•Cultism, robberies, kidnappings on the increase
By Ozioruva Aliu
EDO state has been in the news in the past three months for increasing security situation. The security challenge include violent robberies, kidnappings, cult related killings and other crimes that have completely killed social life in the state capital which was once known for bubbling night life with several spots and night clubs scattered across the city.
Iyaro which was famous for its 24 hours bubbling activities being the arrival and take off points for night travellers is now a shadow of itself as business operators have been complaining of low patronage. A taxi driver told Saturday Vanguard that the few commuters who still risked travelling in the night now prefer to spend the night in the park and find their way home in the morning instead of taking the risk of moving to certain areas outside the GRA once it is 9 pm.
The precarious security situation has completely killed nightlife in most parts of Benin City except parts of the Government Reservation Area (GRA) and some other interior areas in the outskirts of the city. By 8 pm virtually everybody is rushing home as robberies have become a daily occurrence in several parts of the city.
The most affected in robbery cases are operators of Point of Sales (PoS) with several casualties and fatalities in the process. There have been reported robberies and shooting of PoS operators in areas like Sapele Road, Ring Road, New Benin, parts of GRA, Ekheuan Road, Siluko Road, Ugbowo, Aduwawa, Sokponba road and numerous others. Snatching of bags, phones and other personal belongings has also been recorded around Automated Teller Machine (ATM) centres.
The criminal activities got to an embarrassing stage when detainees including those who were re-arrested after the attack on the two correctional centres in the state capital during the #EndSARS protest that turned violent, escaped from the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) in the state command headquarters of the police on January 1 2021.
Till date there are conflicting reports about the number of detainees who escaped. The police claimed ten persons escaped, other sources put it at 15 and some even said more. However, only two according to the police have been re-arrested.
Apparently to assuage public outcry, the police said all those on duty on the fateful day have been arrested and would be tried using internal mechanisms of the Police.
A statement by the police three days after the incident said the policemen on duty when the incident happened on New Year day have been identified and would face disciplinary actions. But a senior police officer told Saturday Vanguard that less than 20 per cent of the almost 2000 escapees from the correctional centres have been re-arrested and the escapees from the SCID have contributed to the level of crime in the state.
Investigation by Saturday Vanguard indicated that not less than 60 persons may have died in cult related clashes in the state in the last three months. In several instances, those killed were not officially reported as their cult members immediately removed their bodies for burial and planned retaliations with some leading to the killing of twice the number of their dead members.
The killings have been taking place in all parts of Benin City and surrounding communities and investigations revealed that this has been partly as a result of activities of some suspected yahoo boys who belong to different cult groups but jointly swindle their victims while the proceed was routed through a third party. The fight it was gathered usually started when they were unable to agree on sharing formula as the aggrieved persons most times now went on vengeance mission against their rivals.
In the last three months, kidnapping has also become a regular occurrence across the state but the worst hit area has been the Benin – Auchi- Okenne axis of the Benin – Abuja Highway with several cases of fully loaded commercial buses being hijacked by kidnappers mostly suspected to be Fulani into various forests along the axis and ransom running into millions of naira being paid by victims and unspecified deaths recorded.
Several prominent indigenes of the state including a brother to the deputy governor, a former commissioner and most recently the head of service of the state where his police orderly and driver reportedly died have been kidnapped and they were released only after ransoms were paid.
Many of these kidnaps were not reported to the police because of threats of killing the victims by the kidnappers during negotiations.
Until last week, the entire stretch of the over 200 kilometre Benin – Auchi- Okenne road was completely abandoned by security operatives after the #EndSARS protests and the kidnappers had a free day without resistance or checks.
Some people have queried the over N2b launch of a re-organised joint security outfit by the state government in late 2018 which comprised of the police, military, DSS and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). Many of them have disappeared from the roads and the streets in the state without official reasons but this has been attributed to poor funding of their operations by the state government contrary to what they were promised.
Efforts to check criminalities
Normalcy is nevertheless returning to the Benin – Auchi road with the mounting of several checkpoints manned by conventional security agencies and vigilante groups.
Because of the outcry, the state government recently launched a vigilante network to strengthen the state’s security architecture to deal with rising insecurity. The vigilante network was said to be an initiative of Governor Godwin Obaseki and it is a community-led effort to galvanise local communities to partner with government security agencies to provide security and protect lives and property in the state.
An expert on the vigilante scheme, Mr. Yusuf Haruna, said the new security arrangement was intended to co-opt key actors in local communities to secure their spaces, gather intelligence, build trust and ensure adequate security across the state. Before now, the state government had called on local government area chairmen to collaborate with traditional rulers in their domains for joint security operations and this initiative has been positively explored by Ikpoba-Okha local government area where three police stations were razed during the #EndSARS protests. Tens of suspected criminals have been arrested by a combination of vigilante groups and other security agencies.
With the success this initiative has recorded particularly along the Sokponba Road axis, the chairman of the council, Dr Eric Osayande recently approved the deployment of more men of the Vigilante Force to parts of Aduwawa, Ogbeson, Ohovbe, Agbor Park, Oregbeni and environs. The area covers Wards 4, 3 and 2 of the LGA respectively with a mandate to also extend their operations to Uteh, Temboga and environs in Ward 1 of the Local Government Area.
On its part, the Edo State Government has opened a portal for members of the public to submit credible information that would lead to the arrest of fleeing inmates from two correctional centres in the state capital.
In a statement, Managing Director Designate, Edo State Information Communication Technology Agency (ICTA), Emmanuel Magnus Eweka, urged members of the public with useful information relating to the fleeing inmates to log into the portal: www.edostate.gov.ng/fugitives to submit their reports.
Also, Governor Obaseki, has urged security agencies to mobilise their operatives in the state to ensure security of lives and properties. The governor who said this after a closed-door meeting with heads of security agencies in the state, noted that the state government was working with the new security chiefs to develop proactive steps to tackle crime in the state.
What has brought respite to the residents outside the city centre was the establishment of street vigilantes in virtually every street coordinated by landlords and tenants. In most of the areas like Ekheuan Road, Oko Central area and others, community meetings made up of landlords and residents were called where they agreed to mount iron barricades in all the entry and exit points to the streets and estates with youths mobilized to man the gates mostly from 10 pm to 6:30 am daily. It is hoped that with this community initiative and support from government, normalcy will return to Benin city and its environs but for now, it’s a clear case of sleeping with two eyes opened.