AN ORDEAL IN THE HANDS OF SONS OF DOGS
Fathers' Sunday every year is a special day for me and my family. It is always a day for me to tell my family that my most important job is to care for them. June 20, 2010 was one of such special days. I started making the preparations to visit my children in school on Friday June 18 2010.
Provisions were made for the Fathers' Day and it is always a big day for us at St Barths Anglican Church, Aguda, Surulere, Lagos.
We went to 7.00am service and by 10.30am the service was over. We rushed home, prepared food, got provisions and other gifts, and off we went to Otta, Ogun State, and our destination was Covenant University. We never had even the luxury of time to eat at home before leaving, hoping to eat when we get there. It was never to be.
Everything was going fine until we made a U-turn at Gateway Hotel Otta to access a very bad road off Otta-Lagos expressway that will lead us to Idiroko road, cutting off the Otta under bridge that has become the shame of the nation and Ogun State . Few minutes into that very important shortcut to Idiroko road (yet neglected) our ordeal began.
Three men inside a car, armed to the teeth overtook us, blocked us and ordered us to disembark after releasing several shots. They sandwiched us into the back seat and drove off. The shortcut is so bad that those on foot move faster than vehicles until you join Idiroko road, and hoodlums and armed robbers capitalize on this everyday to rob unsuspected commuters. All the roads in Otta are bad and in fact Otta is in ruins.
The sons of dogs took over the vehicle, one on the driver's seat, the other beside him and one with us at the back. As they shot into the air, people ran for dear lives, leaving their vehicles. They moved faster on the bad road instilling fear on people. We even passed a police vehicle on that bad road without them knowing. I was sitting near the left back door of the Toyota Prado and as we approached the police I wanted to open the car door to jump down to alert the police but on a second though.
I considered that it might be fatal. I had the chance to escape from the vehicle but I feared for my wife, my two young daughters aged 14 and 10, and my first son. I considered that if I did that, two things may happen: They may become desperate and shoot them. Secondary, if they manage to escape with my wife and children, I may not live to receive them dead or alive.
I decided not to jump out and stayed to see the end. When we got to Idiroko road they increased the speed. They were terribly tensed up, apprehensive, afraid, desperate and filled with fear that something can go wrong. They were even praying to God so they will succeed.
The speed became so much that I was compelled to remind them that the vehicle is not meant to exceed 120km per hour. They listened but after few minutes they forgot. We saw the desperation, and just decided to ignore them. At Covenant University , we begged them to yank us out and take the vehicle, they refused. They got to Agbara road and branched off, turning right and then into the bush.
They made several turns, turning back and front just to confuse us but we left the matter in the hands of God. When they got to where they wanted, they stopped and ordered us to get out. We did. They searched us and collected every other thing remaining and asked us to go into the bush. As we made it to the bush, they took off. Soon the shock left us, and we started organizing ourselves on how to get home. Sound of vehicles led us to the main road and we saw a house and went there to ask for phone to make contacts. We contacted Lagos , and told my brother our story. I tried to contact my vehicle V-tracking company but forgot the last two digits of the number they gave me.
Eventually I got my friend in Elizade who knows them and he helped me to get their contacts, but before then the hoodlums had crossed the border. The vehicle was sighted around Porto Novo. The family we met gave us N500 and my son had N250 with him. With that we got two okadas to take us to Agbara junction and from there we got a vehicle to take us to Covenant University . On our way back we saw a police check point and I asked the driver of our vehicle to stop.
I went to them and narrated our predicament. I asked whether they have any means to contact their colleagues at the border, they said they do not have. When we were going we did not see any policeman on the road and that situation changed as we were coming back. We met two police check points but they had nothing with them that suggested they were policemen on duty. It was then I came to the unhappy conclusion that this is an organized crime, may be with the police, and indigenes deeply involved.
For instance when we came out of the bush to Agbara junction we noticed a group of men numbering about 10 sitting down across the main road looking at us. They knew we were not from that area and probably this is the drama they see every other day. To them, it is a way of life in that area – car snatching, smuggling, armed robbery and what have you.
At Covenant University gate, I met their Chief Security Officer and narrated our troubles. He sympathized with us. But when I demanded to use his phone for one minute he had no credit. Inside Covenant University, our children had suffered tremendous physiological breakdown. They knew that something happened to us. I had told them that if they call my phone when I am in Nigeria and I did not pick the call for 30 minutes they should know that something is wrong.
When they tried my two phones, my wife's own and my first son's phone and we did not reply, they knew instantly that something was wrong. By the time we saw them around 7.40pm they were totally devastated. They wept uncontrollably when we narrated our ordeal. All the food we prepared for them, their provisions, gifts, my motivational books, phones, ID cards, very important documents were all taken away.
After managing the children, we started making the plans to go home. There is this Covenant University new cabs that can take you round the university and even to Lagos if you can afford it. I called one of them but the driver said the manager must be informed before embarking on the trip. He left to see the manager but never returned. I went to my friend's house, a staff of the university. He tried to convince the manager of the Covenant University cabs but did not succeed. My friend took me to the Guest House and started making arrangements for us to sleep there. But I wanted to go home. It was after 10 pm when I asked my brother in Lagos to come. He came and we returned around 12 midnight.
Throughout our ordeal with the robbers, I noticed from their conversation with their colleagues that it is a huge network. Nigeria needs a new police force to fight crime. We have the capacity to stop cross-border crimes and we need to prepare for it. Huge crimes are being committed on Otta-Idiroko road on a daily basis and victims are crying for help.
We need a functional state-of-the art police presence in Otta-Idiroko road. We need to protect the students, parents, teachers, and staff of both Bells and Covenant universities in Otta. We need to protect the industries in Otta and their workers. We need to protect the ordinary citizens of Otta and Idiroko. I am told that crimes of unimaginable proportion take place in Ajilete, Okiodon, Ilase, Ajegunle and Owode everyday especially car snatching and smuggling.
We need to take these young people out of crime. Ogun State must interface, engage dialogue, liaise, and work with Lagos to address this. My V-tracking company is working with Nigeria 's Interpol and that of Benin Republic to recover the stolen vehicle and I pray they succeed.
The robbers devastated and destabilized my family, stole my collection of cherished books. I learnt it from Governor Fashola to pack my books inside the car and read when I am on the move. I lost all the books. I forgive the robbers but they must repent. I saw how they suffered panic, fear, and were totally hopeless and withdrawn during operation. Even armed robbery is no tea party!
Igbokwe writes from Lagos