Inmate: SARS men stole my six cars, N1m

Juliana Francis and Opeyemi Ayinde

A 33-year-old mother of three, Mrs. Nneka Duru, has revealed how her husband, Okechukwu Duru, became a guest at Ijebu-Ode Prison, Ogun State.
The woman, who cried throughout her interaction with our correspondent, said that since Okechukwu’s arrest and incarceration, life had become too tough.
She disclosed that her children were sent out of school for not paying school fees, while their landlord kicked them out of their apartment because they could no longer pay their rent.
Nneka said she and her children were forced to move to their church, the All Saints Anglican Church, and had been living there till date, while waiting for her husband to be released. Furthermore, her mother-in-law and sister-in-law died, while waiting for Okechukwu’s return.
Indeed, Okechukwu is the first son of his mother and everyone had always looked up to him in terms of welfare and decision making.
According to Nneka, her husband has to bury his mother according to Igbo tradition. Thus since his mother died last year, her corpse has been deposited at a mortuary, waiting for Okechukwu to return.
She said: “Before she died, she said nobody should bury her except Okechukwu. We have all been waiting for him to be granted bail.”
Nneka said that her husband was arrested for buying a stolen car.
The woman said she had not always been a full time housewife. However, when children started coming, Okechukwu asked her to quit the job and focused on caring for the children.
Okechukwu used to sell pharmaceutical items before he decided to go into car sales. He had been buying and selling cars from overseas and those allegedly sold as auction in Nigeria for years without any problem. Trouble started after he bought an alleged auctioned car from a neighbour’s fiancé, unaware that it was stolen.
Nneka said: “Since this matter started, we have been spending money. Now, we don’t have any money. My children are no longer going to school because I don’t have money for their fees. I’ve been trying my best, but it’s just not enough. I’m a full time housewife. I don’t have any source of income to take care of my children. It is members of our church who have been assisting us.
“My children have been out of school for over a year now. My husband has been in prison for three years. I’m begging whosoever is responsible to ensure my husband is released from prison. It has not been easy. It’s only God who has been sustaining my children and I.
“I want my husband to be released, so that he could take care of us. If not for our church, I don’t know what would have become of us. I have tried all I could; I have borrowed money everywhere, hoping Okechukwu would soon be out of prison. My husband may not have much money, but in his lineage, nobody is a thief. My husband is not a thief no matter what people say.”
Nneka insisted that if Okechukwu had known that the car he bought was stolen he wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. She said that everyone was shocked when Okechukwu was accused of hobnobbing with armed robbers.
She added: “My husband is a Bible study coordinator in our church. He does not associate himself with bad people. In fact, this case caused the death of his mother. My mother-in-law used to call and speak with him, even while she was sick and in hospital. She eventually died last year. Her corpse is still in the mortuary; yet to be buried. This same case killed his elder sister.
“We managed to bury his sister because she was a widow. We could have borrowed money to bury my mother-in-law, but before she died, she warned us not to bury her. She said we should not bury her until Okechukwu returns from prison. I’m pained by everything; it was my mother-in-law and sister-in-law that used to console me, telling me that I shouldn’t worry that my husband would soon be out of prison. They have both died and still my husband is in prison. The sister was in her forties, while the mother was in her sixties.”
Speaking with our correspondent from prison, Okechukwu said he was into buying and selling pharmaceutical items before he diversified into buying and selling cars.
He said: “I have been doing my business for long and never had any trouble. One day, a guy came to our compound at Ketu area of Lagos to visit one of our female neighbours. They were engaged to be married. The lady introduced the guy to me as her fiancé. The guy’s name is Tochukwu. During chitchat, he told me that he used to get auctioned cars from Apapa Wharf, where he works. He has brought only two cars to me. One was alright, the second had engine problem. The one that had engine problem was Toyota Camry. The one with bad engine I bought for N170,000 from him, while the good one was N600,000. They were both Toyota Camry cars. Six months after the business, I was at home when operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) came to arrest me.”
The SARS men, who came from Magbon, Abeokuta, Ogun State, came with Tochukwu. Tochukwu was in handcuffs. The policemen told Okechukwu that Tochukwu was a car-snatcher, who used to collect victims’ cars at gunpoint.
Okechukwu added: “They didn’t arrest me for robbery. They said I bought stolen cars from Tochukwu. After they arrested me, the SARS men carted away six of my cars. Most of those cars were from America and Germany. The cars are Toyota Corolla, Pathfinder, another Toyota Corolla, Sport, Toyota Camry, and a Honda car. The policemen also carted away N200,000 cash from my house drawer. They took my brand new Home Theatre, which was still inside its carton. My plan was to take it to the village. I just bought it.
“They took my Tab, Samsung Galaxy S3 and Nokia. There was a cheque, which someone used in paying for a car. It was a N800,000 cheque. They arrested the man that paid for the car with the cheque. Unfortunately, the man, an Alhaji, bought the car for his dad, and had since moved it to his father in Kwara State. The buyer is into oil and gas business. Police arrested Alhaji. The policemen later cashed that N800,000 and took it.
“Some days later, a message came into my phone; it was my account balance. They insisted that I should withdraw the money, but I refused. The money was N900,000 and it belonged to our association. That was what led to my being tortured. They used baton to hit every joint on my body. They hit my ankles and knees. I was hung and suspended mid-air. And just when I was about to lose consciousness, they brought me down and took me to Abeokuta General Hospital. I have been to hospital like thrice because of my failing health, which was caused by the torture.”
According to Okechukwu, when they took him to the doctor, he ordered that he should not be placed inside a cell anymore.
He said: “The doctor said that they should put me in an open place; a place where I can receive ventilation. The torture affected my blood pressure. On December 4, 2016, they took me to court with Tochukwu and other two guys. I have been in this prison since December 4, 2016 till date. The policemen, for reasons I can’t understand, charged me for robbery, but I have never robbed in my life. They said I bought a stolen car, but I didn’t know. I learned that Tochukwu and his friends hijacked a bus and robbed three passengers. They also collected laptop, phones and N50,000 from the passengers.”
Okechukwu disclosed that the magistrate, who was presiding over the matter, found the policemen charges questionable and asked them to go back and tidy their case file.
The magistrate was, however, later transferred. Okechukwu further said that the policemen, even in their charge, failed to list his cars, money and phones taken from him.
Sunday Obinna, Tochukwu Njikonye and Abdullahi Abdulamid were actually those alleged to specialise in snatching cars at gunpoint and selling to unsuspecting Nigerians. The police said that the gang also specialised in kidnapping. A 35-year-old man, Ejike, is said to be the leader of the gang. He is, however, still at large. The police said the gang had been terrorising Ogun State.
One of the suspects, Abdulamid (32), said: “I know ‘Small’ about five months ago. I used to carry him and Obinna on my motorbike from Lagos to Ogun State, where we rob people. We are six-gang members. There is Small, I don’t know his real name. Ejike Chukwubeke, Obinna and three others, whose names I don’t know. We robbed a Toyota bus that day. I don’t know the actual money we made on that operation, but I was given N15,000 as my share. We collected eight phones and three laptops. While I carried Small back to Lagos, others left with the snatched car. We have only one locally-made pistol. It belonged to our gang leader, Ejike.”
He recalled that in the gang’s first operation, Ejike held the pistol, while others held toy guns and sticks. Abdulamid held a torch. In the last operation before the bursting of the gang, Abdulamid said they snatched a truck and used it to block the road, before they started robbing incoming vehicles. That was October 30, 2016.
He added: “We were robbing one bus that night before the police came from Ogbere Division to attack us. We all ran into the bush. When Obinna and Okechukwu Obinna came out of the bush, police opened fire on them and they were later arrested. I later came out of the bush about 10a.m. the following day. I was moving without shoes. Mobile policemen, who were on duty, arrested me. They took me to the station, where I saw two of our gang members. Immediately our gang members saw me, they identified me to the police.”
Recalling his role in the gang, another suspect, Njikonye, said: “We made use of sticks, toy guns and torch for the operation. Ejike, our gang leader, is involved in kidnapping. He used to kidnap people and demand huge sums of money from their loved ones.”
Njikonye explained that whenever the gang was going for operation, members would wear black clothes.
He added: “Duru (Okechukwu) usually buys stolen vehicles from us. I sold a Jeep to him for N100,000 and two Camry cars. The first car, which is a Mazda, was sold for N70,000. The four cars were snatched by our gang at gunpoint.”
One of the gang’s victims, Segun Abiodun, said: “I know Obinna, Tochukwu and Abdulamid. On October 30, 2016, I was travelling in a Hiace bus from Asaba to Lagos, when I had an encounter with them. At a point after Ore, Obinna, Tochukwu and Abdulamid, armed with guns, attacked the bus in which I was travelling. I was robbed of my phone, beads and money. The police were alerted by sounds of gunshots. They arrived the scene and after combing the surroundings, found and arrested the suspects.”
The Investigating Police Officer (IPO), Sergeant Seyi Kayode, of SARS, Abeokuta, said: “On November 8, 2016, I was on duty at FSARS office when a case of armed robbery was transferred from Ogbere Division for further investigation. The accused as well as the exhibits were also transferred. I obtained voluntary statement from available witnesses. I re-arrested, charged and cautioned the accused. Tochukwu, Obinna and Abdulamid statements were confessional. On November 14, Duru (Okechukwu) was brought to the station for receiving stolen goods from

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