They are saying they will come back in December, that the soldiers and police canâ€™t withstand themâ€™
Auchi, the headquarters of Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, was plunged into another round of confusion on Tuesday as the news of an impending robbery attack filtered into the town.
The residents were panic-stricken as they got wind of a strange letter notifying them about the planned attack.
Traders hurriedly closed shop and scampered for cover. There was a stampede as many residents desperately sought to avoid getting caught in the line of fire.
Residents of the town clearly dread another deadly visit by armed gangs that had perfected the act of plundering and killing innocent people without the least challenge from law enforcement agents.
The members of the Forum of Bankers, who were the worst affected by the persistent robbery attacks in Auchi, were quite apprehensive that afternoon. Still nursing scary memories of the last attacks that took place on Nov. 26, 2012, they were eager to avoid another bloody confrontation with the men of the underworld. So, they had to close shop, too.
A reliable source in the palace of the Otaru of Auchi told Saturday PUNCH on the condition of anonymity that the monarch, Alhaji Haliru Momoh, had immediately summoned the alleged recipient of the strange letter to the palace for more explanation.
â€œThe Otaru has sent for the despatch rider to come and explain how the letter was delivered,â€ said the source.
Letters were said to have been sent to the offices of two new generation banks in the area, informing the workers of the planned attacks. Subsequently, the news had quickly spread around the town and ignited tension among the residents.
In his reaction to the development, the chairman of the Bankers Forum, Mr. Sanusi Bash, described the situation in Auchi as worrisome.
He says, â€œThey wrote a letter and dropped it in the banks. In the letter, they are saying they will come back in December, that the soldiers and police cannot withstand them. We are scared. The government should provide security in the town. We are not attending to customers now and we live in perpetual fear. We will open to customers once we are guaranteed proper security measures. We cannot risk our businesses and personnel.â€
Just as anxiety continues to mount in Auchi, the survivors of the last attack on Nov. 26 are yet to recover from their ordeal.
After that Mondayâ€™s attack, no fewer than 13 families, including the families of three soldiers, grieved over the deaths of their loved ones in a raid that affected four commercial banks in the town.
The police area command office, the divisional police office and the soldiersâ€™ quarters were attacked by the bandits, who blocked the points of exit and entry into the town.
One of the victims of the attack, a young woman named Khadijat, spoke with our correspondent in her residence at Ikpeshi Quarters. She said the attack was like a scene from an action movie.
She said, â€œI was on a commercial motorcycle near First Bank when we saw the assailant. I greeted him, â€˜Good eveningâ€™, but he shot at us. The bike-man died and I was rushed to Central Hospital, from where they removed bullets from my body. Some were not that lucky.â€
The Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Dr. Jude Omoregie, said Khadijat had two pellets lodged in her body. He confirmed that three soldiers were brought in dead to the hospital.
Another survivor, Eric Oleme, told our correspondent he was exploring other means of staying out of harmâ€™s way, should the attackers come visiting again.
Eleme said, â€œMy brother, this one is the height of it; they (bandits) came in and operated unhindered for three hours. Only the soldiers repelled some of them. The soldiers killed one of the bandits that made attempts on the quarters. Apart from that, nothing happened.
â€œI have already contacted my brother and informed him that by Christmas, I am relocating away from here. In the last two years alone, I can count at least four different successful bank robberies in this town, and I am not sure the police ever unravelled any of them.â€
However, Governor Adams Oshiomhole has come down hard on the police for their inability to offer any form of resistance, not to talk of apprehending any of the attackers.
Oshiomhole, during a visit to the town, called for deployment of more personnel and machinery by the police, even as he expressed disgust over the inability of the police to maximise the use of the ones in their possession.
For one, the Armoured Personnel Carrier that was destroyed by the attackers was merely packed in front of the police formation, without anyone manning it, making it easy for the hoodlums to â€˜take it out.â€™
The Acting Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Hurdi, was to rule out the attack as the handiwork of terrorists, apparently to douse perception in some quarters and halt rumours making the rounds that the well planned and coordinated attack was not merely a robbery.
Hurdi said, â€œI have visited all the places and the extent of the damage is what matters. The area command and other banks were affected. These places were destroyed by the dynamite they threw, but in terms of loss, it was only one bank they were able to gain access into. That is where some amount of money which is yet to be ascertained was lost.
â€œAs far as we are concerned, for now, it is robbery and nothing more than that because they were after money, not even after arms, even when they attacked the police station and the area command, nothing happened to the armoury, it was intact. They wanted to demobilise the police, so that they can have access to the bank vaults.â€
What beats the imagination of many residents is that the attack seemed to have defied security measures. Added to this is the easy manner with which the bandits have turned the town to a â€˜sitting duckâ€™ for their attacks.
Auchi town serves as a major exit and entry point to different parts of the country, a fact yet known to security authorities, but which they have not been able to strategise against.
It is rumoured in some quarters that some of those who participated in the attack were in the town long before they struck, while other accomplices were said to have joined from Okpella in Etsako East Local Government Area and Okenne, in Kogi State.
As people go about their activities with tempered fear, the words of the Otaru should at least appeal to the conscience of the attackers and others of equal disposition.
He said, â€œWe want peace and security for the state and for this country.â€