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Midweek FEATURES: Day Owerri bowed to armed robbers

Posted by The Vanguard on 2005/08/10 | Views: 390 |

Midweek FEATURES: Day Owerri bowed to armed robbers

Owerri, the capital city of Imo State, was for a long time regarded as a haven of peace for boasting an enviable record of being immune to violent crimes. But that myth was recently shattered when dare-devil armed robbers invaded the municipality and held all and sundry hostage for several hours.

Owerri, the capital city of Imo State, was for a long time regarded as a haven of peace for boasting an enviable record of being immune to violent crimes. But that myth was recently shattered when dare-devil armed robbers invaded the municipality and held all and sundry hostage for several hours. But the question aggrieved Owerri residents are asking is, where were the men of the Nigeria Police Force when the robbers had a field day robbing a bank and shooting indiscriminatingly at those that got in their way? Chidi Nkwopara reports from Owerri.

There was this candid discussion by some notable and concerned residents and indigenes of Owerri municipality recently. It centred on the ability of the security organizations, especially the Nigeria Police to handle their constitutional roles. The rest of us who are hapless, helpless and unarmed, were also brought into focus.

What triggered the discussion was largely the recent successful onslaught unleashed by armed bandits on a commercial bank in Owerri, which is located along Wetheral Road, a shouting distance away from the State Police Command Headquarters and the Government House. In analyzing the sordid bank robbery and the apparent absence of the Police during the incident, Chiagozie (surname withheld) said he did not see anything unusual about it, arguing that the security agency acted in consonance with its logo, the elephant, a red eagle and sticks (batons).

Pushing his argument further, though to the consternation of his co-discussants, Chiagozie said both the elephant and the eagle are very rarely seen in this day and age. He further reasoned that only the Nigeria Police believe in eagles being red in colour! Can you see what the logo has done to the image and actions or inaction of the Police? “Many Nigerians have neither seen an elephant nor a red eagle! These creatures are rare and many Nigerians may never see them until they die. This may be the only explanation as why the Police were never seen in times of extreme emergency, in Nigeria,” Chiagozie said.

Continuing, the young man accepted that “although anybody who decides to feel the weight of the elephant gets badly hurt, the important thing is getting the animal to move in the first place.” Chinagorom (surname also withheld) who was apparently convinced about Chiagozie’s line of thought, sought to know what sticks (batons) would accomplish in these days of nuclear and sophisticated armament. “Igbos”, she said, “strongly believe there is something in a name” and this time, the logo in question.

Relating this discussion to the actual event of the recent robbery in Owerri and the complete absence of the Police while the ugly incident lasted, it will not be out of place to see a seeming correlation between Chiagozie’s candid analysis and the sad event proper. It is a truism that while the hoodlums were busy carrying out their dastardly operation for over three hours, at the Wetheral Road, Owerri branch of Standard Trust Bank, officers and men of the Nigeria Police looked the other way. Despite the spirited effort of the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Isah Bala Mohammed, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) to convince Imo people that the Command made counter moves against the robbers, the truth remains that the Police never confronted them.

We are aware that the Police Command has a functional armed vehicle. This armoured Police vehicle that was regularly used to intimidate the citizenry and even the unarmed members of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), was not moved on this fateful day, for whatever it was worth. Nigeria Police are noted for telling a lot of stories. The most recent is the Apo Igbo traders who were sadly branded armed robbers after being gruesomely murdered by Police officers. Today, the same Divisional Police Officer who brazenly told the world that his men successfully eliminated six armed robbers is at large!

It is all fake and unending stories by the Police and their image makers. People who have been carefully following the activities of Nigeria Police, will readily admit that it will not be surprising to hear the usual Police stories that the armoured vehicle’s key was either misplaced or that the driver was sick and absent from duty. The robbers must be given their due credit.

Their operation was properly planned and executed with clinical finesse but how they procured their weaponry is, however, another issue. Many observers are of the view that heads of the security agencies, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, State Security Services, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Customs and Excise and all other federal agencies empowered to carry arms, must unravel this knotty issue. Eye witness accounts have it that the rampaging armed robbers hit their prime target at about 1:30 a.m. They stationed their fully armed men at strategic points in Owerri municipality. This effectively put to rest previous stories the citizenry were told of Police patrols at night. What is more intriguing is that the robbers came with all manner of equipment, including iron cutters and welding machines.

Mentioning that they also came with sophisticated weapons is to merely state the obvious, as nearly 2,000 empty shells of AK47 ammunition and empty magazines, were picked from the scene of the robbery and elsewhere. The hoodlums announced their presence by not only firing several gunshots but also warned people residing near the commercial bank and other areas they mounted their sentries that they should remain indoors and do nothing that would draw their anger. The firing was so intense that residents of the municipality thought it was another civil war in the offing. One of such residents, who simply identified herself as Chinyere, said she was frightened beyond description because she never saw such a level of firing in her 35 years as a citizen of Nigeria. Chinyere was prophetic when she told Vanguard Features there was no way that level of firing would end without injuring people.

She was perfectly right as less than 12 hours later, the former Imo State Commissioner for Health, Dr. (Mrs.) Caroline Chika Amadi and her driver, Mr. Kelechi Njoku were seen lying critically on their beds at the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri. The vehicle, in which they were travelling, had been riddled with bullets. The duo who were returning from where they had gone to attend to the medical needs of the former commissioner’s aunt, ran into the siege laid by the robbers along Wetheral Road. One of the bullets merely bruised Dr. Amadi’s skull and tearing her braided hair apart in the process. Her driver had similar bruises on his head and neck. In the end however, some bullets were lodged in some parts of their bodies and that is what the medical personnel are currently battling to remove, as well as save their lives. That could go on record as sheer luck.

The duo can be said to be luckier, when they bled for as long as the armed robbery operation lasted. Reason? The policemen on duty at the Owerri Urban Police Division on that fateful night could not summon enough courage to send the wounded citizens immediately to any hospital. They were only taken to the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, after the robbers had ended their siege on the municipality.

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