15 days after the bank robbery that claimed several lives, life has not been the same for the people Otukpo town in Benue State.
Our correspondent who visited the ancient city reports that the aftermath of the tragic incident continues to cast a shadow over the lives of Otukpo residents.
It would be recalled that two weeks ago, the town witnessed the brazen robbery of five major banks – First Bank, Stanbic IBTC Bank, Zenith Bank, Access Bank and United Bank for Africa (UBA). Access bank was, however, said to have suffered the least.
The divisional police station directly opposite the affected banks, which are clustered in the same environment, was not spared as the formation lost four of its officers, including its Divisional Police Officer (DPO) during the attack.
Four other civilians also reportedly lost their lives while some people sustained gun injuries.
Since then, the local economy has struggled to regain its footing as the people live in constant fear of further potential attacks.
Daily Trust on Sunday observed during Friday’s visit to Otukpo town that the once crowded premises of the raided banks remained deserted as they were yet to commence operation.
In solidarity, some banks that were not affected were also under lock.
However, a branch of First Bank within Otukpo town that wasn’t attacked was seen operating with many people queued up for cash withdrawals and other forms of transaction.
A security man at First Bank, opposite the police station, in response to our correspondent’s enquiry, simply said that renovation work was yet to commence to fix the facilities and equipment destroyed during the robbery.
He added that directives were being awaited from the headquarters of the bank to start work.
Also, a guard at Zenith Bank intimated that renovation work was almost completed inside the bank but he didn’t know when it would resume operation.
Residents avoid unforseen circumstances
Ladi Adole said most residents like her no longer left their homes earlier than 8am, and they would do everything to return home before dusk, just to avoid any unforeseen circumstance.
Cash crunch after the robbery
Residents of Otukpo town are now grappling with cash shortage following the robbery, according to an account by a local Point of Sale (POS) agent, Cecilia Moses.
Cecilia, who operates beside StanbicIBTC , lamented that as the banks remained closed, people in her kind of business and residents continued to suffer cash crunch.
She explained that POS operators had been relying on cash deposit from their customers to serve the generality of people who come for withdrawals.
“It is not easy to get cash these days. What we do is that we collect money from businessmen and women and transfer to them so that we will have cash for people to withdraw. Sometimes we pay charges to them because some of them use Moneypoint and their money has to be deducted as charges.
“Like yesterday, I went around the town trying to get money, but it wasn’t easy. There was no money on Monday and Tuesday at all. People are making more withdrawals than deposits these days.
“The only difference between what we are experiencing now and what happened when naira was redesigned in December last year in terms of cash crunch is that business people are not selling money to us, they give us and we transfer to them, and in some cases, we pay them charges. Unity bank that is operating now doesn’t have many customers, so they are not making much impact,” Cecilia explained.
Three other businessmen who sell assorted foodstuffs in the market adjacent to the affected location of the banks but refused to mention their names corroborated what Cecilia said, adding that the robbery incident has affected their businesses drastically.
“We are at a crossroad with cash crunch again,” one of them lamented.
Daily Trust on Sunday had earlier reported that following an emergency meeting of the Bankers Committee held at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in Makurdi on October 23, 2023, all banks in the state were mandated to operate between 8am and 2pm until January 31, 2024 when a review of the security situation would be carried out.
Meanwhile, some sources who spoke on condition of anonymity had alleged that the suspected armed robbers stayed in a hotel within the town for over two weeks and mingled with people before they carried out their deadly operation.
Residents still live in fear
Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday showed that residents of the town still live in fear.
Some survivors of the attack narrated how they have altered their daily routines as a result of the current situation in the town.
Samson Obande, who sells bread at the Otukpo Main Market, said he used to close from the market around 11pm before the incident but now closes around 8pm when everybody goes home.
Obande, who said he was shot on the foot and the bullet perforated through the other side while he was withdrawing money at UBA added, “I have been having low patronage these days. It is not easy but God is helping me.”
Ibrahim Musa, a merchant of secondhand (okrika) cloths at Otukpo market corroborated Obande’s story, saying, “Things are tough these days. There has not been money since they robbed the banks. Business is not moving again and we don’t waste time outside again in the evening. We are still living in fear.”
In the same vein, Akor Uloko, an uncle to George Uloko Edo, who was killed in the incident, said his nephew’s death shocked him and he was yet to recover from it.
“The death of George is a great loss, not only to the Uloko family but the entire Benue State and Nigeria in general. It is an unfortunate death; nobody expected it. Up till now, I am not feeling myself because he was the controller of this our family,” Uloko, the head of the family said.
Elder Uloko further disclosed that until he was killed in the robbery incident, “George was into buying and selling of cows. He was also a strong member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”
On his part, a Benue Links bus driver who survived the incident, Iliyiasu Ibrahim, said people in the town were yet to come to terms with the tragic event, which caused pain for many families.
“People are now treading with caution. And there is cash crunch,” he said.
Ibrahim, who recalled how he was caught up in the crossfire, kept emphasising that it was a devastating experience.
He said, “I thank God because the incident was to take my life away like others who died. The same bullet which killed other people didn’t take away my life. I thank God because I am still living. When everybody was running at the back of the police station while the police were exchanging bullets with the robbers, I was also finding an escape route.
“I tried to help a pregnant woman who looked helpless while trying to get a commercial motorcyclist to take her away from danger. I told her that it was dangerous to wait there for a bike; and the moment I finished giving her direction, a bullet hit me on the leg. Since the incident, I can no longer go about my driving work.”
A teacher who is resident in the town, Ankeli Amanyi, also said that, “Up till now, normal activities are yet to fully resume. People are still scared and banks are not working. The roads in Otukpo are no longer busy. There is also the problem of cash crunch; we now depend heavily on POS operators. But the charges remain the same.”
Police still on trail of perpetrators
Although the new Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Otukpo station declined conversation with our correspondent during the visit to the town, he, however, disclosed that, “The only thing I can tell you is that four police officers were killed, including the DPO (his predecessor) who has been buried today (Friday, November 3, 2023). Others have been buried already.”
He added that only the police public relations officer would give further information.
Back to Makurdi, the Benue State capital, the police public relations officer, SP Catherine Anene, who earlier confirmed that five banks were robbed simultaneously, told our correspondent that the incident was still under investigation and it could take long to conclude findings.
“Information is being gathered. Investigation is ongoing. But a DPO was deployed to Otukpo immediately after the incident happened; just a day after since the station cannot be left unmanned,” Anene said.