By Ifeanyi Okolie
THEY are eleven in number, of different ages, sizes, complexion and tribes. But they have one thing in common: robbery! However, four suspected members of the 11-man notorious gang that have been terrorizing Lagos State, leaving in their trail, the death of policemen. Innocent and unsuspecting members of the public have reportedly been killed in their separate gun duels with policemen.
The list of their operations is endless. But the major operation was that which happened at Thermocool outlet at Bolade, Oshodi area of Lagos State on November 4, 2011, where two policemen attached to Akinpelu division were killed, including a commercial motorcyclist, his passenger and a pregnant woman who was waiting to board a vehicle. They also carted away millions of naira at the end of the operation which sent everyone scampering for safety.
Major robbery operation
Another operation by the dreaded gang, was that at Abusom United Investment Limited, a registered dealer in GSM recharge cards and vouchers, on Allen Avenue, Ikeja, where more than N20 million was reportedly carted away, last year.
But the good news is that five months after the last major robbery operation, operatives of the Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, have arrested the gang’s armourer, one Tunde Oyebade who has been on the squad’s wanted list. They recovered four AK-47 rifles, one pump action gun, two pistols and four magazines filled with live amminunitions . The suspect made startling revelations about the gang’s modus-operandi.
How he joined the gang: The 46-year-old father of five blamed his indulgence in crime on poverty but maintained that he never operated with the gang. He said his job was to take the ammunition to the scene of robbery and at the end, keep them, a job he did consistently for five years, until he was arrested.
To the astonishment of all, the weapons were discovered inside a built-in box attached to the seat of a commercial bus which the suspect has been using for years.
Explaining how he joined the gang, Tunde said: “I am a carpenter by profession and owned a furniture outfit where I make chairs and other offices and homes furniture, until I met one Fatail Sulaiman in 2007 who assured that he would provide me with more jobs.
True to his words, he gave me an aluminum roofing job at Lagos Island and when I did that one, he brought many others. Our relationship grew so strong that it extended to both families. But after some time, the roofing job stopped coming and he bought me a Volkswagen bus for commercial purposes.
He painted it the state colour before handing it over to me. The plan was that I should be working with the bus to feed the family since furniture job was not forth coming and return it to him whenever he wanted to make use of it.
“I never knew what Fatai was into until one day when I was cleaning the bus. I lifted the back seat only to discover a built-in locker and out of curiosity, I opened it only to discover guns and ammunition. Out of fear, I shut the door and ran out to contact him on the phone and he said I should meet him at Iyana-Ipaja.
When I got there, he told me not to panic that he wasn’t an armed robber but a land speculator. He said the guns and ammunition were what he used to defend himself whenever there was an invasion in any property he had interest in. I believed him and with that revelation, my financial status changed because he started paying me between N100,000 and N150,000 each time he came back with his boys. At other times, he would give me N50,000.
“This was five years ago. All I did was to take the weapons to them wherever Fatai told me and at the end, I would drive the vehicle back to my base. I didn’t complain since the money was helping me keep the family going.”
Thing fall apart: All, as gathered, went on well until 2008, when the suspected gang leader and Tunde’s benefactor was arrested and sent to prison for robbery. But while in prison, he reportedly communicated with members of his gang on phone.
The bubble burst as other members of the gang were intercepted by the police during an operation which led to the recovery of three guns from them. One of the suspects who managed to flee the scene with some arms was also arrested by members of Odua Peoples Congress, OPC, in Sango Otta area of Ogun State in his attempt to bury the arms. The suspect identified simply as small Sule, was handed over to the Police in Ogun from where he was sent to jail.
Back to business
However, after serving his jail term, leader of the gang, Fatai Suleiman, regrouped with another gang where they continued to terrorize their victims.
Tunde noted: “The gang resurrected after Sulaiman was eventually granted bail. He started by forming a new squad. But first, he travelled to Oyo State, returned with two AK-47 rifles. He told me when he brought the rifles that he wouldn’t work with me anymore.
He accused me of bringing ill luck to him and making him to lose all his weapons. I tried to explain but he wouldn’t listen rather, he said he has found a new man known as pastor, who would keep and provide the weapons for him when ever he needed them for operation. The said pastor was operating from Benin Republic to avoid a re-occurrence of what happened. He, therefore, bought a new bus for the operation and constructed the armoury as he did on the previous vehicle.
“Since he had just two rifles, he started operation with members of other gangs who had guns and they jointly carried out operations. He did that for a while before getting over eight AK-47 rifles and some pistols. Small Sule also regained freedom from the prison and joined my boss. Together, they bought a pick-up truck and constructed armoury in it. After operation, the said pastor would drive the vehicle back to Benin Republic and bring it back whenever they needed him.
Operation at Thermocool
“It was when they came back from prison that they made the biggest hit so far, with the operation at Thermocool where they made away with over N8 million and at Abusom United Investment Limited, a registered dealer in GSM recharge cards and vouchers, on Allen-Ikeja, where they made away with N12.468m in cash and N14.865m worth of recharge cards and vouchers.
When I heard news of the killing on the radio, I was shocked. I called Sulaiman and asked if what I heard was true and he got angry and asked me to mind my business. I was so worried because the number of people killed was so much.
That evening, I met him at Pleasure near Abule-Egba and he told me he could explain what happened that day and that he felt the entire mission was a set-up. He said the operation was supposed to be a smooth one and the people were not supposed to get involved in anyway. He later left me and said his heart was troubled and he needed to go for prayers. Then I left him and went away.
“After a few months, he was arrested with two other members of the gang, Macaulay and Kehinde and later we learnt they were all dead. Small Sule who was supposed to lead the gang had problems with the members leading to the gang splitting.
“Sule had to share the guns with Wale who left to form his own gang. With the split, I decided to stay on my own, only to be arrested, through a call I got from a lady I know so well. But to my shock on reaching where she asked us to meet, behold, the people with her were policemen. If I leave here alive, I swear, I will never go back again.”