Blood in the Banking Halls

In most countries, including those with high crime rates, men of the underworld avoid killing police personnel because it would bring too much trouble. In Nigeria, criminal gangs not only engage police in frequent combat, they sometimes target them for an attack before carrying out their nefarious activities. The situation is so bad that on 23rd November 2016, the then Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris publicly admitted that “in the past three months, the [police] force has lost 128 personnel in various parts of the country due to (the) activities of undesirable elements in our communities.”

Last week in Kogi State, daredevil armed robbers invaded Isanlu community to raid a bank. On arrival in broad daylight, the armed robbers first went to the police station where they gunned down the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and six other personnel (four males and two females) on duty. They then killed another policeman within the premises of the bank they robbed. This has become an all too familiar pattern.

With reports of ransom paid to kidnappers to secure the release of abducted policemen, it is evident that the capacity of the force to protect itself is increasingly being called into question. That eight police personnel and a civilian would be so casually executed by criminals is symptomatic of the state of insecurity in our country. But the concern here is not just the weakness of the police but the growing number of bloody bank robberies in our country. Statistics of fatalities from such robberies is quite chilling and no bank has escaped the scourge. The choice of location, the audacity of attack and the ease with which these hoodlums getaway are some of the issues security agencies must begin to address. They must also look at the complicity of some rogue policemen and that of compromised bank officers.

According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) records, there were 27 bank robberies across the country in 2019 with 12 of them at the United Bank for Africa (UBA) branches. Access Bank and Sterling Bank had four robberies each. Union Bank and Polaris Bank had two each. GTBank, Fidelity and Wema had one each. The highest haul in these robberies was N53.9 million carted away on 24th January 2019 at Polaris Bank in Ila Orangun, Osun State (a policeman and two civilians were killed) followed by N21.8 million taken away from Wema bank in Ise Ekiti (a policeman was also killed) on 3rd October 2019.

In total, from what I gathered, as much as N180 million was lost to the 27 bank robberies last year. This, of course, is no more than a mere token when compared with the quantum of money being stolen by smart Alecs who sit behind computers to rob these same banks and their customers. But that is not the issue here. From the attack in February this year in Ile Oluji, Ondo State, which claimed several victims, including two policemen to the latest in Kogi State, it is clear that bank robbers in Nigeria are not content with simply carting away money. They are also eager to leave a blood trail. That is what should most concern authorities, especially at a time like this.

Ordinarily, there is nothing unusual about bank robberies nor are they peculiar to Nigeria. In the United States of America, hundreds of such robberies are recorded annually. But bank robberies are hardly ever bloody in the US and the culprits are also almost always caught and brought to justice. On 18th January last year, the New York Times published the story of a California bank robber named ‘Travelling Bandit’. He had been declared wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) allegedly for robbing at least seven banks in six states within a month. According to the FBI, the man normally approaches the counter, presents a note demanding money with threats that he held a gun and after taking cash, he would walk away. Exactly five days later, the suspect, Jason Lee Robinson, was arrested. Those are the kind of bank robbers they entertain in America. In contrast, bank robbery in Nigeria is an organised crime that is hardly ever resolved and now costing many police personnel and other civilians their lives.

On 5th April 2018, several armed robbers stormed Offa, Kwara State, raiding five commercial banks, after first attacking the police station where they took out nine officers. The death toll from the attack lasting several hours is now as high as 30. Despite a subsequent breakthrough in the investigation aided by security cameras in one of the banks, nobody has been brought to justice. Meanwhile, the principal suspect, a former operative of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) died in custody under controversial circumstances. Four months later on 9th August 2018, no fewer than 10 persons were killed following a robbery attack at two banks in Igarra, Edo State. On reaching the community, the robbers first paid their ‘customary’ call at the police station where they killed personnel before launching their robbery operation at the bank where they also killed four security men. And on 19th November 2018, two policemen, a security guard and a bank worker were killed when armed robbers invaded a new generation bank in Ijero, Ekiti State. They used the same playbook of ‘visiting’ the police station first.

The foregoing represents just three of several documented cases of bank robberies that have claimed hundreds of innocent lives (police officers, bank workers/customers and bystanders) in recent years. In a country already grappling with insurgency, kidnapping, banditry and other associated crimes, a situation in which armed robbers now use dynamite to break security doors, force their ways into banking halls and kill innocent people, cannot be allowed to continue. Not only has it impacted negatively on economic growth and development at the grassroots, but it has also put the whole financial inclusion idea in serious jeopardy.

In 2012 when a certain Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was governor, the CBN launched the first National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) to reduce the amount of cash transactions in the system and expand access to financial services for more Nigerians. His successor, Godwin Emefiele has done much in the past six years to consolidate this goal. But Emefiele’s target of having 95 percent of Nigerians financially included by 2024 seems farfetched. While that aspiration can be achieved substantially in major cities, the rural areas where the majority of our population still reside remain the issue. The challenge is that as armed robbers target banks domiciled in these communities, people will be further excluded from financial services.

That Nigeria remains a cash economy is a major bane. It is also the reason why corruption thrives. In its report, ‘Financial Inclusion in Nigeria: Data and Hard Facts’ published on 28th September last year, Nairametrics highlighted how financial exclusion has contributed significantly to poverty in our country. “The wealthiest 20 percent of households are at least eight times more likely to have an account than the poorest households. It is no wonder that the poorest states in Nigeria are in the northern region of the country where banks have little to no presence…In spite of these statistics, the majority of the food produced in Nigeria comes from the North,” the report states. In a 2011 poll of unbanked Nigerians, according to Nairametrics, “61% expressed a desire to have an account, but there was no bank close enough to make their simple wishes a reality. Farmers consequently are reliant singly on cash availability despite their wide range of financial needs—for both agricultural activities and family life. They end up indebted and access financial services from informal sources because they cannot access credit from institutional and non-institutional sources.”

With the increasing rate of violent armed robberies that claim lives, including their staff, it is understandable that many of the banks are not keen to expand their branches to rural communities. But we need to make the right calls to create incentives for growth. And there is nothing more urgent than financial inclusivity for our people, especially those living in rural areas. That won’t happen if armed robbers believe they can continue to invade our communities, kill policemen and walk into the bank tills to cart away money they did not deposit.

The threats posed to our country by the COVID-19 pandemic will manifest beyond the health sector. One of the areas we must pay special attention to is security. The crime rate among young people is already high and desperation will push many more into armed robbery. That will render banks in remote areas of our country vulnerable to opportunistic attacks. Authorities at the CBN, NDIC and the Bankers Committee must begin to dialogue with security agencies as to how to combat this major challenge to the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians.

Remembering ‘Apo Six’

Last Sunday marked exactly 15 years since six young Nigerians (a woman and five men) lost their lives in the Apo area of Abuja in one of the most gruesome extra-judicial killings ever perpetrated by police. That the families are still crying for justice for what happened on the night of 7th June 2005 says so much about the rule of law in our country. Although six policemen were involved in the premeditated murder, only two were eventually found guilty for their roles and accordingly sentenced to death. But the acquittal of Mr Danjuma Ibrahim (now an Assistant Inspector General of Police) has continued to generate controversy. A Deputy Commissioner of Police at the time, Danjuma led the gang that was indicted for the crime.

Both the police probe panel, chaired by then-Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG), Mr. Mike Okiro (who later became IGP) and the federal government judicial panel of inquiry, chaired by Justice Olasumbo Goodluck, found all six policemen cul¬pable. There were also cover-up attempts that resulted in the murder of a policeman by poisoning. This was exposed during the investigations that followed the Apo killings. While Okiro recommended the dismissal of the six officers, Justice Goodluck asked the federal government to ten¬der a public apology and pay N3 million compensation to each family of the deceased. The financial compensation has since been paid but there can be no closure until all the police officers involved in that unprovoked extra-judicial killings are brought to justice.

Incidentally, in April 2012, the Centre for Victims of Extra-Judicial Killings and Torture (CVEKT) had reported that between 2008 and 2011, a total of 7,198 extra-judicial killings were carried out in Nigeria by the police. It was that culture of total disregard for human life that emboldened a murderous police gang to do what they did to some young people who were returning home from a nightclub on 7th June 2015.

Since there seems to be an agreement between the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and police authorities to allow ‘the sleeping dog to lie’ on this matter, families of the victims are now completely helpless. But that tragedy remains a permanent stain on our collective conscience as a nation.

Death in Bujumbura

The death on Monday of President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi speaks to the vanity of human wishes. After spending ten years in power, the late Nkurunziza decided in 2015 to rewrite the Constitution so he could seek a third term in office. That move precipitated a serious crisis in a country regarded as one of the poorest in the world. He eventually had his way but not before hundreds of protesting Burundi citizens were killed.

Following another constitutional change adopted after a fraudulent referendum in 2018, Nkurunziza got the latitude to stay in office until 2034. Apparently sensing that his luck was running out, he announced in December that year that he would be leaving office at the expiration of the current term in August. And in the controversial presidential election held last month, his anointed candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, was declared the winner. But the late Nkurunziza had his plan. In February, the rubberstamp Burundi National Assembly passed a law making him the country’s “supreme guide for patriotism” and was billed to remain chairman of the ruling party’s powerful council of elders. The idea was for him to continue to run the show in Burundi after leaving office as president.

But all the cold calculations have now been rendered null and void by coronavirus. And it is most instructive that Nkurunziza died on June 8, the same day 22 years ago that the late General Sani Abacha died in Nigeria. There must be a lesson there for all who attempt to play god with power: It is a most precarious game!

• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com

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