Supposed brave men can find themselves in situations that will make a jelly-fish out of the bravest. CHIMA NWOKOJI brings victims’ stories of experiences in the hands of “one chance” drivers.
If you board a vehicle in Lagos and the seat belt is tellingly shorter than necessary and the central lock system sounds faintly as if only responding at the driver’s side, chances are that you have been kidnapped and the earlier you raise the alarm, the greater the chances of making it out to safety – maybe with minimal scars.
Olatunde Dodondawa, a journalist with the Nigerian Tribune got into one of such vehicles and after the driver, obviously a kidnapper, refused all his offer of cash and expensive handset, he realised that only God could get him out, but not until he had suffered a huge emotional and psychological damage.
Detained by seatbelt, central lock
Dodondawa narrated his ordeal at the hands of a supposedly airport taxi driver. His flight had touched down at about 10 p.m. at the Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 terminal. The following conversation ensued between him and the driver:
Dodondawa: Obanikoro. How much?
Dodondawa: I will give you N2,000.
Driver: Oya, enter. Sit for back.
Dodondawa: No, let me sit with you.
That was how he boarded a cab (Golf 3) to take him to Obanikoro and had expected the driver to follow the Maryland axis through Ikeja. The driver, a middle-aged man, took the Lagos-Abeokuta route and was heading to Oshodi Air Force base. Dodondawa asked the driver why he took that direction and not Ikeja as he had directed and he said he wanted to take Government Residential Area, Ikeja and link Army Cantonment before connecting Maryland.
“I believed him. I was trying to establish a conversation with him but he wasn’t friendly. He was using his right hand to drive and the other to press phone. I noticed that he became furious when the people he was calling were not answering,” Dodondawa said.
After the Air Force Base, he refused to make a left turn to Ikeja GRA and headed to Bolade. Before getting to Bolade, he began to drive very slowly. However, at Bolade Bus Stop (just before Oshodi Bus Stop), he attempted to make a right turn to a deserted street. Dodondawa then began struggling with him and he couldn’t make the turn. “I started screaming while he was just telling me to “cool down,” he said.
Dodondawa had never found himself at Oshodi axis around 11 p.m.-12 a.m. before. The whole place was deserted except for the presence of street urchins who were busy looking for who to prey on and didn’t have time to intervene in the struggle and scream from the car.
“I wanted to open the door and jump out of the car but, unfortunately, the seat belt and the car lock had been re-configured. It was impossible for me to unfasten the seat belt while the locks on the door had been adjusted to the extent that it could only be unlocked from the driver’s side, that is, through the central lock system,” he said.
When the driver got to Oshodi and sighted a police van under the Oshodi Bridge, he sped off and made a quick right turn towards Barracks-LASTMA Office.
At this point, Dodondawa went on, “I was begging, pleading with him to let me go. I was begging for my life because he refused to take my new Samsung Neo J7 phone that cost me almost N100,000 at that time. I told him I had some cash, about N100,000, in my bag but he refused. He consistently said to me, “This man, I say you should cool down.”
“Suddenly, the driver drove down the bridge and headed towards Anthony Oke. Then we came upon three police patrol vehicles, one after the other. When he approached the third one, he came to an abrupt stop just before Town Planning Avenue, towards Anthony Oke from Oshodi.
“My scream had caused several private security guards in the commercial buildings along the highway to come out. They watched as I screamed and banged on the car’s body with my hand and dislocated shoulder.
“When he stopped, he opened the car door on his side, left me in the car and approached the policemen standing next to the second patrol vehicle. As he approached them, the policemen retreated. I remained trapped in the car. I was shouting and screaming. One of the policemen eventually directed him to unfasten my seat belt and open the door before they would listen to him. He obeyed and opened the door and unfastened the seat belt.
“I was shivering, scared to the bone. I started running away from the spot as the policemen interrogated him. One of the policemen came after me, urging me to stop and asking the private security guards to help stop me. When he caught up to me, he asked me what happened and I told him. He said, ‘You are very fortunate. It is either your juju pass his own juju or God just saved you tonight because this is a case of attempted kidnap. It happens a lot on this route.”
The policeman found another car and directed the driver to take Dodondawa home. He was traumatised for two weeks and still scared of taking a cab.
This raises the question as to what the police authorities have done to curb incessant kidnapping on that route. And what happened to the criminal after Dodondawa left.
Many victims who were not as fortunate as the Tribuneman had gone on such a journey never to return, while others have too many valuables taken away from them, including their pride, for the female victims.
‘One Chance’ classification
In Lagos, the infamous one-chance (highway robbery) has classification. The popular type is the yellow bus or yellow taxi (government-approved commercial vehicles) packing passengers at different points, robbing them of their valuables at gunpoint and throwing them out of the vehicles, while still in motion, thereby causing them to sustain bodily injuries alongside the loss of their valuables.
As residents tried to match the wits of the perpetrators on the basis of security tips given the security agencies, the criminals try out new devices as discovered by Saturday Tribune when a trip was taken into the tales of those who have fallen victim to these highway criminals.
Going by the statistics gathered in the course of talking to victims, nearly two out of 10 Lagosians have been victims at one time or the other in the last few years. In a state of about 22 million residents, it means close to five million victims have been involved. Reported cases with the security agencies are, however, nowhere near this number, indicating that many victims, like Dodondawa, don’t really involve the security agencies in the state.
Incidentally, it was the police that rescued him. But before he bolted, the conversation he saw taking place between the driver and the officers didn’t look anything like an arrest or interrogation of a suspected kidnapper. He didn’t wait to find out the outcome of their tete-a-tete or the identity of the officers.
Paying your own ransom
Aside from kidnapping for ritual killings which appeared to be the one for Dodondawa apparently fell victim to before providence rescued him, Saturday Tribune discovered that the new style now is to get victims to pay their own ransom, instead of calling their relatives. Female victims, it was reported, also get raped, especially when they are discovered to be vulnerable. Female passengers picked drunk are said to be mostly in this category. Once trapped in the vehicles, particularly taxis and in their weak state, they are hardly unable to fight off these assailants.
Apart from a few cases, nearly all the victims spoken to ended up losing a lot for having their ATM cards with them during their subtle kidnap.
How victims are trapped
After listening to victims’ stories, Saturday Tribune investigated how the interior of vehicles being used is usually reconfigured for the kidnappers’ agenda. Ladipo Market was pointed out as the hub of the criminal activity. An artisan (identity concealed for the sake of his safety) disclosed that to achieve a noiseless trapping of passengers inside the kidnappers’ vehicles, the central lock of the affected vehicle is usually tampered with, by draining the hydraulic oil in the central lock engine. He added that “once the oil, which is small in quantity, is drained, the noise the lock usually makes when pressed will not be there again. Reduction in the quantity of the oil, too, will also not make it sound well. So, anybody who wants to use his vehicle for crime just needs to drain the oil.”
To get passengers trapped by the seat belt of a vehicle being used for such crime, it was learnt that there is a pin inside the seat belt engine, which is located close to the arm rest and once the small pin is removed, it becomes very difficult to remove the belt, especially in an emergency situation.
Our source added that “those who work the upholstery in the interior of vehicles can also re-work the seat belt in a way that apart from making it shorter, which makes it impossible for trapped passengers to get out of the vehicle easily, the clip at the mouth (tail end) of the belt can be enlarged in a way that once it enters the engine, which is also tampered with, it becomes very difficult to remove in an emergency situations.”
Dodondawa’s encounter confirmed some tampering might have happened to the interior of the vehicle which picked him from the Lagos airport after a late fly-in.
It has been discovered that one-chance transport operators always wait for the “emergency” hours like early in the morning, closing time or at night, targeting their preys as they stop at busy bus stops where unsuspecting members of the public are struggling to rush into vehicles after a hectic working day.
Saturday Tribune spoke to a number of victims of ‘one chance’ and the surprising aspect of their horrifying experience is that this crime is gradually turning to a new method called ‘gentle-kidnapping.’ The ages of the perpetrators, who are driven by the get-rich-quick syndrome, range from 25 to 40, going by the victims’ accounts.
Investigations further revealed constant change in their operations. They even use private cars, most of which are reconstructed to smoothen their operations, in getting their preys.
Whichever method employed, the victims lucky enough to come out of such scenarios alive often do so with tales of fear, regret, agony and pain.
At the point of entering the vehicles, the criminals approach victims with an appeal but as soon as the potential prey is lured into the vehicle, the criminals confront him with different intrigues, force and magic. While the usual one-chance merchants either stop for victims to alight, or push them down after taking their valuables, the new kidnappers in town now hold people hostage and get the victims to pay their own ransom.
Detained by cash limit
Mrs Ngozi Joseph (not real name) is a staff of Lagos Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi. She had made every preparation to travel to the Eastern part of the country the next day. She was to attend her son’s matriculation ceremony at the Imo State University, which was scheduled to hold on Friday, 16 March, 2018. But she needed to buy a few things for her son on 14 March. Little did she know that the yellow bus she boarded at Mushin belonged to one-chance criminals.
According to her, as soon as the bus approached Oshodi, one of the occupants touched her and from that moment, she began to do their bidding until she found herself in an unknown destination.
“They dispossessed me of my phone and all the cash on me, saw my ATM card and equally took me to the bank. I had over N300,000 in that account that belonged to our association. They made withdrawals and transfers from my account until the limit is exceeded,” Mrs Joseph narrated.
She told Saturday Tribune that she felt a little relieved that at least, she did not lose all. There was an argument among them as to whether to let her go or not. “Suddenly, one of them with a commanding tone said, “Madam!” and I answered. He said ATM withdrawal limit was pegged at N150,000 per day and that I still had over N150,000 in the account.
“We have to keep you here till tomorrow morning. Our job must be completed. That was the last command. They took me to a building and showed me where to sleep. In the morning, they took me back to the ATM and cleared the balance in my account,” the woman narrated.
According to Mrs Joseph, it was when they dropped her somewhere around Sango-Otta that she gradually realised what had really happened to her. Meanwhile, family, friends and colleagues had got tired of calling her switched-off line.
Robbed through SIM card
A lady who identified herself as Augustine Ebele took to her Facebook page to reveal how her phone was snatched from her. She had saved her Bank Verification Number (BVN) on the phone. The fraudsters cleared her life savings by accessing her BVN via her SIM card. According to Ebele, she is currently receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital.
Many bank customers seem not to have fully understood why Deposit Money Banks in the country have warned customers against storing personal banking information on their phones.
“We advise that you keep your mobile phones safe and avoid storing your security information (such as account number, BVN, passwords/PINs) on your phones. Please notify us if you misplace or change your phone numbers. Your network service provider should also be contacted to deactivate the lost SIM card,” a new generation bank had said in a recent email to its customers.
Saturday Tribune’s investigations revealed that the antics of the ‘one chance’ perpetrators are not new to the Murtala Muhammed Airport route where many workers and users have fallen prey to the criminals. Many unsuspecting airport users had fallen victim to the ‘one chance’ crime on their ways from the airport to their destinations.
Taking unusual routes
A victim who simply gave her name as Iyabo who worked at the airport narrated how she joined a bus from the airport with five other passengers going to Ilasa. According to her, she started getting suspicious when the bus did not stop at any other bus stops to pick more passengers.
Her suspicion was proven right when, rather than go through the normal route towards Ilasa, the driver veered towards Oshodi Bridge linking Bariga. By this time, two of the passengers in the bus who turned out to be members of the gang of criminals brought out their weapons asking every other person to cooperate or risk their lives.
Her handbag containing N35,000 and a Nokia phone was taken from her and then she was given N200 to transport herself home.
One of the two other passengers who tried to challenge them was slapped very hard three times before he was pushed out of the vehicle. The other person released his cash and laptop to them without hesitation. Iyabo and the other cooperative victim were dropped off at Oworonshoki before the bus disappeared.
Bayo, another victim of the ‘one chance’, came in contact with the criminals in Egbeda where he had gone to withdraw money through the Automated Teller Machine. On his way back home after the transaction, a private car with three passengers already seated stopped by pretending to be picking passengers going towards Oorelope where he lives.
As he made his way in, already seated passengers provided a space for him in the middle. It was a setup. The car zoomed towards Iyana Ipaja where the money on him was collected but not until after he had been beaten with his hands and legs tied and eyes covered with a cloth.
He was dumped at an unknown location where the vigilantes securing the place, later discovered to be Bammeke community, found him and invited the police. After he was untied by the police, he was asked how he got there and the phone contacts of his people, which he provided. Like Iyabo and Bayo, there are many cases of ‘one chance’ going on in Lagos with unsuspecting people falling victim.
One surprising aspect of this is that when drivers veer off the normal route, passengers always find it difficult to challenge them. Some passengers defend such drivers by telling other passengers that “it is a shortcut to avoid traffic” even when there is no visible traffic. Bayo advised people against entering vehicles not painted in commercial colour.
Robbers rob gang members
Another victim, Olatunbosun Ogundare, narrated his experience which, according to him, happened on a Sunday around 8.30 p.m. on his way home from office.
There were about seven persons, including two women, who boarded the 14- passenger bus that was painted in the Lagos yellow colour. They boarded it at Ilasha Bus Stop on the popular Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. Ogundare said he knew the route was prone to the activities of ‘Once Chance’ robbers as he had frequent heard of cases of people falling victim in both directions of the expressway. But that fateful day, nothing suggested that criminals were the ones inside the bus he boarded. They all appeared young with the oldest among them in his late 20s and they ensured each row had at least one of them.
“Innocently, we all rushed into the bus. I occupied the last seat with another person. The two guys there created the middle space for us to sit. I think a similar sitting arrangement applied to other rows. In Lagos, those who get into commercial buses first, irrespective of size, sit in vantage positions not minding the convenient for those that would enter later. So, they ensured none of us sat by the window. We were almost at Iyana-Isolo when the one who served as the conductor jammed the door and the one directly behind the driver stood up and slapped the man beside him. That signalled the commencement of their operation, each of them to each of us. They brought out guns and things that looked like iron rods.
“They said all passengers should surrender all items on them and not struggle with them, else they would shoot everyone. The announcement was still in progress when they started searching all occupants. I looked like somebody with some valuable items. I was with a folder bag full of used and new papers. I had N400 of N200 new notes in the folder. I can’t remember again whether I wore a wrist watch or not. But I had a Nokia phone which I cherished so much and some money in my pocket.
“I handed them to the one that was assigned to me. He searched my folder but didn’t see the N400 and gave it back to me. But one thing surprised me. One of them, maybe their leader, turned to me from the middle row and asked for my phone. But the one who I gave it to whispered to me to lie that I didn’t have a phone. I was surprised that they also did rob one another of their loot.
“As he asked me again with a menacing voice, I pointed to his gang member, saying that I had given it to him. He stretched forward his hand to collect all the items he had collected. All this happened while the vehicle was in motion. As we approached Aswani Bus Stop, the driver slowed down for us to quickly get off the bus. They sped off through the bridge linking Airport Road instead of going to Oshodi where they originally told us they were going. We were lucky that we were not pushed out of the bus like they usually do,” Ogundare said.
Raheem Akindeji believes the issue of ‘One Chance’ is as old as the city itself. Raheem, who worked in a bookstore on the Island, said he had left home earlier than usual on a fateful day since his friend who normally gave him a ride had told him he would be out of town for some days. By 5.15 a.m., he had reached Abule Egba Bus Stop, on Abule Egba–Iyana Ipaja axis of the city. The bus, not painted in the normal yellow colour of Lagos commercial vehicles, parked and was shouting Obalende, with about five passengers, almost the same number that robbed Ogundare. This time, they were three males and two females already inside it.
According to him, he entered the bus, his confidence boosted by the presence of females in the vehicle.
“Two other people boarded the bus at the same bus stop. I began to get curious when the man who pretended to be the conductor stopped calling other passengers. Instead, he shut the door and the driver sped off.
“Instead of going straight, the bus driver decided to veer off the road and take the adjoining road, which was quieter than the main road. It was after veering off the road that they declared their mission. Surprisingly, I realised a little too late that the purported female passengers were actually part of the gang and only three of the eight people in the bus were actually victims.
“I was robbed of my laptop, handset and a sum of N5,000 I was taking to the office that day. The other guys also lost valuables. The worst hit was one of us, a trader who on his way to Eko Idumota to buy some items to stock his shop,” Raheem recollected.
According to him, though reports were made at the nearest police station, the Ile Epo Police Station, till date, nothing has been heard of the gang.
Apart from losing his valuables to the men of the underworld, Eric, who worked in Apapa, got the beating of his life for daring to question the “authority” of the criminals when he was asked to surrender his possessions.
“Apart from losing some money and my handset, I was physically assaulted and made to jump out of the moving bus. Curiously, I was the only person that was robbed out of the five passengers on the bus, an indication that all the others were also in on the operation,” Eric stated.
He stressed the need for passengers to be extra-cautious in their choice of commercial vehicles.
“It was after this experience that I knew the real reasons why the vehicle was at the bus stop for a very long time at Mile 2, without anybody bothering to board it. It was simply because the passengers were suspicious of the vehicle. I was later told that some of those buses being used to perpetrate such evil on Lagos roads are well-known by some passengers,” he added.
New antics news to us –Police
The image maker of Lagos State police command, Chike Oti, while reacting to the new antics of commercial vehicle drivers in robbing unsuspecting passengers, said the police in the state had no records of such incidents. Nevertheless, he expressed the commitment of the commissioner of police to ridding the state of criminals.
Oti denied that robbery activities by taxi operators had increased in many parts of the state in recent times. He claimed that statistics available to the police showed that the rate of ‘One-Chance’ robbery through whatever means had been on the decline.
The police spokesperson said, “We don’t have incidents like that in our record. The only one we had recently was that of a Uber driver and he was arrested by the police. Where were the incidents reported?” he queried.
“What I can tell you is that the commissioner of police in Lagos State has been working round the clock to ensure that criminals have no breathing space in the state. The incident may be a one-off case. We have arrested many in-traffic armed robbers,” he added.
Asked if the police had been ensuring a security and profile check on commercial vehicle operators, he said that would be an impossible task.
“We do only when they are available. We do that when owners of vehicles bring their drivers to us to check their crime and security history. We cannot go to all the motor parks in Nigeria and begin to check drivers.
“That is why we advise members of the public to always go to designated and well organised car parks to board vehicles. The transport union members know most of these drivers and they can easily track them in case of any incident,” Oti said.