There was confusion in Offa, the second-largest town in Kwara state housing a federal polytechnic, on Thursday, April 5, as heavily armed robbers raided some banks and shot sporadically leading to chaos among residents and customers.
The daredevil robbers stormed Offa at the close of business on April 5, killing about 17 people and raiding five bank branches in an operation that witnesses said lasted for nearly two hours.
Some media reports have quoted a death toll as high as 32.
Some of those who were killed in the incident included policemen, complainants, bank customers and market people.
The robbers also made away with an uncertain but large amount of money from the branches of Zenith Bank, Guarantee Trust Bank, Union Bank, First Bank and Eco Bank in the town.
Following the deadly attack, there has been a torrent of reactions; from the federal government, the state government, the police, the residents of the town, and the Nigerian populace.
The state governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, placed a bounty of N5 million for any information that could lead to the capture and arrest of the perpetrators of the robbery.
In its own reaction, the Federal Government said the bank robbery shocked and grieved the nation.
The minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who said this during a condolence visit to the Kwara state governor also advised the state and the public to learn from ‘the mistakes’ of the incident.
He said: “No stone will be left unturned as the Federal Government would intervene to fish out the culprits. The Federal Government would also tighten security in the state.
“What happened in Offa on Thursday shocked the entire nation and it is our prayers that the souls of all the victims will rest in peace and that those injured would recover very soon.
‘‘I want to take this opportunity to also let you know that the entire country is grieving and the entire country is sympathising with Kwara state and the entire people of Offa.
‘‘But every cloud has a silver lining, so, despite the losses of the police, it is quite heartwarming to know that some of the suspects have been arrested.”
Also, in a statement released by the police after the tragic incident, the inspector general of police said he has ordered a full investigation and has directed his Intelligence Response Team and others to assist in getting the hoodlums arrested.
The state commissioner of police, Lawan Ado, would later say that seven people had been arrested in connection with the robbery.
However, despite the torrent of reactions coming from the authorities and Nigerians generally, many people do not remember that a deadly robbery attack of this proportion is not happening in Offa for the first time.
This latest attack comes five years after armed robbers hit four banks in the same town. The December 2013 attack left seven police officers and about a dozen civilians dead.
Armed robbers stormed the sleepy town around 4.30pm on Thursday, December 19, 2013 and attacked four commercial banks.
Several millions of naira were carted away by the armed robbers.
Another very similar, gruesome attack on the same town five years after, passes a strong message: failure to learn from ‘the mistakes’ of the past incident, to use Lai Mohammed's words..
After the 2013 attack, no significant effort has been made to fix the security crisis.
The police’s failure to learn from the 2013 incident five years later, especially since it affected the same police station and some of the same banks that were affected in the same neighbourhood, is shameful.
Why couldn’t police repel the armed robbers?
The state commissioner of police, Lawan Ado, explained why they could not contain the latest attack:
“Because they came in large number, they were able to divide themselves, attacking the banks and attacking the police station at the same time...They demobilised the police station.”
The robbers spent over one hour without any potent resistance from law enforcement authorities, according to witnesses accounts.
The whole Kwara state police command does not have a helicopter
Offa is situated about 60 kilometres south of Ilorin, the state capital. Residents tackled the police for failing to scramble a helicopter to the scene from the capital, a response that would have taken only minutes.
The response of the state police spokesperson, Ajayi Okasanmi, is shocking and shameful: “Actually, we don’t have a helicopter in Kwara state.
“The police don’t have any helicopter in Kwara state.”
He added: “We have a shortage of manpower by way of death, retirement, and incapacitation, so we cannot say we have all the staff there.”
According to a security analyst Chris Ngwodo who spoke to Premium Times, the attack only serves as a reminder of the debilitating effects of a systemic security crisis which the country has grappled with for too long.
Ngwodo said: “The police are the most neglected link in the national security value chain.
“We’ve crippled them. They’ve been paralysed.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Bukola Saraki, and several others have reacted calling on the police to ensure timely apprehension of all suspects in the wake of the robbery.
However, none has emphasised the need to equip the police amongst other fundamental hindrances.
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An estimated 400,000 officers are believed to be in the Nigeria police for an estimated 180 million people, a situation that analysts have long denounced as unsustainable. But funding for even the insufficient personnel remained alarmingly low, Premium Times reports.
Yet, Ngwodo warned the situation may only get worse if no immediate steps were taken by appropriate authorities, especially in the face of multi-faceted internal security challenges from Boko Haram to farmers-herders killings.
The brazen dimension of the incident has fueled renewed concerns about the state of law enforcement agencies countrywide, especially the police whom security analysts fear have become hopelessly underfunded and ill-equipped amidst rising criminal activities.
According to an earlier report by NAIJ.com, the people of Omu-Aran community, a neigbouring town to Offa, have been living in fear as the only commercial bank in the town is yet to re-open for customers, due to the latest Offa robbery attack.
Bank customers are left with the option of engaging the services of the local money transfer operators in the community for financial transaction.
A businessman, identified as Abbey Adelodun, described the development as pathetic and unhealthy for business.
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