By SIMON EBEGBULEM, Benin City
For some time now, armed robbers and kidnappers have taken over an area referred to as “Evil Forest” located along the Benin-City bypass, and seen as a haven for criminal activities. Luxury buses plying the East-Lagos routes have on many occasions been attacked, passengers robbed and women raped in the area. Those who resist are killed. Families of many kidnapped victims are asked to go to the ‘Evil Forest’ to drop ransom. In the past, policemen dared not go near the place because they may not come back alive to tell the story.
However, since the coming of the current Commissioner of Police in Edo State, Mr Folunso Adebanjo, things have changed. After he assumed office early February, he read a riot act to criminals in the state to repent or flee the state. Many thought it was the usual bravado of a new officer posted to the state as it was in the past.
But Adebanjo took the bull by the horn, mopping up huge assortment of weapons used by criminals in different hideouts in Edo. Sunday Vanguard learnt that the CP relocated temporarily to the ‘Evil Forest’ with his men to confront armed robbers and kidnappers in their own domain. With scores of detectives, Adebanjo combed the place in search of kidnappers, particularly those involved in the abduction of the family of a Supreme Court Justice.
Officers of the Department of State Security Services, DSS, in the state are also not resting on their oars, following the arrest of nine suspected dare-devil kidnappers, penultimate week, allegedly involved in several abductions in the state in the past three years including the killers of a DSS operative last year.
CP Adebanjo, who gave an insight into his battle with criminals at the ‘Evil Forest’, told Sunday Vanguard, “I have been there with about 100 men, comprising Mobile Policemen, SARS, Anti-Kidnapping and other officers, on that Expressway on Iruekpen axis. I was there about a week ago and we have mapped out strategies to tackle the criminal elements.
If you have been following us, last week, we killed two of the suspected robbers in a gun battle with our men. “When they were robbing, there was a distress call, our men rushed to the scene, engaged them in a gun battle and killed two of them. And we have arrested so many others. We have our CIB men on ground. I think they always come from the Aduwawa area, that is where many of the people committing these atrocities come from, but, lately, I’m sure you have not been hearing so much of it”.
He added. “We are beefing up our patrol in that area, we are repairing some vehicles too so that there will be enough to patrol”.
Asked if he was not scared of being killed when he passed the night at the ‘Evil Forest’, the CP replied, “When I was posted here, I asked for protection from God because, without God, whatever you do is in vain. I was able to mobilise the DPOs and told them my mission and vision here, that the police cannot do without the people, that the people are key and once you have the people on your side, a lot of things will begin to take place and, with their cooperation, crime can actually be reduced. I talk every Monday with all the DPOs in the city; then once in a month, all the DPOs in the state, we come together and review the situation. I outlined my vision; everybody must work hard. I go out in the night. I am not a CP that stays in the office. I go in there, everywhere, midnight, anytime. This kidnap of the Justice wife, I am just coming from the area (Evil Forest). Yesterday I was there too. It is leadership by example. I go out in the night to check where my men are supposed to be. Then my telephone numbers are all over the place. People are giving us information and that is why we are getting results. I didn’t lobby to be here, I never knew I will be here; so I put everything in the hands of God and I believe He protects me. Keeping crime low is my concern”.
So brazen were the criminals that they put their victims on notice, as was the case of a bishop in Benin-City. The bishop summoned the courage and complained to the police about the kidnap threat messages and calls he was receiving from strange phone numbers. The police swung into action and arrested one Roland Aregbo (28), on May 3, who the Edo State Police Command said is helping in its investigations.
Announcing the recovery of a cache of arms in the state in the last two months, Adebanjo disclosed that the police command also arrested scores of suspected kidnappers, including “six dangerous suspects,” and recovered weapons used in carrying out their nefarious activities, including 113 AK 47 rifles magazines and seven boxes containing 6, 300 AK 47 live ammunitions.
According to him, the police made several other raids and recovered the following items: a locally made SMG machine gun, seven cut to size guns, one pump action gun, one locally made single barrel gun, live cartridges, one Audi car, an ash-colour Honda Civic car with registration no: Lagos DE 829 LND, a Toyota Hilux van belonging to Reynolds Construction Company Limited, with registration no: Lagos LND 631 XD, cutlasses and wraps of weeds suspected to be Indian hemp. He revealed that the command shot dead two armed robbery suspects who were part of a seven-member gang that barricaded the Benin-Auchi-Okene express road. He said the police, in response to a distress call, accosted the suspected armed robbers, who he said engaged his men in exchange of fire – two of the suspected criminals were gunned down.
He said, “It is our collective concern to ensure safety of lives and property in Edo State. The command has, in the last two months, put in measures to ensure the state is unsafe for criminals. On Monday, suspected dare-devil armed robbers alleged to have barricaded the ever busy Benin-Auchi-Okenne express road were shot dead by men of the Edo State Police Command. The heavily armed men, numbering seven, engaged the police, who were responding to a distress call, in a gun battle, following which two were killed, while others escaped into the bush.”
The CP added that the hoodlums attacked some commercial buses and their passengers at the Iruekpen-Ehor axis of the road where they robbed unsuspecting passengers of their money, mobile phones and other personal items.
“During the operation, a distress call was sent to the police control room in Benin-City; the Ekpoma and Ehor Police Divisions were then informed about the robbery. The policemen moved swiftly to the scene, but upon sighting the police, the hoodlums opened fire. Police returned fire, leading to the death of two of the hoodlums. Some items recovered from them included N32, 583 cash, First Bank ATM card, voters’ card belonging to one Isioma Eyemolu Mercy, mask, cutlasses, daggers, touch light and bags containing victims’ clothes. The police then combed the bush where stains of blood littered the area, an indication that some of them escaped with bullet wounds.
The area is said to be notorious and prone to armed robbery attacks, as many passengers often times lose their money and valuables to hoodlums operating on the road.”
He further disclosed that men of the command, acting on intelligence reports, unmasked a three-man gang of car jackers and receivers of stolen goods. According to the CP, one of the suspects, Aba Josiah, confessed to receiving four Toyota Camry cars from one Emeka Onyeji, who he said remain at large.
He said: “Arrested is one Ihejirika, who confessed to receiving a Toyota Camry 1992 model from the same Emeka Onyeji, at a price of N300, 000. The middle man to the armed robbers, one Uti Aigbovbiosa, has been arrested and is being interrogated. Efforts are on to arrest other members of the gang. It is worthy of mention here that the Toyota Camry 1992 model received by one Ihejirika has been recovered.
“On March 16, upon information received by Anti-Kidnapping Squad 9, one suspect named Scot Omoefe Philip, who was earlier charged to court for an established case of kidnapping, but was granted bail in court, got the opportunity to commit more crime, and was re-arrested. Arrested along with him was one Monday Atimogie.”
Other recovered items listed by Adebanjo include 24 live and five expanded cartridges, seven mobile phones, one ring, necklace and one dagger.
The CP said the battle against the armed robbers will continue.