By Evelyn Usman
“Never in my life did I think about robbery as a last resort to ameliorate my impoverished state. But circumstances beyond my control forced me into it.” These were the welcoming words from a suspected member of a six-man robbery gang that had been terrorising petrol station owners in the Northern region. The suspect, Bende Mohammed (38) was arrested recently, alongside four suspected members of the gang by the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team (SIRT).
The deadly gang’s targets were filling stations and bakeries in Kaduna, Nasarawa and Niger states, including Abuja FCT. One of its operations at a filling station (name withheld) in Masaka, close to Abuja, left in its wake the death of two persons with several others sustaining varying degrees of injuries. Members of staff had closed for the day, with some of them changing into their clothes when the unexpected happened, following the deafening sounds of gunshots which made the fear-stricken staff to run into hiding.
This happened immediately after the manager of the filling station (name withheld), who had collected the proceeds of the day from the fuel attendants, was at the verge of entering his car parked within the premises of the filling station. The astonished manager was reportedly hit with the butt of a gun by one of the unwelcomed guests, while his colleagues fired sporadically.
At the end of the operation said to have lasted less than ten minutes, two persons were reportedly hit by stray bullets while the sum of N6 million was carted away, with members of staff dispossessed of their phones and locked up in one of the offices.
Attempt to help blind father
In this interview with Crime Guard, one of the suspects, Bende Mohammed, who kept shaking his head in self pity, claimed he reluctantly joined the gang after several attempts to raise money for surgery on his visually impaired father failed. According to the Nasarawa State-born suspect, “I never knew it would get to this. I am a power generator and grinding machine mechanic. But proceeds from each day’s business were not enough to take care of my family. Besides, I have a father who is blind. I was told he needed some money to carry out some medical tests to ascertain the category of blindness. But I didn’t have money to pay for the consultation let alone for the test. Everyday, I would be inundated with calls on his deteriorating state. When I shared my predicament with a friend, he introduced me into robbery.
“I initially refused to buy into the idea but reluctantly joined them later. The first time I went with them on an operation, we struck a filling station in Masaka, where I got N400,000. Out of the amount, I sent N100,000 to my father to use for the test. Out of the balance, I bought a motorbike which I used for commercial purpose. I intended to stop at that point and use the rest to establish myself. But the gang won’t release me. I regret everything and wished my father was not blind”, he said remorsefully.
On his part, 33-year-old Ikechukwu Okereke who hails from Imo State gave a startling revelation that most operations at petrol stations are carried out in connivance with some members of staff. He stated that the gang usually struck in the evening, when filling station managers would have collected money realised for the day .
According to him, “We usually stormed filling stations in our operational vehicle. We worked on information usually given to us by insiders. Some members of staff of filling stations gave us information on when exactly to strike. Most of them assisted us because of their poor remunerations. Some of them are paid as low as N4,000 per month. They rely on stipends from customers and adjustment of pumps.
“In the case of the Nasarawa filling station operation, we had information that the manager would be coming to collect the day’s sales by 6.30pm. We arrived at the vicinity around 6pm to survey the terrain and to keep tab on the manager. We struck as he was about leaving the filling station by opening fire. In the process, we collected the cash he was with, and moved to our hideout where it was discovered to be N6 million. And we shared it equally with the informant.
“Another operation I partook in was that at Masaka, close to Abuja, where I got N400,000. The third operation was also in Nasarawa. But it was foiled owing to miscalculations on our part. One of us jumped out of the car before we reached the filling station and started shooting. This made our target to run away. We left out of frustration and invaded a bakery, where we got just N90,000.”
I was gullible
For 39-year-old Mohammed Usman, popularly known as “Dogo”, he was a victim of circumstance, and he blamed his indulgence on his gullibility. He said, “I was a victim of circumstance. I am not really a robber. I was deceived by Yahaya (pointing to one of the suspects). He (Yahaya) called me on the phone to inform me that he had a job of N6 million and needed my assistance. I acted so foolishly because I did not even ask what kind of job it was. I went with him and others, only to discover it was a robbery operation. By then, I could not turn back. At the end, I was given N30,000. Same thing happened the second time when they stormed the bakery, where I got N15,000.”
Arrested at last
Corroborating Dogo’s claim, Yahaya Musa said “Yes, I invited him when I was given a job to rob a filling station. I only wanted to help him raise money because of his impoverished state.”
After the incident, Musa was said to have received a call where the caller informed him that he had another filling station job for him. As usual, he reportedly invited other members of the gang and headed for the meeting point, only to walk into the welcoming hand of operatives of the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team (SIRT), led by Abba Kyari.
The suspects, as gathered, would be charged to court.