On October 20, 2023, at about 3:15 pm, the command received a call from the late Divisional Police Officer, Otukpo, that there was a robbery situation in Otukpo that seemed to be difficult for him and that he would be needing help. He said he didn’t think the division alone could handle it.
What was the response of the command?
So, the command started mobilising policemen within the Otukpo Area Command to see how they could support them before the arrival of policemen from other areas within the command because they are far and considering the distance and the bad road.
At about 4:15 pm or thereabouts, after pushing in men to support them, we gave them some time while men from here, Makurdi division were moving to see how they could meet up.
Unfortunately, we could no longer speak with the DPO, his phone was ringing but nobody picked up. It was then we called other offices who explained to us what happened.
Did the robbers operate in groups?
You know that the division is located opposite the banks. So what they (robbers) did was to share themselves around the banks, some then engaged policemen at the division to stop them from coming out to interrupt the robbery while others went to the banks and there was a serious gun battle between them and the police division.
A video showing some policewomen dead on the ground went viral after the robbery. Can you confirm that?
Three policewomen who were not armed at that moment were killed. Those who were armed were able to defend themselves. So, the robbers shot from outside and threw in locally made explosives into the station to distract the police while their men were robbing.
Even in the area command in Otukpo, it took some time for our men to go in because of the bad road within the town. So, they came in after some time and by then, the robbers had robbed two banks. They (robbers) attacked the other three banks but they didn’t enter because help (from the police) had started coming. So they (robbers) started finding their way to escape from Otukpo town.
Were any of the robbers killed?
It was during the crossfire at the (police) station that two of the robbers were shot but they (other robbers) carried them and were moving with them. When they were intercepted, they could not run with those (injured) so they abandoned them. Those were the ones I wrote in my statement that they were killed on the same day.
Already, investigation has continued but the team on the ground has not given me any other thing. As we speak now, security has been beefed up; more men have been sent. Detectives are there and it has reached the stage of investigation now since it (the robbery) has already happened. We are trying to know what happened and how it happened.
Some residents in Otukpo claimed that some of the robbers had lodged in Otukpo days before they carried out the operation. What did the police gather from their intelligence unit?
The truth is that the police can only get information if members of the community are willing to volunteer it, that is if they know that some strange faces were sighted within their environment or they see those living in their community who are of questionable character and are suspicious. They can come out to tell the police that we are suspecting this person doing this and that. But the police never got any information about this robbery incident.
So, it shows a lack of information in Otukpo because if we had information, it would have been easier to manage the information because it would have been a preventive kind of information and not a reactionary one. It would have been easier for us. We didn’t get information on this and it came as a shock to officers on the ground who just had to struggle to defend themselves and defend the station. Fortunately, the DPO lost his life while doing that, and other police officers died in the incident.
There are conflicting reports about the arrest of some of the suspected robbers. Have the police made any arrests?
No information has been given to me concerning the arrest, so if I speak on that, I would just be preempting the investigation. I am waiting for them (officers carrying out the investigation) and I think they feel it is not time to bring out information for now. Anytime they bring out the information, we will get to know what happened.
The bankers’ committee in Benue State said in a statement that it would be closing business activities to customers from 2 pm between now and January next year due to insecurity in the state. Don’t you think it’s an indictment on the police?
I am aware of the statement. They also visited the Commissioner of Police and told him what they felt about the incident in Otukpo. However, I consider what it is doing first, as a human reaction to the situation that has happened. It is possible that it could serve as mourning for their colleagues who died.
Secondly, fear will definitely engulf others (bank workers) as they go to the office. It is normal with humans, but I want to assure them that even when a plane crashes, we don’t stop travelling by air. We will continue to be with them and protect them. What has happened is a lesson for us too – to beef up security around the banks and draw closer to them to understand more about their operations and know what to do about securing them.
They (the bankers’ committee) have come out with their statement. I know the command will still engage them. They even visited the CP before issuing the statement. The command will still engage them to know why they still came out with that statement and will advise them on a better way to handle the situation.
What is the actual figure of casualties from the robbery incident?
The casualty figure that we witnessed at the bank is four aside from our officers that died. If there is any other person that sustained an injury, they probably left with it and we didn’t see them. So, the number of corpses deposited at the mortuary is four people aside from the police officers. There might be others that we are not aware of.
It was reported that the robbery lasted for more than an hour. Why did it take the police reinforcement team hours to get to Otukpo?
The truth of the reinforcement was the distance from other divisions, particularly the headquarters in Makurdi. At some point, we got a report that what we had in Otukpo was not enough to engage them. Sending more men from any division is a distance. Even, if you are sending from Naka, it is still a distance. If you are sending from Adoka, it’s still a distance and if it’s Aliade, it is the same. There was no access road good enough for them to get immediate help. All the road networks around are very bad.
The best way to have handled the issue would have been preventive operation which is why I always advise members of the public to work with the police to secure our state. If we had received the information before time, we would have moved enough men and been there before anything came up. We didn’t get any information so it became a reactionary (police) operation and other factors affecting the state affected that operation as well. So, we could not be there instantly.
It’s unfortunate that we lost the DPO and other police officers. He called and told us that he could not handle what was happening and that it was bigger than what they could handle but less than 40 minutes later, we could no longer connect with him.
Many expected other security agencies to have assisted the police. Or what is the relationship between the police command and sister agencies within the state?
There is collaboration between police and other sister agencies but whether there is capacity is a different thing. You might be willing to do something but you may not have the capacity.
Were the military and other agencies contacted?
Yes, they knew what was happening and they were contacted but the investigation will reveal what happened. We await the team to tell us what happened. Let us give them some time. They are investigating; they will ask questions and we will know what exactly happened.
Is it true that the fleeing robbers were intercepted by the military?
No, the robbers were not intercepted by the military. We had other police teams who were on the operation around. So, they were alerted and they intercepted them and that was where they found those (robbers) two were already dead. Initially, they (robbers) wanted to flee with them (corpses) to conceal evidence but when things went beyond them, they decided to abandon the corpses of their gang members.