By Ifeanyi Okolie
Lillian Chukwu, a 32 year-old working class lady at the Victoria Island, Lagos, rose on Monday 22, November 2010, in a very high spirit to start her work.Little did she know her hopes for a better day at work would be truncated by a notorious fraud syndicate, that almost swindled her of all her life earnings. It was mother luck that saved her from becoming a victim of fraudsters.
That fateful day, she was accosted by a driver in a dark coloured Toyota Camry Saloon along IMB road in Victoria Island, after she alighted from a commercial bus. The driver of the car asked for the direction of a Roman Catholic Church whose name sounded so strange. While she was contemplating how to help him, a young male passerby stopped and inquired what was happening. Relieved, she then told him what the driver was asking for and he readily offered help by giveing them the right direction to the church.
Just as the lady and the passerby wanted to continue with their journey, one of the occupants of the car sitting at the rear, thrust out his head from the window and identified himself as a Roman Catholic priest on a mission in Nigeria. He asked Lillian and the passerby if they were Catholics and they said yes. Then he offered a popular Catholic phrase; ‘Glory to Jesus’ and they both responded, ‘Honour to Mary’.
Subsequently, he explained that he was heading to the church to visit four catholic students who were injured in an accident and also offered to have a little prayer with them since they were all Catholics and he was a visiting priest.
Lillian told Crime Guard that while a prayer session ensued, she lost total control of herself and she no longer knew what was going on around her. “I felt enthralled in a spell of some sort, immediately he did the sign of the cross. I did not know all he said while we prayed, but I could remember he started prophesying all sorts of things and he was also waving his rosary around my face.
“Then we were inside their car. He poured water on my face and he told me it was holy water and that I needed anointing oil for proper cleansing. But the driver in front spoke for the first time, saying that the anointing oil needed could not be found in the market because it was banned by former President Olusegun Obasanjo sometime ago.
He also said we could get the oil only from a new currency at the Minting section of the Central Bank. At that point, the man that claimed to be a Catholic Priest spoke and asked the name of my bank.
I told him Afribank and he then explained that we needed new currencies and that he would have to soak them in a bowl of water so that we could extract the oil in it, which he would then use in perfuming the cleansing.
He also instructed me to withdraw all the money in my account remaining only N10, 000. Since I was no longer in control of myself, I consented and we all drove to Afribank branch at Affi Road. They parked outside and I went in.
Luckily, the moment I entered into the banking hall, I regained myself and I wondered what I was doing in the bank when I should be in the office. Then, I walked up to a bank attendant and explained my plight to him.
They alerted the security outside and we all went after them but when they saw me coming out with many people, they drove away in their car. The bank officials went after them, but succeeded in catching only the man that claimed to be a Catholic Priest”, she narrated.
After the victim narrated her plight, a mild drama played out before the crowd that gathered as the fake Catholic Priest identified as Akpo Michael, was paraded before journalists at the Oduduwa office of Lagos State Police Spokesman in GRA, Ikeja.
The 50-year-old suspect and a father of one, while being interviewed by Crime Guard, showed no sign of remorse. He sounded quite unrepentant and even boasted that the proceeds from the foiled attempt to dupe the unsuspecting Lady would have been invested in a Bureau de Change business he started after he lost his used clothing to customs officials at the border.
Asked how they formed the syndicate, and why he pretended to be a Catholic Priest, he said, “We started this syndicate at a remote location at Ijora area by Railway, which was where I met Emeka, the passerby that interfered when I was asking the lady for direction. What he did there was purely one of our strategies and Lillian fell for it.
The car that we use is mine. I bought it when I was still selling used cloths at Yaba but my business folded up after my goods were seized by the customs.”
The Lagos State Police Command Spokesman, Frank Mba, while parading the suspect before news men, described him as ‘an unrepentant criminal’ currently on bail. According to Mba “ we have arrested him before for the same crime and he was charged to court, and granted bail and with a case still pending in court, he came back and formed a new syndicate and he is out for a kill.
This is also one of the shortfalls of the Judicial Criminal System, where suspects who were actually perpetrators of certain crimes but, because they were not proved beyond reasonable doubt, the suspect gets bailed and he goes back to commit more of same crime. This time, we will charge him to court and we will beg for a more stringent or strict bail condition,” he lamented.