Ondo communities groan as robberies halt banking operations, frustrate economic activities

Agency Report
Agency Report

A resident of Idoani in the Ose Local Government of Ondo State, Mr Segun Kolawole, is unhappy that he had not been able to enter a banking hall since 2019 when a First Bank branch in the community stopped operations following a bloody robbery attack.

He said whenever he needed money or to send money, he patronised Point of Sale shops in the town.

The farmer added, “What I do is to go to a PoS shop to withdraw the amount I need but the problem we always have with that is if there is a network problem, there would be no transaction and the person would be frustrated. If one has a problem with one’s account that means one will travel to Owo (Owo Local Government), a far distance, to complain in the concerned bank branch to them and that is always frustrating too. Though that has not happened to me I have people who have experienced that.’’

Kolawole is one of the residents in communities where incessant robberies have frustrated operations of banks and they experience hardship engaging in banking activities at neighbouring communities or outside the states of their residence.

Apart from the tragedies, gory sights and nasty memories which are telltales of attacks on banks, customers and communities where such incidents occurred continue to bear the brunt.

As relatives of those killed in such attacks are left to mourn their dead and affected police formations rebuild and re-equip, communities, especially where the banks are, continue to count their socio-economic losses.

Such communities litter rural areas in Ekiti, Osun, Ondo and Oyo states. Residents such as Ogundamola travel to other communities across local government areas and at times outside their state of residence for banking transactions.

Though the situation contributes to the rise in PoS, residents in the affected communities told our correspondent that their banking needs in case of high transactions, securing loans and other documentation cannot be met by the shop business initiative.

At Ilasa Ekiti in the Ekiti East Local Government Area of Ekiti State, a First Bank branch was attacked by robbers on May 24, 2012, leaving the area without a bank. Residents most times spend two days transacting in banks in other communities.

The President, Ilasa Development Union, Tajudeen Ahmed, said the area had no bank presence after the incident.

Ahmed said, “We don’t have any bank again. It is unfortunate because the First Bank branch was the only bank around the axis that served the entire local government and other neighbouring local governments. People from neighbouring Kogi State communities and some Akoko communities in Ondo State did come to bank there. Unfortunately, a team of armed robbers invaded the community. It was like war that day. When they came, they first attacked the police station. About seven persons including policemen, suspects detained and those who came for bail were killed. After they subdued the police, they broke the bank doors with explosives and made away with money.

Ahmed said, “We go as far as Ikare Akoko in Ondo State or Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital. The branches that are close such as Ikole and Ifaki no longer function. The situation has affected many things. Ilasa is a commercial centre where farmers and traders come from different parts of the country to buy goods such as yam. For them to do monetary transaction has been difficult.’’

Attacks that halted banking operations

The Wema Bank branch at Ise Ekiti in the Ise/Orun Local Government Area of Ekiti State which was attacked on September 29, 2019 by robbers, has stopped operations. The robbers killed a mobile policeman attached to the bank in the process and gained entry into the bank after shattering the doors with explosives believed to be dynamites and carted away money.

A community leader in Ise Ekiti and Chairman, Joint Security Committee of Ise/Orun, Emure and Ikere Councils, Elder Tunji Falana, who said entreaties to Wema Bank to reopen the branch were unsuccessful, urged the bank to consider what residents were passing through to carry out transactions.

Falana, who is the President, Ise Development Council, said the continued closure of the branch had negatively impacted on the community, adding, “That was the only bank presence in Ise Ekiti. The nearest Wema Bank branch to Ise is the Ikere Ekiti branch, then the Ado Ekiti branch. These are where our people go now.

“It has affected the economy negatively. Look at the schools, churches, farmers who transact business at the bank, they spend days outside Ise Ekiti. Ise has over 300,000 residents, over 48 primary schools, about 30 secondary schools, 195,000 children in primary and secondary school and expansive forestry resources– examining these, one would see that the closure is affecting us negatively.’’

Also, the two branches of Wema Bank and Union Bank in the neighbouring Iju and Ita Ogbolu communities in the Akure North Council area of Ondo State have been shut down leaving residents to go to Akure, the state capital, for banking activities.

While the Wema Bank branch at Iju has reopened for operation since August 2019 when it was attacked by robbers, the Union Bank branch at Ita Ogbolu closed down shortly after.

President, Iju Youth Development Council, Deji Ogundeji, said, “I was informed that the robbers just emerged and began to shoot indiscriminately to scare people away from the bank premises before they blew up the door to gain access. A lady was killed in the process and money carted away.

Ogundeji stated, “Since then, our people have been going to the regional office of the bank in Akure for transactions. There is no bank in the entire Akure North Local Government. Iju/Ita Ogbolu is the council headquarters. It is affecting the socio-economic activities of Iju/Ita Ogbolu because people cannot save their money and cannot transact. Some of our people who go to Akure on motorbike because of the bad state of the Ikere-Iju–Akure Road, are involved in road accidents. PoS operators capitalise on the situation to exploit us. They charge our people high for services rendered.’’

Also residents of Ose Local Government area of Ondo State are lamenting closure of bank branches in the LG area due to incessant robberies.

In 2019, a First Bank branch at Ido Ani in the Ose LGA was attacked by robbers during an operation where seven persons including bank officials were killed. Two years earlier, the branch of the then Skye Bank in Ifon, headquarters of the council, was attacked.

A businesswoman, Mrs Rebecca Ayodele, who lives in Ifon, the headquarters of Ose LGA, said it was bad not to have a bank in the entire council area. She lamented that the development affected economic activities of the people in the area because getting enough money to do business was always difficult for them, adding that the PoS operators serving as alternatives don’t give customers a large sum of money.

She stated, “Many people are not educated enough to do online banking. For instance, if you need to take N200,000 to a village to buy farm produce, one can’t use online banking to transfer money to an illiterate farmer in the village. We appeal to the government and other stakeholders to look into the problem and find a lasting solution to it.”

Another resident of Ifon community, Temmy Odeleye, said the development had negatively affected the community, especially the traders and farmers, who transact money on a daily basis.

She said, “There is no bank operating in the local government because of security issues. We use PoS operators if we want to withdraw or send a small amount of money. But if we want to do big transactions, we go to Owo, where there are banks.’’

Also the First Bank branch at Ifaki Ekiti, a nodal town in Ido/Osi LGA of Ekiti State shut down due to repeated robberies. An attack in May 2018 and the attendant killing of a policeman on duty forced the bank to close down.

Ex-regent of Ifaki Ekiti, High Chief Emmanuel Olaiya, said since the 2018 that the bank was attacked; it merged with Opopogbooro, Ado Ekiti branch. So, anybody who wants to bank with the First Bank, Ifaki branch will go to Ado Ekiti.

He stated, “The closed branch was the only one in the Ido/Osi Local Government which comprises 13 communities. People came from as far as Otun in the Moba LGA and other places for transactions in the branch. For now, there is no bank in Ido/Osi LGA.

Also in Iree, in the Boripe LGA area of Osun State, the two branches of UBA and Access Bank in the town have not reopened for banking activities since August 5, 2021 when robbers attacked them.

The robbers first attacked the police station around the banks and in the process, killed a constabulary with Improvised Explosive Device and blew the doors of the banks with explosives.

Many residents of the polytechnic town and those in the council area have since been going to Osogbo, the state capital, or Ila for banking activities while others depend on PoS operators to transact business.

Robberies choke residents, economy

A resident of Ijan Ekiti, in the Gbonyin Local Government area of Ekiti State, Olakiitan Ogunje, said the closure of the only bank branch, Wema Bank, in Ijan Ekiti, since it was attacked by robbers in 2004 had underdeveloped the people by reducing the profit margin of the farmers and agro-businessmen in the community.

Ogunje, who said that two persons were killed in different locations in the town by the robbers during the attack, recalled that the bank was earlier attacked in 2003.

He said, “People now go to Aisegba in the Gbonyin LGA or Ado Ekiti for banking transactions. It is a tortuous experience. It is slowing down economic activities as traders and farmers go to Ado Ekiti for transactions thereby narrowing down their profit margin. This has also provided an avenue for PoS operators who are doing profitably well due to lack of banking facilities in the community.’’

Besides, in Imesi-ile in the Obokun LGA of Osun State, the only bank located in the town has shut down for many years.

For residents of Iree and students of Osun State Polytechnic, despondency and frustration have set in following fear that the Access Bank and UBA branches attacked by the robbers may relocate out of the town. They called for increased security for a sense of safety and confidence for the bank branches to reopen.

A student of the polytechnic, who gave her name only as Olaide, expressed fear that students might be subjected to untold hardship if banks moved out of the town, adding that without them, students would keep cash and be exposed to attacks.

A trader in the town, Mrs Eunice Oladimeji, decried that the absence of banking services had negatively affected businesses, saying, “Banks in Iree serve Boripe, Boluwaduro and Ifelodun LGAs. We plead with the management of the two banks not to relocate. The community should work with them and come up with strong security arrangements.”

Also, a journalist and community leader, Tai Oguntayo, who is from Okemesi Ekiti in the Ekiti West LGA of Ekiti State, said that closure of the First Bank branch, the only bank in the community, over seven years ago after a robbery attack, had worsened economic activities in the area.

He said that people of the community patronised banks in neighbouring LGAs in the state including nearby Esa Oke in Osun State for banking activities.

Oguntayo said, “The situation has affected the town. Commercial activities have been affected because people can no longer make financial transactions through the bank and we know today that any serious business depends on banks to function properly. That has affected us. Also, the development has affected the progress of the town. Our children working outside the state cannot send money to their parents because there’s no bank in the area.”

At Ilara Mokin in the Ifedore LGA of Ondo State where a robbery attack on the UBA branch there on July 15, 2021, left three persons dead, three others injured and undisclosed amount of money carted away, the residents are hoping for its reopening.

Though the bank has started renovation work on the branch after the incident, a resident, Abimbola Fasina, said, “What we pray for is for the bank to reopen so that banking activities can return to the town.’’

Eyewitnesses said about 15 armed men stormed the bank branch shooting indiscriminately and detonating explosives which led to the fleeing of locals. Three people died during the attack.

Banks as soft targets

The robbers attack banks uninterrupted and the development encouraged them to continue with the impunity. The banks don’t hesitate to shut operations after witnessing successful robberies.

In the Ijebu Ode area of Ogun State in September last year, banks did not open for days over fear of attack by robbers after letters announcing attacks were allegedly written to them by suspected robbers.

The fear of the banks was informed by robberies witnessed some years ago and the attendant loss of lives. They insisted on not reopening their branches except the Ogun State Government assisted the police with armoured personnel carriers mounted close to the banks.

For the residents, while the closure lasted, they painfully travelled to places such as Sagamu and the state capital, Abeokuta, and other areas to deposit or withdraw money. The situation was compounded by PoS operators who limited their operations for fear of attack.

On Wednesday, July 29, 2020, a gang of robbers stormed the First Bank branch at Okeho in the Kajola Local Government area of Oyo State at about 4.40pm and started shooting to announce their arrival.

The hoodlums shot dead the anti-riot policeman attached to the bank and used explosives to blow open the bank’s security doors to gain entry after which they stormed the bank and carted away an undisclosed amount of money.

Offa community in Kwara State witnessed a chilling episode on April 5, 2018, when 17 policemen and eight civilians stormed in a bloody bank robbery.

Last year, particularly from March till date, Osun State banks have witnessed robberies. On March 11, 2021, a robbery operation led by a woman on the Wema Bank branch at Okuku in the Odo Otin Local Government Area of Osun State left two persons dead.

Months later, specifically on Wednesday June 2, 2021 robbers attacked branches of Access Bank in Apomu and First Bank in Ikire, including Ayedaade Divisional Police Headquarters in Ikire, with casualties recorded in the operation.

Robbers also attacked two branches at Iree on August 5, 2021. Also on September 30 same year, gunmen invaded the Wema Bank branch at Iragbiji and blasted the security doors with explosives.

A ‘press statement’ on the incident by the state police spokesperson, Yemisi Opalola, stated that the robbers in a bid to gain entry into the bank blew off its security door with dynamite, destroyed the ATM, adding that an attempt to break into the bank’s strong room was foiled.

In 2020, three men; Nuhu Jimoh, David Ndubisi and Oluwaseun Aderibigbe, were sentenced to death by hanging by an Osun State High Court sitting in Ikirun. The men were found guilty of launching coordinated attacks on the First Bank, Union Bank and Skye Bank, situated on the same street in Ikirun in the Ifelodun LGA. Thirty-two lives, including two cops and two bank workers, died in the attack. The robbery halted banking activities in Ikirun.

A community leader in Apomu who spoke on condition of anonymity while commenting on the robbery attacks on the branches of commercial banks in Apomu, Ikire and Gbongan at different times in the last few years said the situation had adversely affected the towns.

At Ode Irele in the Irele LGA of Ondo State on November 26, 2020, some robbers attacked a branch of Union Bank Plc, throwing the community into pandemonium.

The robbers, who gained entry into the bank, after using explosives suspected to be dynamite to blast the bullet-proof door, shot indiscriminately to scare people away to ease their escape after the operation.

Also at Ile Oluji in the Ile Oluji/Oke Igbo LGA of Ondo State on February 6, 2020, robbers struck at the branches of First Bank and Polaris Bank killing about four persons.

The robbers were said to have accessed the bank after blowing up the bullet-proof doors with dynamite as they shot repeatedly into the air to scare people.

In Ekiti State, the attack on a UBA branch at Oye Ekiti on November 21, 2019, came immediately after gunmen attacked a nearby police station leaving a cop and a seven-year-old pupil dead.

On October 2, 2020, a branch of Wema Bank in Iyin Ekiti in the Irepodun Ifelodun LGA of Ekiti State was attacked by robbers who blasted the bank security doors with dynamite and terrorised the community with gunshots and carted away some amount of money.

Also in the evening of Thursday, July 1, 2021, gunmen attacked a branch of Unity Bank in Otun Ekiti, headquarters of Moba LGA of Ekiti State and killed a cop.

A resident, Oladipo Adebayo, said, “That was the second time the bank was attacked. We used to have two banks in the town – Heritage and Unity banks. Both of them were attacked by gunmen some years ago and Heritage Bank has not reopened since then. We hope Unity Bank will reopen. It has been hard saving or withdrawing money. We either go to Ado Ekiti or Kwara State.”

Experts’ views amid police defence

A psychologist, Ayo Omolade, blamed the incessant attacks on banks on security and leadership failure.

Omolade said, “The untold hardship, the economic downturn and the psychological effects which closure of the banks due to insecurity have caused the people living in the towns cannot be quantified. Where will a community with a functional bank dated many years but now without a single bank again begin from?”

On his part, a security consultant and retired Director of State Security Services, Mike Ejiofor, noted that if banks were closed in communities, the economic activities in such areas would come to a halt.

He stated, “The bank will be losing money. The community’s economic activities will grind to a halt. It goes beyond buying Tucano aircraft and other security gadgets; we should also help our security agencies.”

Ejiofor said that the attacks on banks exposed the state of insecurity in the country and the harsh economic situation, adding, “There is general insecurity in the country.”

The security consultant, who said police were understaffed, added, “What is the present strength of the Nigerian police? It is less than 300,000 fully deployed, because many of them have been deployed to VIPS. Because of that, the police do not have enough men. Police cannot, as it is now, effectively handle the security situation of the country.

“Because police do not have enough men, we should look at private security guards. The banks are helpless. There is nothing they can do without the police. If the government cannot liberalise the carrying of arms to Nigerians, it should liberalise carrying of arms to private registered security guards and regulate them. They will assist the police.”

Also speaking, the Special Adviser to Ekiti State Governor on Security Matters, Brig. Gen. Ebenezer Ogundana (retd), advised the banks, as private investments, to invest more in security to support government efforts.

Ogundana said, “Ordinarily, any investor should think of how to make gains and improve the lives of the host communities by creating jobs for people. We advise our investors, banks in particular, to invest in security. The government cannot start deploying police in all the banks.’’

In his view, another security expert and Chairman, King David Security, Dr Davidson Akhimien, linked the incidences of bank robberies to problems in the country.

Akhimien said, “The high cases can be as a result of the condition or situation in the country where we have unemployment in high ratio, a situation where we have a dwindling economy and the majority of the employable are unemployed. It is a social problem.’’

The expert also said the location of banks mattered, adding, “If banks are located in highly vulnerable areas without proper security, they become easy targets to armed robbers. The government has to create more jobs in society so that most of the youth involved in robberies can be gainfully employed. That will dissuade them from being attracted to crime. Banks can be located in the same area so that they can share security resources together. It will not be easy to attack a bank without it getting support.’’

We’re working to curb attacks on banks, say police

Commenting on the matter, Spokesperson for the Ondo State Police Command, Funmilayo Odunlami, said robbers looked the way of banks to get money, especially cash in view of nature of bank as “a financial institution where monetary transactions are made, both liquid and cash in huge sum, thus the reason it is one of the major targets of armed robbers.”

She stated that the command had a surveillance team around and within the banks to monitor activities in the banking area and constantly patrol the bank.

On the bank branches shut due to robberies, Odunlami said, “Perhaps, it has to do with their policies. It is the prerogative of the banks to re-open the attacked branches.’’

However, the police spokesperson in Ekiti State, Sunday Abutu, said banks had never been easy targets for robbers because the police gave special security attention to them and other sensitive sections of society.

Abutu said that with adequate support and cooperation among the bankers, police and members of the public, banks would be better policed and secured, adding that banks were at liberty to demand for more policemen if needed.

The police spokesperson added that the police were working with other sister agencies and the locals to ensure the safety of lives and property including banks across the state and constant patrol across the state especially volatile areas.

He said, “Additional operatives were deployed recently by the commissioner of police to work with the military, the NSCDC, Amotekun and other relevant agencies across the state.’’

We’ve introduced agency banking in affected communities—Banks

Commenting on the issue, Head, Media Relations, Access Bank Plc, Abdul Imoyo, said that the closure of the branches attacked by robbers was to protect the customers and to safeguard the bank.

He noted that the closure saved the banks operational costs, adding that agency banking was introduced to areas affected to ensure continuity of banking activities.

Imoyo said, “For us now, the alternatives that we’ve created are agents that can take deposits. A lot of Point-of-Sales agents are being utilised. They save us from expenses and they are a safer way to do business. Those involved in the agency banking earn commissions. In fact, we advertised that they can earn as much as N500,000 depending on the volume of business.”

In his comment, the President, Association of Corporate Affairs Managers of Banks, an umbrella body of all spokespersons of Nigeria Banks, Rasheed Bolarinwa, provided a perspective on the issue.

Bolarinwa said that the need to protect the lives of bank workers informed the closure of branches attached by robbers.

He added that the alternative banking systems were operational in those areas to ensure continuation of banking activities.

Bolariwa added that the closure had saved banks of operational costs, adding that insecurity was the main issue that led to the closure of banks.

He stated, “The banks have saved a lot by closing all the unproductive branches and so the staff members there do not lose their jobs, they are moved to other branches in other locations.

“All along, the Central Bank of Nigeria told banks that they cannot continue to run any branch that is not profitable. They will burn diesel, pay security and at the end of the day, the money they are making is not enough to even run a branch. So there were holes in the balance sheet of the banks. Even banks abroad closed branches and introduced digital banking platforms where people can carry out almost 100 per cent of their banking online. You have USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) for those in the villages who do not have data, with USSD, they can transfer, buy airtime and do everything.

“Also, no bank can close a branch without the approval of the CBN. Barclay’s banks, HSBC and even Standard Chartered have closed a number of branches in the United Kingdom. They are over 1700 branches. So, it is not just a local affair. Recently, Standard Chartered said it was closing almost half of its branches in Nigeria. It wants everybody to migrate to the digital space. With these, banks were innovating and they thought of how they could bring banking to the doorstep of the grass-roots. That is where the idea of agency banking came up.”

He added that agency banking was addressing the issues of availability of banking services in communities through the use of registered agents who would supply direct cash, accept deposits and open accounts, adding that it was also a way of providing employment opportunities.

Bolarinwa added that the challenges faced by the agents were not the faults of the banks but actions of individuals who cannot be controlled.

He further stated that those who patronise agency banking should be security conscious while carrying out transactions using ATM cards, adding that the association planned to embark on educating the grass-roots on the necessary tips.

He urged those who had transaction glitches to lodge their complaints to the banks instead of venting their grievances on social media platforms.

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