It was one day that Mr. Debo Oluwatomisin, who works at the Training Centre, near the Nigerian Immigration Service, Ikoyi, Lagos, would not easily forget. On that day, he was whisked away, held hostage for hours, dispossessed of all his belongings and was later abandoned in an unfamiliar destination.
He was stripped half-naked. His trousers, new long-sleeve shirt, pair of shoes and wristwatch were collected from him. It was the first time he was experiencing such an encounter, and three months after, the ugly experience remains fresh on him.
Until now, he had always accused those who fall prey to fraudsters of greed and carelessness. But that was before. Oluwatomisin said he became a victim because of the unusual trick played on him.
He said it was difficult to believe that suave-looking men in the Nissan 10-seater bus would suddenly metamorphose into kidnappers in broad daylight.
“They looked too responsible that no one could have suspected they were armed robbers. It was around 5pm at Obalende bus stop. I was waiting for a bus to Oshodi. Immediately I boarded the bus, they brought out shotguns and I began to shake like a little child,” he recalled.
Change of style
Apparently tired of their old ways, kidnappers are devising new tricks these days. Since more Nigerians are becoming more security-conscious these days, business no longer booms for the criminals. For that reason, to think outside the box became for them a priority.
According to those who have fallen prey to the new ploy by kidnappers and robbers, the bandits speak good English, and from their demeanour, it’s obvious that they are well educated.
The evil men dress up like corporate office workers and ambush both men and women at the close of work in Lagos.
They strategically park their vehicles, pretending to be private car owners who use their vehicles to augment their salary or other legitimate businesses. Some would dress up in suits as if they are just closing from an office. Then they drive round Lagos, looking for their prey.
At other points, they could also act as if they are offering a free ride to unsuspecting passengers who are closing from work and are stranded at the bus stop. Members of the gang, numbering between three and five, usually sit on different rows in the bus, leaving some space for their targets.
Some others even pretend to be members of an elite security squad. They round up potential victims and load them in their bus. Once on the road, they reveal their true identities and their mission. By the time the victims realise their mistake, it would be too late for them.
ATM cards as major targets
Victims who don’t have any valuable item or cash, but are with Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards, readily make the robbers’ day. Their abductors would take the victims to an ATM and force them to make as much withdrawal as possible. With their abductors literally shoving the guns into their faces, the victims usually have few options.
Ordeals of victims
Oluwatomisin said he was blindfolded and taken to a remote area in Epe, close to the sea. He, however, expressed gratitude to God for saving him from the kidnappers.
Said he: “Initially, they did not cover my eyes; they only pointed their guns at me and warned me not to raise any alarm. They drove for about one minute and picked two more passengers, one of them a young lady. All of them – three young men, excluding the driver, had guns. They made us to understand that they would not hurt us as long as we cooperated with them. The lady was very afraid. She cried and prayed almost all through the journey.
“They pushed us to the back seat and the windows there were dark; nobody could see from outside what was happening in the bus. They did not mask their faces but they also warned us not to look directly to their faces. When one of the victims attempted to look at the driver, one of them used his gun to hit his face.
“They took us to a shrine near the sea and removed our clothes. They took all the money they found on us. They asked for our ATM cards but none of us had any. The other guy and I only had about N3, 000 each, but the lady had more than N10, 000. When they collected the money and her jewellery, they started ridiculing us. They said if not for the lady, they would have wasted our lives.
“At last, I was the first person they asked to go. One of them accompanied me with a gun through a bushy path and when he got to a certain junction, he asked me to start running without looking back. He gave me N70. It was when I got to where some people were that they told me that I was at Epe. It was a Good Samaritan that gave me trousers and a shirt to wear to my house. Another woman gave me N800; they said I should thank God that I was alive to tell what l went through in the hands of the kidnappers. I wouldn’t know what happened to the other two victims.”
He told the reporter that he left Epe around 9.30pm and arrived his house at Ipaja a few minutes before 12 midnight. While he was in captivity, he could not be contacted, as his two phones had been seized. He said when his wife saw him coming home barefooted and in strange clothes, she started crying, thinking that he might have been involved in an auto-crash.
According to Oluwatomisin, he later fell ill and couldn’t go to work for about a week.
“Those guys appeared too corporate to be seen as robbers. I have never heard of such tactics. l believe that is why I fell into the trap because I’m always careful of the vehicles I board to and from my office,” he said.
Another young lady also recently posted on the social media a detailed account on how she and others were robbed. After the kidnappers drove them around the city, they used their victims’ ATM cards to make withdrawals from their accounts.
According to her, she had closed from her office at Oba Akran area of Ikeja the state but ended up in the wrong vehicle and with the wrong men on board.
Her graphic account read in part: “I will like to thank my Creator who redeemed me from the hands of kidnappers yesterday night. It was the worst night of my life. My hands are still trembling as I type this message. I closed from work around 3pm yesterday, l decided to stay in my friend’s office because I didn’t want to go home on time. I closed with her around 6pm and we parted ways going home because we don’t stay in the same area.
“Trust Lagos and its traffic; l was held up in the terrible traffic around Oba Akran Road leading to Ogba. We were stuck there for a very long time. I picked up my telephone set to return the calls l had missed. I called my friend and he told me he was in my area and that I should stop by before going home. He told me to take a motorcycle to Olaniyi Funsho Owoyemi Close, which I did.
“Immediately I got there, I noticed that the place was dark. I called and complained to him. He apologised and said he was coming out. Suddenly, I saw a spaced bus parked in front of me and two guys came out with guns.
“One of them covered my mouth and pushed me into the car. When I entered, three other guys inside wore black suits and hats, making them all five guys and me alone. They pushed me to the back seat and started beating me. They collected my bag, phone, and wristwatch. I had N24, 000 in my purse. They collected it and also requested my ATM card but I told them it had expired. They slapped me hard. At that moment l lost consciousness for a moment.
“One of the guys said in Yoruba that o fe ri awon ti e mon abi? Meaning that, you don’t want to see your folks again, right? They pointed guns at me and said if I didn’t cooperate with them, they would blow off my leg.
“They asked me if I understood Yoruba, I said no. Then one of them said, se ka se kini yen fun? Meaning should we do that stuff for her? One of them was trying to unbutton my shirt. I started screaming that I am the only child of my parents, that they should pity me and let me go. One of the kidnappers told the rest to stop what they wanted to do.”
She said they raided some other persons too at a certain filling station as they drove around the town.
“They requested ATM cards from the new people they caught. They took all their pin numbers. They asked them how much they each had in their accounts. Our eyes were all closed and we didn’t know where they were taking us. They stopped at every ATM machine to withdraw from those guys’ accounts.