By Evelyn Usman, Godwin Oritse, Godfrey Bivere, Joseph Undu and Precious Duru
LAGOS—Pandemonium erupted, yesterday, at Creek Road, Apapa, Lagos, as dozens of articulated truck drivers went on rampage over the death of one of their colleagues and set two bank branches on fire.
The aggrieved truck drivers had targeted the banks over the death of their colleague, who was allegedly shot by a mobile policeman attached to one of the new generation banks in the area.
Another driver was said to have also been shot while on the verge of pouring fuel on the fleeing policeman in a move to set him ablaze. But it could not immediately be ascertained if he also died on the spot, as speculated.
There were, however, different accounts as to how the deceased, identified as Tunde Azeez, 27, from Osun State was killed.
A version of the account had it that truck drivers who usually queued along the major road waiting for their turn to load petroleum products from tank farms in the axis, blocked entrance into companies, including banks, at about 10 a.m.
It was learned that request for a particular truck driver to leave the entrance of one of the bank branches fell on deaf ears, as it reportedly resulted in a verbal confrontation between a mobile policeman and some truck drivers.
In the process, the unidentified mobile policeman was said to have fired some shots, apparently to scare the drivers away but a bullet hit one of them, killing him on the spot.
The action sparked off a violent protest as a mob, suspected to be truck drivers, chased the policeman who ran into the premises of a nearby bank to take cover. They demanded that he be brought out for jungle justice to be meted out on him.
When all entreaties to the protesting truck drivers failed, the erring policeman reportedly fled from the bank to another one nearby, which was set on fire by the mob in order to forcibly get the culprit.
Another version of the account said the erring mobile policeman was attached to one of the banks.
Reports alleged that the policeman allegedly shot the driver of the truck with number plate AGL 222 XC for refusing to part with N200 bribe as fees to park in front of the bank.
A driver, who simply gave his name as Danjuma, stated that they usually paid policemen attached to banks on the axis between N200 and N300 in order to allow them park indiscriminately on the road.
Danjuma said: “The driver was shot because he said he did not have N200 to give to the MOPOL. Then, the policeman said he should remove his truck from that position. When he refused, he threatened to shoot him but Tunde dared him.
‘’Before we knew what was happening, he pulled the trigger and fired at the driver point blank. It was not an accidental discharge or stray bullet.
‘Hoodlums burnt banks’
‘’We were not the ones that set the banks ablaze, hoodlums did. What we did was to block the road with our trucks and demanded that the policeman be handed over to us to take to the police station, so that he won’t escape.”
But a trader on Creek Road who gave his name as Moyosore Ola, said “ the banks were set on fire by tanker drivers. In fact, the fuel with which they set the banks on fire was brought out from one of the trucks.’’
Members of staff of the banks had to scale the fence to other buildings to make their escape.
Windscreens of vehicles parked in the premises of the banks were shattered by the protesting truck drivers.
‘’Some motorists even bashed their vehicles in the ensuing confusion, in a bid to hurriedly leave the banks which were also looted in the process, particularly the ATM section,’’ Ola said.
Firemen barred, policemen attacked
Men of the Fire Service who rushed to the scene when contacted, were prevented by the protesting truck drivers from doing the needful as they threatened to set them and their trucks ablaze. The firemen from Iponri, it was gathered, left the scene, frustrated.
The protesting drivers were said to have attacked any policeman on sight, as well as unsuspecting civilians.
An unidentified Police corporal was said to have been stabbed while two others who were on their way to work escaped being lynched. Police sources said the injured corporal was receiving treatment in an undisclosed hospital.
It reportedly took the combined efforts of the military, conventional and mobile policemen, including those from the Rapid Response Squad, RRS, who were led by their Commander, Olatunji Disu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, to bring sanity to the area.
When Vanguard visited the scene, firemen from the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, were seen putting out the fire, but shops were still shut.
Sterling Bank reacts
Reacting to the incident, Sterling Bank’s Chief Marketing Officer, Brand Management and Communications Group, Henry Bassey, said no casualty was recorded on the part of any of the staff, adding that only the bank’s reception area was affected by the fire.
He gave the bank’s account of what happened: “On Wednesday, July 19, 2017 (yesterday), an armed mobile policeman fleeing from an irate mob after shooting a tanker driver, disrupted banking operations at the Sterling Bank branch on Creek Road. He ran into the premises of the bank to escape being lynched.
“Security operatives attached to the bank disarmed and arrested the fleeing mobile policeman but did not hand him over to the irate mob. The mob got upset and attacked the bank with the intention of unleashing mayhem on staff and customers. The branch’s reception area was vandalized and set ablaze.
“The security operatives attached to the branch prevented the mob from entering the branch while evacuating staff and customers before the arrival of Police reinforcement. The branch has been temporarily shut down.
‘’We wish to inform all our customers that normal services will continue at nearby branches and through all our electronic channels. Sterling Bank is working with security agencies to resolve the issue.”
Diamond Bank confirms incident
On its part, Management of Diamond Bank Plc also confirmed that there was fire at its Creek Road branch.
Its Head, Corporate Communications, Chioma Afe, said in a statement: “We had a fire incident at our branch office on Creek Road, Apapa, which severely damaged branch infrastructure as a result of a mob action.
“While the situation is under control, we are working with the Nigeria Police Force and other law enforcement agencies to investigate actions leading to the fire incident. While these investigations are ongoing, the branch will be closed to customers for their safety and to allow for completion of all repairs.
“We will continue to provide updates to our customers via our social media platforms and print media and we urge those customers in the Apapa area to use our broad range of alternate delivery channels like the Diamond Mobile app, Diamond Online, Diamond ATMs and Contact Centre to carry out their transactions.
‘’For those who need to visit a branch location, our closest branches to the Apapa area are situated in Ebute Metta, 1, Market Street,Oyingbo, Opposite Bhojsons Ltd Yaba, Iddo Market Mini, Iddo Ultramodern Market, Surulere, 31, Bode Thomas Street and Amuwo Odofin, Plot Nos 21, 22 & 23 Opposite ABC Transport Terminal are available to process their requests.”
NUPENG members not responsible for the attack
In a swift reaction, South West Chairman, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Alhaji Tokunbo Korodo, exonerated members of the union from culpability in the incident. Rather, he clarified that perpetrators of the act were drivers of articulated vehicles.
He said: “None of our member was killed today(yesterday), neither were they involved in setting any bank ablaze. It was an articulated vehicle driver that was killed. Our members are not known for setting banks or government property ablaze. If it had been our members, we would have declared a definite strike. We know how to protest without taking laws into our hands.”
Also reacting to the incident, Chairman, Association of Maritime Transport Owners, AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, blamed it on the volatile situation in and around the port environment.
Ogungbemi said the authorities have neglected the environment for too long, adding that the result was what was being experienced at the moment.
He said: “This could be the beginning of a bad situation as the continued neglect will lead to a total breakdown of law and order, if government does not step in to do the needful.
“But the situation is calm and the Police are on top of the situation. I have told my members to calm down because they cannot use wrong to correct wrong.’’
Efforts to reach the Area Commander, Port Police command, Presley Dode, proved abortive as calls put through to his mobile phone were not answered.
CP Owoseni visits scene
Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Police Command, Fatai Owoseni, who visited the scene, described the erring policeman’s action as unlawful, adding that he did not act in tandem with the Inspector-General of Police’s campaign of modern day policing.
A visibly angry Owoseni said: “I want to state emphatically that the policeman that did this is not one of us. He has done that as an individual; it is not what the leadership of the Police asked him to do.
“We will make sure that we handle him with the exact rules and regulations. He will be made to face the full wrath of the law and will definitely pay for his irresponsibility.
“He was touched by the irate truck drivers and he’s receiving treatment after which he would face orderly room trial.”
Owoseni also apologised to Lagosians and family members of the deceased driver, assuring that speedy justice would be done to the extra-judicial killing.
Gridlocks weakening Lagos bridges, FRSC warns
Meanwhile, the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, yesterday, warned that the gridlocks created by tankers and other articulated vehicles on bridges in Lagos are dangerous and have damaging effects.
Lagos State Sector Commander of the FRSC, Mr Hyginus Omeje, noted that the bridges must be preserved to make them last longer.
Omeje spoke against the backdrop of the recurring gridlock on the Apapa Road bridge taking traffic to the tank farms in the area.
“We are sitting on a keg of gunpowder because the bridges are weakening on a daily basis as tankers, trucks and articulated vehicles are parked on top of them, due to traffic congestion.
“When these vehicles are stationary on the bridges for a long time, they have a negative impact, including deterioration, bridge-fatigue, damage or even collapse; moreover, there is no money anywhere now for these kinds of solid bridges again.
“The Ijora, Eko, Carter and Third Mainland bridges are expensive projects that require huge capital to execute.
“So, it is urgent that we do whatever we need to do, to preserve these bridges, so as to make them last longer.”
The sector commander said the primary mandate of the corps was to ensure that all routes were safe for motorists.
According to him, the lingering gridlocks in Apapa are as a result of many factors.
“The issue of Apapa traffic congestion is multi-faceted; you cannot address the gridlocks in the area without addressing the state of the roads.
“These gridlocks cannot be controlled without proper road rehabilitation in the area.
“There is need to speedily work on the road network there, as well as the drains,” he said.
Omeje, however, said that efforts are underway to rehabilitate the roads.
“Some weeks ago, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with three companies that are willing to put the Port Access Roads in Apapa in good shape.
“We are talking of the Dangote Group, the Flour Mills and the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA); they are coming together to take up the rehabilitation of the roads from the Police Area `B’ Command, the former Nigeria Airways building and Eleganza, into Apapa.
“They want to rehabilitate those segments of the road network in Apapa, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR,” Omeje said.
The FRSC boss added that the corps had also commenced a special traffic control in Apapa, to curb the lingering traffic challenges in the area.