Daily Trust (Abuja)

17 November 2012

Nigeria: Kano Bureau De Change Operators, Police Bicker Over Attack

Kano — The withdrawal of 30 mobile policemen attached to a Kano bureau de change market and the attack on the market by suspected armed robbers few days latter raises concern in the centre of commerce.

Following the deadly robbery attack on Wapa, the biggest foreign exchange market in Kano last Tuesday, bureau de change operators at the market and the state police command were locked in bitter dispute over the alleged withdrawal of 30 mobile policemen earlier attached to the market.

While the currency operators accused the police authorities of withdrawing the security agents without informing them, the police maintained that the withdrawal was at the instance of the market officials who the police said cited customers' discomfort about their presence.

Wapa was said to be bubbling with activities on the fateful day, when an armed gang of suspected robbers numbering about 15, reportedly stormed a building housing a collection of currency exchange shops and carted away more than N70 million in both local and hard currencies.

The attack, one of many in the market in the recent past, led to the death of one person, while three others were injured, according to market officials.

Weekly Trust learnt that the bandits, who hid their rifles under their garments and posed as customers parked their vehicles and motorcycle in a quiet street in Fagge, the area hosting the market.

They were said to have gained access into the building where they carried out the robbery with the help of one Mukhtari, an attendant working with one of the currency shops who mistook them as customers.

The gang members, it was gathered shot and killed Mukhtari immediately they gained access into the building.

"Initially, people suspected their motives and denied them access to the building. It was the person they killed that recognized them as regular visitors and allowed them inside. "Once inside, they killed him and locked the gates from inside," Alhaji Auwalu Umar Magaji, the head of the market's trade union told our Weekly Trust.

He said the bandits in their attempt to scare away people after the robbery, also fired shots that injured three other people.

Umar, who displayed three loaded magazines of AK-47 rifle, allegedly abandoned by the robbers, said the attack commenced around 12:30pm when activities were at peak and lasted for more than half an hour.

"Some of them [robbers] were stationed outside, as the others made their way into the building which was attacked," he said, adding that despite reporting the attacks during its early stages to various security outfits including a police station in Fagge , no security agents were dispatched to the scene until after the robbers had fled.

"The two policemen that were stationed here took to their heels and we contacted various security outfits located far and near the market, but they did not come until the robbers were gone," he lamented.

In his estimation of the extent of the loss suffered by the victims of the attack Umar said about N70 million was stolen by the robbers.

"Many of the victims are yet to report back to the market because they are still at home grieving over their losses. Therefore we cannot ascertain the true amount that was lost until they resume. The house that was attacked is still closed", he said.

The Kano State Police Command in a statement by its spokesman, ASP Magaji Musa Majiya confirming the incident, said it deployed 30 mobile policemen and stationed them at "strategic" places at Wapa some months ago. But it said two weeks after the deployment, the market officials requested for their withdrawal, saying "the police presence is disturbing their customers".

The statement read: "The Kano State Police Command with deep regret on 'WAPA Bureau de Change robbery' wishes to state that some months ago, the Command deployed 30 armed Policemen at strategic exits at the market.

"Two weeks after the deployment, the WAPA Chairman and some of the market officials came to the State Headquarters and requested the withdrawal of the Policemen around the market saying that the Police presence is disturbing their customers and that even a woman had miscarriage as a result of the police presence there. Based on the request of the community, the Police Commissioner directed the withdrawal of the men to the nearest Police stations at Fagge.

"It is also pertinent to state that WAPA is not a conventional market; it is made of residential houses and the robbers came from behind the area and walked to the house on foot posing as customers. They quietly entered and locked the house were transaction was going on.

"The robbers subsequently trekked to where they parked their motor cycle and Golf car and melted into the nooks and crannies of Fagge Quarters. After the robbery when escaping they fired into the air to scare people for them to escape freely that is when people knew what was happening. It was then that a Good Samaritan ran to the nearest JTF Point at PHCN to report there. The robbers fled before the arrival of the JTF and a team of policemen.

"The Command in its effort to arrest the culprits, is working closely on the clues at the scene of the robbery. So far two major suspects have been declared wanted...As we call on the general public especially traders of Wapa Bureau de change market to assist the police with any information that will lead to the arrest of suspects. Any information will be treated with high confidentiality".

However, the chairman denounced the claims by the police authorities that the 30 mobile police officers that were stationed at the market were removed because of complaints from his association.

"I read the claim in the papers and I want to say it is not true. What happened was that the 30 policemen who were brought to the state from Port Harcourt because of the security challenges on ground, were stationed here and we were the ones paying for their three square meals daily.

"We used to pay them N30,000 every day throughout the four weeks they were with us in this market.

"But at a point we realized that they were blocking the roads because there was no place to house them, so we advised the commissioner to station them at nearby Fagge Division, which they initially did. But we found out later that the policemen were moved to Yola and they told us that they will be brought back," he said.

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