About three months ago, Chibueze Nkwocha lived peacefully in Awka, capital of Anambra State, with his wife and child. He quietly earned a living as an auto mechanic. Unfortunately, in what seemed like a sudden twist of fate, he was recently arrested by the police in Lagos for alleged armed robbery.
In an interview with CRIME DIGEST, Nkwocha recounted the circumstances that lured him into robbery.
â€œA few weeks before my wife put to bed, I had a surgical operation for hernia. I had pulled together all my resources to pay for the operation. It wasnâ€™t long after this that my pregnant wife put to bed. Since I was not working actively at the time, I didnâ€™t have the money to care for my wife and child.
â€œI phoned a cousin of mine who lives in Lagos and explained my predicament to him. I asked him to assist me with some money. He agreed to help me and encouraged me to come to Lagos. Before this time, I had never been to Lagos in my life,â€ he said.
Encouraged by his cousinâ€™s invitation, Nkwocha got on a bus the next day and travelled to Lagos. When he arrived in the city, Nkwocha called his cousin to inform him about his location. But the latterâ€™s cell phone was switched off.
He said, â€œI was stranded; I had spent my last kobo to get to Lagos and had no money to go back. I didnâ€™t know what to do. I had no idea where my cousin lived in Lagos; he was supposed to have picked me up at the bus terminus.
â€œI wandered around and eventually found my way to Coker at about 8 pm. After loitering for a while, I noticed a group of men in a corner, smoking and drinking. I moved closer and overheard one of them speaking in Igbo.
â€œI approached the man and conversed with him in Igbo, narrating my predicament. He took pity on me and told me that he would help me, but I would need to cooperate with him and join his group. He was called Nduka.â€
And so began Nkwochaâ€™s foray into robbery under Ndukaâ€™s watch. Although he didnâ€™t make much money in the enterprise, he got enough to feed himself.
â€œOne day, Nduka received a phone call and told me that I had to accompany his friend on an assignment. That was how I met Ajayi. I went with him on robbery operations three times. The first time, I got N4000. I was paid N2000 after the second operation. I was caught and arrested in my third attempt with Kola at Dolphin Estate in Ikoyi. I truly regret my actions. All I wanted was to raise funds to take care of my wife and baby back home,â€ he said.
Nkwochaâ€™s accomplice, Kolawole Ajayi, was a dealer in telephone accessories at the Computer Village in Ikeja, who allegedly augmented his earnings by indulging in crime.
Ajayi was said to have been receiving stolen goods from his friends and sold them at different occasions. In 2006, he was arrested for buying a stolen laptop computer and charged to the Igbosere Magistrateâ€™s Court. He was granted bail after a few weeks of being remanded at the Ikoyi Prison.
About one year later, Ajayi was back in court. This time, he had progressed to armed robbery. He was alleged to have stolen a laptop and phone from a shop at gunpoint. He was charged to the Ikeja High Court and subsequently jailed for two years.
After he was discharged from prison, Ajayi went back to selling phones. Soon, he started recruiting new members for his group, most of whom he met at a popular entertainment hangout in the Agindingbi area of the city.
By the time he was through with the recruitment â€˜exercise,â€™ he had become the leader of an 11-man gang of robbers.
Ajayi led his gang to launch many robbery attacks in parts of Lagos. Most of the time, the gang roamed streets in search of possible victims. At other times, it acted on information as with the Dolphin Estate robbery incident that finally led to the arrest of the suspects.
Recalling that particular robbery attack, he said, â€œI didnâ€™t mean to come back to armed robbery, but making ends meet was so difficult. There was a girl I met through a friend. She came with the idea of robbing a certain man at DolphinEstate. I donâ€™t know her relationship with the family, but she assured me that we would get a lot of money.
â€œI prepared my gang and we went to the address she gave me. When I mentioned the name of the landlord and told the gateman that I wanted to see the man, he opened the gate for us and we went in. We got plenty of money in hard currency and jewellery from that house. I was paid N2m for the entire booty.â€
While the robbery was in progress, a neighbour had alerted the Dolphin police station. But Ajayi sighted a team of policemen approaching the scene of the crime and fled with other members of the gang.
Nkwocha and another suspect were not so lucky. The former was immediately arrested, while his accomplice was shot while trying to evade arrest.
The Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Mr. Umaru Manko, confirmed the incident. He said, â€œNkwocha was transferred to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad after his arrest by the Dolphin police division. His accomplice did not survive the gunshot.
â€œNkwocha confessed to his crime and gave the investigating SARS team Ajayiâ€™s phone number. Ajayi was tracked through his phone for two weeks after which the SARS team was able to stage an arrest through the help of one of his receivers.
â€œAjayi was eventually arrested on Dec. 1. He cooperated with SARS and lured his gang members to their meeting point before any robbery attack close to Cash and Carry, Ikeja.
â€œAlthough four other members of the gang are on the run, seven others; Sylvester Okafor, Olalekan Williams, Femi Sosanya, Lucky John, Ebere Chukwu, Ugochukwu Okechukwu and Mohammed Ali, were arrested by SARS. Two revolver pistols, one locally-made pistol and four ammunition were recovered from the suspects. They would be charged to court upon the completion of our investigation.â€