By Chiemelie Ezeobi
It used to be a signature malaise of the city called Lagos for cars to be snatched from their owners, most times at gunpoint. That was in the mid and late 90s. But at the turn of the century, cases of car theft and snatching dropped significantly, perhaps because of the “boom” of Tokunbo (fairly used) cars.
Now, it seems car snatchers are back to business, as no day passes without reports of cars snatched from their owners within the Lagos metropolis. In the last seven months, the police say 600 cars have been snatched; but 400 have also been recovered.
The alarming rate of car theft has thus given Lagosians increasing cause for concern as it has heightened insecurity issues in the country.
But the Lagos State Police Command said concerted efforts to curb the crime have been put in place. However, the rising statistics of the crime hardly connects with the “concerted efforts” by the police authorities.
For many victims, the scourge of car snatchers is another haunting experience in Lagos city. Consider the experience of Mr Biodun Ajala, the Photo Editor of THISDAY. It was an experience he would live to remember. Even weeks after the incident, the aftershock of his encounter with a gang of robbers that accosted him as he was about to drive into his house still lingers.
As he waited at the entrance of his house for the gate to be opened so he could drive in, the last thing on his mind was that he was about to be forced into a nightmarish journey. Unknown to him, a 10-man robbery gang had been trailing him immediately he got into his neighbourhood in Meiran, a Lagos suburb. They chose that moment of his waiting to strike and robbed him of his Nissan Xtera SUV with registration number KSF183AP.
Other items stolen were his work camera, tax clearance card, identity card, and some cash. They soon threw him into the trunk of the car, and off they went on a robbery spree in Lagos State and the neighbouring Ogun State. But he was lucky. He was not harmed unlike his colleague, George Ogunleye, who was shot in the stomach some months earlier when robbers attacked him and Mayowa Adebajo, the lone female photojournalist in the newspaper and snatched the orange-coloured Kia Rio Adebajo was driving at Ijora.
Although the car was recovered days later at Ikorodu, other valuables like Adebajo’s Canon Camera valued at over N300,000, were not found.
The experiences of Ajala, Ogunleye and Adebajo typify what many Lagos residents have been going through in the last few months. This has given rise to the belief that car snatching is on the rise in the state even though statistics from the police shows a slight decline, especially in car theft.
Statistics made available to THISDAY showed that from January to July, over 600 cars were stolen in the state. However, over 400 of the cars have been recovered. The statistics of recovered cars from January to July is: January (49), February (41), March (84), April (75), May (67), June (102) and July (88), totalling 414.
In 2007 and 2008, about 907 and 669 cases of car theft were recorded with 321 and 282 cars recovered in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Last year, 371 cars were recovered.
In 2012, the highest number of stolen cars was in June when 102 different cases were recorded followed by July with about 88 cases.
February witnessed the fewest cases of car snatching thus far with 41 incidents. On the efforts of the command to tackle the crime, the state Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko, said the dedication of the officers and men of the police force has been paying off.
It was such dedication that perhaps helped Nigerian Compass Editor, Mr. Gabriel Akindewo, whose Toyota Avensis car with registration number CP11AKM was snatched at gunpoint on Sunday at Agindigbi Road, Ikeja, to recover it a day later.
However, a presenter with Silver Bird Broadcasting (SBD), Yvonne Ekwere, who lost her Toyota Camry salon car with number plate EX 123 BC at the parking lot of an upscale hotel on Victoria Island, Lagos, a day earlier, is yet to recover it. Also, the Editor of Daily Sun, Steve Nwosu, was last week shot by armed robbers in a busy district of the city, after robbing him of cash and other valuables. Luckily, he survived the attack.
Last Monday, the police paraded 12 suspects arrested for car snatching. The suspects are: Azeez Abiodun, Olusoga Taiwo, Dele Balogun, Adekunle Adeyiga, Ahmed Abdullahi, Lekan Aibinuomo, Yusuf Ganiyu, Okalawon Akinpelu, Adebiyi Mafimisesin, Wasiu Azeez, Makinde Lateef and Omoniyi Adelaja.
Eight cars were recovered from the suspects, including a Toyota Sienna with registration number GJ556EKY, a Toyota Corolla (RSH689AE), Honda Accord (LSD537AM), an unregistered Toyota Camry and Honda Odyssey. Also recovered from them were three single barrel locally made short guns and 24 live cartridges with an expended cartridge.
Policemen from Agbado Ijaye also arrested three persons — Lateef Alade, Monday Johnson and Omolaja Lawal — for allegedly snatching a Honda Accord saloon car with registration number KSF461AL from one Farouk Umar.
Manko said the suspects belong to a syndicate that specialised in snatching vehicles at gunpoint and selling them off to prospective buyers after changing the vehicles’ number plates.
Also, the policemen at Ogba area of the state recovered eight cars from another car-snatching syndicate and arrested one Sunday Okoduwa and Idowu Adegboyega.
It would also be recalled that recently a suspected car racketeer was arrested at Lape Village, Ibeju-Lekki and nine cars were recovered from him. The arrest was made possible based on a tip off that a Toyota Corolla saloon car with registration number; MR 595 AAA, suspected to have been stolen, was parked in an isolated area.
Detectives from Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) led by Abba Kyari, a Superintendent of Police (SP), also arrested one Israel Ubatuegwu whose confession led to the recovery of nine more cars.
Investigations, however, showed that the modus operandi of the robbers is to either snatch cars in Lagos and take them to another state for sale or bring those stolen from other states to sell in Lagos, all to avoid detection by law enforcement agencies.
Manko, however, appealed to members of the public to be circumspect when they want to buy cars so as not to buy stolen ones.