From Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Daredevil criminals from the pit of hell visited Awka, the capital of Anambra State, penultimate Sunday night. They stormed the capital city at about 9pm with a script from their master to rob, kill and destroy. And that they set in motion as soon as they arrived.
Although they were stopped midway by gallant policemen who trailed and engaged them with superior firepower, the hoodlums had already wreaked considerable havoc in some parts of the state capital.
The armed criminals first visited a filling station near Regina Caeli Junction, along the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, and dispossessed the people there of their valuables, including petroleum products, money and phones.
A source in the facility who pleaded anonymity told Daily Sun that the criminals stormed the place in eight pickup vans, some of which included Hilux, and some gallons with which they took fuel and diesel.
She narrated that the hoodlums also refilled the tanks of all the eight vehicles before moving into their office from where they carted away a large sum of money from the day’s sales.
The source also narrated that the gunmen beat up their security man, snatched his pump action rifle and robbed all the customers at the filling station but later gave them back their phones.
“When they came here, the first thing they did was to attack our security man. They nearly killed him. They took his gun, a pump action, and his identity card. I don’t know how they knew that it was him because he was just at a corner.
“They came with eight Hilux vans and refilled their tanks. They also had gallons. They took both fuel and diesel. They filled every container they came with and then robbed our manager. They stole a huge amount of money.
“Even our customers here were robbed. They collected all their phones, including the manager’s phone, but they later gave the customers their phones back.
“It was after that operation that they left. They were many in those vehicles and they were well armed. They didn’t touch the pump attendants or the customers,” the source said.
Before the raid started, some residents confirmed seeing some of the vehicles at Aroma Junction, a popular location in Awka, driving in a manner that was suspicious.
Some said that they saw them in threes while some said that when they saw them, they were still moving together. These narrations suggest that the gunmen, at a point, spread themselves out in order to achieve their evil target within record time.
From the petrol station, Daily Sun gathered that the gunmen proceeded to the Nigeria Police ‘B’ Division, opposite Jerome Udoji Secretariat, a facility with three high-rise buildings housing the state’s civil service.
This ‘B’ Division is located in the Executive Business District, near Aroma Junction, where some important institutions and business establishments are located.
Some of them are Federal High Court, State High Court, House of Assembly, Anambra State Universal Basic Education Board, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) headquarters, and the popular Alex Ekwueme Square.
Others are Anambra Broadcasting Service, X-Fit, Clinix, Post Primary Schools Service Commission, Nigeria Union of Teachers secretariat, Prof. Kenneth Dike Library, Roban Store, Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Union of Journalists secretariat, 5 Star Restaurant and some other federal, state and private business establishments.
It was in that important environment that the gunmen put their rifles to use, raining bullets in all directions. It was a staccato of sorts. Unsuspecting road users were reportedly robbed as they drove into them.
In fact, some fun seekers were reportedly trapped in some of the entertainment centres dotting the landscape as they were still enjoying themselves when the gunmen struck. Those who were catching cool air in the open space scampered for safety indoors.
A section of Nodu village in Okpuno community, Awka South Local Government Area, which is close to the area was not spared as the gunmen also rained bullets briefly in that direction before vamoosing.
Eyewitnesses said the shootings sparked pandemonium in the area, forcing shop owners to shut down. Those catching fun at pubs and even commuters fled for dear life.
The gunmen set a section of the ‘B’ Division on fire and from there proceeded to the INEC headquarters and also set a section of it ablaze.
It was at the INEC office that the hoodlums met their match in the police. And after a short gun battle, the unknown gunmen were vanquished.
At INEC, the hoodlums managed to burn seven vehicles belonging to the commission. While four were completely burnt, three were partially razed. They also burnt down the collation centre, a store housing many generators, and another store serving another purpose.
Earlier, the gunmen razed the trial room of the ‘B’ Division. The Commissioner of Police in the state, Chris Owolabi, while briefing newsmen shortly after inspecting the damage at INEC headquarters, narrated how the police engaged the gunmen.
“By 8:15pm, specifically, I got a call that the ‘B’ Division was under attack by armed hoodlums and that there was a lot of firing of guns. My men in ‘B’ Division defended themselves very strongly.
“But at the outset, there was an improvised explosive device thrown into the place, which exploded at the charge room and set it on fire. But we all knew that it was a decoy to attack INEC.
“So, we proceeded to the INEC, where we were able to engage the hoodlums with the three vehicles they came with. We demobilized the three vehicles which made them scamper for safety.
“And we recovered quite a number of firearms from them. We recovered about six pump actions, one G2 rifle and one AK rifle. Investigations are still ongoing because it seems the developments are changing.
“So, I can’t tell you specifically how many were lost but we are still searching hospitals and some remote places to recover them. And we are, indeed, recovering. When the investigations are concluded, you will get details about who lost his life and who is receiving treatment in the hospital. But I can tell you specifically that there was no casualty on the part of the police. It was a 95 per cent success for us.
“I plead with Ndi Anambra to go about their normal businesses as far as they are law-abiding, and endeavour to keep security agencies abreast with the developments in their various areas, especially suspicious movements.”
“God is helping us. There is no problem. We are working with all the forces – the military, the civil defence, the DSS and others. We are back to the streets, reclaiming the public space. So, there is nothing to fear about”, Owolabi assured.
A survivor of that attack who drove into the gunmen at ‘B’ Division area narrated his experience in a voice note which trended on social media.
“Please help me to thank God. I was nearly killed this night by these gunmen. I was just going to drop someone at the house. I said let me also buy something for my family.
“As I was driving down towards the ‘B’ Division, I didn’t know I was driving into them at ‘B’ Division. They stopped me and ordered me to come down. My brother, I thought they were policemen.
“So, I told the one talking to me that my door had issues and does not open. He started pulling my door to force it open. As he was doing that, I switched off my headlamp.
“Looking outside, I observed that the person following me had been dragged into the gutter. On the other side, a vehicle was already inside the gutter opposite the Apex Hospital.
“I summoned courage and started reversing; trying to escape. I hit a vehicle as I was doing that. That was how I escaped. If not, I would have been a dead man this night”, narrated the survivor who didn’t reveal his identity.
Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Dr Nkwachukwu Oji, said that although their collation centre and operational vehicles were razed, the ugly incident was not a major damage.
“It is not a major damage. So, we thank God. I think that the police were able to do their job effectively. The areas that were affected were the areas we can easily recover. We are still taking stock of what we lost”, he said.
Although the CP declined to give further details about their gun duel with the armed hoodlums when queried by journalists, police sources disclosed that four of the gunmen were neutralized while two were arrested.
Meanwhile, it was not clear how the gunmen penetrated the state capital. This is because there are many military checkpoints in all the major entries into the town.
There are military checkpoints on Awka – Ekwulobia Road behind Governor’s Lodge, Amawbia in Awka South LGA; on Awka – Nibo Road (Ring Road), Enugu – Onitsha Expressway among other locations.
Again, the police blocked Zik’s Avenue which passed in front of their headquarters at Amawbia.
So, how the gunmen beat these security checkpoints to penetrate the heart of the town is what the police would need to tell the world.
However, while the gunmen were carrying out their operations, armed thieves raided privately owned hostels at the permanent site of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
Daily Sun gathered that many students and other individuals living in the area were robbed at gunpoint. They said that the shootings by the armed robbers sparked pandemonium in the area as residents ran helter-skelter seeking refuge.