By Evelyn Usman & Esther Onyegbula
29-year David Chineye was among eight suspected members of a trans-border robbery gang arrested by the Lagos State Police Command last week. The Imo State-born suspect who claimed to be married to a Benin Republic-based Togolese, gave a startling confession on the gang’s operation in Benin and Mali, during an exclusive interview with Crime Guard.
Chineye who admitted to be the gang’s informant, revealed that his union with his wife, made it easy for him to study the terrain in Cotonou, Benin Republic, thereby facilitating the gang’s entry into the country.
Members of his gang reportedly stormed a micro finance bank in Porto Novo, Benin Republic, last November, from where they carted away the equivalent of N100 million.
Chineye who gave his operational name as Ishola, said he masterminded the robbery operation at the financial institute, adding that it took him two days to study the terrain before inviting other members of the gang over. He further told Crime Guard that the gang was planning to extend its operations to Togo when they were arrested.
I go for confession after each operation
The father of one who was full of remorse said that his pastor and members of his church, whose name he gave as Christ Ascension Church, Benin Republic branch, would be shocked beyond imagination when news of his arrest reach them.
According to him: “ I am a dedicated church worker. Nobody knew I was an armed robber. Every time I returned from any operation, my conscience would prick me. Thereafter, I would go to church for confession but would never disclose the exact sin I committed.
My wife didn’t know I was a robber either. This is because I stay in Benin Republic where she is permanently based for two months, before returning to Nigeria, where she believed I was working. I usually visited Benin Republic when we wanted to rob and would leave after investing my loot. This is to allow me get hints on the outcome of the operation, in terms of Police investigation.”
Frustration led me into robbery
At a point, he burst into tears, begging for his wife’s forgiveness when she hears about his involvement in crime. He stated that he never envisaged to go into robbery but that frustration forced him into it.
“It all started after my apprenticeship in a pharmaceutical store, back in Owerri, the Imo state capital. My master refused to pay me off. Rather, he claimed that the money he ought to have settled me with was spent on the treatment of my ailing brother few months back. I left in anger and worked as a bus conductor until the engine of the bus got knocked.
I was idle for some months, during which I met my wife who was visiting Nigeria for the first time. I went to Benin Republic with her, where I met some friends who introduced me into robbery. I started by breaking into peoples’ apartments, but it was not lucrative because at times, I won’t get anything from the houses”.
I graduated into Trans- border robbery
In his desperation to eke a living, he returned back to Nigeria last year, where he reportedly met members of another robbery gang. He confessed that he went on operation twice with the new gang but only got between N20,000 and N50,000 , an amount he said was not enough to meet his needs.
Continuing, he said : “During one of our meetings, I told my members that we should step up by going to operate in Benin Republic, since their Police were not as effective as ours. The first operation was in a filling station in Benin Republic. It took me two days to survey the place before I invited members of the gang.
At the end of the operation, we lodged in a hotel there for two days, shared the loot before others left,while I stayed back. Three weeks later, as I was driving around Porto Novo, I saw a micro-finance bank. I studied the terrain that day and came back the next day to continue. I observed that policemen were not stationed there and that only unarmed private guards were there.
Quickly, I came to Nigeria to inform my members and left back for Benin Republic. Three days later, we struck at the bank and made away with N100 million equivalent.
During operation, we don’t use our real names. For instance, my operational name is Ishola. We have names like Mensah, Koffi, Messiah, master, etc. This is to give our victims the impression that we were from Benin Republic.
“ Joining a robbery gang is the worst mistake of my life. Had I known, I would have listened to my wife.
Three days before I was nabbed, she told me she dreamed that I was arrested alongside other people for robbery and that I was killed in the process. Since then, she has been fasting and praying against sudden death. But I assured her all was well and that I was not into any dirty deal. If I had known I would have returned to Benin Republic , instead of remaining here in Nigeria.”
I lost everything
Another suspected member of the gang, Ifeanacho Igwe (35), told Crime Guard that he was forced into robbery by one Nnamdi, whom he said invited him over after he requested financial assistance from him. The invitation according to Igwe, turned out to be his worst nightmare.
According to him: “ As a commercial motorcyclist, Nnamdi invited me to take him to a location, promising to give me some money I earlier requested for.
That was in 2011 But on reaching the location at Alakija bus-stop, it turned out to be a robbery operation scene. I couldn’t turn back because it was late and I was afraid they could kill me. I had no option than to play along.
They succeeded in collecting N85 million from a victim and at the end I got N25 million. Since then, I cut off totally from them.
I lost everything I used that money on; I bought a new truck for N14 million and a commercial bus , including a sports utility vehicle for my personal use. I used the rest to renovate my mother’s house and support my siblings’ education.
Since that robbery operation my entire life has gone from bad to worse. I gave the truck out to a driver to use for transportation purpose.
While on a business trip to the eastern part of the country, it rammed over someone before it somersaulted into a river, with goods worth several millions of naira. As if that was not enough, I am in the police net for a crime committed four years ago. My past sins have caught up with me,” he stated in an emotion- laden voice.