By Ifeanyi Okolie
Sometime in August 2005, a combined team of both policemen and operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC),Â launched an onslaught on the notorious Oluwole Market located in the commercial nerve centre of Lagos State.Â Â Then it was a notorious enclave for criminals, who specialized in forgeries and sophisticated crimes such as international passport racketeering, credit card fraud, drug cartel, fake certificates, currency and visa forgeries; among others.
At the end of the exercise, over 20 persons were arrested and fake items such as, cheque books and travellerâ€™s cheques belonging to different financial institutions,Â international passports of different countries, travelling documents, certificates of various higher institutions, various official stamps of government parastatals, corporate bodies, federal ministries, banks among othersÂ were recovered from various parts of the Market.
The exercise was an offshoot of the then President Olusegun Obasanjosâ€™s anti-corruption crusade geared at changing Nigeriaâ€™s reputation and also creatingÂ an enabling atmosphere for foreign investments.Â Unfortunately, it did not last long as some of the fraudstersÂ shifted their operational base from the popular Oluwole market to a remote but unknown area in the Lagos island, known as Lewis Street.
Investigation by Crime Alert revealed that the reputation of this new operational base at Lewis Street grew quite fast, as fake documents of any kind, raging from travellers cheques, work permit, visa or school certificates could be acquired without pains.Â That was how Lewis Street took over from Oluwole.
Some of the patrons who had visited the street recently have many stories to share.Â A middle-aged man who simply identified himself as Omoshe, a resident of Kirikiri town, Lagos, during an interaction with Crime Alert, said he was swindled of the sum of over N450,000 by some visa racketeers operating at the notorious street who had provided a fake British Visa to him.Â According to him, he was scared of the notorious Oluwole and he was also scared of confronting the embassy forÂ visa.
â€œIÂ was introduced to one Chuks by a friend and he assured me that I can get a visa even without going for interviews.Â He also assured me thatÂ Â I canÂ process the visa without paying all the money and I will have toÂ pay when my visa isÂ ready.Â I was highly convinced and I gave him N50,000 for a start and heÂ assured me that the process would take just three weeks, because I was desperate to travel abroad.Â Â Â IÂ pressurized him and before the time the visa came out, I gave him the balanceÂ before boarding my plane.
â€œI was filled with joy because I was about leaving this land of frustration for good and I also thought that my visa was original.Â Â It was when I got to Heathrow Airport that I realized that my visa was fake.Â Â I was checking in when the immigration officer who went through my green passport discovered some anomalies and she alerted the authorities.Â Â I was arrested and taken into a waiting room where I was interrogated. My elderÂ brotherÂ who wasÂ at the airport to receive me came in and discovered that I have been arrested and he could not take me home.Â I was deported back to Nigeria, and I had to start over again. I made little effort in recovering my money, because I alerted the police and I went looking for ChuksÂ but he was no where to be foundâ€.
Another victim of the notorious street was one Mr. Michael, an importer. In his case, his Turkish VisaÂ was stolen and it was sold off at the Lewis Street.Â But Mr. Michaelâ€™s case did not end like others.Â Â This time, he had some little share of luck on his side.Â After reporting theÂ case to the policeÂ at the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, FEDSARS, they swooped on the street and succeeded inÂ Â recovering his stolen visa while one of the kingpins was arrested withÂ over 120 Nigerian and ECOWAS passportsÂ with stampsÂ belonging to various financial institutions.
The suspect identified as Emeka OlisaÂ (39) who is currently cooling off at the dreaded cell of the FEDSARS told Crime Alert that he specialized only on visa racketeering and travellers cheques.
The Delta State-born, who spoke in a sober mood confessed that he charges as much as N750, 000Â from his victims and the stamps were used to procure travellers cheques.
â€œ I have been in this business for over seven years and I also have a fashion designing outfit inÂ LagosÂ but I wasnâ€™t meeting up.Â Â That was why I ventured into this act.Â The deal thatÂ brought me to this place was on a Turkish Visa that was given to me to sell by one Emma.Â Â I didnâ€™tÂ know the visa was stolenÂ until the police came. But before I took the visa from Emma, I gave him about eight passports to get visas on them.Â Â I also gave him part payment, but he went away with this passport and he did not return them at the agreed date.
And owners of these passports were on my neck and they were seriously asking for their visas. I called Emma and I told him that the owners were on my neck but he would not listen.
At one time, he brought back photocopies of the visa and told me that they were ready but I canâ€™t get them because one of our men at the embassy wants to lay low for a while.Â Â When he said this, he told me that he has aÂ Turkish visa that he wants me to sell.Â Â I asked him to send it over which h
e did but I refused to sell the visa because he was owing and I intended using the visa as a leverage forÂ my eight passports.Â I was at my office at 67,Â LewisÂ when the police came and arrested meâ€.
When asked howÂ he would have sold the visa and if he did,Â whatÂ will the buyerÂ do with it?Â Â Emeka, emphatically said that, the visa will be sold to some one that looks more likeÂ the person on the visa.
The spokesman of the FEDSARS (ASP), Lekan Ogundare who confirmed the story said they have spread their drag nets all around the notorious Lewis Street which he described as â€˜safe haven for fraudsters andÂ forgersâ€™ assuring that they are poised to curb their criminal activities.