Special Report

BULLETS, BLOOD AND LOADS OF CASH (I): Upsurge in deadly bank heists in Southwest Nigeria; Osun bankers working in fear, anxiety

Nigeria is battling insecurity in the Northwest and Northcentral regions, with banditry the prevalent challenge. The insurgent group, Boko Haram and its splinter, Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), have continued to unleash mayhem in the northeast. In the Southwest, apart from occasional kidnappings, armed attacks on commercial banks is the new face of terror. In the last one year, several financial institutions have been raided: in Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states.

Investigative journalist Ridwan Yusuf spent 18 days digging into this fresh threat in southwestern Nigeria.
In the first of this three-part series, he expounds on the criminal act of bank robbery and its effects on Osun-based commercial bank employees, locals and security operatives, especially the police.

Close-knit towns, Apomu and Ikire in Osun state, southwest Nigeria, serve as trade centres for people of that zone.

The communities are blessed with a conducive climate and relative peace, but that tranquility would be breached on 2 June 2021 when at about 6:00 PM West Africa Time (WAT), roughly 35 armed robbers – most of them masked – came in five vehicles and simultaneously attacked First Bank Limited, Ikire; Access Bank plc, Apomu; and a police station.

First Bank, Ikire

Seven people were killed by the assailants in the operation which lasted for about 45 minutes.

Akinyemi Mujahid witnessed the chaos. He was exchanging pleasantries with some of his friends, and within minutes, the sound of gunshots rented the air, leaving everyone confused.

“We thought it was the cult members,” Mujahid says, recounting the horrible event. “The robbers accessed the towns through Ikoyi Junction road. Upon entering, they used explosives to demobilise the Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and proceeded to shoot dead my friend, Oladimeji Alowonle, and several others.”

Late Oladimeji Alowonle

Alowonle, 40, had just been recruited for community policing. In fact, he had not spent up to two months in the service.

Although the robbers were unable to gain access into the bank’s vaults and fled when the militia group, Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) gave them a hot pursuit, they already wreaked havoc.

Map showing the southwest region of Nigeria (Area covered in this study). |  Download Scientific Diagram

In 2021, Nigeria police found it hard foiling bank robberies in Osun State. Innocent members of the public and the security agents themselves were victims of this deadly onslaught by daring men of the underworld; no fewer than 13 persons died in that axis.

In most cases, commercial banks in remote communities and isolated locations are the target of these unabated attacks.

NewsWireNGR‘s findings revealed that in recent times, four bank robberies have been recorded in Odo–Otin, Ifelodun and Boripe Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Osun State.

The alarm bell rings for the Nigerian banking sector. Locals and bankers in the Southern axis now live, work and trade in fear.

“I won’t lie: at work, I am genuinely afraid. Psychologically, I’m affected. You know one cannot tell when the robbers would strike,” Gabriel Oputah, an Access Bank teller at Lagere area of Ile-Ife, Osun – just 47 kilometres away from Ikire – told NewsWireNGR.

“I feel more security mechanisms should be put in place.”

The institutions permitting early closure of the banking hall “so that staff can vacate the premises as early as possible”, Oputah says, might help curtail the menace.

The real name of the bank staff is concealed because he is not authorised to speak to journalists on matters pertaining to the organisation.

Iree shaken

Two months after the Ikire and Apomu mayhem, bank robbers struck again. This time, in Iree, Boripe Local Council of Osun State.

The heavily armed bandits, numbering over 20, stormed the community in about four vehicles around 3:40 p.m. on 5 August 2021, and unhinderedly raided two commercial banks (UBA and Access Bank). Both financial institutions are located around Osun State Polytechnic Junction, within the town. They carted away an undisclosed amount of money from the bank.

Access Bank, Iree, after the robbery attack on 5 August 2021.

Two persons – a student and an indigene – were shot dead while others sustained injuries as the robbers were escaping from the scene.

One of the casualties was Dauda Jelili Aladeokin, a Police Constabulary. Ruth Aladeokin, the slain officer’s wife, held her chest in agony as tears flowed freely. “He only told me he got a job, not knowing he received his death,” she said.

Late Dauda Jelili Aladeokin

Immediately the robbers arrived, they shot sporadically into the air to scare the passersby and the occupants of UBA and Access Bank.

One of the staff of UBA who does not want to be named as she is not authorised to speak to the press said of the day: “It was really terrible.”

Owing to the fact that the bank workers did not want to jeopardise their own safety, they “cooperated” with the robbers, following their direction and putting their heads down. “Those guys are ‘confirm’ criminals, I tell you. Everything happened in under 15 minutes.They broke the windows and damaged the main entrance doors with explosives. Thankfully, none of my colleagues was hurt, but we are really scared of future occurrences,” the staff said.

Yet another bank robbery in Osun

The hoodlums were not done. For the umpteenth time, they brought sorrow on a local community, when Governor Adegboyega Oyetola’s country home, Iragbiji, was attacked.

It followed an all too familiar pattern of most of the robbery cases that had happened in Osun State in 2021 – make incursions into towns in a gestapo style, attack police stations, steal an unspecified amount of money from the targeted bank(s), kill people, and escape with the loot.

Following the Wema Bank Iragbiji attack on 28 September, two police officers, Inspectors Adebiyi Hammed and Odeyemi Ayinla were confirmed dead.

Locals confirmed to this reporter that this picture of the robbers that attacked Wema Bank Iragbiji was taken at Ororuwo town, very close to Iragbiji.

Locals confirmed to this reporter that this picture of the robbers that attacked Wema Bank Iragbiji was taken at Ororuwo town, very close to Iragbiji.

The daredevils shot at a Police APC tyres with explosive devices.

The daredevils shot at a Police APC tyres with explosive devices.

Black Thursday in Okuku

The bank robbery on Wema Bank in Okuku, Odo Otin Local Government Area, on Thursday 11 March, lasted for about one hour and claimed two civilians’ lives. It was the first in Osun State in 2021.

A photo collage of the Wema bank branch in Okuku, Osun State after it was attacked by armed robbers on 11 March, 2021.

A photo collage of the Wema bank branch in Okuku, Osun State after it was attacked by armed robbers on 11 March, 2021.

Police said the robbers went away with N600,000 (1,465.99 US Dollars at the open exchange rate on 12 December).

“Their aim was to enter the bank’s vault but they ended up stealing about N500,000 to N600,000 from one of the two (Automated Teller Machines) ATMs at the scene of the crime,” Olawale Olokode, the Osun State Commissioner of Police had said while speaking on Rave 91.7FM at the time.

The bank robberies in Osun State can be traced to 12 February 2016, when three financial institutions: Skye Bank (now Polaris), First Bank and Union Bank, were simultaneously robbed in Ikirun, Ifelodun Local Government Area, and 10 people were killed.

Due to the situation in Osun, banks are relocating to neighbouring communities — several kilometres away from Odo–Otin/lfelodun/Boripe constituency.

This is the first of a three-part series.

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