By Ifeanyi Okolie
In June 2011, when operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, at the Lagos State Police Command cracked a notorious robbery gang that specialized in breaking into Automated Teller Machines, ATM, across major banks in the state, they were elated, believing they have ended the reign of the gang.
The four suspects, including a dismissed a police Sergeant, Eboma Onyeka; Ezekiel Omoloye, Sunday Gabriel and Gambo Freman, were later taken to court on a holden charge of armed robbery and murder following their confessional statements to the police which also aided recovery all their arms and ammunition, and other instruments they used for their operations.
While these suspects were remanded in prison custody pending the outcome of the advice from the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, the police said the state became relatively calm as the rate of ATM robbery spiraled downwards.
However, sometime in February 2012, news of ATM robbery started circulating as some banks within, Oshodi Apapa Expressway, Maza- Maza and Ejigbo, had their ATMs vandalized and lots of cash carted away. This trend continued until April this year, when a policeman who was guarding a second generation bank was killed when a gang of armed robbers struck at the financial institution’s ATM.
Police sources intimated Crime Guard that the daily reports of the ATM robberies became a source of worry to the command, prompting the state Commissioner of Police Umar Manko to order a full blown investigation into the development.
Operatives at Special Anti- Robbery Squad, SARS, who were mandated to carry out the investigation and apprehend the culprits were thrown into confusion given the fact that they had once busted the only gang they believed was behind such operation. Nonetheless, a source who craved anonymity told Crime Guard that the officer in charge of SARS, Abba Kayri, swiftly mobilized a crack team of operatives to hunt down the culprits.
Crime Guard gathered that the modi operandi in this new surge of ATM robberies were the same compared to those of the dismissed Sergeant Eboma and his gang. Then the SARS operatives swiftly used their contacts at the prison in checking if Eboma and his gang were still there but they were shocked to realize that three of the suspects except one, had been released.
The operative made contacts with the last suspect, Gabriel, through his brother and he gave them Eboma’s contacts. It was at the point the police started trailing Eboma that they discovered that he (Eboma) had been in regular contact with a court Registrar at Igbosere Magistrate Court and many others.
According to the source, “one of those contacts assisted us in re-arresting Eboma and when we interrogated him, he confessed to the police that he spent N 1.4m to secure his bail illegally from the court. He also told us that he could not locate other members of his gang as they had fled soon after his arrest.
“But one other thing you must look at is the Judiciary’s attitude in granting bail to suspected armed robbers who murdered innocent people in their escapade. The Judiciary now grants bail to rich criminals who were arrested for cases as grievous as armed robbery and murder, and their lawyers usually cook up all manner of lies to get them out.
The worst of it is that the Judiciary does not think it necessary to contact us during bail hearings. That was what happened when they started Eboma’s bail processes because we were not carried along and nobody gave us the opportunity of defending our actions. The situation has become so terrible that we have completely lost the fight with the Judiciary over some of the processes. ” the source lamented.
Meanwhile, the Registrar Igbosere High Court 14, Demola Kumola when contacted told Crime Guard that the court followed due process in granting bail to Eboma.
According to him; “Whenever a process is filed and bail has been granted, we just have to go through the normal process. I work at Court 14. It is normal that he had my number. They do that to see if we can be of assistance to them”.
The Lawyer T.J. Ajapuno when contacted said; “Motion on Eboma’s bail notice was perfectly legal. It was filed at the High Court and assigned before Justice Candide Johnson. The DPP did not have Eboma’s file; the police did not give them the file. And bail was granted to all the suspects, Eboma was just fortunate to perfect his own.
If he went and started robbing again, that is his own cup of tea. Go to Justice Candide Johnson, you can see the file there; it is in the court. We followed due process. We served the police, DPP; everything is in the court file. Immediately we entered that place, because of what they told us because we don’t have the facts of what happened, then we filed an application because an accused person is innocent until the contrary is proved. We filed an application for bail. What we did was what any ordinary lawyer would do. His wife and a pastor came and stood as sureties for him.”
Then the lawyer also added that the state CID Panti was served and the IPO notified but they never appeared in court. He said the case wasn’t over as the the substantive matter was before Justice Okunnu at the Ikeja High Court
When Crime Guard interacted with the dismissed Sergeant Eboma he narrated how he got out from prison custody and the amount he paid. “We were taken to the Ikeja Magistrate court, after my arrest; this was the first time. It wasn’t as if I had a lawyer. I was brought to court on a robbery charge.
Shola, Sunday, Gabriel, Ezekiel, Omolaye were also taken to court. When we got to court, we were docked but no plea was taken. We were taken from the court cell to Kirikiri Minimum Security Prisons. After some weeks or months, one of the prison wardens called Shola, then called me. We don’t know actually what happened but we were taken to court. It was a different court (Igbosesre) and Shola, was released, while the rest of us were taken back to the prisons.
On the third occasion, I was called upon again and taken to court. When we got to Igbosesre High Court premises, we were taken to the different courts where our cases were to be heard and I was released from there. When I got out of prison, I went to church for a while. After I had fully recovered my health, I travelled back to my village in Agbor, Delta state.
While I was out of prison,I called Femi; he works in the court but I don’t know his designation. I have never met the man in person. When I went home, I asked my father how I got out of prison. My father told me that the contact came from Ajapuno, he said he could perfect my bail. Bcecoz I never knew him before.
When I was at the prison, the lawyer (Ajakpuno) came to see me once with a lady. I told him how I got into prison and he said he would reach my family. I was released early December. My parents said they got in with through Ajakpuno and that they paid N1.4m to facilitate my bail.
I left Lagos after I was released; his secretary gave me her number and the registrar’s number to call concerning my case. I didn’t even know the person’s designation but I was just calling him. So I called the man and asked him how far with my case and what was going on with my other colleagues still in prison.
He said he was doing his best and that more money was needed to perfect their bail. He said if I could raise N150000 or N200000… I called him severally but I couldn’t send him any money because I had none. I know my colleagues got out but how they did it I do not know.
I haven’t been to court since then. I don’t know the adjournment date. I was told that they would let me know when the case comes up. They said it was a motion bail. I don’t know the difference between the two bail applications; but I didn’t have any surety stand for me to the best of my knowledge; possibly because it was a motion bail.”
On his previous activities Eboma said “I was posted to PH Akowomjo as a security detail. I became friendly with the marketing manager Sola Atoki. He used to buy me lunch; we became very friendly and he brought the idea of robbing his bank’s ATM machine. In that operation we killed one of the bank’s security guards and we carted way all the money in the machine
After a while, he told me that he knew how much came into the bank and that he had access to the bank vault and that we could help ourselves. Because we had become so close, I couldn’t report what he had told me.
Eventually, Atoki told me that a circular had gone round the bank, it seemed they had changed the modalities for those who handled the keys of the vault. He then asked if I knew a welder. I told him I would ask around for one. I confided in a few friends and we got together. He told me that the money in the vault was enough for everybody.
On the night of the operation, I couldn’t get into the bank because the security man knew me. The rest of the group (victor, micheal and Sunday) tied up the security man. Even after we got into the bank, we discovered we couldn’t open the vault and then we had to loot the ATM.
I had already finished the Inspector’s course in preparation for my promotion when I was arrested. I was arrested at about 11pm on my way home. I was arrested by Ipaja division because a rifle was slung across my shoulder and my uniform wasn’t on me. By then I was working with a company at Apapa. I was taking my gun home because the armourer wasn’t at the station when I had tried to return it. I am 41 years and have worked for 19 years.
I have not been involved in any robbery since I came out of prison. I have been in Benin and only came to Lagos a few months ago. It was the same day I came into Lagos that I was arrested. I still had my toiletries on me.