Offa: A community on edge over armed robberies
Thursday, April 5, this year, would remain indelible in the minds of the people of Offa in Offa Council of Kwara State. It was a day of sudden bloodbath in which vampires, in a commando manner, stormed the ancient Yoruba settlement and spilled the blood of the innocent in the time of peace. One of the victims, who sustained severe gunshot wounds in the neck, said he was on his motorcycle with a friend, unaware of the incident until he was hit.
The victim, who pleaded anonymity, recounted: “We just observed the unusual serenity of Owode Market area as we rode on the motor bike. We were shot at and I woke up to find myself in this hospital in Ilorin.“But my brother was unlucky, as he was confirmed dead on the spot. Maybe the robbers felt we were running after them that day, hence they opened fire on us.”
A Police traffic warden attached to the Owode Market said on hearing the unusual sounds of heavy gunshots, he took cover in a nearby house, where he was given an agbada to wear on top of his uniform.The market, the commercial nerve centre of the people of Offa, was hurriedly closed, leaving many sympathisers discussing in groups about the attacks on the Offa people.
Alhaji Najeem Yacin, National President of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), who is an indigene of the town, said the incident has brought a setback to its economy, but added that the resilience of the people would see them through. Spokesman of the state’s Police Command, Ajayi Okasanmi, said the attack would not deter men and officers of the command from discharging their duties.
Okasanmi added: “There is no duty without its hazard. We don’t look at the inherent hazard of the job. We will rather continually carry out our duties to the nation and its people.”Although many people have labelled the Offa incident as pure robbery, many others believed the security agents should look beyond robbery, citing the high rate of casualties at the scene.
According to a former professor of Law at the University of Ilorin, Ade Raji: “We are flabbergasted by the magnitude of the killing and we are beginning to verify if we are actually treating the case of robbery and something else.”Raji, a native of Offa, added: “We need more of investigative approach to this issue. Offa should be spared from attacks. We should get to the root of the matter.
“Robbers don’t kill if you don’t resist. They will only shoot into the air to scare their victims. But in this Offa thing, we learnt that the so-called robbers, after looting the banks, shot at any one or anything standing.”Raji assured that Offa, though besieged at the moment, would never be conquered by any marauders.
Already, there has been heavy Police reinforcement in the town since the incident, a development that might assuage the concerns of many bank operators, who have vowed not to resume banking activities in Offa until there was adequate security presence were put in place.The state’s Commissioner of Police, Lawan Ado, confirmed the death of nine Police officers rounded up by the dare devil murderers inside a medium-sized Police station at Owode Market, and seven other innocent civilians at the vicinity of the incident.
But sources at Offa, a nucleated town some 50 minutes drive from Ilorin, the state capital, put the death toll at 30, excluding over 30 others who escaped with varying degrees of gunshot wounds.While the bodies of the victims had since been deposited at the morgue of the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH), the injured, depending on the severity of their wounds, were receiving treatments at the General Hospitals at Offa and Ilorin, as well as the UITH.
In the last 10 years, Offa, the heartland of Ibolo Kingdom, a sub-ethnic in Yoruba land, had previously recorded three robbery cases, but none was as bloody as the last incident.
The robbers, said to be about 30, around 3:45pm on that day, stormed the town in five Toyota Hilux vans, wielding sophisticated weapons, such as sub-machine guns and hand grenades. Their first point of call was the Police station, where they swooped on the unsuspecting officers on duty, whose best weapon was an AK-47 gun.
The officers, while scampering for safety made for the back entrance door, unknown to them that four other men of the underworld had laid an ambush for them.In the process, they (officers) had their heads riddled with bullets, just as the robbers ensured that no one in the Police uniform, including an Inspector billed to commence his terminal leave in July this year, escaped death.
Sources in the town said some civilians who had gone to the station to lay one complaint or another, including a pregnant woman writing a statement at the time of the attacks over a civil matter with their neighbours, were equally mowed down by the trigger-happy robbers.The woman was said to been at the station to report a case of some of her neighbours allegedly peeping at her inside a make shift bathroom while taking her bath.
All entreaties to have the extant matter settled amicably at the neighbourhood were allegedly rebuffed by the woman, who insisted on taking the matter to the Police. Having demobilised the Police officers on duty, the robbery gang, which had by this time barricaded the two main entry points into Offa- Ajase-Ippo/Offa and Erin-Ile/Offa roads laid a siege on five commercial banks and a community bank located close to one another at the heart of the town.
Anti-robbery doors at the entrances of the banks were blasted open with grenades, just as the robbers headed straight into the strong rooms and allegedly emptied their contents, running into several millions. A source at the community bank said: “When they forcefully penetrated the bank, the robbers asked for the manager, who is a woman, but a male bank worker lied that she was not on duty.
“Then, they confronted the woman around and asked if she was the manager, which she confirmed. The next thing that followed was for the robbers to kill the man and left the woman untouched.“They said the man lied to them and that anyone who lied had the potential to rob in future.”But it was not only money that was lost in Offa on the fateful day; some innocent citizens were also lost in gruesome manner during the one-hour operation.
Congealed blood of many of them littered the streets, just as the bodies, before some brave men could pack them together to form a gory heap of human remains. There was indeed loud wailing across the land without any consolation from any quarters. The bankers, apart from the cash loss, counted their own dead, just as many other victims were identified with their mobile phones, vehicular particulars and identity cards.
Already, banking activities have been suspended in the town, while many prominent indigenes and other Nigerians expressed concerns on how the carnage is likely to affect the economy of the town touted as second populous in the state, after Ilorin.
Meanwhile, president of Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON), Dr. Ona Ekhomu, has disagreed with the tagging of the attack as robbery incident, describing rather as a terrorist attack.“The attacks exhibited all the hallmarks of a spectacular terror attack, including violent neutralisation of law enforcement, use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), automatic weapons, large number of attackers, ISIS-style vehicular convoy, aggressive combat tactics, large number of wanton deaths, etc.” he said.
In a statement in Lagos signed by his aide, Tope Adesuyi, Ekhomu said “the narrative of bank robbery was grossly erroneous and patently false,” adding that it was a brazen terrorist attack aimed at causing mayhem, deaths and striking fear into the hearts of Kwara citizens and “the seizure of cash was a secondary objective.”
Ekhomu, a renowned security expert, said: “While we can understand the need for fear reduction on the part of the authorities, it is not helpful to mischaracterise incidents, thereby giving citizens a false sense of security.”He argued that the state had recorded incidents of violent extremism and terrorism in the past, citing the bombing of Ilorin Township Stadium many years ago and cases of foreign espionage agents and their Nigerian conspirators detected in the state.
He argued that with the displacement of Boko Haram fighters from Sambisa Forest and the mass release of Boko Haram suspects by the Federal Government, it is conceivable that a terror cell might now be active in the Offa area.“The authorities must thoroughly investigate the terror attack and give Nigerians a proper explanation of what happened on that day.
“The actual perpetrators must be arrested and they must provide corroborative evidence of their complicity.“Investigators must resist the temptation of arresting vagrants and labeling them Offa bank robbers in order to look good. When the real perpetrators are caught, the Police must resist the temptation to commit extra-judicial killing. The story of the perpetrators must come out. It takes a very evil psychopath and sociopath to lay siege to a Police station and kill nine policemen in one fell swoop and then proceed to murder many others,” he said.
According to him: “The Boko Haram insurgency has shown that there are some terrorists who delight in killing Police personnel. The Offa terrorists did not have respect for Police lives or human lives. Police fatality must be reduced to the barest minimum, so that we can have a civilised society.“Police lives must not be cheap. We must honour their sacrifice and service to the nation.”