Bloodbath in Offa

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The residents of Offa in Kwara State were thrown into mourning recently following the gruesome killings of many people by armed bandits who attacked five banks in the town.Hammed Shittu writes   

To the residents of Offa, the headquarters of Offa Local Government Area of Kwara State, precisely Thursday, April 5, 2018, would ever be remembered by the residents of the ancient town as the attacks by armed bandits on five banks in the town threw them into shock and mourning due to the gruesome killings of many innocent residents of the town and some policemen. The armed bandits carted away large sums of money.

This ugly development, however, has thrown the residents into confusion as various houses and compounds in the town are now in a state of grief as a result of the attacks.

After the invasion, an unofficial report said that over 50 persons were feared killed during the attacks while the state police command put the number of deaths at 17.

Apart from this, about 10 persons have been reported to have sustained serious injuries and they are now receiving medical attention at both the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital and General Hospital, Ilorin.

This ugly development was even recorded 10 years ago in the ancient town of Offa when armed bandits invaded some banks and carted away large sums of money and killed innocent residents of the town.

THISDAY investigations revealed that the bandits, who were said to be 15 in number operated for about an hour, entered the town around 4:45p.m. and operated till about 5:40 p.m. as they first reportedly blocked roads from both Ilorin and Osogbo ends.

The hoodlums, who escaped with an unspecified amount of money carted from the commercial banks, also reportedly made their escape through Igosun area of the town.

It was also gathered that the armed bandits first approached the Offa Divisional Police Station on entering the ancient town, killing policemen on duty among other people at the station, before raiding the commercial banks and killing people by shooting them on their heads.

Among the policemen killed by the armed robbers that reportedly operated in commando style, was a man identified as Pelemo, who was to retire in a few months and a pregnant policewoman.

An eyewitness said that corpses of six policemen were taken away in his presence, while efforts were being made to bring out others inside the police station.

It was also gathered that the bandits, came in different vehicles as they stationed themselves at strategic areas of the town, as it was reported that they also snatched commercial motorcycles to operate and escape.

Contacted, the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Ajayi Okasanmi, who confirmed the bank raid, said that victims included policemen and other individuals.

He said that details on the bank robbery would be made public after a full investigation on the incident.

Following this ugly development in the town, the authorities of the Nigeria Police Force have swung into action which has led to the arrest of 16 suspects in connection with the robbery incidents.

The state Police Commissioner, Alhaji Lawan Ado, in a chat with the reporters on the second day of the incident, confirmed the death of 17 persons in the Thursday’s bank robbery in the business district of Offa Town in Offa Local Government Area of the state.

He said nine out of those killed in the robbery were policemen while others were civilians including a pregnant woman.

The CP said the police were yet to determine the number of those who sustained a varying degree of injuries in the operation as they were receiving treatments at different hospitals.

Briefing journalists in Ilorin, CP Ado said the police have also arrested some suspects in connection with the incident.

He said one of the suspects was arrested in Igosun Town in Oyun Local Government Area where robbers had abandoned the vehicles used in carrying out the operation.

The CP said seven vehicles used in the operation by the armed robbers which were abandoned in Igosun have also been recovered by the police.

He said five commercial banks namely First Bank, Zenith Bank, Guarantee Trust Bank, Eco Bank and Union Bank including Ibolo Community Bank, were attacked by the robbers.

The state governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, who promised to settle the bills of the injured victims also announced a bounty of N5 million to anyone who offers useful information that could lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of the robbery attack.

Ahmed urged the security agencies to deploy all in their arsenal to fish out those armed robbers that attacked banks in Offa in Offa Local Government Area of the state.

The governor said that the fishing out of the perpetrators would secure the people of Offa from future occurrence.

According to him, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who died in the armed robbery attacks in the town today.

“I am in constant touch with the security agencies in the state and have urged them to do all within their power to secure Offa and environs and bring the perpetrators to justice.

“I have also directed the health services to rapidly deploy emergency services to treat those injured in the attacks. My heartfelt condolences to the people of Offa and the families of victims of today’s attack.”

Also in his reaction, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ahmad Ali has tasked the security agencies in the state to be alive to their responsibilities by providing adequate security to Kwarans.

He recalled that in recent years, Offa has been the target of armed robbers, particularly the commercial institutions located in the town, a situation which he noted had subjected the people to live in palpable fear of attacks at any time.

Therefore, the Speaker admonished the government to further collaborate with all the security agencies with a view to finding a lasting solution to the security challenges in Offa and the state at large.

He pledged that the Assembly would not hesitate to provide the required legislative support to both the Executive and security agencies to make Kwara safer for all and sundry.

He condoled with both the state government, Offa Local Government Area, the Olofa of Offa, Oba Mufutau Muhammed Oloyede Gbadamosi, Okikiola Esuwoye II, over the loss of lives and property in the attack.

However, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki who is from the state was the first national officer to pay a sympathy visit to the ancient town of Offa to express his condolence to the monarch of Offa, Oba Gbadamosi in his palace.

Speaking with the journalists on the dastardly act in Offa, Saraki called for the general improvement in the security infrastructure in the country.

He added that Nigeria’s security challenges are as a result of the country’s inadequate response to security.

“All the issues had to do on how we will improve our security infrastructure. It is clear that we are not responding adequately to this. That is why we organised a security summit sometime ago to address the issue and to work closely with the executive and see how we can find the solution to the security problems in the country.

“We on the legislative arm are ready to come up with the real design to improve on the security challenges, whether it is the human resources, equipment, whether it has to do with funding and legislation. There is also the issue of the actual structure of the police.

“This issue requires a very radical and serious-minded approach. Unless we address this we will continue to have this kind of scenario where a bunch of criminals will hold a town for two hours and carry out this mayhem. There is no society that will really allow this kind of thing to happen.

“We condole with the families of both the civilians and the policemen that died during the incident. In a place like Offa that is very vibrant in commerce, we must address security challenge so that people can continue to carry out their normal activities.

“The police must see this as an institutional issue. It is not personal. On our part as legislators, we are ready to do anything that will empower them,” he stated.

Also speaking, the Olofa of Offa, Oba Gbadamosi, harped on the need for the establishment of state police.

The monarch said: “It will be better for the federal government to establish state police. With that, theywill be closer to the people and to the state government. This is the fourth time that we will experience this kind of robbery attacks in the last 10 years.

“One of the major problems of the police force is inadequate manpower. We discover that in Offa Local Government Area here the number of policemen is not up to 50.”

The monarch added, “Anytime we have something like this there will be no reinforcement anywhere. So what we need is manpower. The state government can afford to buy us Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), it can afford to build more police stations but if the manpower is not there it is not enough.

“What the federal government needs to do is to employ as many graduates looking for jobs into the police force, Army, Air Force and the Navy. There are a lot of unemployed graduates that are ready to join these military and paramilitary forces. There is no security at all in the country. If you were here on that fateful day you will know what I am saying.”

Oba Gbadamosi stressed, “I don’t want to believe that it is a question of sophisticated weapons; it is the question of ‘we cannot go there because we are not enough’. What they have the military and the police have, but when they are more than the police in number, what can the police do?

“We have always been involving local security, but you know these criminals when they come they always catch people unawares. There is risk attached to the use of local hunters because, by the time we get them involved because of a day like this, the police will arrest them and say they are carrying dane guns.”

In his reaction, the senator representing Kwara South senatorial district at the National Assembly, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, has commiserated with the victims of the attack.

Ibrahim in a statement issued by his Media Aide, Mr. Biodun Adegolu described the incident as unfortunate and urged the people of Offa to take it as an act of God.

He, therefore, called on the security agencies to be alive to their constitutional responsibilities so as to protect lives and property.

Meanwhile, the federal government has sent its delegation to the state and Offa, in particular, to condole with the people of the state and Offa over the incident.

The federal government delegation was led by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed where he paid a condolence visit to the state governor, Alhaji Ahmed at Government House, Ilorin, the Olofa of Offa, Oba Gbadamosi, the state police command, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital and General Hospital, Ilorin, where those that sustained serious injuries during the attack have been recuperating.

Speaking with journalists after the visits, Mohammed said that, all the other people involved in the last Thursday’s armed robbery and killings in the commercial town of Offa, Kwara State would be arrested and brought to justice in order to serve as a deterrent to others.

He said that the federal government would continue to improve on its security provisions that would ensure adequate safety for all and sundry.

The minister was however quick to add that the state and the entire public must learn from ‘‘the mistakes’’ of the incident with a view to improving on security architecture of the entire country.

The minister said, ‘‘What happened in Offa on Thursday shocked the entire nation and is our prayers that the souls of all the victims will rest in peace and also that those badly injured would be healed and 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 there is also a silver light, despite the losses of the police, it is quite heartwarming to know that some of the suspects have been arrested.

‘‘I spoke yesterday with the IG and he assured me that all the people responsible for the dastardly act would be arrested and brought to justice.

‘‘I hope also that we are all going to learn from the mistakes both the larger public and everybody and we are going to factor this into the larger security architecture in a manner that we will have a much more secured and safer state and country.‎”

The minister, while in Offa, urged the residents to be more security conscious now more than ever before and report suspicious persons among them to the appropriate security office.

Responding during the minister’s visit to him, Governor Ahmed thanked the ‘‘presidency for its intervention so far.’’

He particularly expressed delight with the promise made by Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to deploy an armoured personnel carrier that will be stationed specifically in Offa to prevent future occurrence.

He described the level of the crime perpetrated as ‘‘unexpected’’, a situation which he said was an indication that the country was in a ‘‘challenging situation.’’

The governor said government at this time must accept the fact that the nation was going through challenging times and redoubled efforts towards improving on her security architecture saying ‘‘this is not the time for blame game.’’

He advocated from effective community policing and improved synergy through effective communications particularly between the military and the police.

The governor stressed that effective collaborations among the security agencies would ‎no doubt result in effective security for the people.

In Offa, the Olofa of Offa Oba Gbadamosi expressed concern that with the latest attacks on banks in Offa, there are no banks operating in the entire Kwara South senatorial district.

The monarch, therefore, urged the federal government to provide two armoured personnel carriers, one in Offa and the other in Ajase-Ipo headquarters of Kwara South to beef up adequate security in the area.

He also urged stakeholders to ensure that all needed supports are given to the banks to return operations in Offa and the entire Kwara South senatorial district of the state because doing banking transactions in Ilorin from Offa and the affected areas would be most difficult.

He also called for an increase in the police officers posted to Kwara and indeed Offa, saying that the armed bandits operated for over two hours unchecked a development he said was very unfortunate.

He, however, commended the efforts of Governor Ahmed who had approved the construction of a bigger police station in ‎Offa, while the only bigger one attacked in Owode area would now serve as an outpost station.

However, a visit by our correspondent to General Hospital, Ilorin, where some victims have been receiving medical attention showed that the victims have been attended to without any hindrance as the state government has paid all the medical bills of the affected victims.

The Director-General, Kwara State Hospital Management Bureau, Dr. Bunmi Jetawo-Winter, told journalists in Ilorin that, Governor Ahmed paid the bills of the victims of the Offa bank robbery attacks.

According to her, “Right now, they are just doing all the preliminary tests and 100 per cent of their bills are shouldered by the state government.”

She, however, explained that the schedule of surgeries for the victims has commenced.

One of the families of the victims who spoke with our correspondent at General Hospital, Ilorin, Alhaji Orelope Orilonise thanked the state government for rising to their plight.

He said he witnessed the attack in Offa in which his senior brother, Mr. Salawu Orilonise currently recuperating in the hospital was caught in a chaos and became a victim.

The bullets, he explained, ripped through his brother’s body but he miraculously escaped death on that fateful day in Offa.

According to him, “When I saw him in his pool of blood I didn’t know when I burst into tears because I thought he was dead but thank God he is alive though with injuries.”

He added that, this is the fourth time such robbery incidence will happen in Offa “which shows that we are not secured in Offa.”

Orilonise stressed that “what baffled many people  was that the robbery incident took place for almost two hours without security intervention.”

Also, Mr. Waidi Olorunlambe, a 48-year-old taxi driver of Abuba compound, Offa, who was also lucky to live to tell his story said that he escaped death by the whiskers during the Offa bank robbery attack.

He said that he was discharging a passenger in front of First Bank, Offa at Sanni Aba area on the day of the incident when he became a victim of criminals.

He said that the bullets went through his right thigh and came out from his groin around his genital region, damaging this part of his body.

He, however, thanked God for being alive to tell his story

Also, a visit by our correspondent to Offa on Tuesday showed that, despite the grief that accompanied the bank robbery attack in the town penultimate Thursday, small businesses were still going on in the town.

Most of the shops and business centres around the town were opening for business while people were moving in apprehension.

Sympathisers were still thronging to the palace of Olofa to express their condolences to the monarch and the people of the town.

Meanwhile, police have dispatched two units of mobile police and one Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) to the town.

THISDAY checks revealed that the development would restore normalcy to the town as people are still living in fear and apprehension since the time the attack occurred in the town.

The state Police Command Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Okasanmi, who confirmed the dispatching of the APC to Offa said that the command has also deployed two units of mobile police to the town.

He, however, said that investigations were still ongoing to track the perpetrators of the robbery incident in the town.

Most of the residents who spoke with our correspondent in Offa, expressed deep concern over the incident saying that this is the fourth time such kind of incident will happen in Offa.

They said that the development has continued to affect the economic development of the town adding that, the investors that suppose to invest in the town have changed their mind towards putting up their businesses in the town.”

The residents said that, “most of us are industrious but with this kind of incessant attacks on banks in Offa, it would seriously hinder us from coming home to invest our businesses.” They called on the federal government to, as a matter of urgency, to beef up security so as to restore peace in the town.

The residents added that the mass killings by the armed bandits were worrisome noting that the government should be up and doing on this insecurity so as to move the nation forward.