•Run away convicted criminals on the prowl
•As police abandon patrols of highway
By Ozioruva Aliu
THE effects of EndSARS protest that went violent and resulted in two jail breaks in Edo state have continued to reverberate in several parts of the state as the residents are now gripped with fear and anxiety following an upsurge in crime rate in the state capital.
On the highways particularly along the Benin –Auchi-Okenne road, criminal elements have completely taken over as the police have abandoned patrols on the road.
There have been several reports on what led to the jail breaks. There was an allegation of compromise by some prison officials who allegedly connived with the prisoners to escape, an allegation which prison officials have denied. It was argued that the prison guards were aware of protests on the streets and should have confined the prisoners to their separate cells but the guards still allowed them to come to the open space in the prisons.
It was believed that if the prisoners were confined to their cells, the jail break would have been more difficult as there was a widespread allegation that the inmates were in constant communication with the boys outside which validates the arguments that the inmates have access to their mobile phones while in prison custody.
The hoodlums who hid under the #EndSARS protests first attacked the Benin Prison situated along Sapele road which was built in 1906 and easily overran the facility and released the inmates. The situation in Benin Prison sent a signal to Oko Prison which management was said to have called for reinforcement from sister security agencies but they did not come.
According to the Deputy Comptroller of Correction (DCC) in charge of Oko Correctional Centre, West Amayo while briefing Governor Godwin Obaseki who was on a fact finding mission and assessment of the facilities, the hoodlums first came around 9 am and were repelled by the prison guard. He said the armed thugs returned at about 11.30 a.m. and were again repelled before they came in full force at about 1.30 p.m. where they succeeded in overpowering the armed prison officers, who ran out of ammunition.
He said “the first set of hoodlums came in at about 9 a.m., they tried to gain access, but we repelled them. They went to regroup and came back around 11.30 am, again, they were repelled by our men. At that point, we had locked the inmates in their respective cells but they started shaking all the bars and breaking the windows.
“At about 1.30 pm. when they came again for the third time, they were more in numbers with assorted rifles and they started firing from afar, from the Airport Road. Although my men were replying, but of course, because of the number of firearms they had, they overpowered us. That was how they took over the place. We had 14 armed prison officers, but the ammunition we had got exhausted. We called for reinforcement but none came.”
The invaders also burnt the record office of the prison which would make it difficult to trace the records of many of the prisoners. Several prison officers were said to have sustained gunshot wounds but it was not clear if there were casualties among the hoodlums and the missing prisoners.
An injured officer at the Oko prison who was interviewed in one of the private hospitals in Benin City said “we were instructed not to fire at the armed protesters who broke into the cells to free the inmates” and that they were overwhelmed by the surging crowd of hoodlums who took over the prison environment.
“I just thank God that I am alive to tell the story. We called for backup from the military and other sister security agencies when information got to us that the hoodlums were marching to Oko prisons, but no response of any kind. We were ordered from above not to shoot into the armed hoodlums who fired at us. So after exhausting our bullets we had to run for our safety. That was how I ran for my dear life,” the official said, asking not to be named for fear of victimisation.
Crime rate increases
Many of the hoodlums were believed to have come from the Upper Sokponba area of Benin City. They destroyed and burned down the three police stations in that axis: Ugbekun, St. Saviour and Idogbo. They also destroyed the office of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) which is situated along that area. As at today, there is no presence of security operatives in that part of the town and that has created a free space for criminal elements to thrive while their activities have also spread to other parts of the city.
On Tuesday, a young man was robbed near Three House Junction and in the process he sustained injuries and was hospitalised. Two days after, three of his friends who were on their way to visit him were attacked by suspected armed robbers. One of them was robbed of his cash, ATM card and his phone. They barely escaped without injuries.
A resident in St Saviour area of the same axis who simply gave his name as John narrated to Saturday Vanguard that “we are being robbed at will and oppressed by many of those criminals who ran away from prison and are now terrorising us. Two of my friends have been victims. They were going home when some boys rounded them up, collected their phones and the money they had in their hand bags. That was around 7 pm in their street. There was another friend of mine friends who said she and two of her friends were robbed around Aifuwa street by three boys who were wearing only shorts. They were accosted by the boys with guns who collected their money and phones. We now live in fear. Once it is 6 pm everybody runs into their houses. Just yesterday, a journalist said he was attacked by a nine man gang around Aduwawa area on his way home from work.
Police read riot act
The police, weekend however read the riot act to the criminals as it paraded 126 suspected criminals including 10 prisoners who escaped from the two prisons and those who broke into government and private warehouses carting away food and other items they claimed were palliatives for Covid-19.
Addressing newsmen, the Commissioner for Police, Johnson Babatunde Kokumo said: “It was very clear that criminal elements actually hijacked the #EndSARS peaceful protest. We have a number of police stations razed down, in some instances, arms and ammunition were carted away, public warehouses were vandalized and looted, individuals were violently attacked for no just cause and unprovoked attacks on innocent citizens.