From John Adams, Minna and Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
A 75-year-old man, Mallam Yahaya Shanjijiri, and his 14 children were among over 500 suspected criminals who voluntarily renounced their activities in Rijau Local Government Area of Niger state at the weekend.
Mallam Shanjijiri, alleged to be one of the most notorious criminals in the state who publicly announced his retirement from his illicit business at the palace of Sarkin Bauchi, in Rijau, confessed to have been kingpin for over 30 years.
He disclosed that he had stopped going out for operation eight years ago due to age, but was providing his children intelligence and training.
According to him, he began his criminal act when he was barely 10- year- old, stealing within neighborhood and gradually grew to stealing goats and cattle before engaging in a full blown robbery.
Mallam Shanjijiri said he had been arrested and sent to prison 11 times but regained his freedom. He said his area of operation includes Niger, Kebbi and Sokoto states.
He told the gathering, which included the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Rijau, head of vigilance group and other security agencies that he carried out over 300 operations, an average of three operations in a month.
He stated further that he and members of his gang which included his children used to make between N2million to N3million in every successful operation. According to him, the proceeds were usually shared into four places.
Shanjijiri, who spoke in Hausa said: “When we robbed and the operation is successful, we would settle the security, we would keep some for court cases; we also settled our herbalist who prepared charms for our us.
“The remaining proceeds we used to take care of ourselves and I had been doing this for the past 30 years. Although, I have been arrested, charged to court and sent to prison 11 times, I still regained my freedom”.
He confessed that he and his gang had been responsible for a number of high profile robbery, kidnapping and cattle rustling in Niger, Kebbi and Sokoto states. He said his gang never killed any victim in their operations. He noted that nobody forced them into repentance.
“I want God and all those we have robbed in the past to forgive us as we will never contemplate doing such again in this life. I want to make it clear that nobody forced or threatened us to take this step of repentance:We did it of our own volition because it doesn’t pay,” he concluded.
In a related development, two brothers, Elijah Okpara and Prince Okpara were at the weekend arrested by men of the Ondo State Police Command over alleged roles in robbery incidents in the state.
The suspects who were arrested at Abusoro in Ijoka area of Akure are currently being interrogated by the police.
One of the suspects, Elijah said he and his brother were into burglary and robbery, having lost their jobs due to the current economic hardship in the country.
He said he and his sibling had not killed any of their victims as they only broke into shops and stole goods .
Parading the suspects, the state Police Commissioner, Mrs. Hilda Harrison said the police recovered from the suspects a single-barrel gun.
She said: “While our Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) opratives were on patrol at Abusoro community, some boys whose movements were suspicious within the community were arrested by combined efforts of policemen and youths of the area.
“ Elijah was arrested with a black bag, containing a locally-made gun, while the other two boys escaped. Investigation is on with a view to arresting the remaining suspects.”
It was gathered that after Elijah had been arrested, his brother, Prince too was later arrested by the police in Elijah’s house .
Elijah said he was introduced into robbery by one of his friends, called Kenny.
All the “born again” criminals swore by either the Holy Quran the Holy Bible according to their faith, at the palace, promising never never to return to crime again while begging for forgiveness from their victims.
Speaking at the event, the chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Rijau branch, Mallam Adamu Shanbo, said the repentance by the criminals was a welcome development, adding that the people of Niger,Kebbi and Sokoto could now sleep with both eyes closed.
“This is a welcome development to our people as it would reduce the menace of stealing, armed robbery and kidnapping of innocent people for ransom”.
Confirming the story to our Correspondent in Minna, the Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO), Niger State Command, Bala Elkana, Deputy Superintendent said these “born again” criminals are among the over 5,000 that have renounced their criminal activities across the 25 local government areas of the state.