Barely a week into the lockdown order declared in Ogun, Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, on March 29 by the President, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), harsh realities of having to stay away from work had already begun to manifest in the household of Olusegun Ikumawoyi, a resident of Bisi Adedire Street, European Quarters, Akitan, in the Meiran area of Lagos State.
The father of two and his wife had devised means of managing their meager resources to get through the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.
They retired to bed with the only N10,000 on them that Sunday evening, hoping to face the lean period the next day.
In the dead of night, the situation took a turn for the worse. The family was jolted from deep sleep to the frightening sight of armed robbers who invaded their compound around 1 am.
By the time they were fully awake, the bandits had gained entry into their apartment, robbing them of their mobile phones and the available N10,000.
“There are three buildings, including the landlord’s flat, in our compound,” Ikumawoyi said as he began to share the horrific experience with Sunday PUNCH.
He said, “We started hearing some strange noises around 1 am. We later realized they were robbers. My wife was panicky and I told her there was nothing we could do except to remain calm and pray they don’t injure us.
“About 20 minutes later, they left one of the buildings and came to our flat. They were shouting ‘it is the government that caused it o; it is not our fault o.’ I begged them to take it easy. They collected my phone, that of my wife and brother who was on a visit. They also collected the N10, 000 we had.
“They spent about 10 minutes and left. After about 30 minutes, we started hearing noises from our landlord’s apartment. We later came out and discovered that he had been injured. We thank God they didn’t kill us. They spent up to one hour in our compound.”
The landlord, Mr. Bisi Adedire, bore the meanest brunt of the attack which nearly claimed his life.
Adedire, a town planner, told one of our correspondents that the hoodlums stormed his apartment in large numbers, shouting his name. He watched in dismay as the robbers hijacked the whole households.
He stated, “While they were coming in, they disarmed our security man and asked him to lead them to my apartment. Three of them entered through the fence and my dog started barking. Surprisingly, after a while, the dog stopped barking. I then heard one of the robbers say ‘you can now come in but don’t look at the dog.’ I was peeping through the window and I could see a lot of them coming in.
“They divided themselves into groups and started entering each flat. When I saw one of them holding a gun, I was panicky. They came with a pickaxe and a sled hammer while some of them held cutlasses.
“As I wanted to escape through the exit door, I saw two of them with a gun and a cutlass approaching. I had to stay indoors because my children and wife were inside. One used the pickaxe to break the burglary at the entrance door and others came in.
“One of them said, ‘Bisi omo (son of) Adedire’ and I suspected that he knows me. I asked them what they wanted me to do. They were more than 30. My living room was full of people as if we were holding a crusade.”
The septuagenarian explained that the robbers demanded money and he led them to a drawer, where two envelopes containing N320, 000 he wanted to use for some repairs in the compound were seized.
He added, “I collected the money that weekend. They also collected six phones belonging to me, my wife and our children. They asked me to lie down and one of them suddenly used the side of his cutlass to hit my back. I shouted, but the man said I had charms.
“One of them suggested that they should strangle me or pluck out my eyes. That was when they started attacking me with cutlasses and stabbed my eye with the pickaxe. Blood was gushing out. The elderly man among them came in and stopped them having seen the living room littered with blood.”
The assailants were not done with him yet. They picked the key of his Highlander 2010 model and took it away in a style he described as “presidential.”
“I struggled to find my way to a nearby hospital. On getting outside the compound, I saw them some meters away checking my vehicle engine after it stopped working. Four of them were approaching me but I quickly took cover.
“They fixed the vehicle and it started working again. While some were in, six persons were on each side walking along with the vehicle. Others were walking in the front. They were moving confidently as if it were a presidential parade,” he added.
Adedire, Lagos State Chairman, Nigeria Institute of Town Planners, lamented that the robbers operated without fear of being caught by the police while the robbery lasted for about one and a half hours, adding that 14 families residing on the premises were affected.
He said, “Some neighbors called the police but the robbers had gone before they arrived. The police came to meet me at the hospital where I was being treated. They were told that my vehicle was seen at Powerline (a neighboring community) where the robbers also visited but before the police got there, the robbers had driven the vehicle away.
“The police promised to be patrolling the street but we have not seen them after the incident happened. It is the residents who now watch over the community at night.”
Robbers use POS to verify ATM card pins
Another victim, who is Adedire’s tenant, Adeleke Adesola, told our correspondent that the attackers after collecting his phone forced him to surrender his three Automated Teller Machine cards and the pin numbers at gunpoint.
He said, “They pointed a gun to my head and asked me to give them the pins to my Diamond, UBA and GTB ATM cards. They came with a POS and slotted in the ATM cards to verify if the pins were correct.
“After they left, I was able to reach out to Diamond Bank and UBA to block my accounts. They asked me some questions about my accounts which I answered and they blocked the accounts. The robbers transferred N31, 000 from my account.”
Another tenant, Olumide Abimbola, stated that the gangsters robbed him and his wife of two phones and N30,000, adding that they transferred the N10,000 in his bank account.
“We thank God the attack didn’t claim our lives. My wife was participating in a contributory scheme and she just collected N20, 000 the previous evening. She wanted to use part of the money for a checkup the following day.
“Apart from the N10,000 cash they collected from me, the robbers also used my phone to transfer N10,000 ‘recharge card’ from one of my bank accounts to a phone number,” Abimbola disclosed.
Other victims recall experiences
Aside from Lagos, there have been overwhelming complaints from people residing in Owode, Ilepa, Ifo, Arigbajo, Itori, Dalemo, Abule, Ijoko-Ogba Ayo, Mosa, Joju, Sango, Ota, Oniyale, Lambe, Giwa Oke Aro, Matogun, Aro Lambo, among other communities in Ado-Odo Ota local government areas of Ogun State over how hoodlums have been robbing them of their valuables day and night.
A resident of Ijoko, who identified himself only as Folarin, said he was returning from a friend’s house at Ogba Ayo, a neighboring community a few kilometers away, when a large number of thugs confronted him and snatched his phone.
He recounted, “Last Saturday, I was tired sitting at home and went to visit a friend who lives nearby. While I was returning home around 4 pm, I saw a crowd of youths with all kinds of weapons moving towards my direction. I thought it was a street fight and ran.
“They chased and caught me. I begged them not to injure me and they asked me to bring my phone. They also collected the N1, 000 on me. I have never witnessed such a broad daylight robbery in my life. The hoodlums were moving from house to house on the street, robbing people.”
The incessant robberies have marred the lockdown order to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in the two states. Many residents now keep vigil and make bonfires at night to secure their houses, claiming that police were overwhelmed by the incidents.
191 suspects arrested, say police
In the wake of the robberies, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, deployed operatives from the Police Mobile Force Unit, Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Intelligence Response Team, and the Special Tactical Squad, to Lagos and Ogun States to beef up security.
The Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, in a statement said the intervention team is being coordinated by a Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of Research and Planning, Peter Ogunyanwo.
Mba said the IG had also directed commissioners of police across the country to review the security architecture in their various commands to effectively tackle emerging crimes associated with the COVID-19 lockdown.
“They are also to intensify patrols around residential areas, markets, shopping malls and all critical national infrastructures in their jurisdictions. The Assistant Inspectors General of Police in the 12 zonal commands have also been directed by the IGP to bring their supervisory role to bear by ensuring that the commands under their zones are safe and secure for the citizenry to live and thrive.
“A total of 191 suspects have been arrested in Lagos and Ogun states in connection with the incidents. The following exhibits: 15 locally-made guns, 52 live cartridges, 42 cutlasses and axes and a large number of weeds suspected to be marijuana have been recovered from the hoodlums by the police teams in the Agbado, Ifo, Otta and Agege areas,” the statement read in part.
The Ogun State Police Command said about 150 suspects had been arrested in connection with the unrest in Ifo.
One of the suspects, a 20-year-old Opeyemi Ajani, was accused of killing a cult member which sparked off chaos in the area.
Ajani who spoke with Sunday PUNCH said he was a mechanic and not a cult member, claiming that he killed his victim in self-defense.
He explained that some gang members robbed him of his phone and some money while he was going to his family house in Ifo.
He said, “The man I killed wanted to snatch my phone. I did not know him. He called me while I was walking on the street and I ignored him. Suddenly, I discovered that they were many. They advanced towards me and one of them brought out a knife and stabbed me in the eyes. He also broke a bottle and stabbed me.
“I took part in the broken bottle and stabbed him in the neck and he bled to death. Others ran away. People later grabbed me and took me to the police station.”
Another suspect, 27-year-old Saheed Taiwo, confessed being a cultist and not a robber. He said he joined Aiye cult in 2017 through a neighbor, who is now based in Abuja.
He said, “I am a cultist and operate within my area in Itokin. I did not kill anybody or rob. We engaged in a fight with Eiye confraternity. We don’t use guns. We fought with our rivals so that we could be allowed to give tickets to okada riders (commercial motorcyclists) on the roads.”
“I was arrested for cultism not robbery. I am the number one (cult leader) and I told them it is true,” another suspect, Taoreed Banmeke, told Sunday PUNCH.
Additional report by Daud Olatunji