The Moment (London)

Nigeria: 2011 - Year of Bank Robberies

analysis

Emeka Ibemere and Oghenedoro ONOFURHO review the spate of bank robberies this year and highlight the need for the Federal Government, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the banking industry and security agencies to protect financial institutions.

The banking sector will not forget the year 2011 in a hurry, even as it wraps up financial activities for this year in few weeks.

Financial institutions in Nigeria, for once, shut down transactions not because they couldn't meet up with the fiscal requirement and conditions of lending of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), but because of the activities of daredevil robbers, who operated with impunity throughout the year, with the finance houses as prime targets.

The robbers took over many banking halls and unleashed terror and financial losses on banks in Nigeria. They equally sacked bank workers and customers in several parts of the country, carting away the contents of bullion vans, vaults, bags of cash and other valuables.

In the course of the raids, the robbers maimed passersby and killed bank customers, bank workers, policemen and private security personnel attached to banks.

From January to December, bank robberies took the centre stage of the Nigeria, media featuring gory accounts of how robbers killed, maimed and stole huge sums of money.

According to reports, over 100 branches of different banks were robbed in the last 12 months, while over 30 people were killed. Five humdred customers, bank workers and passersby were hit and injured by stray bullets from the guns of robbers in different raids.

The ugly situation forced several banks in some states to close down their banking halls for weeks. It also forced the banks to jettison the use of armored bullion vans and helicopters were used to ferry huge sums of money during transfer from Central Bank (CBN) to their branches, to evade the rampaging robbers.

Aside from robbers, hoodlums, kidnappers and Boko Haram fundamentalists focused on banks and wrecked havoc on the structures and buildings of banks.

Several banks were blown up with grenades, bombs and other explosives that rocked the banking halls for easy access.

Kidnapping also led to the closure of some banks for one month.

Bank robbery rates increased from what it used to be in the past because of the deteriorating security situation that the country witnessed this year. The robbers become so inhumane that every time a bank was robbed, dead bodies were left in their wake.

In January, Lagos witnessed four mobile policemen arrested in connection with a bank robbery at the Owutu, Ikorodu, branch of a new generation bank.

Investigation by detectives at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, (SARS), Lagos State Command, disclosed that the policemen were on their way back from a successful robbery when they were arrested.

Detectives on stop-and-search patrol allegedly apprehended the police-in-uniform-robbers when they flagged them down for a search.

It was gathered that the policemen-turned-robbers introduced themselves as policemen to their colleagues on duty and displayed their identification cards.

But not satisfied, the detectives apprehended them. They later confessed to have robbed a bank in Ikorodu in January; they broke into the bank's vault, carted away millions of naira, and left the bank unchallenged.

Police sources said the leader of the gang was a sergeant who was promoted to the rank of an inspector this year. Another one was attached to the port terminal, Apapa.

It was gathered that they were five in number, but the fifth policeman, a corporal, escaped when he got wind of his colleagues' arrest.

Also, banks in Ijebu, Sagamu and Abeokuta shut their gates against customers for weeks, after suffering losses to robbers.

The closure, which the bank authorities said would be indefinite, triggered biting cash crunch and panic. The Ogun State Bank Managers Committee (OSBMC), issued a communiqué after a meeting held at the Abeokuta branch of the CBN, saying banks would not re-open for operations in the three senatorial districts until there was an 'assurance of safety of lives and cash.'

All 35 members of the committee at the meeting said they had pleaded with Governor Ibikunle Amosun to provide Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and at least 10 Hilux vehicles as well as a security summit to address the threats to banking institutions.

They relived the recent experience of a bank, where a year's profit was lost to robbers in one raid, stressing that they would not 'budge' in their chosen cause, until their 'demands are met'.

According to the bankers, they had planned to assist the police in refurbishing and repairing the two malfunctioning APCs, but got bogged down by the N23 million bill needed to put them in shape. 'Huge investment is required; that is why we are trying to see how we can partner with the people for assistance,' the bankers said.

Furthermore, in April 2011, a police constable, Oche Andrew, and two others were arrested for alleged conspiracy and armed robbery on a new generation bank.

Also in the northern states of the country, gunmen from a radical Muslim sect raided a town in the early hours of Sunday, December 4, bombing police stations and robbing banks simultaneously in an attack that killed at least six people, authorities said.

The sect bombed two police stations in the city and robbed local branches of Guaranty Trust Bank and Intercontinental Bank, Bauchi police commissioner, Ikechukwu Aduba, said.

One police officer, one soldier and four civilians were killed during the five-hour attack.

Last month, a gang of daredevil armed robbers attacked banks in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, where millions of naira were carted away and no police surfaced until the end of the raid.

On November 26, Explosions and heavy gunfire echoed Saturday night throughout Geidam, Yobe State, in northeast Nigeria. The attack began at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the city of Geidam, which sits near the country's arid border with the Republic of Niger.

'We started hearing a deafening blasts, boom, boom, said witness Grema Umaru, 39, 'with sporadic gunshots near the police station.' Umaru said she believed the attackers also targeted a nearby First Bank branch.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011 was a date for some banks in Edo State, as they came under attack by robbers.

Two people were feared dead and seven others injured when armed robbers attacked a new generation bank in Uromi, Esan North East Local Government Area, Edo State.

Eyewitness accounts said the robbers stormed the new generation bank in Uromi with at about 8.30 a.m. and shot sporadically into the air, forcing people, including riot policemen at different checkpoints in the area, to scamper for safety.

One of the witnesses said, 'Two dead bodies were seen after the robbers left the scene but we are yet to know who the people are. Many people in that area sustained gunshot injuries and we rushed them to Irrua for treatment.

'There was no resistance from the police and that is sad because you see lot of checkpoints in Uromi, but when this robbery happened the policemen all ran into the bush.'

A gang of about 20 robbers also invaded a branch of another bank in the state on May 31, 2011, killing five people and injuring 12 others.

The bandits were reported to have carted away an undisclosed amount of money in the robbery, which occurred just as banks in Ado-Ekiti closed suddenly, following unconfirmed reports that gunmen were on their way to attack them.

The rumour forced security agents to intensify patrol around areas where banks are located.

The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Mohammed Jimoh, told The Moment on the telephone that there was no robbery in the state, but that the police were not taking chances.

A gang of robbers also invaded a new generation bank in Ayobo area of Ayobo-Ipaja Local Council Development Area, Lagos State.

Police sources confirmed that the robbers were armed with dynamites and other weapons. They stormed the bank at about 1.30 a.m. and blew up the vault of the bank during the operation which lasted for about three hours.

They also broke the bank's automated teller machine and stole an unspecified sum of money. Residents of the area, who witnessed the robbery attack, told The Moment that it was as if there was war, as the robbers were shooting throughout the time the robbery lasted.

The police were said to be helpless because of the more sophisticated weapons the robbers used.

It was reported that the robbers came in through the Ayetero-Ijele, Ogun State, boundary and escaped through the same route after their raid.

That was not all: a gang of 12 robbers, on December 3, raided two banks on the outskirts of Suleja, Niger State, a few meters from Dikko Market, near the NNPC deport, and carted away the sum of N20 million from the two banks.

A bank source said the robbers arrived the premises of both Zenith and Keystone banks in a Toyota Hilux van and started shooting sporadically at pedestrians, some of who were forced to lie on the street to avoid the bullets of the gunmen.

It was also reported that the robbers trailed a bullion van belonging to Zenith Bank, and decided to swoop on the van when they spotted only a few security personnel within the premises of the bank.

'They carted away about N18 million from Zenith Bank while they got N1.8 million from Keystone Bank as well as molested a female banker with Zenith Bank,' a witness said.

The source also confirmed that the robbers, who were unperturbed during the operation, took almost 30 minutes to dislodge both staffers and customers before they drove out in their vehicle and headed towards Kaduna Road, even with the heavy roadblocks mounted along the highway by officers of the Joint Task Force.

The Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Maishanu, who confirmed the incident, said that two pistols, five cartridges and nine empty containers of used ammunition were discovered after the robbery robbery.

Maishanu, who described the incident as very unfortunate, explained that all the victims who were caught in the crossfire during the robbery in the two banks were taken to the Suleja General Hospital and have been responding to treatment.

To add to the woes of Nigerian banks, a dew weeks back, about 15 armed robbers invaded one new generation bank, located along the busy Oyemekun Road in Akure, Ondo State, and carted away an unspecified amount of money.

Four persons died during the robbery as a result of stray bullets that hit them in different locations, as the robbers shot sporadically to scare away people.

It was gathered that one of those hit by stray bullets included the Secretary of a local branch of the National Union of Road Transport Workers.

In Ikare Akoko, Akoko North East Local Government Area, Ondo State, about three bank robberies were recorded this year.

In Auchi, Edo State, banks were forced to close down after a foiled robbery of a bank branch.

The robbery in Saminaka, in Kaduna State, witnessed a serious banking robbery when robbers burnt down the local police station, killing a police inspector in the gunfire battle, before robbing a bank.

The Kabba, Kogi State bank robbery still leaves its dent on the police command in the state. Gunmen shot dead two officers after blowing up a police station and attacked a bank branch there.

During the robbery incidents at Sabo Ajegunle, in Sagamu Local Government Area of Ogun State, robbers attacked four banks with dynamites and carted away a huge amount of money. The hoodlums killed about 12 people.

While the one that happened in Ago-Iwoye in Ijebu North Local Government, Ogun State was not successful, three persons lost their lives when the robbers' attempt to rob some banks in the premises of Olabisi Onabanjo University failed.

In Eket, armed robbers attacked two commercial banks in the Southern Akwa Ibom State. The banks, which located on opposite sides of Grace Bill Road, were attacked between 3am and 5am. The robbers somehow got wind of the PDP's heavy movement of cash to execute the presidential polls and decided to go for a piece of the pie.

The robbery reportedly took PDP officials by surprise but the consequent closure of other banks did not help, as it frustrated their efforts to make alternative arrangements.

A source confirmed that the robbers had enjoyed access to the bank vaults. According to the source, there were proof that the robbers used explosives to force their way into the bank strong room and that as many as eight dynamites were used in the operation. It was also reported that during the operation, the robbers were also shooting intermittently.

The robbers did not leave out banks in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers state. Over five different armed robbery incidents were recorded in one week. Three police officers under the overhead bridge were killed.

No fewer than six persons were killed in a broad day light bank robbery attack in Kwale, Ndokwa West local government of the state. It was gathered that the daredevil robbers stormed the banks located along Umasadage Road at about 2 p.m. and detonated dynamites on two of the banks before carting away millions of naira.

Charles Muka, the state police command image-maker, who confirmed the story, said the robbers abandoned their vehicles, but that one of the robbers was gunned down.

In Lagos, September salary of scores of policemen in Lagos State suffered a wild fate when N11.7 million meant for their salaries was stolen.

Reports revealed that the money was stolen from the Nigerian Police Force Micro Finance Bank situated within Ikeja Police College at GRA. The money was paid into the bank on a Friday and there was no sign of burglary when it was discovered missing.

They were directed to go to another branch of the microfinance bank at Obalende for the payment of their salaries. Eight armed robbers stormed a new generation bank in Fagba area of Ifako-Ijaiye, in Lagos State, southwest Nigeria, and attacked the security guards, killing one and overpowering two others. The robbers destroyed the bank's Automatic Teller Machine, ATM, to gain access into the banking hall.

The source could not confirm if the robbers could access the bank's vault but it was believed they were able to cart away millions of naira.

A bank robbery, which occurred on the 19 October 2011 at Diamond Bank Plc., along Ikwere Road, Port Harcourt, Rivers state left two people dead.

According to witnesses, a gang of about six robbers stormed the premises of the bank, attacked a Toyota Hilux truck belonging to Songhai Farms Limited, an agricultural company, and shot the driver and his escort, a police officer dead.

Witnesses said the robbers, who came in a gold-coloured Toyota Camry sedan, had no difficulties in getting to the bank, as police officers that were at checkpoints along Ikwere road took to their heels when the armed men started shooting sporadically.

However, a team of security agents from the Mile One, Diobu Division, located a few meters from the crime scene, were said to have arrived after the robbers had left.

Security experts told The Moment that bank workers are guilty of the robbery attacks on their banks. Equally, they blamed the recruitment process of some banks that employ people without knowing them well or investigating about them before employment.

According to a private security, managing director in one of the organizations, who wouldn't want his name mentioned, most of such organizations recruit robbers unknown because the owners of such private security organizations guiding banks were never professionals.

Last week, the operations manager and the accountant of a new generation bank were implicated in an armed robbery incident in which more than N7.3m was carted away in Azare, Bauchi State. Two other employees are being investigated over another attack on a similar bank where more than N25m was stolen.

Bauchi State Police Commissioner, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba said, 'The crime was perpetrated based on organised conspiracy masterminded by some unscrupulous bank officials'. He alleged that the stolen money had been removed in advance, and the bombing of the banks was merely a decoy to hoodwink security agents and members of the public.

'In the first bank robbery, where N7.3m was stolen, its vault was quite intact and undamaged by explosives and the keys to the vaults were still seen hanging on the locks on the arrival of detectives'. He described it as a clear case of 'constructive breaking'.

In the second bank, he said investigations showed that the damage and after-effect of the explosion was a manifestation of interconnectivity of planted bombs within the banking hall.

Experts further revealed that the bombs were planted well in advance and programmed to detonate between 11.30pm and 12midnight and that was exactly what happened and the explosions that erupted thereafter, completely brought down virtually the banking hall and mangled the vaults, and under such intensive heat created by the blast; no human being could have entered the hall and survived the inferno, let alone removing a lump sum of N25, 136,750.00'.

Aduba said the police were also working on the possibility that the company purportedly invited to fumigate the bank premises on December 3 planted the bombs especially as the building purportedly fumigated was new.

Investigations revealed that the money was removed in advance and the bomb planted and made to detonate later was to serve as a convenient cover.

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