The brazen manner armed robbers and terrorists go about their destructive activities of late gives no reason for cheer. Rather, it represents another dimension to the current internal security concerns in the country.
In most cases, the robbers and terrorists alike are ferocious, heavily armed and confrontational, ready to maul, and often eliminate every obstacle on their way- sometimes utilising not just firearms, but also dynamites and improvised explosive devices. I shall revisit the IED issue later in this piece. This has forced many banks to shut down their branches in some parts of the country.
The recent robbery attack on Polaris and First banks, at Ile-Oluji, in the Ile-Oluji/Okeigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State, where four police officers on guard duties were killed is the latest of such gruesome incidents. Watching those mangled bodies of the victims was blood- chilling, an indication of how animalistic these criminals have become.
But that was hardly the first of such. Some years ago, three branches of top commercial banks were robbed by these criminals in the university town, Akungba, in the same state. Not too long later there was a sequel. The robbers descended on three other banks at Owo, home to two polytechnic, turning the branches to arches after forcing their way in with dynamites.
Before the attack at Owo, the dare-devils had overrun the police stations and blocked the major road to stave off any access from any reinforcement from the Police Area Command. In October 2017, at Ifon, in Ose Local Government Area, in the same Ondo State, robbers had also carried out similar attack on Skye Bank, (now Polaris Bank), killing two policemen on duty.
While I worked in Akure in the early part of the last decade, in February, 2012, I had witnessed the attack on then Diamond Bank, located on Oba Adesida Road, where four persons, two policemen inclusive met their untimely death. Earlier, frequent attacks on two banks in Ode Irele compelled the management to close down the branches, leaving the local government headquarters with one commercial bank till date.
Obviously, no one needs to second guess while banks come under frequent attack. At a security workshop organised for banks chief security officers sometime ago, answers were given – robbers attack banks because that is where the money is! I will not attempt to divulge the details of what transpired there, because I was a participant in the workshop during my stint in one of the banks as a Regional Security Officer in charge of 32 branches on Lagos Mainland and the South-West.
Funny as it may sound, where else can robber storm and have a heist in the range of N30million to N 200million in one fell swoop? None. Hence in each of the robberies mentioned above, the least the robbers would have carted away was N50million, though bank staff often inflate the figure for personal reasons and in order to increase indemnity from the NDIC.
I can recall that in 1996 when robbers attacked Oyingbo Branch of Wema Bank, Lagos, in a dawn raid, they raked in N36million! As a crime correspondent then, I recall when the then Anti-Robbery Section of the SCID, Panti gave the robbers a chase. Late James Danbaba, as Commissioner of Police, in Lagos later displayed the sum of N16million recovered from the criminals, then led by a Regimental Sergeant Major, whom detectives later traced to his home in Imo State.
For a huge hall, no one is in quandary regarding why bank robbery is common, as it was in the bloody attack on four banks, in Offa, Kwara State, which claimed 33 people, including nine police officers in one-hour operation. The armed robbers in November 2018 planted dynamite at the trap doors of the banks, as they got fire support from their gang members.
Worthy of note is that banks over time have evolved various security strategies, and periodically review existing ones in tandem with contemporary robbers’ operational patterns. This comes naturally because most of banks’ CSOs are either highly trained certified security officers or retirees from the police or some of the security agencies. Besides, they utilise a combination of electronic and intelligence-led security patterns and are exposed to the best international security practices to promote safe and security work place.
Besides internal efforts, Nigerian banks enjoy the support of the Nigeria Police which deploys either security operatives from the PMF or regular policemen from the police formations to support private guards at the branches. In fact, no bank opens for business any day unless they are certain about the presence of these policemen.
Similarly, I am aware that respective Inspectors-General of Police hold periodic meetings with banks CSOs, where they review bank security strategies and make additional suggestions, because they banks constitute a critical sector of the economy and must be given desired attention.
For instance, not only are banks security posts supposed to meet a standard recommended by the IGP’s office, the ballistic resistance capability of the vaults also has a recommended specification.
However, the persistent attacks from this robbers and the brazen manner they execute their horrendous missions, especially in Ondo State call for urgent and productive action. I was appalled during my recent visit to my town in Ondo State that the number of banks in the town has shrunk to one, from the three in the 80s.
When I requested to know why, I was shocked to hear that ex-militants now turned robbers have converted the banks to their personal ATM where they storm at intervals to rob and sometimes kill. This leaves the large population of the town, a local government headquarters with painful banking experience. The crowd and queue are imaginable.
How do we address this bank security issue in Ondo State? Since experts in the art of war often say that weapons are to war what artery is to the body, one can assume, and reasonably so that these armed robbers succeed because they have unfettered access to weapons supply. What is the source of the IEDs used for these deadly operations? Who are these robbers? Why have the police and other security agencies been seemingly incapable of decimating these robbers? Could the gang of the robbers have been infiltrated by terrorists? These and other factors will be addressed in the second part of this piece.