Just as Lagos residents are gradually losing memory of a cross-border robbery kingpin, Hamani Tijani, who allegedly coordinated a syndicate based in Cotonou, Benin Republic, to unleash terror on motorists in the state, another set of dare-devil car snatchers from the neighbouring country have returned with fierce audacity, sending fears down the spines of posh car owners.
Investigations by Saturday Sun revealed that the trans-border robbery gang, which was smashed with the arrest, in September 2003, of Tijani, who is still being held in prison and facing trial before Justice Sybil Nwaka of a Lagos High Court on a three-count charge of “conspiracy to commit armed robbery, armed robbery and receiving stolen goods, respectively,” appears to have sneaked in again with a gradual rise in the number of vehicles snatched at gun point on Lagos roads. The snatched vehicles find their way to border towns in Ogun State preparatory to crossing to Benin Republic, where they are repackaged and sold as imported from Europe and America.
Though the Lagos State Police Command gave assurance that detectives are on the trail of members of the syndicate, one of the gang’s latest victims, Chief Akeem Adigun, who is the MD/CEO of Socopao Nig Ltd, has a bitter tale to tell of his encounter with the robbers in Fagba area of Agege, Lagos, last Tuesday. It was also gathered that the development has driven a lot of vehicle owners to install security-tracking devices in their vehicles.
Akeem, who had tracking device installed in his fleet of posh cars had a raw deal with the trans-border car snatchers when his top of the line Range Rover Sports Utility Vehicle with customized number plate “Meta,” was blocked by four armed men in a Mazda 323 salon car at about 7pm along Olayiwola street in Fagba area of Agege on Tuesday.
“The Fagba road is not my usual route home but on the fateful day, I had to take that road to avoid the heavy traffic on the Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, so that I can come out at Abule-Egba end of the road to join my street. But somewhere along Olayiwola street in Fagba area, the four men in a car overtook my jeep with their Mazda 323 maroon colour car and blocked me in front. I was not really sure of what they were up to because it was broad daylight until they came out with guns and ordered me out of my vehicle. I hesitated for a while before I eventually came out and the next thing I noticed was one of them raining blows on my face,” he stated. The Range Rover was a beige colour SUV at the time of the incident.
Not ready to go down without a fight, Akeem exchanged blows with one of the robbers that engaged him, while the other three stood on guard.
“In no time, I was able to overpower the one in front of me and I wrestled him to the ground. At that point, the others rained bullets on me while all passers-by and other motorists fled and abandoned their vehicles. At the end, the four of them were able to bundle me into the back of my jeep and drove off. They eventually parked somewhere in Osi quarters, located around the palace of Olota of Ota’s palace in Ota, Ogun State to drug me so that I will lose memory of my location,” he added.
Before dumping him by the road side in the middle of the night, he said they drove him round for over four hours and attempted to drug him so as to hypnotize him. According to him, “immediately they forced me to lie down on the back seat on my jeep with one sitting with me with a gun to my head and another driving my jeep while the other two drove their own maroon colour car behind us. They made a turn at the Sango toll gate, entered through Mosalasi around AIT road into Ota. At a point in Ota, they ordered me out and gave me a drug to hypnotize me, I took it but never swallowed it. From there, they put me in the booth of their own car while they went with my jeep in a direction and myself in the car booth in another.
“All through the tortuous journey, they were in touch on phone with somebody they call ‘Baba’ who I believe is their boss. The earpiece of their handset was bad, so they had to put it on speaker, so I was hearing their conversation even while I was put in the booth of their car. One thing I heard clearly was the name of one of the robbers who one of the boys with ‘Baba’ was always referring to as ‘Ade’ and at other times ‘Adex’ on the phone. After escaping with my own jeep to wherever ‘Baba’ was speaking from, the team driving me in the mazda car eventually dropped me in front of Omo filling station, behind Iganmode Grammar School in Ota at about 11.40pm after stripping me naked.”
Though Akeem, who is receiving medical attention in hospital and due to be flown abroad for further treatment, survived the hot pellets pumped into his body through some supernatural interventions, all efforts so far to recover his vehicle have proved abortive.
“Because the vehicle has a tracker installed in it, we were able to trace its last location to the border between Ogun State and Benin Republic. But since then, we have not been able to see them on the radar because they have obviously removed the battery of the car,” Akeem stated.
Hakeem Kilanko, the Chief Executive of Brashma Nig Ltd, an automobile firm told Saturday Sun that in the last four weeks, no fewer than six of his clients and relations have fallen victims to the rampaging gang. According to him, “the increase in the number of cross-border robberies has made some of our clients come requesting for installation of tracking security devices while a number of others have changed their auto orders from ordinary spec to bullet proof.”
The trend was also corroborated by the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Umar Manko, who, however, declared that his officers have been doing a lot to bring the incidents under control. The state police spokesman, Ngozi Braide, added that the recent ban on motorcycles in certain parts of the state has helped to stem the trend.
According to Braide, “most of the complaints we have are those of cars removed from the park. We have continued to enlighten Nigerians on the need to install security devices in their cars. They should also bring back the era of pedal padlock, which cannot be easily removed. There is also the tracking device that can help the police to track the vehicle if stolen. Once your car is snatched, the victim should report to the nearest police station that would in turn send signal across the state.
“Our major challenge is that of the receivers who are much richer than the actual robbers. Any time they are apprehended, they would be begging you to arraign them in court. And as a bailable offence, they would have their lawyers on standby to take them on bail. If there is a stiffer punishment for such offender, I believe that such crime will be reduced.
“The fact remains that these receivers turn out to be the ones benefiting from this crime. For instance, we discovered that most of these cars are sold for as cheap as N200,000 to the receivers who will sell as high as N1.5million. They make so much gain from this illicit business and can get lawyers who would secure their release from the prison. As soon as this is done, they would return to the same crime.”
When confronted with the fact that the stolen vehicles easily find their way out of the country and return as secondhand cars, the police spokeswoman agreed, but said: “Our borders are porous and there are so many exits out of this country. Our border patrol men are working round the clock to ensure that they arrest the ones they can spot.”
She, however, warned the receivers to desist from such as the police are on their trail through informants who are willing more than ever to give information.
“It is much easier to track down stolen cars as long as the owner of the car did install tracking devices. Even if the snatchers manage to move beyond the radar of the tracking company, they can liaise with their sister company and still track the vehicle”, she added.
While giving figures about some of the recent arrests made by the police, as part of efforts to reduce the incidents to the barest minimum, she said: “Recently, we got information and arrested one in Oshodi and recovered the latest model of Toyota Corolla car that was recently stolen at Mende, Maryland, Lagos We now used him as bait to arrest the remaining three gang members at Sango, Ogun State and recovered three more stolen cars, a Toyota Camry and Honda CRV jeep, all snatched in Lagos and hidden in their hideout in Sango area of Ogun State. We also arrested two robbers from another group based in Sango and recovered stolen Subaru space bus from them.”
In the same vein, operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in the Lagos command, it was gathered, smashed another gang of robbers who specialised in snatching exotic cars at gunpoint within and around Ikorodu area. Among the suspected robbers is their leader, Saheed, who turned out to be the owner of a popular hotel in Ikorodu. Others arrested included two brothers – Taiwo Adeshina and Jelili Ojedokun. While Adeshina is based in Abuja and allegedly acts as a receiver of stolen cars, his stepbrother, Ojedokun, lives in Lagos.
Speaking on the arrest, Lagos police boss, Mr. Umar Manko, explained that Adeshina was arrested by a team of policemen attached to SARS in Abuja after he was lured out of his home by a policeman posing as a prospective buyer. His brother, Ojedokun, is also said to be in SARS custody.
According to him: “Three months ago, Saheed and his men allegedly robbed a lady of her Honda car, a BlackBerry and other items in Ikorodu. Shortly after handing over the car to Adeshina, he sold the cellphone to his friend living in Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State.
“After the victim was robbed, she made a report at the SARS office in Ikeja. Unknown to us, the stolen vehicle was later intercepted by men of the Oyo State Police Command. However, Ojedokun disguised as the owner of the car and went to Ibadan. The vehicle was eventually released to him on compassionate grounds because he is physically challenged.
“Later, a sister to the victim was able to establish contact with Saheed’s friend, who was in possession of the smart phone via BlackBerry chat. After they had forged a friendship, the victim’s sister invited his friend to Lagos for a visit and the young man obliged. He was apprehended by the police at their rendezvous and he was the one who led the SARS team to Saheed’s home at Liadi, Ikorodu.
“Two locally made pistols were recovered from Saheed’s home at Ikorodu. His wife, who cooperated with the police, said she was unaware of his criminal activities, but had noticed that he often came home with some young men who would later retire for the night to a hotel owned by him.
“The group’s method of operation is to rob Ikorodu residents, who leave their homes early to beat the morning traffic on their way to work. They would hit their target’s car with either their motorcycle or vehicle. By the time the enraged target stops to ascertain the damage done to his vehicle, they would rob the person.
“Although Adeshina belongs to Saheed’s gang, he is also the leader of another gang based at Ijebu-Iperu, Ogun State. It was Adeshina, who would come down to Lagos and drive the stolen vehicles to Abuja, where he would find buyers for them. While in police custody, some of Adeshina’s gang members made contact with him and actually arranged a meeting. Although a SARS team went there, Adeshina’s cronies did not turn up, as planned. Investigation is on to apprehend all other gang members.”
The police are yet to confirm whether there is any link between the new cross-border robbery gang and Tijani, who has been standing trial for over nine years now.
Tijani was arrested in September 2003 in Cotonou, Benin Republic, and handed over to the Nigeria Police at Seme border for prosecution. The accused has, of late, made spirited efforts to get off the hook. His lawyer, JH Bashir, last year filed a “no case submission” and asked the court to discharge and acquit him for lack of diligent prosecution, but his request was refused by Justice Nwaka in a ruling delivered on October 23, 2012.
When the matter came up on January 14, 2013, the prosecution was not in court as a result of which it was adjourned till March 12, 2013. However, the trial was stalled again on March 12 as the court did not sit and the case was further adjourned till May 9.
Tijani was paraded with 30 other suspected cross-border robbery suspects before journalists in Abuja in 2003 by the then IGP, Tafa Balogun. In 2004, the Lagos State government charged him to court for receiving stolen property contrary to Section 427 of the Criminal Code Cap C.17 Vol.2 Laws of Lagos State 2003.
He was alleged to have, on or about August 2003 at Porto-Novo, in Benin Republic, received a Peugeot 607 salon car marked: AY 651 APP knowing same to be stolen.