Graduate Bandits On The Prowl

Graduate robbers after their arrest recently

Graduate robbers after their arrest recently

Graduate robbers after their arrest recently

 A new class of armed robbers, made up of university and polytechnic graduates, emerges in the country

Tayo Adegbola’s family background has a solid look to it. His father, now dead, was a minister of the Baptist Church. His mother is a secondary school principal in Akure, Ondo State. But the 24-year-old Mechanical Engineering graduate of the University of Ilorin has chosen a path directly opposed to the sturdy morality associated with his parents’ callings. On 24 August, Adegbola was paraded by the Ondo State Police Command as the leader of an eight-man robbery gang with preference for car snatching. He and his gang members were arrested on 11 August.

His journey into the criminal world, he claimed, began early this year, when he was inducted by a friend he simply identified as Uche. His underworld colleagues, also paraded by the Police, are Vincent Agu, Monday Akam, Uche Nwainyinya, Silas Obiesie, Azuka Onyenweni, Izunna Ukwesi and Amaechi Chiekwe.

The gang’s mode of operation is a fairly sophisticated one. According to the 2010 Engineering graduate, the gang perfected the art of renting cars from car rental operators in either Lagos or Ibadan for between N40,000 and N50,000 for supposed official assignments in Akure. Adegbola did the renting himself. Once he takes a car out of a car rental’s garage, he said, he would phone his colleagues, who would wait at a strategic location to snatch it. “Then, I would come back to say that the vehicle had been snatched from me. After the success of the operation, I would just give my colleagues some money and immediately contact some car dealers who would buy the vehicles from me,” he said, adding that he sold unregistered cars for N700,000 each and registered ones for N500,000.

Ondo State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Sani Magaji, disclosed that cars recovered from the gang included a Nissan Primera, Audi A6, Honda CRV, two Honda Accord End of Discussion and a Honda Accord Bullet.

Before the arrest of Adegbola and his gang, one Bamidele Olawale Adeyemi, alias Wale Yahoo, who claimed to be a graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, was shot on 13 July at Legacy Hotel, Ojoo, Ibadan, by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS. He died the next day. For four years, Wale Yahoo ran rings around the police, evading a string of attempts to nab him. His death robbed the police of a rich bank of information about his colleagues who assisted him in terrorising residents of Oyo, Ogun and Lagos states.

Also in July, Obasi Abah, 29-year-old Economics graduate of Imo State University, IMSU, Owerri, was paraded by the state police command. Abah was arrested at Nkwor Orji when he and a friend called “Activity” attempted to rob a woman of her phones with the aid of a locally made pistol. “We tried to snatch her phones, but she resisted. Her husband fought us and before we knew it, people arrived the scene and overpowered me, while my colleagues disappeared,” he recounted. Abah, who claimed to be a native of Abiriba, Abia State, said he went into robbery to get money that was demanded from him by the reconciling officer of the university, who wanted money before issuing him clearance paper.

Last May, Charles Okon, a Higher National Diploma holder in Business Administration was arrested by the police in Lagos shortly after leading a gang to rob at Our Lady of Fatimah Catholic Church, Aguda in Surulere, Lagos. The raid by the gang which got information from a former security guard of the church, produced a hefty haul of about N10 million. But while members of the gang were busy sharing the loot at a location in Apapa, they were discovered by a team of Mobile policemen attached to Unit 22 Squad at Tin-Can Island. Okon was the only one caught, as his cohorts were able to escape. During interrogation, it was discovered that Okon had been on the wanted list of the Lagos State Police Command after his girl-lover, one Mariam Owuke, was arrested at Amuwo-Odofin motor park with arms and ammunition last June. She claimed then that Okon gave her the weapons.

Okon blamed his involvement in robbery on job loss. He claimed to have worked as a political appointee to a senior Lagos State government official, who sacked him when he was caught smoking. After that, he went to work at the Nigerian Ports Authority plc, NPA, as a dock worker. That also did not last. According to him, privatisation of the ports resulted in the disengagement of many workers including himself.

“When I left my boss, I went to Tin-Can and started working as a dock worker, where I was getting money to feed and clothe myself. But when the Ports Authority was privatised, we were laid off and I had nothing to do. That was when I started breaking into safes. I had friends who were going to steal money from safes in shops. I was contracted to help open the safes because I am an expert in that field,” he said. But there was a bigger demon latent in him. Soon, it was aroused when he met his friend, Obilo at a pub. “Obilo told me what I was into was petty compared to his. He said he had a gun and suggested that anytime I wanted to go and steal that I should call him so that he could use his gun to threaten people. I called him on one occasion, but unfortunately, we found only N4,000 in the safe and he became very angry. That was how he asked me to join his gang and we started robbing big time,” explained Okon, who said his girlfriend was not involved in robbery. “ I swear to God, she is not a member of the gang. Although she later discovered I was an armed robber, she told me she loved me and would marry me if only I quit robbery. I promised her I would. But I found it difficult to, because the more money I got, the more attractive the business became,” he added.

Okon admitted giving the weapons found on Mariam to her. He explained that they were to use the weapons in Koko, Delta State, where he and his gang planned to move to because Lagos had become inclement for their nefarious trade.

The movement to Koko was aborted when Mariam was arrested. Okon fled to Ghana, hoping to get away from the heat generated by the arrest. Sometime later, Obilo phoned to present him with a seductive offer he could not refuse—to rob a church in Surulere. “He said a former security man with the church had briefed him that there was no police presence there. That was how I set off back to Nigeria… Four of us, namely Yinka, Ozu, Ndubuisi, Okwure met at Obalende and drank before going to Apapa where we continued with another round of drinks until about 1 a.m., before heading for the church in Aguda, Surulere. We stopped to pick the former security man who knew where the church money was kept. He had earlier told Obilo that the church kept every money collected in a particular place before taking it to the bank every two months. I was tempted because he said we were likely to get up to N12 million,” he disclosed.

Okon admitted that they stole the three AK 47 rifles recovered from them from cops who fell asleep while guarding a hotel in Ajao Estate, Lagos. The guns were also used to rob the hotel. Okon said he never killed, but admitted shooting at a victim in error. The victim, he said, was unhurt, as the bullet missed him. Other items recovered from him were N1.38mn in cash, an Intercontinental Bank ATM, a GTBank cheque of N31,000, a Toyota Avalon car, a clipper, travel bag, five phones, four laptops, three sharp giant rods and papers containing prayer points of church worshippers.

In the last five months, the number of university and polytechnic graduates arrested for robbery cases has been on the increase. The reasons they gave for switching to crime also vary. Sunday Balogun, a 34-year-old Ordinary National Diploma, OND, graduate of The Federal College of Forestry, Ibadan, said financial constraints forced him to abandon a degree programme at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, where he was studying Agricultural Engineering, to embrace robbery. He claimed after fruitless job search, he ventured into fish farming, but that, that too did not bring much luck, as his fishes were stolen just about the time they were due to be sold. He met a friend, whose name he gave as Tunde at a pub.

“That day, we were discussing the state of Nigeria and how few rich Nigerians have made things difficult for others,” he told TheNEWS. “We agreed that Nigeria was no longer good and concluded that one had to find something to live on. That was when our friend decided to help us out by introducing us to one Alhaji who is based in Ilorin. He sold the guns we used during our operation to us for N20,000. I don’t know him because all our interactions were through the telephone. He encouraged and taught us how to rob. He promised to help us with more guns and other things that we needed and that was how I came into robbery,” Balogun explained.

His first operation, with two members of his gang, was at a Coca-Cola distribution point in Gbagi, Ibadan. It yielded N20,000. They held up the shop owner and others in there. “We threatened them with our guns and cutlasses and asked them to lie face down,” he said.

The gang hit at other Coca-Cola depots in Eleyele and Olorunsogo areas of Ibadan, where Balogun admitted they made huge sums of money. But his last operation, he said, brought a paltry N2,500.

Balogun’s colleague, Gbenga Onifade, 30, also attended Federal College of Forestry, Ibadan. His matriculation number at the college is ND/FOT/2000/960. He graduated in 2002 with an OND in Forest Technology. Prior to becoming a robber, he worked with the Society for Family Health in Abeokuta, Ogun State, as an interpersonal communication conductor. Onifade, who claimed that his father retired as a senior marketing officer at the Ibadan-based African Newspapers of Nigeria Limited, publishers of The Tribune, said he opted for robbery after many companies he applied to for work turned him down. He promised that if released, he will not return to crime.

Unemployment is also what pushed Tunde Oyebola, 24, and Tajudeen Lasisi, 25, into crime. Both studied Banking and Finance at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, where they bagged Ordinary National Diploma. They started by stealing car batteries, which they sold to stay afloat. It was while they were trying to steal the battery of Oyebola’s neighbour’s car that they decided to make away with the car itself. It was while they were looking for a buyer for the Honda Accord car with registration number Lagos FC 187 KRD that they were intercepted by policemen attached to Agodi Police Station.

Dr. Remi Raji of the University of Ibadan blamed the government for the involvement of graduates in robbery. He argued that it is natural for people who need money to look for it at all cost. He stressed that graduates are going into robbery because government has failed in its responsibility of engendering a climate for wealth creation. “We don’t have a system that takes care of unemployed graduates and intelligent youths. If they are employed, they will use their education and intelligence positively, but when not, they will deploy their resources negatively,” he said.

Dr. Lanre Adebayo, Head of Psychology Department at the Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, holds a similar view. “As a Higher School Certificate holder in those days, I got a dignified job in the state ministry. But which jobs are now available for the graduates? Menial jobs with stipends that are not up to what youth corps members earn. A youth corps member receives about N20, 000 from the Federal Government and little allowance from where he or she is posted to, and N10,000 is proposed for somebody who has successfully completed his NYSC programme. I think government should take more proactive measures in reducing crime in our society,” he said.

But Mr. Omololu Adegbenro, Public Relations Officer of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, argued that unemployment is not a defence for taking to violent crime like robbery. “Those people you are talking about are criminals. If you observe or carry out more investigations on them, you will find that they were cultists in school. They did not just become armed robbers overnight. It is true that things are difficult in the country, but they can do other legitimate jobs to survive until better opportunities come up. To me, they are people who want fast money and believe the only way to get it is to dispossess innocent people of their belongings,” he contended.

Moses Onireti, Oyo State Commissioner of Police, blamed the trend on the erosion of moral values and the get-rich-quick mentality of the new generations. “Why should some graduates of today believe the only way to survive is to rob other people of their belongings? Are they the only ones affected by the harsh economic realities in the country? Why should a trained engineer, who can stand on his own, even if no one is offering any job, go into robbery? This is sad. This is a sign that the society has lost its moral values,” Onireti posited.

In an article published on in September 2010, the authors, Adesoji A. Oni and Alade Ibiwumi Abiodun, suggested that many of today’s graduates lack the skills to recommend them to employers. “Employers worry that Nigerian graduates today are unemployable; unless their prospective employers put them through crash remedial programmes. We hear of graduates in the Humanities who are hardly capable of putting a sentence of English together correctly and whose spoken English is even worse. Fresh graduates in engineering, we are told, have little clue when put in a workshop. Worse still, graduates are unrefined in character,” they wrote.

The educational system, they argued, has consistently failed to produce graduates with a combination of skill and value system that can make them self-reliant. “The Nigerian educational system has been beset with a number of ills over the years. These problems arose from the general malaise that beset the leadership and the society at large, some of these include the high incidences of examination malpractices, extortion, cultism, sexual harassment, and incessant strikes among the various academic unions at all levels of education, as well as problem of data and decaying infrastructure, etc. All these have led to the failure to realise the philosophy and objectives of our educational system, thus, the fallen standard of education in Nigeria. These have further been accentuated by the general ethical crises that are confronting the Nigerian society,” they wrote.

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—Gbenro Adesina

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