was why the driver continued the journey to Lagos even against our policy. I want to say that the company maintains a 17-year robust relationship with the school and the PTA. Instead of engaging in a media war, parents should help the victims overcome the psychological trauma their wards have suffered from.
“It is true that the bus ran into a gang of armed robbers, but about 17 of the students had disembarked on the order of the hoodlums while they were being searched and robbed of their valuables but at the sight of a patrol van that was on routine patrol of the road, one of the robbers jumped into the bus and zoomed off into the bush not too far from the scene of incident.
“The vehicle and the remaining 25 students on board were later recovered where they were abandoned. I can tell you that nobody was raped and I challenge any parent who said his or her daughter was raped to come up with a medical report from a government hospital to that effect.”
Ig orders police motorized patrols on highways
Meantime, the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, has ordered motorised police patrol of the nation’s highways to check incidences of banditry.
He said his decision to dismantle road blocks, which gave rise to incidences of toll collection, harassment of citizens on highways and other gory tales earlier associated with Police road blocks, was part of measures to reposition the police force.
However, based on fears expressed by some sections of the populace, the IG said: “All commands shall, with immediate effect, commence robust motorized patrols of federal highways within their jurisdictions to ensure safety and easy passage of road users. Nigerians travelling on our highways must have confidence of their safety with visible Police patrols.”
He said the command’s efforts would be complemented by a sophisticated Rapid Response Structure, which would be set up soon, to ensure that all federal highways were kept safe from armed robbery attacks, both during the day and at night.
The IG observed that Boko Haram attacks on Police personnel and other security agencies had reduced following measures put in place by Command CPs in the North East to reduce the level of casualty among, not only security personnel, but also Nigerians.
Abubakar, who spoke while at a conference he summoned for DIGs and Command CPs, also noted that the police force was going scientific in its bid to address the daunting challenges posed by criminals and criminality, especially now that criminals in all sectors were resorting to the use of ICT and other technologies to beat detection and arrest.
His words: “In the past few weeks, we have taken steps to reposition the force and provide a new direction for Police administration and operations.
“We believe that the steps we have taken so far are germane and will lay a strong foundation for a cohesive reform initiative which we hope will transform the Nigeria Police Force.
“This is exemplified in the enforcement of the directives I issued upon my assumption of office for the dismantling of road blocks, fight against corruption, decongestion of cells and other initiatives we introduced.
“Today, stories of toll collection, harassment of citizens on highways and other gory tales earlier associated with the police road blocks, no longer confront us. The road blocks have disappeared and I intend the situation to remain so.
“Although, the Nigerian public is apprehensive about the general loneliness of our highways with fears expressed about the possibility of armed robbers taking them over, I believe we shall keep our highways safe from armed robbers without restoring the old police road blocks.”
As reported by Vanguard, yesterday, shortly before the meeting commenced, Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Administration, Mr Suleiman Fakai, asked one of the newly promoted Assistant Inspector General of Police, Philemon Leha, to step out as no AIG was expected to be present at the deliberation.
Lagos lawmakers advocate return of police check-point nationwide
In a related development, some members of the Lagos State House of Assembly, LAHA, yesterday called for the return of police check-points on major highways nationwide.
The lawmakers said the move was necessary to prevent the heinous activities of armed robbers currently on the prowl on the highways.
Mr Segun Olulade, a lawmaker from Epe II, said that the dismantling of police check-points had led to the return of more criminals.
Olulade, Chairman, Committee on Information, Security and Strategy of the state assembly, said that the presence of policemen at check-points in the past had created a sort of sanity compared to the current situation after the removal.
The assemblyman said that the IG should have put an alternative measure in place before dismantling the check-points, especially in the face of current security challenges in Nigeria.
He suggested the installation of security equipment and gadgets like the CCTV nationwide for easy identification of perpetrators of crimes.
Also commenting on the alleged rape, another lawmaker, Mr Yusuf Ayinla, (ACN Mushin II), described it as pathetic and called on the police to track down the perpetrators.
Ayinla said that it was inhuman for anyone to rob and rape some children regarded as future leaders.
On calls for the return of police check-points, the lawmaker said he was in support of advocates of the return of the police to the highway. ‘’I am in total support that the security check-points should be back in place until the Federal Government were able to put in a proper security communications gadgets network like in overseas.”
Ayinla, however, said that the police should be returned to the highways with some modifications that would allow for the comfort of motorists.
In his contribution, Mr Ahmed Omisore, ACN Ifako-Ijaiye II, said the return of the police to the highways would curb incessant highway crime. Omisore said that the absence of security personnel on the road posed more threat to motorists.
“Motorists are no longer safe driving from one place to another; some are harassed by hoodlums while some are robbed and raped along the highway”, he said