A gang of millionaire robbers, operating majorly on the highways, appears to have formed a consortium, besides having offices from where they brainstorm before embarking on any major operation, The Point has learnt.
Their operations, it was learnt, usually involved hijacking of trailers loaded with goods worth several millions of naira.
A source told The Point that goods worth about N5 billion were lost to these highway robbery syndicates by manufacturing companies and other firms annually.
In the past seven months, no fewer than five trailers loaded with multimillion naira worth of goods were said to have been cornered by the gang and the goods sold off, while the vehicles conveying them would be abandoned in isolated places that could not immediately be located by their owners.
Investigations revealed that the gang members had similar background history of having started as petty thieves, before graduating to big time trailer-hijackers. “Some of them were artisans before they became big-time thieves.
They ride in big cars, drink expensive wines and are found in company with beautiful women. Barely two months ago, a trailer loaded with beverages was hijacked, only to be discovered at Ijebu-Ode undergoing spraying while its content had already been emptied,” said a police source at Agbara.
Checks by The Point revealed that the gang members had informants in some big companies scattered around the Agbara and Apapa axis of the state. Their modus operandi is that these informants, who usually have their own cut after each successful operation, would join their target companies as casual workers, doing odd jobs for which they are paid either daily or weekly.
During this period, the police source further disclosed, what the informant would do “is to monitor the movement of goods, while at the same time make a daily report to the fat cats, who would in-turn, plan and strategise on which approach to take.”
In-depth investigation revealed that in most cases, the approach would be to directly coax the trailer driver and cajole him into believing that he would become a millionaire after taking his own share of the booty, if only he could agree with their plans.
The matter becomes more complicated for the victim-company, who may be oblivious of the fact that the trailer/motor boy they had employed is the real mole, working for others outside their business environment and ready to disappear whenever his real bosses ask him to. And since nobody runs background checks on motor boys, he will soon melt into the crowd by slipping away to await another assignment.
Among the members of the syndicate, taking oath of secrecy is very important. If one of them runs into trouble, instead of revealing the identity of his accomplices, he would keep mute and remain indifferent, apparently, because others would rally round to get him off the hook at all cost.
A week-long investigation by The Point revealed further that in addition to beverage and foods processing companies, two other chemical companies in Agbara were among the victims of the syndicate in August last year.
One of the chemical companies was, however, lucky to have recovered some of its stolen goods. “The company’s loaded trailer with chemicals worth over N20 million was waylaid by the criminals, who swiftly negotiated with its driver, who finally compromised.
When the bubble finally burst, the goods were traced to Alaba International Market and the principal receiver was arrested by the police. The principal receiver only made a refund of N13 million and refused to disclose the full identity of those who sold the chemicals to him, inspite of the insistence of the police,” a police source told The Point.
The criminal gang, it was further learnt, now have their make-shift offices in a hut near Oko–Afo along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway and another at Apapa, Lagos, respectively. The usually well-dressed suspected criminals resume work every day like bank executives.
The Apapa branch office, we were hinted, “operates like clearing and forwarding agents, but what they do is to negotiate for diversion of containerised goods, which they buy at giveaway prices.”
Checks with the police revealed that over 20 containers were declared missing yearly, while little or no success is usually made in recovering them. At times, law enforcement agents would connive with the criminals by “clearing road for them. They do this by sitting beside the driver as escort.”
Those who are knowledgeable about ports operations told The Point that “over N5 billion worth of goods were diverted and declared missing annually, aside from those highjacked by robbers on the high ways.”
Piqued by the frequent hijacking of their goods-bearing trailers on the highways, many companies have resorted to the use of trackers with which they monitor the movement of their drivers, especially those who ply inter-state routes.
“The loss was no longer bearable. We had to put trackers on our vehicles. Now we are better for it,” Mr. Akin Gbemisola, whose company suffered some losses last year as a result of diversion of goods, said. Gbemisola, a computer programmer, added that if all companies installed trackers on their vehicles, it would go a long way in checking theft and other related crimes.
However, the Lagos Police Public Relations Officer, Assitant Superintendent Olarinde Famous Cole, suggested background check on employees before employing them to check the degree of criminality.
“Background checking is very important before employment. You need to know where the person you are employing is coming from and why? You need to liaise with his/her last employer to ascertain the veracity of his/her claims,” Cole said.
The PPRO could not ascertain the number of trailers hijacked annually, but according to him, “The police is on ground to nip in the bud any criminal tendencies, because we have the tools and the men and officers to use them.”