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Esanland: At The Mercy of Banditry, By Tony Ikpasaja


Map Esanland Credit InformationNigeria/Google

The newfound peace in Uromi was punctured on Thursday the 24th February 2021 when bandits reigned terror on five commercial banks and the police headquarter, leaving behind their regular trademark of tears and blood. For most residents, fear and tension have returned after a protracted battle against kidnappers through the collaborative efforts of local vigilantes and security agencies that brought peace. The collaboration brought about the peace across Esanland during Christmas and new year festivities.
As you enter the town, the conspicuous edifices of Zenith bank, UBA Unity bank, Union bank and First Bank speak volumes about Uromi economy wired around individual efforts. The people are traditionally passionate about enterprise. The same attitude may have impassioned the courage of a few men led by Dorry Okojie to rally support for the community policing in the vigilante group that have rescued Esanland until this kill joy.
Highlights of the vicious attack on the banks revealed that at about 4.30pm on that Thursday, the hoodlums had blocked both ends of Mission road at Angle 90 and Taxona junctions and simultaneously unleashed bombs and gunshots like movie rehearsals. The firepower was deafening. Policemen and a few soldiers on special duty quickly hid themselves. They probably didn’t want to put more civilians at risk. If they retaliated, there would have more bloodshed because Uromi was dense during the day around Mission road, where the attack occurred. The heartless bandits went further to pump several shots into the chest of a half-naked man, known to most residents as a harmless mad man who routinely walked up and down the street. Soaked in his blood, he still walked several metres before slumping to death.
Ekpoma is the most cosmopolitan town in Edo central and also very populated. The university town hosts several banks and some of them have been serially attacked. The Uromi incident have quickly sent cold shivers across other communities. Governments at federal and state levels have left the place for far too long, neglecting the ‘porous’ gaps.

Edo central is the only senatorial district without a military barrack nor a Mobile police unit in the state. It is host to the highly populated Ambrose Ali University in Ekpoma, the Institute of Construction Technology and Management in Uromi, and a few private and public institutions. Yet Edo central, which is Esanland is surrounded by forests and bushes providing shelter and getaways for kidnappers and criminal elements.
Ewu, Irrua, Uromi, Ekpoma, Ubiaja and Igueben are strategic gateways to South-East, South-South and South-West. Major highways run through these communities and therefore deserve heavy security presence beyond mere checkpoints. Most of the roads are in very deplorable conditions, making it difficult for security patrols. Searches revealed that earlier on that fateful Thursday, some residents noticed strange persons in vehicles patrolling the forlorn Uromi-Ubiaja-Illushi road through Angle 80 junction. For a very long time, that road have been notorious for kidnappings with the periphery bushes extending up to neighbouring Kogi state, providing escape route for them. The road actually leads to River Niger in Illushi. The deplorable condition of that road has made it unsafe for even policemen to mount checkpoints.
Government will need to repair the road because it is an economic route that leads to River Niger. Back in 1960s, military barrack existed in Uromi. Though remotely instigated by the civil war, the gateway role of Esanland made it necessary for the military formation to be sited there at the time. There is urgent need to bring back the barrack for Edo central to survive the constant insecurity challenges.
Host communities of public institutions similar to Ekpoma should have special security infrastructure like a mobile police base. A barrack in Uromi and mopol unit in Ekpoma will help bring peace to Esanland.
Since last week when Uromi banks were viciously attacked, politicians have been called out. The people were reminded of how late Chief Tony Anenih gave respite to his people in April 2011. The former Iyasele had just arrived his Uromi country home at about midday on that fateful day when he received a distress call that robbers were operating at the UBA, a few kilometres away. He quickly detailed his security team to go after them in his private armoured Jeep. The bandits will not forget how they hurriedly fled half way into their operation with bullets wounds. Before Anenih’s intervention in 2011, bank robberies were a common phenomenon in Uromi. That intercession provided a prolonged succour to the town from incessant attacks until now. Election year is around the corner and politicians have been galivanting across communities in search of support. Who will be our Chief Anenih now?
About 12 hours after the Thursday bank attack, four bags of cash were recovered from the bush at the boundary between Ubiaja and Uromi. The bandits have apparently pillowed enough cash to satisfy their demonic appetite and abandoned the N37 million cash as ‘balance’ of their leftovers. This volume of cash is a testimony that the economy of Uromi was lucidly huge to warrant huger investment in the security of Esanland. The manner in which Esan sons and daughters rose to the occasion when called upon in the fight against kidnapping could be replicated to push for a military barrack and mobile police unit. Let’s not wait for politicians alone.
Robbing banks may sound old fashioned in today’s high tech world, but it’s a crime that continues to be with us, taking its toll in many semi urban communities in Nigeria. Every time robbers collectively steal millions of naira from our banks, they weaken the spirit of enterprise psychologically. Local government, state authorities and entrepreneurs can provide CCTV cameras on major roads, business centres and market places. Technology has come so close to all and sundry that no excuse is permissible for such failures and oversight. Security men will not have any reason not to fish out those bandits because their faces were in the numerous videos that followed the attack.
Government and security agencies should be on red alert. Those menacing bank robbers in their large numbers and youthfulness speak volumes about the future of our dear country. Reports say some ladies were even among them. The story of Ubiaja youths blocking their road with logs of wood to stop the bandits from fleeing through Ewohinmi into Delta state was emotional and also another element of community policing. It is a kind of solidarity, love and unity among Esan people. The Ubiaja youths must be commended even though the bandits had other idea. They fled through Illushi road, not Ewohinmi, using River Niger. If Esanland had a military barracks, that escape would have been extremely difficult.
May the souls of those abruptly killed in the bank attack find solace in heaven. One of them simply identified as Raphael, owned a filling station in my village, Efandion. One of his truck drivers reportedly shortchanged him with about N25,000. He got him detained at the police station and only went there to effect his release when they both met their death in the carnage of that black Thursday.
Dr. Tony Ikpasaja writes from Abuja.

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