While incarceration is meant to be a “home of reformation” for offenders, for an armed robbery kingpin recently arrested in Lagos, it was an opportunity for him to set up a ruthless gang that would terrorise many parts of Lagos.
When the suspect, 27-year-old Francis Ogbonna, was arrested by the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team, it was revealed that he led the gang of car snatchers who operated in Aguda, Surulere, Ijeshatedo and Ikotun areas of the state.
When he and his gang members were arrested in a hotel they used as rendezvous, four stolen cars and a locally made gun were recovered from them as they were brokering a deal to sell the cars to a buyer.
Also arrested was Chisom Joseph and Oloko Raheem.
Saturday PUNCH learnt from a source at the IRT that during interrogation, Ogbonna confessed that his gang snatched six vehicles in four days in their last robbery spree.
In his statement, Ogbonna said he left the Kirikiri Medium Prison, Lagos, an angry man.
He said he hatched the plan to start his car robbery operation while in the prison and wanted to “correct his past mistakes” when he became free.
Ogbonna, a native of Umuahia South Local Government Area of Abia State, said, “I came to Lagos immediately after my secondary school education and was living in Surulere where I drove a taxi until 2013. That year, I relocated to the East.
“But after trying my hand at different jobs, I came back to Lagos last year and ventured into crime in November 2015.
“It started when one of my friends whom I went to secondary school with, Uchenna, asked if I could help drive a stolen car from Lagos to Owerri.
“I knew Uchenna was an armed robber and that the car he was talking about must have been snatched in a robbery. So, I began to move such vehicles for him. We moved mainly at night and he paid me N50,000 for each car.
“I remember delivering a Toyota Camry and a Toyota Seqoiua SUV. The third vehicle I moved for him was a Lexus 330 but I was arrested by some Customs officials in the process. I was later released.”
According to him, after his first brush with the law, he again got into trouble on December 13, 2015, when some Customs officials stopped him and Uchenna in a vehicle that had been snatched from a victim in Lagos.
It was learnt that a second vehicle was driven by another member of the gang who managed to escape.
He said the officials demanded the vehicle particulars, and when he gave them, they called a phone number written on the documents and the owner told them the vehicle was snatched.
Ogbonna said, “I was arrested and Uchenna ran away. The Customs officials took me to Lagos and handed me over to the police. I later took them to Uchenna’s house but he ran into the bush when he saw them and fled to his village.
“I was charged to court and remanded in prison. At the Kirikiri Prison, I met Joseph and Raheem. I knew them at Aguda and we normally smoked Indian hemp together.
“They knew me as a taxi driver. They told me they were also arrested for robbery. We became very close in the prison.
“In May 2016, Chisom and Raheem were released on bail, while I was released in July. While in prison, I contacted Uchenna and he told me of his plan to travel out of the country because some of the men who worked for him were killed during an operation.
“I told him that he was the one who got me into trouble and when I kept calling him, he changed his number. I became angry because I was the only one facing the problem he put me in. I decided that my revenge was to go into armed robbery fully.”
Ogbonna said he met another individual called Amos in prison. When they both got out, Amos reportedly introduced him to one “Alhaji” whose main business was buying stolen vehicles.
He said he met another man called Tosin, who also bought stolen vehicles.
Ogbonna said, “I told Tosin that I had no gun and he asked me to meet him. He said he would arrange a gun for me. I informed Raheem about my robbery plans and he told me he was ready to participate.
“The day after I spoke with Tosin about the gun, he came to meet me at a hotel where I lodged in Aguda, Surulere. He brought me a double-barrelled locally made pistol with five cartridges. I immediately called Raheem, Joseph and one David. They met me at the hotel and we embarked on our first operation.
“We went to Ojuelegba that night and robbed a cab driver of his vehicle. We went to Ago Palace Way and snatched a Toyota Corolla. That same night, I went to Alhaji at Cele area, and handed over the Corolla to him. I parked the taxi in Surulere. The next day, I called Alhaji to demand our money but he refused to pick my calls.
“The following day, I went with Tosin to snatch a Honda Accord at Kilo. I gave the car to Tosin. We also snatched a Toyota Camry in Aguda. We used the taxi cab we had snatched earlier to move around during these operations.
“We went to sleep that night and abandoned the taxi on a street. We also parked the Camry on another street overnight. The following day, we drove in the Camry to snatch a Honda at Akerele in Surulere. We snatched a Toyota at Ajao Estate that same night.”
Ogbonna said at that point, he already had three vehicles in his possession that he needed to dispose of.
He said when he called his buyer, the Alhaji, again, he picked up the call finally and told him that the Toyota he had earlier handed over to him was tracked to him and had been taken away.
“The following week, I was in a hotel in Ikotun when Tosin brought some policemen and I was arrested. Now, I am regretting everything I have ever done. If the police have mercy on me, I would like to become a policeman to help fight crime.”
Twenty-two-year-old Joseph on his part, said he decided to become a robber after a close friend of his named Tigana, introduced him to the business.
Joseph said he was a barber before he ventured into crime.
According to him, Tigana, who was his customer, liked him very much.
“One day, I was smoking Indian hemp with him and I told him to ‘teach me how to fish’. He collected my phone number that day and called me later.
“I went to meet him at a hotel where he bought drinks for me and introduced me to Raheem and other men. That was the first day I went out on operation with them. We drove to Victoria Island later that night and robbed a man of his car, money and phones.”
He said they were arrested in September after strings of robbery and were remanded at the Kirikiri Prison where he met Ogbonna.
The police said the suspects would be charged to court soon.