Oba Moses Etombi, Agbana of Isanlu, where armed robbers recently robbed a bank and killed nine persons – eight policemen and one civilian, tells GBENGA ODOGUN about the incident and how the community has been dealing with it
Eight policemen and a civilian were recently killed by an armed robbery gang in Isanlu, where were you on the day of the incident?
As a traditional ruler, I was at the palace attending to issues when suddenly we heard gunshots coming from where a bank that was robbed is located, which is not far from the palace here. That was some minutes before 4pm on a Thursday.
It was very unusual; we didn’t have any problem prior to the unfortunate incident. When we heard the gunshots, we knew something terrible was happening. I started calling all the security agencies; I called the divisional police officer on his mobile phone line but he did not pick up. Within few minutes, the whole town knew armed robbers were in town and had earlier attacked the divisional police headquarters where the DPO and other officers were killed.
How did you react afterwards?
Eventually, somebody picked up the DPO’s phone and said they were under attack at the station. I called the Nigerian Army and they said they had no vehicle but would inform some of their colleagues in this area. They said some of their colleagues had gone to Kabba to enforce the lockdown that was in place at that time and were already moving towards the scene. I called the Department of State Services and they said they were already aware of it. We could hear the gunfire; it was just too much. Everybody was afraid so we were all indoors.
Had the town ever experienced anything like that?
No, we had never experienced something like that; that was the first time we would experience such a thing.
Do you think there were security lapses that allowed the robbery to be successful?
This is not the time to apportion blame but there were some security lapses here and there which we complained about to the deputy governor (Edward Onoja) when he visited last week.
When something like this happens, it is a wake-up call to everyone that we need to rejig our security apparatus and personnel. We should not be blaming anyone but we need to improve our security system.
What steps have been taken so far to prevent a reoccurrence?
The deputy governor led a delegation here. Also, the state commissioner of police, assistant commissioner of police and some government delegations have visited us and we have made our positions known to them. We told them that the number of security officers here should be increased. The security agencies will have to be decentralised because right now, they are all concentrated in the same place. The command office of the police, DSS and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps are all located in the same place. Only the army barracks is located on the outskirts of the town; this has to be addressed and we have made that known. I attended a security meeting recently and representatives of all the security agencies were present. We analysed what went wrong, where we were and where we needed to be.
As you know, Isanlu is big and we have many exit points. We are surrounded by many tribes. Even though we are not ascribing blame to any tribe as investigation is still ongoing, we came to the conclusion that we needed to check all our surrounding towns, villages and other settlements. We need to improve security presence and we also realised that our intelligence gathering was not good enough. Our hotels need to be checked; we need to check their manifests. Since everyone is involved, we are going to set up a task force to monitor our exit points. We are going to be conscious about security such that when we see strange faces or any suspicious movements in our neighbourhoods, towns and villages, we will be able to report such.
Do you suspect any persons of being behind the attack?
Right now, everybody is a suspect. And because something like this had never happened before, we cannot ascribe it to any particular person or group. It appeared like a sponsored attack because it was very expensive considering the explosives that were used; it was not an ordinary robbery incident.
Can you say with confidence that the perpetrators were not from this town?
We will not be able to say that because of the way they operated. It is possible the attackers are people familiar with the terrains of the community. It is possible that there are some feudal lords in the community that aided them, but we will still not be able to say for now because that was the first time such a thing would happen. We were living peacefully here and our community, Isanlu in Yagba East Local Government Area, had always been the most peaceful local government area in the state.
What assurance have you been able to give to your people about their safety?
With the efforts of the state government, the commissioner of police and all the security agencies that promptly deployed personnel in the town, we have been able to assure our people that there is no cause for alarm. They should relax and go about their normal activities.
Have you met with the management of the bank that was robbed?
No, but we met with government officials who told us that the manager had travelled to Lokoja. You know, they shut down the bank so there is no official there to meet with. The ones we know said that the management had instructed them not to talk or grant any interview, but we have gone round the bank premises and seen the damage.
Are you satisfied with how security agencies and the state government responded to the incident?
Yes, I’m very satisfied. We are not happy the incident happened but we are really satisfied with the response of the government, particularly that of Governor Yahaya Bello, who sent his deputy, Edward Onoja, and other top government officials to commiserate with us. I learnt the governor provided N10m for the burial of the victims.
This is a welcome development even though no amount of money can replace the lives that were lost. Also, as soon as it happened, detachments of police officers were drafted to Isanlu to secure lives and property.