Last Friday, complete pandemonium took over the ancient town of Otukpo, the South District of Benue state town, nick-named “Texas” by residents.
That day, daredevil armed men in a commando fashion stormed five commercial banks in the town in a manner never seen before by residents of the town.
The armed men who were said to have assailed the town on motorbikes had earlier attacked Otukpo Police Station where they disarmed the personnel on duty and carted away arms and the two operational vehicles at the station.
After effectively taking charge of the police station, the invaders who could be well over 20, moved to the commercial banks which are all located within the heart of the town and a stone’s throw from each other.
How security barriers were ripped open
With the use of explosives and sophisticated weapons, all security barriers in the banks were ripped apart, allowing the armed men easy access to the banks and their vaults. Huge sums of money were reportedly carted away by the marauders who also seized a car from one of the banks.
The bloody attack also claimed the lives of some police personnel and bank customers who were trapped in the bank premises when the armed men struck. Among those who lost their lives in the bloody attack were, Otukpo Divisional Police Officer, DPO, who was an indigene of the area, Superintendent John Adikwu and three other police personnel including a female police officer, Emmanuella Ankyov.
Also on the list of those who were felled by the bullets of the armed men were the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Township Ward 1 Chairman, Mr. George Uloko, a staff of UBA, Emmanuel Uche who recently joined the bank after having completed his Youth Service.
After accomplishing their task, the armed men drove confidently through the town, heading towards the Otukpo-Aliade road with their loot.
Attack expected because of lack of synergy
However, police sources in Otukpo said the attack was not a surprise based on the prevailing security situation in the town before it happened. According to sources, the real cause of the attack was the lingering power play between the police in Oturkpo and the Benue state government. “Members of the vigilante group in Otukpo are mainly made up of retired police personnel and retired but active criminals. They have been against each other, drawing bad blood in a supremacy battle.
There’s no synergy between the vigilante men and the police. While the Vigilante men don’t consult the police, the police do not seek the input of the Vigilante men in any way.
State government insensitivity to security
To worsen the matter, the police force in the state is banking on support from the state government. It has become the normal practice for the police to rely on state governors for operations in the state. This is because of the poor funding they face.
Security usually breaks down in any state where the government doesn’t fully back the police. police sources in Benue say the new government has not invested in them.
Military swings into action
It was, however, gathered that the gang had not gone far when the military and other security agencies gave them a hot chase and intercepted them before neighbouring Taraku in Gwer Local Government Area, LGA, where an exchange of gunfire ensued.
The security person successfully neutralized two members of the gang and recovered one of the snatched vehicles while other members of the gang escaped into the forests.
The State Police Command in a statement confirming how the armed men went berserk in Otukpo stated that “on October 20, 2023, at about 4:15 pm, armed robbers invaded Access bank, First bank, Zenith bank, UBA and Stanbic bank in Otukpo simultaneously.
The Divisional Police Officer in charge of Otukpo, CSP. John Adikwu and other Police teams in the area engaged them in a gun dwell but were unable to prevent the attack on the banks.
More Police teams, in collaboration with other security agents, were deployed to Otukpo to assist in stabilizing the area and prevent these robbers from escaping.
DPO confirmed dead
“The robbers who were intercepted along Otukpo-Taraku road engaged officers in a gun duel and two of the robbers died in the process. Other gang members abandoned their vehicles and escaped into the forest area and are being chased by the police.
The DPO who sustained a gunshot injury on his stomach and three other police officers have been confirmed dead at the hospital. Other persons who sustained injuries in the bank have been moved to hospital for treatment. Investigation is ongoing at the moment. The command also promised that the fleeing armed men would be apprehended and brought to justice.”
Residents still in shock
While residents of the town are still in shock and are yet to come to terms with how the bandits sneaked into the town and audaciously operated and pulled out seamlessly, not a few have gone into fervent prayers to have them arrested.
One of the witnesses, identified as Ene who said she owned a shop close to Zenith Bank and saw how it happened said that about 3:30pm “we suddenly started hearing sounds of gunfire and explosion.
“People started running in different directions. Nobody knew what was happening. It was like what we used to see in the movies. Young men numbering about 20, carrying guns marched into the bank and started shooting, ransacking the bank.
At this time, everyone started wailing and running. Even a customer who came to buy some goods in my shop that afternoon had his car badly damaged by the explosives. He ran and left his car in front of my shop.
“From that bank, they moved to another until they visited the five banks. The operation lasted about an hour. The people of Otukpo town were held hostage for an hour. There was no police or vigilante to come to their rescue.
We did not know that before the attack on the banks, the gang had already demobilized the police. They earlier attacked Otukpo Police Station, disarmed them and locked up the gate of the station.
Police station was attacked first
“Not knowing what happened, we thought that the police ran and locked their gate. We did not know that they were the first to be attacked by the criminals.
In the course of robbing the banks, they killed innocent people who were out trying to eke a living in this difficult time, leaving several families in mourning.
After successfully robbing the bank, we even learned that they threw some of the loot into the street as
they confidently drove past and headed towards Taraku-Aliade Road.
“But shortly after, we learned that some military personnel and the police had gone after them and two of the robbers were gunned down while others escaped into the forests. Our prayer is for every one of them to be arrested and punished accordingly.”
Traditional ruler of Oturkpo reacts
The traditional ruler of Otukpo, Och Otukpo Odu, HRH John Eimonye who was also saddened by the attack on his domain described the incident as highly condemnable and evil.
The Royal Father assured that security personnel are on the trail of the criminals so they will certainly not escape.
He appealed to his subjects to be vigilant and security conscious and always report strange movements in their neighborhoods to law enforcement agencies.