At The Mercy Of Robbers
When Madam Elizabeth, not real name, opened The Venue Nite Club in Kado Kuchi, just before the JT Useni Housing Estate in Abuja, she thought she was in for some financial success as the sector is known to be a high income earner. Having been engaged in catering services, she believed opening a night club would be an added advantage.
But this dream was not to be. Although she immediately began to record success in terms of patronage and huge returns as profit, her joy was short-lived. Sometime in March 2012, on a Friday night at about 1:00 a.m., when the club was full and everyone was having fun, a band of armed robbers forced their way in and robbed all and sundry, releasing shots into the air and injuring many in the process. They took away all the sales for the evening as well as electronics and other valuables belonging to the club. Devastated, Madam Elizabeth had to close shop.
This has been the story in Abuja for over four months now. Armed robbery cases have been on the increase especially in the suburbs and satellite towns. Residents of most of these satellite towns no longer sleep with both eyes closed. From Kubwa to Lugbe, to Dutse Alhaji, Gwagwa, Dei-Dei etc, it is the same story. For instance on Tuesday, April 25, 2012 a group of armed robbers attacked the Oceanic Bank branch along Abacha Road, Mararaba, a satellite town on the boundary between the FCT and Nasarawa State. Residents of this very busy and densely populated town were thus thrown into fear. The attack took place at about 1:00 p.m.
Residents of Dutse Alhaji, in Bwari area council of the FCT had a rather frightening experience in April when a group of robbers terrorised them for over two weeks at a stretch. The robbers numbering about 15 attacked residents almost on daily bases, usually coming in an 18-seater bus. They usually pass in front of the police station situated very close to the bus stop and the major entrance to the area, concentrating between Sokale and Bokuma. The robbers asked for mobile phones, laptops and money, becoming ruthless when they are not able to get what they want. Despite repeated reports to the police, residents complained nothing was done to either respond to or foil any attack. It became so bad that the people resorted to self help, waking themselves up at midnight and keeping vigil until the early hours of the day.
Gwagwa is a large settlement after Karmo, within the Abuja metropolitan area council, AMAC. Despite the fact that it boasts of one of the few surviving police barracks still in the country, the presence of the police formation in this settlement has done little to help the security situation. Gwagwa remains the only settlement in the FCT where activities of ‘area boys’ go on unhindered. They hold sway around the ‘after bridge’ bus stop, which incidentally is the major bus stop in the town. Around here, they are in control as bus drivers, conductors, pedestrians as well as other road users are at their mercy. They are seen smoking Indian hemp openly on the street. They terrorise motorists, commercial motorcycle riders (popularly called okada), street hawkers, and pedestrians. But the several complaints by residents notwithstanding, nothing has been done and the area boys continue to hold sway.
The latest development is the resurgence of armed robbery raids at night. According to Precious Ogieva, a lady who lives just behind the police barracks in Gwagwa, these robbers who are very violent have held everyone to ransom. “It was in February. Everyone was sleeping peacefully when suddenly the peace of the night was shattered by gunshots. They broke into our homes one after the other, injuring us with their machetes and cudgels as they robbed us of our valuables. By the following morning over 20 persons were rushed to the hospital for treatment,” precious said.
When asked whether they did not alert the police, she said: “We told them but up till now, (April, 2012) nothing has been done. We even told them how the movement of some boys in the area is very suspicious but they have not done anything. The guys (robbers) just come anytime they choose to and we are at their mercy.”
In Lugbe along the Abuja airport expressway, it is not different. Residents of Peace Village in sector F of the Federal Housing Estate are no longer in peace. This is because the once quiet and sleepy mini-settlement has suddenly become a target for robbers. In March 2012, the men of the underworld raided the village, robbing residents of their belongings, and raping not less than five ladies. Despite official reports even to the special anti-robbery squad, nothing was done. This only strengthened the robbers the more, as they began operating there from time to time.
Just a few days after Easter in April, they struck again and this time with much more force. Fortunately, one of them was eventually caught and identified by several victims. He was taken to the police after thorough beating by an angry mob, but to the greatest surprise of residents, he was freed that same day by the police. “We are afraid because we no longer know who is who. In fact, recently the number of these women of easy virtue has increased in this our small village, so we see several guys of questionable character coming to either pick them up or drop them off. But we are even afraid of going to the police again since even the one that was caught and identified by many victims was released by the police the same day he was taken to them. We are really afraid,” one resident confided in this writer.
Kubwa is one of the largest satellite towns in the FCT. It is home to a large number of civil servants and businessmen alike. But recently some parts of the large settlement have become victims of armed robbery attacks. Mazi, as he is fondly called, was still celebrating the birth of a newborn baby when the robbers invaded his apartment at NEPA road, off Arab road in Kubwa, taking away their phones, electronics and car. Although the car was later recovered due to the vehicle security installation, other belongings and cash just vanished. The couple said they were however happy because their little baby was not hurt.
Surprisingly, the robbers returned two weeks later to the area, breaking into the houses they couldn’t rob in their earlier attack. Right now, several residents have left the area though they still have outstanding rent. As at the time Newsworld visited about two weeks ago, at least four flats and several other single room/self-contain apartments were vacant. Pipeline and Biazhin are other areas in Kubwa on the grey list. But residents complain that Jaji Street, popularly called “Woman Boku” has become a security risk. They cite the large presence of women of easy virtue in that area as a huge threat to the security of Kubwa residents as a whole.
In Kobi, a settlement in Kpaduma, Asokoro Extension, FCT, Abuja, it is “every man to himself.” The newly developing settlement is without any form of police presence and the men of the night have cashed in on this flaw. Since December 2011, this neighbourhood has known no peace. It has become so bad that residents have resorted to self help. Investigations by this magazine revealed that they have all decided to arm themselves with clubs, cudgels, machetes, raw acid, and other more sophisticated weapons as, according to them, the police have abandoned them.
These stories have become very common, from one satellite town to the other. And the general complaint has been that the security agencies have not been living up to expectation. During the ‘famed’ demolition exercise of the former minister of the FCT, Mallam Nasir el’Rufai, the rate of armed robbery and other crimes in Abuja skyrocketed. It became hell living in Abuja, especially outside the metropolis.
But subsequent administrations have concentrated more on security and less on mass demolition exercises. For instance, the present minister, Alhaji Bala Mohammed has said on several occasions that he would not demolish any structure just for the sake of demolishing it, except there was a purpose for that piece of land and even at that, he promised to resettle where necessary. But despite these measures, the situation seems to be receding into the dark era where residents had to sleep with one eye closed.
Despite several efforts to get the police public relations officer for the FCT command, SP Jimoh Moshood to respond to the rather serious issue, especially as residents largely complain about the non-committal attitude of the police, he refused to take all the calls to his phone and also did not respond to the two text messages sent to his MTN line. And for residents, the solution might just be self security. Most areas have thus formed their own vigilante groups, or hired the services of vigilant groups including the OPC who have their Abuja operational headquarters in Dutse Alhaji, and also the “Buzu”, mostly illegal immigrants from Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso. To many, the process of arming several unorganised loose vigilant groups is in itself a huge security risk. But how much longer the police would wait before wading into the matter remains to be seen.