By Mumini Abdulkareem, Bukola Adama, Ahmed Ajikobi, Kayode Adeoti and Mike Adeyemi
For more than one hour last Thursday, the ancient town of Offa, Kwara State, was under siege. The serene atmosphere of the town took flight; the hustle and bustle that characterised the daily life of Offa was paralysed, there was bedlam as sound of gunshots resonated throughout the length and breadth of the town. Panic stricken residents scampered for safety as bullets flew in every directions.
In what seemed like a scene from an action packed block buster movie, armed bandits numbering about 50, according to eye witness account, took the town by the jugular and brought it down to its knees. The men of the underworld who operated in a commando style with sophisticated weapons attacked and robbed seven banks simultaneously, unhindered. The banks are Eco bank, First Bank, Zenith Bank, GTbank, Union Bank , Stockcorps Micro Finance Bank and Ibolo Micro Finance, in an operation that began at about 5pm on the fateful day. The Owode Police Station was not spared in the deadly attack.
The robbers did not only steal, they killed and destroyed. They shot sporadically at everything at sight. By the time the dust raised by the incident had settled, scores of bodies littered the streets of Offa. The robbers left in their trail sorrow, tears and blood.
Death, the grim reaper harvested scores of lives during the operation. 11 police officers were reportedly gruesomely murdered by the dare devil robbers while about 22 residents, including bank officials lost their lives to the incident.
The armed robbers were also said to have left the community with their loot-an undisclosed amount of money.
Giving account of the incident, an eyewitness, who gave his name as Segun Badejo, told our reporters that the bandits mostly in their early 20s were led by two men who wore blue and black track suits.
Badejo said he was in a shop opposite the police station to buy musical videos when he heard a loud frightening sound.
“The noise was from the dynamite deposited by armed robbers at the entrance of the facility. This made people within the vicinity to lie down on their belly to avoid being hit by flying pebbles while others scampered to safety.
“The armed robbers arrived in commando style. On arrival, the two leaders of the gang asked tricycle riders who were on both sides of the road to keep calm and shouldn’t move. “About 13 of them came and four mounted Owode market T-junction, controlling movement on the major road, three positioned themselves adjacent to the police station and another three in front of the station. They did not seem to be in a hurry as they spent more than one hour carrying out their dastardly act, he recounted.
According to him, some residents in what seemed like a counter attack, threw stones at the armed robbers, but two of them were hit by bullets on the head.
However, another eyewitness, who craved anonymity for security reasons, claimed that the armed robbers lodged in three-star hotels in the town and engaged in a spending spree before the operation was carried out.
Since the unfortunate incident, economic activities have been stalled with residents of the community living in palpable fear while also mourning their departed relatives and colleagues. This is just as the death toll continued to rise daily with a few of the injured in Intensive Care Unit receiving treatment at various hospitals in Offa and Ilorin.
When our reporters visited the community at the weekend, tell tales of the robbery incident were visible at the crime scenes. Blood stains and debris of the wreckage caused by the armed robbers were observed. Also, many shops were under key and lock as traders stayed away in fear.
The gloom that enveloped the Owode Police station when our reporters visited on Saturday could be sliced with a knife. The police officers, who wore forlorn countenance, were visibly shaken by the incident. They shook their heads intermittently in sorrow as they reminisced on the traumatic episode that claimed the lives of their colleagues. Pellets of bullets said to have fired by the armed robbers littered the vicinity.
Robbers cart away police arms, ammunition
Some of the police officers who spoke to this medium on condition of anonymity affirmed that the armed robbers killed everyone on duty except those who escaped by providence.
The officers disclosed that the armed robbers did not only kill their colleagues but also went away with new armony kept in the strong room which they claimed had never been used before the incident.
“We are just compounding our problems in the force, there are new guns procured which we’ve never used in the station, all have been taken away. The one I’m holding now is over 50 years old, how can it function effectively.
“The guns the robbers brought, according to my friend who escaped with injuries are new ones and load 90 rounds of bullets at a time. Our ammunitions can only load 30 of such bullets, so if our men had confronted them, they would have been overpowered,” a police officer who pleaded anonymity divulged.
Female leads bank operation
For staffers of the affected banks, they would have wished to turn back the hands of time. On the fateful day, the banking sector in Offa suffered casualties as a result of the robbery incident. It was gathered that the operation was carried out by female members of the armed gang .
At Stockcorps MicroFinance Bank, located beside Zenith Bank, adjacent Offa Central Hotel, armed robbers numbering about five were said to have invaded the premises with sophisticated weapons shooting sporadically to scare passers-by.
To gain entrance into the banking hall, the robbers deployed dynamites to shatter the door and other security devices.
In his account, the Chairman of the Stockcorps, Chief Lamidi Tolani disclosed that the cashier of the bank was shot in the leg by the armed robbers.
“I was informed by the cashier, Saheed Sadiq, who was shot in the leg and currently recuperating at the Ilorin General Hospital that the armed robbers numbering five and led by a lady and two other females stormed the premises.
“After gaining entrance, they shot the Head of Operations of the bank, Jamiu Alawode on the head after he refused to open the vault in the strong room and identify the manager’s car when led downstairs.”
Alawode was said to have died after being hit by the bullet while another unidentified man was reportedly killed at the frontage of Ibolo Community MicroFinance Bank.
At Zenith Bank, beside Eid praying ground, the robbers killed an unidentified middle-aged man who wanted to make transaction with the Automated Teller Machine (ATM).
Armed robbers were said to have killed one person after blowing up the entrance of Union Bank. At First Bank, the operation was foiled as the four men that invaded the facility met no staff on seat, The bank official were said to have exited the premises through the back door.
However, during operation at Eco Bank, two customers were said to have been killed while at Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), the robbers reportedly carted away some money.
How armed bandit escaped
Speaking on how the armed robbers exited the community, an eye witness who also spoke on condition of anonymity said the bandits abandoned the cars that conveyed them to the crime scenes, after the operation.
The source further said the armed robbers escaped through a bush path at Igosun, a neighbouring community to Offa, to connect Okuku. They were said to have killed two police officers to evade arrest in the area.
The robbers reportedly held officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) hostage at Ore, Ondo State. The FRSC officers , under duress, allegedly stopped cars for the armed robbers to offload their loot into a getaway vehicle before escaping through Edo State.
How we escaped attack – Survivors
Had Abdullahi Abdulsalam had intuition of the doom that portend his path last Thursday he would have stay indoors.
The middle age man who eke a living as a commercial motorcyclist, left his home as usual in search of daily bread but was almost devoured by death. Though hit by bullets fired by the armed robbers he survived by sheer providence.
Speaking with National Pilot on his bed at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH), Abdulsalam said he escaped death by the whiskers, describing it as miraculous..
He stated that out of the nine victims that sustained bullet wounds and were transferred from Offa to UITH, seven have died with another in the Intensive Care Unit of the facility.
“I am a commercial motorcyclist in Offa. I carried a male passenger and on our way, I saw people running for their lives. I tried to make a U-turn but while I was doing that, the robbers first shot at my passenger and he died on the spot.
“While I was trying to escape, a female among them, shot at me and that was all I could remember. I was told they rushed nine of us down to UITH and seven have died and their bodies deposited at the mortuary,” he disclosed.
In the same vein, the Chief Security Officer of one of the affected banks, who pleaded anonymity, said he escaped death through providence as he hid inside a room in the premises, alongside a female staff and her 8-month old baby.
“When the robbers arrived, we ran into a small room and locked the door with a tiny nut. They blew up the entrance with dynamites and we were afraid that the baby will cry due to the loud sound but luckily the baby was calm.
“They even attempted forcing the door of the room where we hid open but the nut held them back. The woman was so scared that she asked me to open the door but I told her I would do no such thing. They now left and on getting outside, they set our Hilux van ablaze,” the security man disclosed.
Findings by this medium revealed that some officers who had earlier got wind of the presence of the armed robbers scaled the fence to escape.
One officer, Bode, who was among the unhurt escapees was said to have helped a colleague, Hannah to scale the fence.
Other police officers who survived the attack include the DPO, the Divisional Crime Officer (DCO), one Alhaja and Bunmi, among others.
For another officer named Michael, he could have joined the list of casualties but for his wife who delivered a baby at Oko-Ode, Ifelodun Local Government Area of the state, 24 hours before the robbery attack.
“The way God works is astounding. Imagine one of our officers who would have been on duty that Thursday had to travel to Oko-Ode on Wednesday to meet his wife who gave birth same day. He did not return until the following day,” a police officer informed our reporters.
Also, another officer informed this medium that he escaped death because he was part of a patrol team when the robbers invaded the police station, adding that he returned to the office to see his colleagues in the pool of their blood.
“I was on patrol when it happened; I got here to see my colleagues in the pool of their blood. The armed robbers entered every room at the station picking out our colleagues and even those that have attempted to escape were killed at the gate,” he stated.
Victims’ families narrate ordeal
Pelemo Ayesanmi, one of the notable police officers, who lost their lives to the gruesome incident, had no inkling of the fate that was to befall him when he resumed for his routine duty at the police station on the black Thursday.
The police officer, who is due for retirement from active service, next month, was full of life before the sad incident that sent him to an early grave.
Ayesanmi was also killed alongside eight other policemen at the police station on Thursday.
Speaking with our reporters at the weekend, the eldest daughter, of Ayesanmi, Bukola lamented that the family will miss the slain policeman who is their breadwinner, adding that it will be difficult for the children to continue with their studies.
Bukola, who recently graduated from the Federal Polytechnic Offa, said “He (our father) was a good man. Every morning he will give us money to cater for our needs and he was very popular for his kind gesture.”
She, however, called for support from government and well-meaning individuals as her siblings recently secured admission into HND and ND programmes at the Federal Polytechnic, Offa.
Similarly, one Yemisi Makinde, who was recently promoted to the rank of Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) and wife of a popular bar operator; De Big Club in Offa, had no premonition of her death when she bade her family members bye on the fateful day.
Unknown to her loved ones, it was a final goodbye as she did not live to tell her story like survivors did. She was shot and killed at the police station.
The CSP, according to colleagues, led a good life and was loved by all, especially those close to her husband.
While speaking with this medium, the husband of the deceased, De Big Club boss, Mr Makinde said he spoke with his wife and mother of his four children, five minutes before her untimely death.
In an emotion laden voice, he said :”She was a Christian and I’m sure, it is God who called her. I don’t believe in any other thing but in God.
“She is the only one who understood me and the first woman in my life. My wife can give her last penny to anybody even to the church of God. It is normal for husband to have issues with his wife but for her, I never experienced any such.
“We spoke on the phone about five minutes to the incident. She even told me not to prepare any meal for her until Sunday because she is the Chairman, burial committee of Baba Wuraola, the first auditor in Kwara State,” he disclosed.
When asked about the unfulfilled dreams of his wife, Makinde wept profusely and appeared too dejected to speak further.
Offa Muslim community holds special prayer
The Muslim Community in Offa, yesterday, organised a special prayer to ward-off unforeseen calamity and to attract unity, peace and socio-economic development into the community.
The prayer, held at the Offa Central mosque, may not be unconnected with the recent armed robbery attack in the community.
The prayer, led by the Deputy Chief Imam of the mosque, Qosim Olatunji, witnessed recitation from the holy Qur’an and other supplications by selected Qur’anic students whose ages are not above 10 years.
Olatunji said the prayer was intended to seek God’s adequate protection of life and property for the indigenes and non-indigenes, economic prosperity and peaceful co-existence among the people.
He described the recent banks’ robbery in the community as one which required the collective responsibility of every stakeholder, especially through prayers to nip such crime in the bud.
“Our prayer is to seek Almighty Allah’s protection, unity, peace and tranquility in our dear community, Offa, the state and the country in general.
“More importantly, we prayed Allah in His infinite mercy to expose the perpetrators as well as their collaborators of this dastardly act,” he said.
The President, National Union of Road Transport Workers, (NURTW), Nojim Yasin, said the prayer had been a continuous exercise for the safety and unity of the community.
Yasin, who was accompanied by the General Secretary, Offa Descendants Union, Wosilat McCarthy, implored the authority to find a lasting solution to the menace of bank robberies in parts of the country.
Police arrest 8 suspects
The Nigerian police, yesterday said it has arrested eight people in connection with last Thursday’s bank robbery in Offa, where 50 people were killed in cold blooded.
The police spokesperson, Moshood Jimoh, who disclosed this to newsmen further said that the police has also arrested 12 other suspects directly responsible for the recent killings in Donga and Bali Local Government Areas of Taraba State.
“7 AK47 rifles, 4 locally made revolver pistols and thirty rounds of AK47 ammunition and 7 operational vehicles were recovered in the two states”.
He further said the IGP, Ibrahim Idris has placed Commissioners of Police and police personnel nationwide on red-alert and directs 24-hour intelligence gathering and crime prevention/police visibility patrol of crisis spots, flash points and other crime vulnerable scenes in their commands throughout the country.
Jimoh said the IGP Ibrahim Idris, is sad with the recent banks robbery attack in Offa, Kwara State which occured on Thursday, 5th April, 2018 and the recent killings on 4th & 7th April, 2018 in Donga and Bali Local Government Areas of Taraba State that resulted in the loss of innocent lives, carting away huge sums of money and destruction of properties worth millions of naira in the two states.
Moshood explained that consequently the IGP ordered deployment of three Police Mobile Force Units, high powered police investigation team, Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) with ten Crew members and Anti-Robbery equipments to Kwara State.
He said three Police Mobile Force units were deployed to Taraba State to beef up security and prevent further attacks.
He said the deployments which have arrived the two States will cover Offa LGA and its environ and other vulnerable points in Kwara State.