by Frank Ukpetenan
Some of the major bedrocks of any sane society are properly thought-ou laws and the ability to enforce and uphold those laws. Many times, it is the responsibility of an impartial police force to enforce the laws.
Haven said that, whose responsibility is it to monitor the law enforcers and guide those who implement the law? I mean, who will police the police?
The importance of this question will be evident following this true life story you are about to read.
It was Tuesday the 14th of April, 2009, we had just resumed from the Easter holiday weekend and I was “Head Teller” at the bank in Afikpo, Ebonyi state where I worked at the time. The Head Teller held the vault keys, had responsibility for managing the bank’s vault position during the period and the position was usually rotated forth-nightly among all four tellers in the bank.
In that season, banks in Ebonyi state had been under attack from armed robbers and the state governor was paying deaf ears to repeated pleas by the bank managers for a “joint patrol” kind of policing within the state. So being the head teller and with knowledge of the fragile security situation I did my job with great fear hoping the fears do not materialise.
Alas, at about 12.30pm we started hearing gunshots outside and we immediately realised that we were under attack with our branch as the target. All the staff and customers downstairs ran into the bulk room which had “bullet-proof” doors. The Head of Operations (H.O.P) remained in her office, under the table out of shock.
After about 20mins of shooting, using dynamites on the electronic entry/exit doors, the robbers gained entry into the banking hall. They had overpowered the 5 mobile policemen we usually hired at fifty thousand naira weekly to guard our premises.
The robbers seized the H.O.P and at gun point she asked us to open the bulk room doors, which the cash officer (C.O) hurriedly did while shouting and crying “please don’t shoot, please don’t shoot”.
The robbers entered the bulk room and immediately demanded for the keys to the vault. Lying down, face-down, eyes closed, I pointed at the keys I had thrown towards the door when we ran into the bulk room when the shooting started. I was slapped and asked to pick it up and with pains and head bowed, I picked up the keys and was led, alongside the H.O.P and C.O to the vault room.
In the vault room, as we carefully and hurriedly opened the safes, I was hit with a long rechargeable lamp that we usually used for lighting within the vault, and asked to put the money in the very large “Ghana-must-go” bag the robbers had brought in with them. (After the robbery, the money was determined to be N18million).
We (me, the H.O.P and C.O) quietly emptied our safes into the bag and then all of a sudden the two guys who had led us to the vault, pointed at me, the only male of the group to carry the bag for them. I was terrified but with tears rolling down my face and Psalm 91 reciting in my head, I complied and carried the extremely heavy bag.
One of the robbers, with his AK-47 rifle pointed at me, led me out to the parked bus in front of the bank, which the robbers arrived with. From the two robbers that came into the bulk room and led us to the vault, to others in the banking hall and more outside, I had counted about 10 to 12 robbers.
After dropping the bag of money in the bus I was led back into the vault by the same guy that led me out and this time he was shouting, “Where the 2nd vault? Where the 2nd vault? I will kill you all now.”
We replied that he had taken everything we had and there was no 2nd vault, pleading with him to spare our lives. He asked us to lie down and go nowhere and then he left. We could hear them shouting codes and driving off in their bus a little while after.
During the 30 to 45 minutes that the robbery lasted, the police did not come close to our premises neither did we hear sirens to signify their arrival. Although unknown to us and the robbers, the police had laid ambush along the exit road out of town through which the robbers would drive. The police ambush was successful and they gunned down the driver of the bus and vehicle somersaulted severally.
The police were then able to capture the rest of the robbers following which we were invited to come and identify them. My branch manager and the H.O.P ( I was still in shock) went to identify them. All this happened within a period of 30 – 45minutes after the robbery. The robbers that didn’t die from the police shoot-out and identified by the H.O.P were killed right there and then in front of her.
Then the shocker: The police claimed that one of the robbers ran away with the bag of money. (How does one individual run with a bag of money I found really difficult to carry?)
A lady, said to have held their charms and reciting incantations while the robbery was on-going was kept alive as the bodies were tossed onto a Toyota Hilux van and conveyed to the state capital, Abakaliki, that evening.
The bank, without making any effort to have its staff treated for trauma, sent in auditors from Enugu, the regional headquarters, to come and scrutinize the books ensuring more stealing did not happen within. They also sent contractors to immediately come and start the process of renovating the premises.
Two days later, as I was watching the 7pm state TV news, the robbery incident was on the news and the state Commissioner of Police (CP) was parading the “charms lady” and weapons used. He said most of the robbers were killed in a gun duel with the police and that only Six thousand, four hundred and forty naira (N6,440.00) was recovered! Yes, you read that right. Only 6,440naira was recovered of the 18million naira I had been forced to carry to the waiting bus. I was flabbergasted!
On the Friday morning following the Tuesday robbery, we (me, the H.O.P, the C.O and I.T staff) were invited to report to the state C.I.D headquarters before 7am. There we were kept in an office and asked to write statements upon statements (I wrote 5 statements) which the officers came in to collect, read and tear before asking us to write another.
We remained there writing statements without food or water until at about 6pm when they said they would detain the I.T staff while the rest of us could go home. The I.T staff was locked up all through the weekend up until Tuesday the following week when his family came to bail him.
After I returned home and analyzed the entire situation while the bank renovation was on-going, I realised that we were not safe. We were the targets of both the armed robbers and the police who could have sent them for all I care. I resigned about 3 weeks after that incident just as the renovation was being completed.
This event, in which luckily no innocent customer or by-stander was killed, brings to mind a million and one pertinent questions:
a) How did the robbers get the kind of guns they possessed and used in the operation? Could it be the police that rented it to them?
b) Who should ensure that the police are well kitted and able to withstand such attacks such that the 5 mobile policemen in our premises wouldn’t have to run away?
c) How possible is it really, that only one robber ran away with such a big bag of money I found very difficult to carry?
d) Why did the police kill all the robbers they had captured if they didn’t have anything to hide, in terms of the missing money and weapons used?
e) Is it possible that the C.P was complicit in the disappearance of the money (18million is no small change) haven been given his share?
f) How come nobody within the police force (A.I.G etc) bothered to further investigate the disappearance of the money and why the robbers were killed?
g) Basically, who will police the Nigerian Police Force to ensure this kind of incidences don’t happen?
To this day, I get jittery whenever I have to spend more that 5minutes in the banking hall and would not wish that experience on anyone.
In light of the present revelations of the state of the Police Training Colleges, we all should know that Nigeria cannot be great with this kind of police force. The Inspector-General, Mohammed Abubakar, as well as the entire police leadership have their work cut out for them. Whether they recognise the enormous task they have to accomplish or have the ability to perform beyond our expectations is a subject for another day. For now, we would keep watching and give them the benefit of doubt.