Feature on Offa Attack. Offa in the eye of the storm. By AHMED 'LATEEF
11:05 PM (26 minutes ago)
to me, me, IlorinInfo
The ancient city of Offa is still reeling from the last week's robbery attack, which left behind it huge number of casualties and shattered hopes. AHMED 'LATEEF were in the community to assess the aftermath of the attack that has elicited widespread condemnation.
An entry into Offa town in Offa Local Government Area of Kwara State needs no an ordained diviner to give accurate account of the momentum. As the saying goes, "the facts speak for themselves".The atmosphere was solemn with dejected countenances and mournful look.
From shopping complexes and few residential houses near rail crossing while entering Offa town, the climate was unusual. The usual hustling and bustling by the roadside had ebbed down.
Commercial banks in the town, which used to be beehive of activities with people going in and coming out for business transactions were under lock and key in spite of the fact that Wednesday was an official day during the week. Even the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in the banks no one visiting them as was the case prior to last week Thursday brigandage by armed bandits that held one of the largest towns in Kwara hostage.
The banks had been completely deserted because of the attack visited on them while business activities near the financial institutions were also partially paralysed. A popular record store, which usually welcomed visitors to the town with loud music, had ceased operating.
Apparently, people whose relatives were murdered in cold blood robbery attack and the entire Offa community were still reeling from the shock that befell them in the wake of the incident, which nine policemen and several numbers of civilians dead, though authorities put the casualty figures at 17. Several other people also sustained fatal injuries from the stray bullets fired by the robbery syndicate, which re-enacted the 2011 terror.
Although it was learnt that the bereaved had interred those whose lives were cut short in the attendant shooting spree of the robbery attack, the expression on their faces showed they were in mourning mood.
The ruins left in the wake of the attack obviously had ripple effects on the psychological, social and economical status of the town, which among its contemporaries had obviously assumed a metropolitan status.
In Kwara South Senatorial District, the uniqueness of the economy of Offa town cannot be over emphasised. Beside popular Owode Market, which serves as a confluence for a pool of people from diverse geographical locations, most of the commercial banks therein usually attract people from adjoining towns and a contiguous State like Osun.
Prospective customers frequently visit the financial institutions to perform one transaction or another and therefore translate into positive economic value for the ancient town. And this has gone a long way in enhancing the economy of the town on one hand and its social classification on the other.
A ride from rail crossing straight to the Olofa's Palace would obviously tell the whole narrative that the town was in pensive mood. The mood was apparently in response to the last week robbery incident, fourth of its kind in the last years.
The banditry visited on the town in 2011 also left behind tales of sorrow with gruesome killing of innocent people after some commercial banks were ransacked and so also the similar attacks that followed in quick succession.
But that of last week Thursday put question mark on the security climate in the town that has enjoyed peace and tranquillity over the years. For less than two hours of the coordinated attack, the aftermath could not be imagined and that might have accounted for the mood that permeated the town.
Eyewitness accounts revealed that several people were left dead in the wake of the attack. Some people who attempted to rescue those that were shot, were also gunned down by the deadly gang numbering about 30. As a result of the attack, many victims who were alive to tell the story are recuperating in medical facilities across the state.
Speaking on the incident, a member of the Association of Unity Vigilante, Offa Unity Headquarters, Kwara State, Mr Mohammed Ajibade, said his colleague, Ismaila Jimoh, was shot dead by the gunmen that robbed banks in Offa while trying to rescue victims.
He explained that he and Jimoh were in their offices when they heard that some robbers were operating in the area.
Ajibade stated that Jimoh immediately visited one of the banks to rescue people, adding that one of the robbers shot him dead.
Ajibade lamented that his late colleague left two wives, four children and aged parents.
In the same vein, the Chief Imam of Ijagbo, Alhaji Muftau Jamiu, recalled how his brother, Alawunde Jamiu, died during the armed robbery, explaining that his death was a devastating blow and a tragedy for the family.
He stated that Alawunde, who until his death was the Operations Manager of Ibolo Micro-Finance Bank in Offa, Offa Local Government Area of Kwara State, had gone to work oblivious of the impending disaster.
Jamiu said Alawunde had gone to work that day, but he was hit by a bullet, adding that the office of his late brother was near Zenith Bank in Offa.
He said those who learnt of Alawunde's death called him to come to Alawunde's office, noting that he was shocked to see his brother’s lifeless body upon arrival.
Jamiu said though the family had accepted Alawunde's death in good faith, it was a big setback to the happiness of the wife and their four children.
Also speaking, the Operations Commander, Vigilance Group of Nigeria, Offa, Kwara State chapter, Mr Wasiu Adepoju, disclosed that his members counted about 50 dead bodies after robbery incident.
Adepoju noted that the robbers took the local security personnel by surprise, saying there was little they could do when they learnt of the robbery because of the sophisticated weapons the robbers came with.
He said, "After the robbery, we counted about 50 dead policemen and civilians. They shattered the bodies with bullets. They targeted mainly the heads of their victims."
He stated that the bandits stormed the area and started shooting indiscriminately with heavy guns, adding that they ran to inform the police as they did not have any ammunition to defend themselves or to confront the robbers.
Adepoju stated that before they could reach the police station, the bandits had already killed some victims, including policemen.
He appealed to the federal and state governments to provide them with weapons to motivate them.
The vigilance group boss said it would be impossible for the robbers to operate and go unchallenged if the vigilantes were armed.
He further appealed to wealthy indigenes of Offa to help them, saying they were only rendering voluntary work to the community.
Adepoju said, "This is new to us. Bandits came to Offa some years ago. After that, all security operatives, including vigilantes, started to monitor the town from morning till night. They came twice at a time but it was not possible for them to operate".
Another respondent, Mr Lawal Adeyemi Rasak, who said he lost his brother in-law, Abdulraheem Bisi Shittu, aded that his remains were buried on Friday after it was released to the family from Olalomi hospital.
He said the deceased was until his death a staff of Mtn, a communication firm with its office located inside the same premises with Union Bank, one of the banks attacked by the robbers.
"Actually he went to work that day and that is the building houses Union Bank, Offa. He worked with Mtn. I didn't even know he died until Friday. I went to most of the hospital where the dead were deposited but I didn't go to Olalomi hospital.
"It was on Friday morning that they discovered his corpse. So, they carried his corpse from that premises to Olalomi hospital", he said.
Rasak denied the report in some section of the media that the victims of the robbery attack were given mass burial, clarifying that they were interred individually.
It was observed that the Palace of Olofa has been playing host to eminent personalities, who have been trooping in to commiserate with the ancient town over the tragedy that accompanied the robbery attack.
The latest caller on the palace was the Emir of Ilorin and Chairman, Kwara State Council of Chiefs, who led a team of first class monarchs to the community on a condolence.
Similar, the Vice-Chancellor of Kwara State University, Malete, Professor Abdulrasheed Na'Allah, accompanied by some senior officials of the institution, also paid condolence visit as well as management of Federal Polytechnic, Offa.
The Olofa of Offa, Oba Muftau Gbadamosi Esuwoye II, who bemoaned the incessant robbery attack on Offa community, said efforts are on to improve security system as a measure the ugly incident in the bud.
The monarch said, "It will be better for the Federal Government to establish state police. With that, they will be closer to the people and the state government. This is the fourth time that we will experience this kind of robbery attacks in the last 10 years. One of the major problems of the Force is inadequate manpower.
“We discovered that in the Offa Local Government Area, the number of policemen is not up to 50. Anytime there is a robbery, there will be no reinforcement. What we need is manpower. The state government can afford to buy armoured personnel carriers and it can build more police stations. But if the manpower is not there, it is not enough.
"This incident was witnessed some years ago but it happened last week Thursday and we know it is going to have negative implication on the economy of Offa town, and that is why we as a common forged a common front to assist the government to see that our economy is not totally grounded.
"You would recall that when we had this incident five years ago, we bought seven new Hilux vehicles for security agencies. This has happened now and we are meeting to see how we render our support because the Kwara State government has promised to build police station for us so that we can relocate police division at Owode Market to another place.
"We have received mobile policemen and Armoured Personnel Carrier. That alone encouraged members of this community to resume their normal daily activities.
"We have promised to build a mobile police barrack. It wasn't Inspector General of Police that asked us to build it and neither the Federal nor the Kwara State Government. If you know Offa very well, we normally support ourselves when it comes to communal issue.
"We will hold a meeting with members of this community on how to contribute fund. We are targeting between N200million and N250million for the barrack. No matter how little our contribution, I know government would support us", the traditional ruler said.
The Secretary of Offa Descendants Union, Mrs Wasilat Tinuke Mccarthy, described the incident as a pitiable dastardly act, adding that the scenario was beyond robbery but terrorism and barbarism.
She explained that the attack was the height of wickedness on the part of the perpetrators and added that the motive was to break the spirit, disrupt economic activities and cut short the development of Offa community.
Mrs Mccarthy said the attack has caused severe setback to the social and economic activities of Offa and expressed optimism that the community would rise again.
"We have held series of meetings because we know that what it takes to effect the confidence of the people, peace of mind and rest of minds and to effect the opening of banks back needs a lot of activities. The government in the past had done their own. We need to build barrack and provide accommodation for the mobile policemen and this is the work of sons and daughters. So, all hands are on deck", she said.
When approached for comment on the attack, the Chairman of Offa Local Government, Mr Lateef Gbadamosi, snubbed our correspondents.
Gbadamosi, who was sighted at the Palace of Olofa during The Herald's visit on Wednesday, rebuffed all entreaties made to get his comment on the robbery incident that has continued to attract condolences and condemnations.
After leaving the palace, our crew visited the Offa Local Government Secretariat but he was said to have headed for Ilorin, the state capital.