By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
…Police, military disagree on culpability of corporal
A syndicate specializing in hijacking loaded petroleum products in Delta State, kidnapping owners/drivers of affected trucks and holding them hostage until the products are illegitimately sold have been exposed by the police.
The gang, which allegedly parades a serving soldier and five officials of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, as the operators have been in the money-spinning business for more than one year, until recently when men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, burst it.
Information revealed that the syndicate owned a master key with which they steal vehicles and the members were hibernating in Ughelli, Agbarho, Effurun and Orerokpe, all in Delta State.
The notorious gang had made life agonizing on the Ughelli/Warri and Warri-Abraka-Agbor highways uncomfortable for tanker drivers.
They used signposts to flag down tanker drivers because they were aware of the rules guiding NUPENG, which makes it mandatory for the drivers to stop for checks, while the involvement of the army officer in the syndicate makes buyers in Benin City to think that the business was legal.
Luck, however, ran out of them when the SARS received information about their escapades and arrested one of them, identified as Kelly, who, on interrogation, spilled the beans. Police detectives trailed and later seized other members of the gang, including Shedrack, Austin, Uruemu, Odafe and the army officer.
Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, confirmed the bursting of the kidnapping/tanker hijack gang, “The gang members under interrogation confessed and named a serving army corporal and one Mamus, now at large, supplying arms to the gang”, Aduba said.
Resume of gang members
Kelly: Investigations showed that Kelly, from Agbarho in Ughelli North local government area, is, according to security sources, a truck driver. He was attached to the monitoring team of NUPENG and assigned the responsibility of checking products diversion and hoarding in filling stations, but stopped working with the team in January when he found the kidnapping/hijacking business to be more profitable. He was residing in Orerorokpe when the business started.
Shedrack : Sources say he hails from Agbarho and is a driver by profession. Austin: He is said to be an indigene of Effurun in Ughelli South local government and was said to be a house painter.
Uruemu: The suspect is allegedly from Eku in Ughelli South local government and is a dealer in petroleum products. Kelly, sources said, used to be his driver.
Odafe : He is allegedly from Ekwere in Agbarho and holds an Ordinary National Diploma in civil engineering.
John: He is identified as an army corporal attached to the 3 Battalion, Effurun. This army officer was alleged to be supplying arms to the gang and initiated people into the gang.
A source familiar with the exploits of the syndicate said that, sometime, last year, Kelly, Shedrack, John, Odafe and one Ojo ambushed a tanker loaded with kerosene at Oha old Bridge. The army officer, who, reportedly, wore his army uniform, ordered the vehicle to stop and, when it did, the driver and conducted were abducted and he (the army officer) drove the vehicle to Benin City in company of Kelly.
The “hostage” was allegedly ordered into Ojo’s car on that day while Sunday Vanguard was informed that the syndicate sold the product in Benin City. They drove the tanker back to and parked it along Eku/Sapele Road.
After that, they brought out the driver and his conductor and dropped them very close to the tanker on the said road.
Investigations carried out by the police showed the product was sold to one Gabi and Godspower and trans-loaded into another tanker in a compound in Benin City. Odafe admitted to the police that he got N75,000 from this operation.
Sunday Vanguard was told that, on a certain day, four members of the gang were returning from Lagos for an operation with the army corporal when they ran out of fuel and the corporal left and came back later with one of the members in a Camry car. When asked how they got the vehicle, he said somebody gave him a master key with with they opened the vehicle. Kelly also admitted to police detectives that he once stole a Camry car at Orerokpe and sold, to a car dealer in Benin City.
We also gathered that sometime, this year, Kelly, Austin and Timothy hijacked a truck and sold the product in Benin City at N65 per liter. One of them got N35,000 as his share from the operation.
In addition, the gang hijacked another tanker at Koko junction and took the driver to a bush before Shedrack, Timothy and Kelly drove the vehicle to Benin City to sell the product. The operation yielded N30,000 each to the syndicate.
The army corporal was said to have admitted membership of the gang to the police, but a top army officer told Sunday Vanguard that the police was telling a cock and bull story. He said, “For the avoidance of doubt, the 3 Battalion, Effurun, had since arrested the army personnel that was mentioned, he is languishing in cell since the allegation was made against him”.
“However, when the police came with other suspects that were arrested, he was paraded and they could not identify him. They were saying that person that was their accomplice had a tribal mark, but the soldier in question does not have a tribal mark. You see, there is doubt as to his culpability and we do not want to punish an innocent person wrongly.”
The officer explained that the army authorities would not cover any personnel involved in shady practices, hence the soldier that accusing finger was pointed at was arrested, but the allegation has not been proved. A senior police officer, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the development, said, “Whoever spoke to you on the army side is standing the truth on the head. The army corporal was identified by members of the syndicate as their member, he is the one that was bringing guns and he facilitated their operation with his army uniform.
“It is because he is in uniform that the syndicate found it very easy to carry out their nefarious activities until they were caught. The army said they were carrying out orderly room trial and the suspects in our custody identified the soldier. We have asked them to hand him over to us for prosecution, but they are still holding on to him.
“How can they say that there is doubt when he (suspect) admitted to the police that he went to Orerokpe to meet Kelly for the Orerokpe truck hijack. He was the one that took the truck loaded with diesel to Benin City, after which he was given N120,000.
“He also admitted going to Benin City with the other suspects, but denied stealing any of the two Camry cars from Orerokpe and Benin City and disposing them in Benin City”.
NUPENG validates existence of gang
Investigations also showed that the police visited NUPENG office in Ekpan, near Warri, where officials confirmed that several tankers were hijacked and drivers taken hostage and robbed by an unknown gang.
Following the revelations, the police were able to obtain some case files concerning a number of hijack incidents from the Divisional Police Officers in Isiokolo and Abraka, which revealed the owners of two of the trucks stolen to be Messrs. Emmanuel Nwafor and Ndukwe A.U. Ndukwe. The cost of the stolen kerosene was put at N2.8 million, but the owners of the diesel products could not be located.
A police source told Sunday Vanguard, “The owners of the cars stolen at Orerokpe were identified, but when detectives visited Benin City to arrest receivers, it was a fruitless efforts, as they had become aware of the manhunt for them and disappeared into thin air.”