RESIDENTS of Abuja and Lagos have been entangled in the cobwebs of the men of the underworld popularly known as ‘one-chance’, a calibre of robbers who disguise themselves as commercial motorists and passengers.
In this report, Adedokun Theophilus chronicles his one-on-one encounter and the experiences of commuters in Abuja and Lagos who had fallen prey to the bloodcurdling activities of “One-chance robbers”.
As daylight waned and the cloudy sky alarmed the dusk on Sunday, March 19, I hurried to board a car in Lugbe-Berger after a gruelling day at work.
En route to Gwagwalada, some minutes past eight in the evening, I walked closer to an awaiting navy blue Toyota Camry parked by the tarred highway.
The car windows were already wound down; I looked closer at the rear seat and noticed two passengers waiting to be conveyed to their destinations.
After pondering the inconvenience I might experience in transit with four passengers sitting in the rear seat, I opted to sit beside the driver’s seat.
A few seconds after I boarded the car, a dark-skinned man in a brown shirt and trousers approached and sat beside me. In objection, I lamented the inconvenience that accompanied two people sitting in the front seat meant for one person, but the driver was determined to carry two passengers.
Afterwards, two more passengers joined to fill the rear seat, and the driver immediately wound up the tinted windows and drove off.
As the driver sped off on the four-lane asphalt road with street lights, the car radio blared out a collection of Nigerian hip-hop playlists. Although I was absent-minded till the car passed the array of lampposts which illuminated the road for motorists, pedestrians and the flyover leading to the famous Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport.
Unfortunately, the silence was cut short when a quarrel broke out from the rear seat between a man; I will later find out his name to be Hammed Yunusa and the three other passengers as he scuffled to resist their assault.
“Where is your ATM card, your phone and money? What is your password? One of the passengers, who I later found out to be a robber, demanded in unpolished English with the interference of a Hausa accent as the two others displayed various small arms like hammers, chisels, daggers and wire cables.
Confused and afraid, I willingly gave in as one of our raiders threatened to kill us, but Yunusa- an average-height young man with an athletic body grudgingly refused and kept wrangling with them.
Sadly, one of the assailants signalled his colleague, and Yunusa was stabbed on his left lap with a knife. While I was slapped and whipped with cable as we painfully shrieked and pleaded for our lives.
“Dan Allah, “Please,” we begged our captors several times.
Yet, we were compelled to release valuables; three phones (two Techno and one Samsung), a wristwatch, four automated teller machine cards and a sum of fifteen thousand denominations of the new naira currencies.
With Yunusa injured, bleeding and writhing in agony, the robbers dropped us off along a deserted bush leading to the University of Abuja campus.
Like Yunusa and I, many residents of Abuja and Lagos state have experienced a different variation of one-chance robbery, where many commuters have been robbed of their belongings and, sometimes, their lives when they get thrown out of the moving vehicle or sustain fatal injuries.
One-chance robbery a threat to commuters
The activities of these robbers have become a threat to users of public vehicles.
The ICIR’s in 2019 reported how the one-chance robbery is becoming a booming venture and a growing threat to the safety of lives and properties on the streets of Abuja.
From the victims’ accounts and hospital sources, the people robbed lose their phones, money and, sometimes, lives. The report stated that the lack of streetlights in Abuja contributed to the city’s rise in criminal activities. Many parts, including major road networks, are dark at night.
The absence of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras also contributed to the difficulty in tracking and arresting offenders.
This followed The ICIR report, which exposed that security cameras planted on major roads in Abuja did not work for long after their installation, even though as much as N76 billion was spent on the project. Many of them have also been vandalised and stolen by hoodlums.
Consequently, The ICIR spotlighted the danger zones for drivers and residents in Abuja after speaking to motorists and leaders of the road workers because they also fall prey to attacks by people posing to be passengers. The report unravelled the hotbed where one-chance robbers and car hijackers mostly operate.
Several news reports also showed that Lagos residents are raising the alarm over the increasing operations of one-chance car robbers in the metropolis.
In 2022, a woman, Olamide Azeez, was affected when suspected one-chance robbers stole her life savings in the Ikosi area of Lagos state.
The victim boarded the cab from Toll Gate, Ikosi, while heading for work at Victoria Island around 6:00 a.m. on Friday, September 29, 2022.
Narrating her ordeal, Azeez said, “The robbers made away with my life savings-all N910,000; my iPhone XR, N4,300 cash, earrings, wristwatch, and Oraimo EarPods.”
While Azeez was lucky to be alive, another unidentified victim, who boarded a cab to the Island from Oshodi on her way to work, was not lucky, as reported in The Guardian.
Her mutilated body was later discovered a day after her death at Oyingbo.
Maimed, mutilated and marred by one chance
Similar to my experience, Kehinde Sulaimon, an Abuja-based plumber, escaped death by a hair’s breadth from these robbers in June 2021. Now supported by a pair of crutches everywhere he goes, Sulaimon is still haunted by his harrowing encounter with the men of the underworld.
According to Sulaimon, he was not born disabled, but his unfortunate encounter with one-chance robbers maimed, mutilated and marred him physically.
As rain drizzled by 8:00 p.m., exhausted Sulaimon desired to join his family and hurried to board a vehicle in Zuba, a popular park in FCT to beat the rain before it let. En route to Anagada, Sulaimon was unaware he had boarded the wrong vehicle.
“I joined the car in Zuba Park, and I didn’t bother checking because it was in an accredited garage, but we were almost at Tuganmaji when one of the passengers dipped his hand into my pocket and in anger, I punched him”, he recounted.
“Before I knew what was happening, the lady who sat beside me landed consecutive slaps, and three people pounced on me as the fourth culprit drove the car,” he stated.
“When they saw that I could overpower them, they used a hammer to break my leg and cut off some flesh from my left hand,” Sulaimon continued his narration of the encounter as he showed the scars of the wound sustained.
“I could not bear the excruciating pain, so I collapsed,” Sulaimon stated while wiping the beads of sweat that had formed on his brow.
Immediately he lost consciousness; the perpetrators dumped him in a bush before the intervention of a good Samaritan who took him to the hospital.
“I was unconscious and left to die. I was only told when I woke up that a stranger brought me to the hospital, and I spent six months at the hospital spending close to a million naira,” Sulaimon stressed. “I still feel the pain sometimes, but the wound has healed up already,” he said as he touched the scars.”
Disguised ‘DSS’ clears victim account in daylight
Meanwhile, a university graduate and father of two, Ayodele Jimoh, said he was robbed by people who said they were from the Department of State Security (DSS) officers in November 2022.
Jimoh said that the culprits, two hefty men, accosted him after he withdrew seventy thousand Naira at an ATM booth around the NAF centre, – the Bannex-Gwarimpa road. He said they showed him DSS identification cards and also handcuffs.
Shocked, Jimoh complied and was instantaneously driven down to Mabushi, where the duo obtained his ATM card, phones and the withdrawn naira notes.
“I complied because I thought they were DSS officers. It all happened in a flash. They drove me to Mabushi and took away everything I had on me,” he noted
He stated that he immediately went to the bank to block the card, but they had already withdrawn all the money from his account.
“When I realised they were a one-chance robber, I rushed to the bank to deactivate all pending transactions on the ATM, but I found out that what is left in my account is N1,250. It was done through POS machines, and we could not trace it”, he stated.
Jimoh said the money they stole was meant for a construction project.
“When I went to Mabushi police station, I was informed by the policemen on duty that to obtain a report for the incident that happened to me, I must pay N20,000 after everything that I lost,” he said. “while narrating my experience so that they could pity me, two of the officers whispered secretly at the description of the culprits.”
Jimoh, however, mentioned that he was not allowed to give a written statement despite the incident that happened to him.
In addition, Jimoh bemoaned the incompetence of the FCT police. He expressed his suspicion of foul play and connivance of officers and the criminal syndicate.
Muggers abduct; adopt balms as a tool for operation
Adebanji Bunmi, a Lagos-based properties manager, described her sordid experience to The ICIR. She said it happened around 6:00 am on a Thursday in July 2022.
She had woken up to beat the traffic and arrived at her workplace early. Unknowingly she boarded a commercial Sienna bus in the company of other passengers who were co-assailants along the Oshodi expressway to Lekki.
Not long after she noticed the suspicious gesture of the one-chance robbers, a handful of syrup of Aboniki balm mixed with grind pepper was applied on her face to prevent her from seeing.
“Immediately we took off, the two men on both my sides grabbed my neck and covered my face with punches. One of them held me at my throat, and I was unable to breathe.”
Subsequently, Bunmi said she was beaten and battered to a stupor as she showed the picture of her disfigured face to The ICIR.
“They collected all valuables from me; my phone and ATM card were collected; when I hesitated in giving out my pin, I was beaten with a hammer till I was bleeding on my right knee,” she groaned as she recalled the tragic incident.
According to her, she was tortured and coerced to disclose her ATM pin, which she could not resist because of her pain.
“I had to release my password, and they put aboniki balm mixed with pepper inside my eyes, but they kept me with them while someone went to withdraw my money. That was the last thing I saw till I was dropped by the roadside at Alausa,” she said.
She said the muggers had successfully harvested a sum of N1.2 million before she could restrict her account.
She noted that the withdrawal from her ATM card was made from different Point of Sales (POS) machines.
Muggers adopt lies and extorting family members as a tool
Likewise, another administrative staff of The ICIR, Kimbi John, was abducted by armed one-chance robbers from the Lugbe to Area 1 in Garki park.
John stressed that although he entered the car at the park and was not expecting anything fishy until the muggers abducted him in Area 1.
Conveyed to Asokoro extension, Kimbi stated that what followed was a series of assaults, lies and threats to him and his family members after they had collected his belongings.
“They were five in number; they drove me to Asokoro,” he said. “They called my people, saying I was caught with Marijuana and they should send money if they want to bail me.”
Tied and bundled, the abductors devised another method of obtaining money from John’s kin. They repeatedly called some of John’s friends and said that he had been involved in an accident and that some amount was needed to foot his medical bill urgently.
“They have a POS, it was the POS that they used to transfer my money; they withdrew N35,000 and collected N6,400, my wristwatch, my flash drive and phones,” he explained.
Disappointedly, he received a negative response when he lodged his complaint at the Garki police station. He said that the policemen neither sympathised nor empathised with him.
“In Garki police station, they said there is nothing they can do to help, and I should go back to Lugbe to lodge my complaints.”
He said the police mockingly asked him to guide them on how they were supposed to trace a POS transaction.
Weak regulations aid muggers use of POS, boom one-chance activities
The ATM and POS channels are adopted by the one-chance robbers to withdraw victims’ money. A bank statement shared by Adebanji shows that N1.2M was withdrawn using these channels.
The document shows a systemic transaction from Access Bank’s Automated Teller Machines and different point-of-sale systems.
It revealed that consecutive withdrawals of N700,000 from Fashveego venture; N200,000 from Favour-Endurance; N202,500 from Sodiq Enterprise while the other transactions were done through ATM.
Azeez said “The 910,000 was withdrawn from a different POS, N305,400 from one POS belonging to T_Tommy_Global Link.”
She further highlighted that Fashveego Venture was part of the point of sales used by the muggers to withdraw her money.
Other points of sales used include Frankem Venture and Tommy Global Link.
While using an open-source tool, The ICIR established that the point of sales used for withdrawal did not exist as a registered business name on the public website of the Corporate Affairs Commission.
This, however, contravenes the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) guidelines for regulating Agent Banking and Agent Banking Relationships, which state that an entity seeking to be appointed as an agent by an institution must provide a certificate of incorporation or business registration.
It further elaborated that it is mandatory for the entity that intends to work with the point of sales to provide a tax clearance certificate, a physical location address, a postal address and an active telephone number.
It also pointed out that agency businesses with a proven criminal record involving fraud, dishonesty, integrity or any other financial impropriety would be prohibited from acting as a banking agent.
Speaking to The ICIR, an Abuja-based company lawyer, Komolafe Aderibigbe said there are instances where the CAC registration may not be needed as what banking institution requires from POS businesses is a bank verification number (BVN) and name.
He said that transactions made by POS muggers should be traceable, but most muggers connived with bank officials to frustrate the victims’ efforts.
“Even without supplying and submitting the necessary information, POS are still given to people.”
“Activities on most POS could not be traced easily; there are a lot of vacuum and gaps that need to be filled to regulate how people are given POS,” he said to The ICIR.
The registration process of these financial institutions to become an agent could be completed without verification to prove if the contact address filled in by prospective agents is correct.
The ICIR noticed similarities in the pattern of the registration process to become an agent of these financial institutions.
According to the service providers, registration of names and entry password code is necessary.
Followed by contact and business name which is registered, this however contravenes the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), 2020 that stressed that businesses should be registered as a sole proprietorship or a partnership.
The ICIR noticed that some essential parts of the registration process, like National Identification Number (NIN) and Bank Verification Number (BVN) can be waived at demand while prospective agents continue to use the financial institutions for a long time until an upgrade is done.
However, during the process of usage, transactions could be done under a specific limit hitch free by the prospective POS agents.
FCT Police evades question, Lagos Police handicaps to prosecute POS operators
Some of the victims interviewed by The ICIR complained that the police were not following up on information provided to them. They accused the Police of being accomplices, while others feared that filing their complaints to the police would only cause them to lose more money without obtaining justice.
To establish the facts and allow The FCT Police Command to clarify the allegation against its image, the reporter scheduled an interview with Abuja Police Public Relation officer (PPRO), Josephine Adeh, on Friday, April 14.
After narrating the findings and plights of some victims, the PPRO was asked what the Force is doing to ensure the safety of lives and properties is guaranteed in FCT and also asked about the claims on illegal monetisation of police reports and the lackadaisical approach of some bad eggs of the force in Mabushi and Zuba Police station in addressing one chance victims investigation.
In reaction to the questions, Adeh instructed a junior police officer to search and take the reporter out of the office premise. The junior officer led this reporter out of the PPRO office, deleted the recording and threatened to lock him up.
Similarly, The ICIR contacted the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Benjamin Hundeyin, to explain how the command is tackling the menace and the monetisation of the phone tracking and police reports.
Hundeyin told this reporter that although the police are doing their best by providing patrol vehicles and a hotline which victims can call, the police is handicapped to freeze any suspected account.
“There was a time Police officers were allowed by the law of Lagos state to get a court order and freeze suspected accounts. But now the existing law in Lagos state doesn’t permit the police to do that, so what the complainant or victims can do is to engage the service of a lawyer to get a court order to freeze any suspected Point- of – sale (POS) account the withdrawals are linked to.”
According to Hundeyin, “The moment the Police get the court order and service the bank, the account will be frozen, and that will enable police to get the KYC and other things needed to aid our investigation.”
He further stressed the need for the victims to report to the nearest police station.
“Victims are not supposed to pay any money to the Police for either phone tracking or police report, but if anybody has paid he/she should report to the Divisional Police officer of the station,” he told The ICIR.
Hundeyin noted that until the victims obtained a court order, the police cannot swing into further investigative action to retrieve lost resources or prosecute suspected assailants.
Park Management says it is waging war against crime- NURTW
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Oluwaseyi Bankole dissociated the union from an attempted incident by a mugger to kidnap and rob passengers.
Bankole said the bus driver is not known to the union and did not take off from a park operated by the union. It was learnt that the incident, which involved a driver and six passengers, occurred along the Lagos Ibadan expressway.
The driver picked up the passengers from the Ojota Garage in Lagos and was heading to Warri, Delta State. But the passengers found themselves in Ibadan.
Corroborating the Lagos State Chapter’s statement, the Chairman of Kosofe Branch ‘A’, Ojota Biode Motor Park, Michael Odugunle said the bus took off at a private park.
“We will have to meet with the operators of the private parks and iron it out. The incident came to us as a surprise; such has never happened before in any of the union-owned parks, Odogunle said. He noted that it is safer to board the garage because both drivers’ and passengers’ data are collected before departure.
Also reacting to the incessant increase in the incidence of one-chance robbers to The ICIR, The NURTW Chairman Lugbe Garage, in Abuja Dalhatu Mohammed, said members found guilty are punished.
He stressed that passengers are always recalcitrant to board accredited vehicles parked inside the garage.
He also noted that the increased number of car owners using their vehicles for commercial purposes has worsened the problem. “The problem is that everybody has turned to Kabu Kabu. There is no ministry where you won’t find someone using his car as a commercial vehicle: Police, DSS, immigration and even Ministers’ cars are used to carry passengers; when they send them to the airport, they will carry passengers, and it is impossible for us to arrest.”
Mohammed further told The ICIR that most of the vehicles off the road did not belong to the NURTW, “This is the reason we put some of our officials on the road to ensure that people are secured,” he explained.
“If the government direct us to paint our cars, one chance robbers will be the first to paint and you’ll not be able to distinguish between genuine drivers and robbers,” he added.
Mohammed, however, emphasised that Abuja Park managers and NURTW are collaborating with the police to apprehend perpetrators, adding that the joint efforts have led to the arrest of many robbers.
Speaking to The ICIR, a security expert and director of Ethicos Security Limited, Oladele Fajana stressed the need for the government to invest heavily in the transportation sector to reduce the menace.
According to Fajana, “One-chance is not new, but a modern-day security challenge, but the lack of a developmental plan of the transportation sector is worsening the problem.”
The security expert noted that the menace could be mitigated if passengers can take precautionary measures by deterring from boarding unmarked vehicles and buses.
He, however, urged the federal government to put necessary infrastructure like security lights and CCTV cameras in place to deter perpetrators.
Fajana further charged security agencies to be proactive and responsive to responding to calls for help from one-chance victims.
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