By Esther Onyegbula
When 31-year-old Israel Damascus, a Ghanaian, decided to relocate to Nigeria, little did he know that a day would come when he would abandon his work as a truck driver and start engaging in vices that will land him into trouble.
This is because he was recently arrested along with two others identified as Chuks Ikechukwu,30, and Kingsley Ebere, 28, by the police at the State Investigations Bureau (SIB) Lagos State Police Command, for allegedly being involved in a case of stolen vehicle.
According to the father of one, “My trouble started when I helped a friend to sell a vehicle. I didn’t know it was a stolen vehicle.
Unfortunately, I was arrested four months later when he was caught with a stolen Honda car. I made N500,000 as commission for selling the vehicle. I did not know the vehicle was stolen. All I did was connect him to a buyer. If I knew it was a stolen vehicle, I wouldn’t have showed the man my house.
“That was how my trouble started. I was arrested and transferred to Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) last year, where I spent six months in their custody before I was eventually charged to court. With the help of my people, I was granted bail. Unfortunately before I was released, my house rent expired, my wife gave birth and then I lost my job where I was working as a truck driver.
“I used to transport goods to different parts of the country. After I was released from SARS, the stigmatization was too much as people who knew me before refused to associate with me. They treated me as a criminal and because I needed to survive, I had to contact one Orji who I met while I was in SARS custody. It was Orji that introduced me into this business. Before I was arrested, I had successfully stolen two vehicles from my employers.
“I was arrested because I stole a Hyundai Accent car in July. When I stole the vehicle, I was employed as the driver. I actually applied through an agent. So, the agent connected me to the family and I worked with them for three days. I drove my boss to the pharmacy to buy drugs then I disappeared with the vehicle.
Immediately, I drove the vehicle to Ijebu-Ode and called my friend Orji to come because he knew I was going to steal a vehicle. That Hyundai Accent was the third vehicle I was stealing from people who unknowingly employed me as their driver using the same method.
“The first time I stole a vehicle from my employer was in the month of May, 2015, through a different agent. I was asked to fill a form by the first agency that helped me secure the job. Then, I went to my employers and resumed. I worked with them for a week before I stole the vehicle and took it to Akwa Ibom State where I sold it to Chucks for N400,000. Most times, I had little left by the time I finish settling all the people who introduced me to the transaction. Most times, I would be left with about N18,0000. The second car I stole from my employer, I sold it to Chuks for N300,000.
Usually when I come to Lagos to hunt for job, I lodge in a hotel. The last job agency I applied through demanded for a guarantor. In a bid to get a guarantor, a friend of mine directed me to a photographer at CMS. He sold people’s passport to me at the rate of N400,000. I would then use the passport to fill the guarantor’s form with names of people I don’t know.
“Right now, I feel very bad. I feel bad about my actions. I regret my actions, not because I have been arrested, but because it is not in my character to steal. It was bad condition that actually led me into crime. When I was arrested last year, I spent 6 months at SARS. By the time I came back, I faced a lot of stigmatization. I lost my job and my house rent expired. My woman delivered our baby in someone’s house and things became really difficult. I lived in Port-Harcourt for four years before I got involved in this business. If I am released, I will go back to my country in Ghana. I am from Central Region in Ghana.”
In his defence, Chuks Ikechukwu, 30, a native of Ohafia, in Abia State, said “I was arrested in Aba because someone called me to come and buy a vehicle. It was actually my town person that called me. It was Orji that introduced me to Damascus. The first vehicle he sold to me was stolen, but I did not know. I bought the vehicle for N650,000 but Orji collected N200,000 while Chuks got N400,000. I didn’t suspect the car because it was a used vehicle. I do not have a car but I help people to sell their used vehicles. When they brought the second vehicle, Orji opened up and told me that it was a stolen car. I bought the car because my wife was pregnant and I wanted to use it for my personal use. But at a point, I had to sell it when my mother became sick and my pregnant wife delivered through Caesarian session. I bought the second vehicle for N400,000. I gave Orji N200,000 and Damascus N200,000. Later, I sold it for N1m. When people bring their used vehicles for me to sell, they bring original documents of the vehicles which correspond with the chassis number and engine number so I didn’t know they were forged. I feel bad for my actions. I was into boutique business before I got involved in car business. I am married with a child.”
Kingsley Ebere, 28 “I have known Chuks for about a year. He said he gave me a vehicle to sell for him but the truth is that he did not give me any vehicle. I am from Imo State, Ideato LGA. I have done re-wire work for him before because that is my job. I am innocent. I do not know anything about the case.”