A 39-year-old welder, Taiwo Lawal Egbebi, who decided to seek short cut to quick wealth bowed his head in shame on Thursday, June 23, at the premises of the headquarters of the Oyo State Police Command, as his victims hollered at him, screaming and clapping: “Oju ole re, ole! (Behold the face of a thief and a fraudster)!”
But before they had the opportunity of shaming him publicly, Egbebi had caused untold silent pains to each of his victims by sending them to prisons in Nigeria and abroad over crimes they did not commit.
Crime Reports’ investigation revealed that the suspect’s stock-in-trade was to deceive innocent victims into making them believe he was a businessman, after which he would offer them the job of a sales girl. At other times, he would tell those in business that he could take them to countries where they could get goods at cheaper prices. He would thereafter take them on such business trips and swindle bureau-de-change operators and merchants, leaving his innocent ‘sales girl’ or ‘business partners’ to face the music of the crime committed by him.
The Oyo State Commissioner of Police, Mr Leye Oyebade, who spoke with Crime Reports on the arrest of the suspect, said Egbebi usually introduced himself to people as Alhaji Kazeem Ade-Alaso and Ade-Gold, making them to believe he was into the sale of clothing materials and gold.
One of the victims, Ajani Adunola, who spoke with Crime Reports, said: “The suspect cajoled me and another lady, Ismail Saidat, to follow him for business in Lome, Republic of Togo, in November 28, 2012, saying goods were cheaper there. In the guise of changing naira to CFA, he stole from the money given to him by the bureau de change operator we went to and disappeared, leaving us behind.
“The money he stole was seven million CFA which is N2.1million. Because of this, we were arrested and were in prison for 17 months. We were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment but after we paid the money, we were released.”
On how she came across Egbebi, the lady said she and Saidat were in the same vehicle with him on their way to Cotonou in a commercial bus. “I was discussing on phone with a customer who wanted me to buy some kegs of vegetable oil for her. After finishing the call, the suspect told me that he was a vegetable oil merchant in Lome.
“That was how I fell into his trap. He told me that vegetable oil was cheaper in Lome, saying I should go with him. He asked for the money for the business and I told him that I had already changed the currency to CFA. He approached some bureau de change operators in Togo and told them that he had dollars, displaying a bag. After collecting the cash, he left his bag and went out. When he did not return, the bag was searched and we discovered he stuffed it with vegetables and rags.”
Lending her voice to her friend’s narrative, Saidat said: “My friend and I were on our way to Cotonou to buy vegetable oil, shoes and bags for sale, but the suspect convinced us to follow him to Togo. Along Cotonou and Togo highway, police stopped us and he cajoled me into borrowing him some money, saying he had only dollars. After the police released us, he took us to Lakoji area and people told us that it was Ghana border with Togo.
“The suspect approached a Hausa man for CFA. When the man went to bring the money in a Ghana-must-go bag, I asked the suspect to bring out his dollars but he warned me that we needed to be careful, as the Hausa people were wicked and could disappear with the dollars. He had earlier collected N42,000 from us.
“As we were counting the money, he smartly removed seven million CFA, after which he said he wanted to charge our phones for us. That was the last we saw of him. The Hausa man said the money he brought was no longer complete. We searched for the suspect but he had already disappeared with our phones and money.
“We were confused: They didn’t understand Yoruba or English and we could not speak French. It was a Yoruba man who was nearby that told the Hausas not to beat us, as he could understand what we were saying.
“Police were invited and we were taken to police station. After the third day, we were taken straight to the prison. We spent 17 months in the prison, hired a lawyer and paid back the money the suspect stole before we were released. Our families had to sell properties to get us out because we were given 20 years imprisonment.”
Crime Reports also gathered that Egbebi was once arrested at State Criminal Investigation Department, Iyaganku, but was released on bail when he was down with tuberculosis.
Another victim, Yusuf Mujidat (22), also narrated her ordeal thus: “A friend introduced the man to me when he said he needed a sales girl. He said he had shops at Gbagi, Agbeni and Ogunpa. I said I would do the job and he promised to pay N15,000 monthly, N200 daily transport allowance and N250 travelling allowance.
“He showed me a shop at Agbeni but because it was a Thursday, he said the shop would not be opened until 10a.m. He took me to Asaba in Delta State on April 7, 2013. He bought gold worth N1,046,400 and disappeared on the pretence that he wanted to buy a drink, leaving me behind.
“I spent seven days in the police station in handcuffs, and spent one month and three days in prison. My parents spent a lot of money to get me bailed. We paid for surety in the sum of N300,000, a lawyer collected N170,000 as charges, and I still paid back the gold money.”
Staring straight as he spoke with Crime Reports, Egbebi confessed: “it is true that I defrauded people and also put my victims in trouble. I learnt welding as a vocation but there was no one to help me set up the business through the purchase of necessary equipment. I started defrauding people in 2012 to make some money but stopped in 2014. I picked it up again in 2015 when survival became difficult.
“What I usually did was to tell people that I needed a sales girl. I would go to a shop, pick my phone and start talking to no one that I needed a sales girl. Such people would recommend known persons to me and they were the ones I was using.
“Typically, on her first day of resumption, I would ask the sales girl to follow me to other parts of Nigeria to buy goods. Sometimes, I would stop at a bureau de change to change non-existing dollars to naira. In the process of counting the money, I would remove some and leave the sales girl to count the rest, saying that I wanted to buy a drink or ease myself. I would disappear with the money that way. Sometimes, it was goods such as gold jewellery. The sales girl would be held instead of me.”
Egbebi said he was arrested in 2014 but was released due to ill health. One of the vehicles he brought from the dubious business transactions was however impounded and is still at the Iyaganku Division.
When asked whether he was never pricked by his conscience, the suspect said he was, but since he had no means of repaying what he had taken, he later ignored victims’ families’ calls. He said he built a house and bought two vehicles, one of which he had sold. He said the total money he collected was about N4 million, though the Commissioner of Police put the money at over N5 million.
Other victims are Arije Olabisi who was taken to Kano State; Hamzat Abiodun whom the suspect took to Owerri in Imo State; and Iyabo Owolabi who was taken to Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, and remanded in prison for three weeks.
The Commissioner of Police said that the suspect would be arraigned in court after the conclusion of investigations, while he urged other victims to come forward for more evidences to be taken against him.
Pics: The suspect. INSET: Some of Taiwo Egbebi’s victims. From left: Ajani Adunola, Ismail Saidat, Yusuf Mujidat and Iyabo Owolabi