Nothing in the world prepares you for this kind of encounter. Not the fact that you grew up in middle-income Surulere, Lagos or that you know Lawanson like the back of your hand. Not the fact that you spent holidays with your cousins in Mushin and played ‘set’ on the streets of Olodi Apapa which everyone insist on calling Ajegunle. Not that you spent time in the gym training, boxing and keeping fit, not even the fact that you have read so many James Hardley Chase thrillers or watched many movies could give you an inkling of what happened to me at about 9.25pm on Sunday, December 6, 2015. Earlier that day I had arrived Lagos from Accra, on a Medview Airline flight with my Publisher, Dele Momodu having just rounded off the production of the last issue of Ovation Magazine for the year.
In fact, I had a battle with our Production Manager, Isaac Edoh who was wondering why I was taking all our hard drives to Lagos. I told him I may just need them to plan a few pages during the holidays in preparation for 2016. On hindsight, I should have listened to him.
Anyway, on the flight, we met our good friends; Sammy Omai, a close ally of Olorogun Oskar Ibru and Oye Balogun, a Director of First Atlantic Bank, Ghana and we all as usual had a hearty chat on many issues most especially about Nigeria and our current security challenges.
As soon as we landed, we all wished one another well, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I rode with our Publisher to his home in GRA, Ikeja before the driver dropped me at the Ovation Magazine office located off Allen Avenue in Ikeja.
I had a few private engagements in Ajah, Lagos and at about 6.30pm I headed to the new Lekki home of top Compere cum Comedian, Gbenga Adeyinka 1st who was hosting the meeting of our Club called January 9 Collective (J9C)
The meeting ended and as is the norm, we spent the rest of the time catching up, eating and drinking. The jollity was in full swing when I decided to leave.
The reason was that I had to cross the bridge to the Mainland and knowing full well that I had my booth filled with all manner of office stuff, including international passports, I did not want to leave so late since our meetings dragged till well after midnight a times.
Even our General Secretary, Kingsley James tried to talk me into attending the Future Awards with him, adding that we can then drive together to the Mainland.
I dismissed the idea with the excuse that I was not dressed for the occasion.
So I got into the car and was listening to CDs of Rev. Sam Adeyemi speaking at the recent Excellence Leadership Conference as I cruised home.
The journey was smooth and uneventful. That was until I got to Gbagada Expressway and turned into Anthony and swung into Ikorodu Road towards Maryland.
The service lane leading to Maryland is quite narrow and just about 50 metres ahead I spotted a Danfo bus (painted in the usual official Lagos colours: bright yellow with black stripes) driving towards me in the wrong direction.
My first thought was that it was the Police. And was wondering why they will be driving against traffic (One Way) in a dimly lit area like that.
So I moved to the left to give the Danfo some space. The bus then changed lane and swerved to the left too. That was when I became alarmed, I slammed the breaks and switched the car into reverse.
All hell broke loose. Some men jumped out of the bus and began to fire gun shots indiscriminately and at the same time, they were dashing towards me. There was pandemonium. The cars behind me were not fast enough. The men caught up with me, therefore, I had no choice but to unlock the vehicle and allow them access into my vehicle.
I was pushed to the back seat as two armed guys kept guard on opposite sides. One pinned my hands down, the other blocked my shoulder. One took the passenger’s seat while one grabbed the steering.
Initially, they could not move the car as one of them may have pressed the hand brake. “You don stop the car abi, we go waste you now”, one of them thundered.
I assured them that the car was not locked and I then leaned forward, checked the dashboard and sorted out the issue. They reversed into Anthony and in front of GTbank-all those who know the area, know that is usually a busy place and my car was used to block an oncoming vehicle. The robbers poured out from my car and the bus. They operated there for a few minutes, snatched one car and we screeched off.
We drove into the Gbagada Expressway, turned into Ikorodu Road but this time we were heading towards Surulere. By now I had been dispossessed of my phones, ipad mini, wristwatch, wedding band and reading glasses.
The next question was “Oya how much do you have, where is all your money?” I told them I had some money in my pocket and in my bag. They took all those. “Is that all?”, the leader and driver of my car shouted from the front. “I said that should be all but I should have some foreign currencies in my briefcase ” He said “like how much?”I said “small dollars, pounds and some Ghana currencies”. I could spot the smile on his face “Ok good, very good”, he said.
By now we had approached Fadeyi area. He was on the phone to the Danfo bus, telling the driver to drive directly behind us and also those who were in the newly- hijacked car too. He instructed them to watch him and ensure no car crosses their path. So in effect, we were “shunting” as we used to call it, swerving left and right as we hit the bridge towards Ojuelegba.
He then turned to me “oya, where is your ATM card?”. I said it must be in my briefcase in the booth. By now fear had given way to survival instinct. Having identified the driver as the leader of the gang, my street sense kicked in. I begged him that I was a hustler like them and the man shouted “you be hustler abi, for this fuel scarcity, you get full tank”. I quickly replied that I was a mere writer and that it was an official car which my office usually fuels. I then gained some more confidence and fired my next line in Yoruba,“Bros, I grew up in Mushin and trust me I am also struggling, I know the country is tough but…”
He roughly cut me off; “Why are you lying, where did you grow up in Mushin?” I went on tell him all the areas, where we used to play football, eat Amala and do other things. That got him thinking. His next question was in pidgin, “I bin ask for your ATM, where am? “ I told him it was in my briefcase but I decided to check my small hand bag and as soon as I found it. I announced to all of the guys in the car. Big mistake!
One of the guys from the front seat slammed the butt of his gun on my face.”We go waste you, we go scatter you, so you been dey lie”. Blood was seeping from the scratch on the side of my face. One of the guys guarding me, as if on cue, smashed his gun too on the same side of my face. My fear instantly returned.
Are they going to kill me? What are their plans? What will happen to my family? Hundreds of other thoughts flowed through my dazed head. I just began to mumble prayers and kept calm. The leader pretended not to have seen what happened, he fired the next question. “Give me your pin. I no go repeat am o”. By this time we were in Alaka in Surulere.
I know the area well: a right turn would have taken us to Bode Thomas but they turned left under the Bridge; we were still on Western Avenue but facing the National Stadium.
I eventually gave them the Password and they spotted a Police Patrol van nearby and then continued ahead towards Stadium, turned around and returned to the ATM near Alaka Estate. It is a very dark spot.
We spent about 20 minutes here, and while the two in front of the vehicle were dealing with the business of withdrawal of cash from my account, the other two in the car with me decided to play smart. They asked where I kept the dollars I mentioned earlier. I insisted it was just some loose change and nothing large. They ordered me to pull my case up, I did, opened it and they pocketed the money, threatening to waste me if I said a word to the others. With their guns waving menacingly at me, I knew that what was best for me was to obey…
The ATM team soon returned and drove a few metres and saw a Toyota Sienna driving into Alaka Estate. Before, the huge black gate could be opened, they blocked the Sienna with my car, jumped out from all the cars and shot into the air. Interestingly none of those guarding me joined this operation. Their guns were pointed on my forehead .This was when I had time to count them: they were about 11 young men in their 20s. And in addition, none of them wore any hood! They had possession of that car because everyone scampered for safety.
They did not only snatch the car, they also cleared the Suya that was being grilled by the gate. As we continued our journey, the guy on the passenger seat, the same one who hit my face earlier, turned to me and showed me his hand “see my hand, na human being dem wound like this o, see blood”. I told him sorry and begged him to take it easy.
We were now heading towards Maryland but around the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, they saw a car they liked, it looked like a Toyota Corolla and they wanted to double cross it. The driver was fast enough to escape and just then a bus stopped to drop passengers and they pounced on the bus.
They brought watches, phones and some cash back. I then began to beg the Leader to release me, since they had taken everything from me including cash. He replied that I was not going anywhere as I had now become one of them. My thinking was they now wanted to hold on to me as human shield. All the while I was praying that we do not encounter the police, as I knew how bloody such an encounter could turn out. At Anthony, we stopped again; they had another shooting spree and took another bus.
The leader had gone to take over this white bus and the new driver who took over the wheels of my car was complaining that he could only drive manual cars. I gave him a short tutorial and he screeched after the other cars.
We now had 4-car convoy. We took Anthony hit the Gbagada Expressway but this time we were heading towards Mile 2; at somewhere around Ijesha bus stop the men split up.
A set of cars headed towards Ago Palace Way, Okota while the leader walked on foot into my vehicle.
He pulled the door open and zoomed across to one of the guys that had been guarding me and gave him a punch straight in the face, threatening to kill him.
It seemed he had discovered that the guy he punched and another one who was now driving the Sienna had taken some foreign currencies from me without informing him. He was livid and screaming in Yoruba that the guy who seemed to me like a Beninese wanted to cheat him. He cocked his gun and was ready to shoot, I quickly intervened, begging him in pidgin, ” Bros I beg no shoot no scatter am” just to curry his favour and see if he was on my side. That was probably when the leader realized that I needed to leave. He just said,“Egbon, oya, come down, cross to the other side and go home.”
Remembering that I had read somewhere that you needed to run in a zig-zag manner when sprinting away from someone with a loaded gun. I hit the pavement of Ilasamaja, heads down like Usain Bolt, I powered on. I was now confident enough to look behind me after about 100 metres. By then my car and the bus filled with the dare-devil robbers were out of sight. I had no shoes on but was just glad to have survived.
I crossed to other side of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. Luckily, I saw a young man whom I narrated my experience to and he graciously gave me his phone to call.
The two people whose numbers I know by heart are My wife, My Publisher and My friend, Azuh Arinze, the Publisher of Yes International! Magazine. I tried all three, no response. I asked the guy where I can get taxi, just then I checked the pocket of my buba and surprisingly, I found about three thousand naira. That was God’s miracle.
The young man gave me directions to Cele Bus Stop. I did the distance of about 15 minutes barefooted! I was even scared of being nabbed by another set of thieves because the whole area was pitch dark. I eventually got a taxi and headed straight to Area F Police Station in GRA, Ikeja.
Emotionally bruised and facially battered, I sauntered into the Station but was unhappy with the reception. I did however narrate my encounter and left the station without writing any statement. I was too weak and depressed to think straight.
When I got home, I called the Lagos State Emergency Toll Free Number 112 with my wife’s phone . They were professional. I called them at 1.36am and the operator was alert and helpful.
They called back many times in the course of the night for details. I called my bank, GTBank to inform of them, the customer care personnel blocked the card but before then, the robbers had done another set of withdrawals for Monday, December 7.
I then sent a mail to my friends at J9C informing them of the incident and the fact that I urgently needed the number of Are Olanrewaju Yakub whose company, Larmints had installed a tracker on the car.
Gbenga Adeyinka 1st was the first to respond, he got Are first and then called to commiserate with me.
Our friend, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, the Lagos State Commissioner of Information and Strategy was next on the phone, he contacted the RRS Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Olatunji Disu and promised that action would be taken urgently.
By about 8am, the tracker had got the car and the Larmints team sent us the co-ordinates. According to them, they had demobilized the car and it was somewhere in Satellite Town.
My wife, my brother, Pastor Soji Adeniran and I headed there pronto.
Along the line, a close family friend and brother, Dotun Oladipo, Publisher of The Eagle Online had contacted me and he advised that we should not approach the car but should arrange to go with some policemen. He said he had spoken to a journalist Juliana Francis and that she would help speak with the Area Commander to arrange some police.
In deed, Juliana was helpful. The Area Commander at Festac called, but before then we had received three policemen from Satellite Town Police Station.
Without as much as introducing myself, it was just my story of the incident that moved the DPO, Mr. Onah to action. He mobilized his men and I say kudos to him and those officers. The Police were indeed my friend that day!
After searching for over an hour, we decided to check out the coordinates using Google map and it showed that we were 1hr 39minutes to the location of the car.
Before then ACP Disu had told me that the coordinates I sent to him indicated that the car was in Badagry. I had asked him not to bother coming again because I now had three police men who were helping out, but he insisted and said in Yoruba “mo lagidi gan mo nbo” (I am strong willed, I am still on my way).True to his words.
When we dropped off the Satellite Town Policemen and headed towards Badagry with the plan to get another set of Policemen in Badagry, ACP Disu called to inform me that they had dispatched a drone to the scene and that my car had been located. He got there with his men and secured the car.
About an hour and a half later, when we arrived the location, ACP Disu told me how he stormed the hotel and an uncompleted building near where the car was parked. I saw Governor Ambode’s new gadgets at work. The drones, the brand new trucks, fully-kitted, professionally-trained Policemen and hi-tech patrol vehicles. I was impressed by the men and equipment deployed for this assignment. The battle to secure Lagos has truly begun.
As we were driving towards Badagry though, my prayer was “God please don’t let those people open my booth. Let me meet all my stuff intact. Because all my passports, hard drives, laptop, phones, tape recorder were in the briefcase. My heart sank when I opened the car with the spare key and found the booth squeaky clean. I was numb and shocked -and all I can do was shake my head in disgust, anger welled inside of me…I was deep in thought.
Then my wife nudged me from my reverie and said ‘this man, what is your problem, you are alive. God has just given you a special Christmas gift’. That was when I looked at the positive side of this encounter, simmered down and began to thank God.
ACP Disu has given me assurances that they will track the phones with their IMEI numbers. So I am now waiting for the next wonder from the men of the Lagos RRS. I will duly give you a blow by blow account when it happens!
Meanwhile, my return to the Area F Police Station has so far been pleasant. Now awaiting a Police Report to begin the stressful and painful journey of recovering some of my travelling documents! Stay tuned for more.