Igarra: A Town under Siege by Robbers

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Adibe Emenyonu reports on the recent armed robbery operation at Igarra, in Edo State, where robbers besieged the town for hours, resulting in the death of 10 persons

What happened in Igarra, headquarters of Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State, penultimate Thursday was a virtual armed siege. In an operation that lasted for hours, residents of the town were held hostage by armed robbers who rode roughshod over everyone and everything in sight. It was a bloody day, as the gang of armed robbers stormed two banks in the area, killing 10 persons in the process and vandalising cars.

When the banks opened for business that day, no one had the slightest suspicion about the tragedy that was lurking. But suddenly, the activities of the day were interrupted by the sounds of gunfire. In commando style, the gang struck.

Among the people killed were four persons who were gunned down within the bank premises and three others killed close to the police station, as well as two suspects and a police inspector, who were killed in the station.

Similar Attacks in the Past

This was not the first time the Igarra people will suffer from a major armed robbery attack. In 2012, they had their first taste of a major bank robbery. The armed men were said to have swooped on the only two banks in the area. After terrorising the bankers and the bank customers, they succeeded in making away with huge sums of money.

Three years after that incident, robbers struck again. The robbery, which happened in 2015, also targeted the same banks. They adopted the same operational style as the 2012 attack. They were again successful. After another three years, robbers struck again. This time, although they had it difficult accessing the strong rooms of both banks, they didn’t hesitate to take lives.

But first, the robbers, who were aware of the presence of a police division in the area, split themselves into two groups. While one group attacked the police station, the second group stormed the banks.

According to an eyewitness, one Ofei Obese, the operational style adopted by the robbers when they came in 2012 and 2015 was similar to the Thursday attack.

Obese said, “The first group of armed men had first attacked the police station which is about 1.2 kilometres from the banks, apparently to neutralise any attempt for whatever quick response that would have emanated from the police. Not only that, they burnt the official vehicle of the newly posted area commander.”

In The Line of Fire

After the operation, the casualties were those who were at the scene. It was gathered that at the end of it all, a police Inspector was gunned down at the station. Also killed at the station were two civilians; one Dennis Ojo Ukana and another, simply identified as Nnamdi, who was detained by the police that same morning before the robbers attacked the station.

Ukana, THISDAY gathered, had found himself in police custody following a marital issue he had with his wife, who took the matter to the police station, which prompted his detention. The second civilian, Nnamdi, was detained because he drove without his complete vehicle license.

At the banks, at least four other persons were said to have been killed within the premises apparently in anger, as it was gathered that the armed men could not get access to the vault of the banks, as the policemen in the banks had engaged them.

Obese said the vigilante group in the area also resisted the robbers at the banks. Three of the armed robbers were reportedly gunned down in the exchange.

The Palace Reacts

Speaking on the robbery attack, the Palace Secretary to the paramount ruler of the community, Otaru of Igarra, Elder Folorunsho Dania, said it was a serious case that claimed 10 dead persons, adding that the police station was set ablaze, while the area commander’s new vehicle was also burnt by the robbers.

“Armed robbers besieged Igarra and killed 10 persons, set the police station ablaze and the area commander’s new car. However, they could not access the strong room of the banks. Igarra was a war zone that day.”

Gun Duel

Briefing newsmen at the police headquarters in Benin City, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Johnson Kokumo, said the attack was foiled by the combined force of policemen, who were on guard duty at the two banks in the vicinity, noting that three of the armed robbers were killed during a gun duel.

He also confirmed that the robbers first attacked the police station, apparently to disorganise the security operatives in the area before invading the two banks.

While parading the bodies of the dead criminals, he said two civilians and a police inspector were killed, when members of the gang staged a simultaneous attack at the nearest police station in the area.

According to him, “The attack on the bank in Igarra was on Keystone Bank, and not on the two banks. Actually, there are two banks in the vicinity, and adjacent to each other. One is Keystone, the second is Unity Bank. The marauding criminals actually attacked Keystone Bank, but they met with very stiff opposition from policemen who were on duty at Unity Bank and Keystone Bank. They were men of the Nigeria Police Mobile Force (MOPOL 60), in Edo State.

“They were able to give a very good account of the stuff they are made of in a gun duel that ensued between the criminals and the policemen who were on bank guard duty. Three of the criminals were gunned down. Here you see them with their operational weapons recovered.

“In 2015, Igarra experienced this kind of attack where money was carted away from the vault. But this time around, the vaults were intact as they (robbers) could not succeed because of the quick repose from the police. We will not condone this again. Like the 2015 incident, the criminals made their incursion from the neighbouring towns outside Edo State. “

On reports that the criminals attacked a police station in Igarra, he said, “Criminals will always evolve different means of perpetuating their acts. What this gang of criminals did was to divide themselves into two. One of them went to the station ostensibly to prevent the police from responding to possible distress call from the bank. The second half went to Keystone Bank for the attack.

“The moment the distress call went to the police station, there was no way the policemen at the station could hasten down to prevent them. The robbers at the police station were the ones that wreaked havoc, killing two civilians and one police inspector. I would regard that as the minus of the operation, but on the whole, it is sad that we lost an inspector of police to this criminal gang. Three of the armed robbers were gunned down.

“After the encounter, two of the armed robbers were actually dead. The third one was not yet dead as at the time the police swooped on them; he was able to give us useful information that we are processing with a view to apprehending others who have taken to flight.”

Obaseki’s Drive to Rid State of Criminality

Meanwhile, the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, commended the gallantry displayed by men of the state police command, who foiled the robbery attack. He however, expressed regret over the death of some persons in the attack. He said those that were wounded would be treated.

He went on to assure residents that the state government is working assiduously to rid the state of criminal elements, through vigorous synergy with the various security agencies in the state.

He said, “The attack is unfortunate and we will do all within our power to forestall such heinous incidents in the future. However, the bravery of men of the state police command is an evidence of the ongoing reforms and synergy between the state government and the hierarchy of the police.”

Obaseki urged Edo people and residents to rely on credible sources of information as against those unscrupulous individuals in the society, whom he said are determined to misrepresent facts and spread outright falsehood and fear on the socia media platforms.

Indigenes of the town say the police should carry out a thorough investigation with a view to unravel those behind the robbery and those who they believe provide information to the criminals on the bank’s activities.