Adibe Emenyonu writes on how an explosion in Okpella community which left one dead, exposed the activities of a bomb making syndicate in Edo State
Okpella is a popular town in Edo State. It is not just because of the prominent personalities who come from the area but the commercial activities within the area occasioned by the numerous quarry sites where people come to buy granites and limestones.
Added to these, are the cement factories there. As a result of these hustling and bustling, people of the area have become accustomed to loud sounds. Be it the ones coming from the various cement factories and heavy duty vehicles loading granites and big stones, or the heavy noise emanating from quarry sites when dynamites are deployed to break heavy rocks and limestones account for why the people are not bothered whenever a loud noise occurs.
However, when on January 15, a big bang like an earth tremor occurred at Iddo community in Okpella, the people needed no soothsayer to tell them that something unusual had occurred; and quickly, the indigenes mobilised themselves to find out what was the matter.
The traditional ruler, the Okuokpilagbe of Okpella, chiefs and all well-meaning persons began to panic thinking it was earthquakes, not knowing that some criminal minded individuals masterminded it.
Unfortunately, one of them was consumed in the explosion.
According to a source close to the building where the explosion took place, the apartment was rented by some men from Kogi State for residential purpose only for them to convert it for the purpose of manufacturing explosives unknown to the neighbours.
The witness claimed that he saw a lifeless body of one of the occupants of the house when he went close to the building after the loud noise occurred.
He said his alarm drew the attention of other youths who quickly apprehended other occupants of the building.
It was gathered that one of the occupants who attempted to escape with a vehicle loaded with prepared explosives, arms and ammunition, later abandoned them and ran into the bush.
Upon enquiry according to Muhammad Muhammad, President, Iddo Community Youth Association, who spoke with THISDAY on phone, he said when they heard the loud noise, they all ran to the scene only to discover that one person had been killed in the explosion.
This was when it apparently dawned on the people that there is a bomb making factory situated in the community unknown to the people
“We all came out when we heard the loud sound and informed the people that something exploded and killed somebody and on getting to the place one of the occupants we met immediately escaped in a vehicle. So the youth gave him a hot chase shouting that he had killed somebody and he was subsequently arrested and taken to the Divisional Police Officer before his onward transfer to the area commander,” the Iddo youth leader stressed.
Muhammad who confirmed that the wife and children of both the victim and the other arrested suspects were handed over to the police, also informed that those involved in the illegal business of bomb making are not indigenes of Okpella but from Kogi State.
Investigation by THISDAY indicate that the apartment, where the explosion occurred was rented by one Hassa Abdulmalik, a motor driver from Kogi State, living there with his wife, Oyeza and his children.
Also living in the same house with Abdulmalik are one Idris Ibrahim (22) and his wife, Zainab Ibrahim. Idris is a brother to the main suspect, Hassa Abdulmalik who was said to have escaped, abandoning his Toyota Corola car marked ABC 371 HK when youths in the area blocked the road.
Parading the suspects at the police headquarters, Benin City, the Commissioner of Police, Johnson Babatunde Kokumo, who briefed journalists, said the police anti-bomb squad was called in to destroy some of the explosives while others were taken away.
Kokumo disclosed that apart from the factory, riot gunners and smoke pistols were recovered from the suspects at the scene of the explosion, adding that the police has identified the police formation from where the suspects snatched the weapons.
He listed items recovered from the suspects to include one rocket propelled grenade (RPG) one Beretta pistol marked 53101466 with seven rounds of 9mm live ammunition, two riot gunners, four smoke pistols, 23 empty fire extinguisher cylinders, 18 plastic bottles of prepared borne IEDs, 21 expended smoke cartridges, 17 pieces of pipes-part, two timer clocks, four remote control panel and four remote control switches, eight nine-volts batteries, eight live teargas cartridges and two smoke grenades.
Others are two fire extinguisher borne IEDs, two electric junction boxes, two gallons of gun powder, one roll of cotton wool, five empty cans of insecticide, a pair of scissors, 20 small cans of assorted chemicals, three hydrometres used in measuring potency of the IEDs, eight pipettes tubes, two 50ml bottles of highly inflammable chemicals, three small bottles of highly inflammable chemicals, half bag of potassium nitrate, 65 litres of potassium nitrate, 200 grams of carbide and 30 pieces of syringes and needles.
Ibrahim, brother to the main suspect who spoke to newsmen at the police headquarters, denied being a member of the gang. He said he wanted to run away when he discovered that his brother was making explosives.
Ibrahim while stating that he saw his brother taking away explosives to a place he didn’t know, further disclosed that he came to Edo because his brother promised to open a shop for him.
His words, “I am from Okenne in Kogi State. I was born and schooled in Lagos State. I learnt welding. My brother told me that after I finished my work, he will open shop for me. That was why I came to Edo.
“I was not the one with explosives. It was my brother. I was never at home. I used to go to Auchi to look for shops. I was at home when he asked me to burn gas in his farm because he wants to harvest cassava. I told him I cannot do it so he asked Sanusi to go and help me.
“I only heard explosion at my back and Sanusi died. I only know about Sanusi and another man that used to visit my brother. Sanusi resides at Okpella. They never sent me anywhere. My brother told me he is a driver. I just discovered that the car belongs to him. I visited markets not to look for targets to bomb but to search for any empty shop I can rent.
“When I became aware that my brother was manufacturing explosives, I started looking for ways to leave the house. I asked him about it and he told me to shut up. He does not do it at home. I learnt about it four weeks ago. I saw them taking explosives out one day. I do not know where they took them to. He has a secret room which he locked up. Nobody enters the place.”
Similarly, wife of the suspect said she wanted to cry out when she learnt about the explosives.
She said: “My husband is a driver that takes passengers to and from Abuja. I don’t enter the private room in the house. When I know about the explosives, I asked him about it, he said he was not the owner or manufacturer. I wanted to shout out. I was sleeping when the one that killed Sanusi exploded.”
Following the apprehension of some of the suspected bomb manufacturers and the escape of the principal suspect, Abdulmalik, a security expert has called on the police and other security agencies handling the matter to carry out a thorough investigation to ascertain the true motive behind the bomb factory.
The expert who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the call became imperative because the stories branded by Ibrahim and Oyeza, brother and wife of the principal suspect now on the run are clumsy.
According to him, the mission of Ibrahim to markets in Auchi has nothing to do with looking for a shop to establish his welding business but to spot out possible areas where explosives can be hidden without people knowing.
He is also of the views that the presence of Oyeza, wife of Albdulmalik and Zainab, wife of Ibrahim could be to help their husbands recruit females for possible suicide bombing in Auchi and environs.
“Therefore, the story that her husband is a driver that moves passengers to and from Abuja is made up. Secondly, saying that her husband does not allow her access to a particular room was told to extricate herself from blame.
“So as far as I am concerned, the police has a sacred duty to perform; and that duty is to go after Abdulmalik and his cohorts because the way I see it, they are either at the verge of establishing a cell or they have one already.
“The suspects already in police custody should be interrogated in order to extract useful information from them. We are lucky that while trying to test the efficacy of their weapon of mass destruction, it exploded and killed one of them. Failure to carry out this task could be injurious to the society,” the expert said.