Pandemonium erupted Wednesday on Creek Road, Apapa, Lagos, when dozens of truck drivers attempting to access the Apapa seaport went on the rampage over the death of one of their colleagues and set the Diamond and Sterling Bank branches on fire.
The aggrieved drivers had targeted the banks, following the death of their colleague who was allegedly shot by a riot policeman attached to the Diamond Bank branch on Creek Road.
According to an eyewitness report, the drivers had used their trucks to block the entrance of the bank, an action that drew the ire of the bank’s management.
The policemen who were attached to the bank at first approached them to move their trucks in order to give access to the bank’s customers entering and exiting the bank.
When attempts to get them to comply proved abortive, one of the policemen shot sporadically into the air to scare them off.
However, one of the expended bullets hit one of the drivers, who bled and died on the spot before help could come.
Angered by that move, other drivers regrouped and after setting Diamond Bank ablaze, also set the neighbouring Sterling Bank branch on fire.
Attempts by men of the Lagos State Fire Service, Iponri, who rushed to the scene to put out the raging fire were rebuffed by the drivers.
It was gathered that the firemen had to leave the area for fear of getting lynched by the drivers and their fire trucks vandalised.
Meanwhile, the policeman who fired the shots and six other hoodlums who tried to capitalise on the situation to rob the banks, have been arrested.
Although the corpse of the trailer driver was deposited at the morgue of the Apapa General Hospital, the sergeant in his preliminary statement had pleaded self defence.
According to him, he shot the driver in order to defend himself, adding that the deceased had first stabbed him on the leg with a dagger, which prompted him to shoot him in self-defence.
Following the incident, it took the efforts of some soldiers deployed from the Signal Corps of the Nigerian Army to douse the situation and restore sanity to the area.
Their efforts were complemented by men of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) of the Lagos State Police Command, led by their commander, Olatunji Disu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police.
While the soldiers doused the situation, the policemen moved in to prevent hoodlums who had tried to loot the banks and vandalise some cars parked within the premises of the banks.
Also at the scene afterwards to douse the fire were firemen from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and NPA riot policemen.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior police officer said: “Those trailer drivers are very irrational. When the policemen attached to the first bank (Diamond) shot at the tanker drivers, they regrouped and stormed the bank in anger.
“They were said to have first demanded that the policeman who shot their colleague be released to them. When their demands proved abortive, they took the law into their hands.
“They contributed fuel from their trucks and set the bank ablaze. The entire situation caused a stampede, as both workers and bankers scrambled to escape through the back of the bank to safety.
“The drivers were still on rampage in the first bank when they heard that the policeman had taken refuge in the next bank.
“Armed with that information, they simply went over to the said bank and carried out the same carnage, irrespective of the presence of innocent bystanders.”
He added that the incident would be treated as arson, given the evidence of several burnt computer sets, air conditioners and other properties of the banks destroyed by the fire.
When contacted, the Command Information Officer, Western Naval Command, Apapa, Lieutenant Commander Chinwe Umar, confirmed the incident.
She said: “When the information filtered in, we deployed some personnel from the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Beecroft, our operational unit, to the scene to help douse the situation.”
Also contacted, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Olarinde Famous-Cole, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, said: “The situation is under control and we have taken charge of the environment.
“We have obtained different accounts from eyewitnesses of what happened and it will help us ascertain the true picture and aid our investigation.
“Currently, at the scene of the accident are the Area B Commander and Apapa Divisional Police Officer, with complement of the RRS.”
Some of the drivers who spoke to THISDAY said the clash was a long time coming, given the enormity of harassment and degradation they have been forced to endure from the security agents at the ports.
However, while some maritime operators blamed the fuel tanker and trailer drivers for their reckless way of parking resulting in the fracas, the drivers begged to differ.
According to the drivers, the reason they park on the road should be blamed on the poor traffic management at different terminals that delay the release of their cargoes.
They also blamed the respective security agencies for their plight, adding that they usually face constant harrassment and in most cases, have to bribe their way through.
Giving instances, they alleged that the security agencies, especially the police deployed to man the ports, usually task them daily to bribe them with money to allow them park on the road.
THISDAY gathered that the security agencies have termed the lanes highways and low ways and have devised different prices for the lanes.
The drivers alleged that while they pay N1,000 for the highway, which is on the right and moves fast, those who can only cough up N500 are left on the low way.
They also alleged that their reluctance to move from the front of the bank was because they had all paid the security agencies their daily contributions and as such, they had no right to pursue them afterwards.
Also, commenting on the incident, the Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Folawiyo Oil and Gas branch, Mr. Samuel Owolani Gbenle, whose head office is also on Creek Road, spoke with THISDAY narrating how the crisis started, stating that a policeman attached to Diamond Bank on Creek Road wanted to collect money from a container driver but the driver tried to escape, leading the policeman to shoot him.
Gbenle said that because the bank officials refused to produce the policeman, the angry drivers set the bank ablaze.
He denied that oil tankers drivers were involved in a clash between policemen and some drivers in Apapa.
Gbenle who visited THISDAY’s office to debunk the rumour that oil tanker drivers were responsible for the reprisals on some banks, clarified that the clash was between police and container drivers and not fuel tanker drivers.
According to him, “What really happened this morning (yesterday) was that the police wanted to collect money from a container driver and the man tried to escape, but a policeman shot him and they then pursued him and he ran inside a bank. That was why they started burning the bank.
“But the news that we are hearing now is that fuel tanker drivers are the ones burning banks in Apapa, which we came here to come and correct.”
Asked if there was any possibility that his men were in solidarity with the container drivers, Gbenle said: “They were not even there at all. We are not involved at all.”
In a statement from one of the affected banks, Mr. Henry Bassey, Sterling Bank Chief Marketing Officer, Brand Management and Communications Group, the bank said they are working with the security agencies to resolve the issue.
The statement said: “An armed mobile policeman fleeing from an irate mob after shooting a tanker driver disrupted banking operations at the Sterling Bank branch on Creek Road this morning.
“He ran into the premises of the bank to escape being lynched. Security operatives attached to the bank disarmed and arrested the fleeing mobile policeman but did not hand him over to the irate mob.
“The mob got upset and attacked the bank with the intention of unleashing mayhem on staff and customers. The branch’s reception area was vandalised and set ablaze.
“The security operatives attached to the branch prevented the mob from entering the branch while evacuating staff and customers before the arrival of police reinforcement. The branch has been temporarily shut down.
“We wish to inform all our customers that normal services will continue at nearby branches and through all our electronic channels.”
In its statement, the management of Diamond Bank confirmed that there was a fire incident as a result of mob action at its Creek Road, Apapa branch in Lagos.
In the statement issued by the Head of Corporate Communications, Chioma Afe, the bank said its branch was set ablaze by an angry mob after a policeman allegedly shot dead a trailer driver outside the bank premises.
“We had a fire incident at our branch office on Creek Road, Apapa, which severely damaged branch infrastructure as a result of mob action.
“While the situation is under control, we are working with the Nigeria Police Force and other law enforcement agencies to investigate actions leading to the fire incident.
“While these investigations are ongoing, the branch will be closed to customers for their safety and to allow for completion of all repairs.
“We will continue to provide updates to our customers via our social media platforms and print media and we urge those customers in the Apapa area to use our broad range of alternate delivery channels like the Diamond Mobile app, Diamond Online, Diamond ATMs and Contact Centre to carry out their transactions.
“For those who need to visit a branch location, our closest branches to the Apapa area are situated in Ebute Metta, 1, Market Street, Oyingbo, opposite Bhojsons Ltd Yaba, Iddo Market Mini, Iddo Ultramodern Market, Surulere, 31, Bode Thomas Street and Amuwo Odofin, and Plot Nos. 21, 22 & 23 Opposite ABC Transport Terminal are available to process their requests,” said the bank.