•Victims, others recount ordeals
By ROMANUS UGWU
A sports journalist with News World magazine in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Ikenna Okonkwo, had left the headquarters of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) in Zone 7 in the night for home, after a busy day.
He was later to realise, albeit too late, that his choice of Area 1 bus stop instead of Berger roundabout, to board a vehicle to Nyanya, a suburb of the city centre, was a costly mistake.
Welcome to Abuja crime flashpoints. In an apparent bid to avoid reckless drivers on the major expressway, Mr. Okonkwo had decided to cross the road through the pedestrian bridge at the popular Finance Junction. The decision almost cost him his life because few steps into ascending the staircase, he was accosted by four armed men. They whisked him to a nearby bush, bound his legs and hands, collected his personal belongings, including handsets, laptop, ATM card and held him hostage for over three hours until they emptied his account, withdrawing over N100,000 that night!
He speaks: “Four steps climbing the pedestrian bridge, four men armed with guns and other dangerous weapons had accosted me, ordered me to follow them to a bush path beside the bridge. They tied my hands and legs, collected all my personal belongings, including my ATM card; demanded for the pin code and kept me for over three hours under gunpoint, I guess, to enable one of them who had left us there, to make withdrawal at the nearest bank.
“The experience was hellish and traumatic that I do not wish such for my enemy. While in their custody, they ensured that I did not move an inch, I prayed fervently that they let me go alive. They told me that they were surprised I did not know people do not pass there at those hours.
“At a point, when I felt they had left, I started struggling to free myself from the ropes. I succeeded and from nowhere, I saw a taxi driver who helped me out of the place few minutes after 11pm. I reported the incident to the Divisional Police Officer, Wuse Division, who told me that they were aware that the place is dangerous and that the police raid it constantly.”
Bag snatched from a car
Okonwo was not the only victim of such harrowing experience at emerging crime spots in Abuja. Walter Ukaegbu, another journalist, was also attacked, surprisingly, close to Aso Rock, at the traffic junction in front of the Court of Appeal.
Like his professional colleague, Ukaegbu was heading home, to Jukwai, another suburb of the city after attending an assignment at Transcorp Hilton. Ironically, his greatest mistake was that he obeyed the traffic rule. He realised too late that he did not wind up the side glass of the passengers’ side of his car and before he could blink his eyes, somebody had snatched his bag containing huge amount of cash, his working tools, including laptop, midget recorder and other personal affects.
“It happened shortly before the traffic light indicated green. I saw someone dip his hand into my car and pick my bag with the speed of lightening and he ran across into the nearby bush adjacent the Appeal Court. I was shell-shocked because I never believed it could happen there, right at the entrance of Aso Rock, which houses the Presidential Villa!
“Momentarily, I was confused on what to do; whether to alight from my car and chase him into the bush. At that point, characteristic of Abuja drivers, the vehicles behind me started horning in apparent protest against my failure to move on. I wondered if they were oblivious of what had happened to me.
“I decided to make a u-turn, but it was already late since the thief had disappeared into the bush. Confused, I narrated the incident to the taxi drivers nearby, who confirmed to me that it was a regular occurrence. They told me that they had seen many abandoned handbags inside the bush.
“Wondering how such crime could be perpetrated few poles to Aso Rock’s first security checkpoint without the authorities doing anything it, I was left with no option than to go home and leak my wounds”, Ukaegbu stated.
FCT fast becoming citadel of crime
Checks by Abuja Metro revealed that crime and criminality have become endemic in some parts of the mega city. Indeed, the rate of crime was become alarming.
The crime situation has been attributed to population explosion since Abuja assumed the status of the nation’s capital. The residents have, on daily basis, continued to experience terrifying ordeals in the hands of criminals. From pilfering at various bus stations and bus stops, criminalities have assumed a threatening dimension with such crimes as snatching of handbags/handsets, ‘one chance’ and car snatching/thefts to ATM fraud and many more.
Checks revealed that some areas found to be more prone to attacks, according to police security report, have been designated as Abuja crime flashpoints which must be avoided, especially during the early hours and in the night. They include the traffic junction in front of the Court of Appeal, Zone 7, opposite Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and NAFDAC offices; the pedestrian flyover at Finance Junction bus stop, the loading spots at Berger roundabout, Area One and Stadium under bridges as well as Bolingo junction.
Zone 7 car snatching, vandalism
The zone 7axis of Abuja houses the FRSC, the national headquarters of NAFDAC, the NFF and the National Population Commission (NPC) as well as relaxation gardens and hotels is always a beehive of activities, especially during business hours.
Faced with grossly inadequate parking spaces within the premises of most office complexes, visitors and staff use available spaces along the road, especially in front and beside the FRSC, as parking lots.
Consequently, they leave their cars at the mercy of car theft syndicates that operate unrestrained in the area. Car theft and vandalism remain regular occurrences and not a few hapless visitors and workers have fallen victims.
Investigations by Abuja Metro revealed that by strange coincidence, among worse hit were journalists. They include Rasheed Abdulkareem of Radio Nigeria, Hyacinth Umeh of Silverbird, Lekan Olasaide, Blue Print Sports Editor and Dennis Mernyi of The Sun newspapers.
Narrating his ordeal, Abdulkareem said he still feels the loss of his car in 2011 as if it happened just yesterday. He lamented that he did not only buy the Honda Civic car with a loan from his employer’s corporative society, but had used the car for only seven months before the theft.
“I own up that the theft, should I say, was out of carelessness of not using my pedal lock. But, even if I had pedal lock, I would perhaps, not have used it because I just came to pick a friend and colleague at the Glass House, to return to Gwagwalada, and did not intend to spend more than few minutes.
“I did not actually spend up to 15 minutes inside there before coming out to notice that my car was gone. My cousin and I looked at each other in confusion. We searched for the car, even inside the gutter.
It was more surprising that a police post and FRSC personnel, who were about 50 metres away, could not secure cars parked before their noses.
“I was directed to report to the nearby police station in Zone 3 which I did immediately, but from that 2011 till today, police have not recovered my car. It was very difficult for me to absorb because I did not even use that car for up to one year. I bought the car in August but it was stolen in March, barely eight months.
“It was very painful because I took a loan from my office co-operative society to buy that car for N600,000 in Benin Republic. Ironically, that car was stolen the same month I finished paying the loan. I would have been angrier if I had not finished paying the loan because you can imagine the trauma of paying for a car you are not using”, he stated.
Desperate move to recover stolen car
Silverbird television employee, Hyacinth Umeh, admitted losing his car because he failed to use a pedal lock. He had intended to spend few minutes inside the Glass House.
But for divine intervention, he almost lost another N600,000 to fraudsters, who feigned to be the thieves, in his desperation to recover his car. He recalled that the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) in charge of his case encouraged him to give them the money even though he did not know how they got his number in the first place.
“On April 24, 2013, I had left my office at about 1.30pm and got to Zone 7 at 2pm or thereabout. I parked my car opposite Road Safety among so many other cars. Unfortunately, I hurried into the Glass House without using my pedal lock because I did not intend to spend up to five minutes, and they struck.
“After spending more than an hour, as I rushed out to head to the stadium to cover a football match, I was shocked to see that my car was no longer where I parked it. I was initially confused about where I actually parked it because the two cars I parked in between were still there, but mine was gone. I was surprised because I could not imagine that they could come for my car, leaving the better ones around.
“I immediately made a formal report at Zone 3 police station. They promised to send signals in addition to other efforts, but for years now, the car has not been recovered. Surprisingly, shortly after leaving the police station that day, somebody called me to inform me that he was in possession of my car, urging me to pay N600,000 if I want them to return it. How he got my number was still a mystery to me but I suspected it was from the police station where I complained.
“The caller later came down to N400,000, N150,000 and finally, agreed to take N100,000, but I told him to prove his claim by telling me one of the personal effects inside my car, even if it was a complimentary card or the number plate. I played along with him, but my greatest surprise was that police did not act on my complaint, even when I furnished them with the man’s number. The IPO rather, encouraged me to play along and possibly give him the money.
“I was disappointed with his behaviour and level of professionalism because I did not see any reason the police could not track the suspect down with his number, which I made available”, Umeh said.
Other bad spots
Other trouble-spots in the FCT include Bolingo Hotel junction where hoodlums snatch items from unsuspecting passersby, jump down the bridge and disappear into nearby bush and under bridge near the stadium. The bad boys, who are known to be on 24-hour ‘duty’, also operate under the bridge at Area 1, where they sometimes, disguise as mad men.
Commuters are also advised to be wary of robbers known as ‘one chance’, who operate in commercial vehicles, some of them with only their front number plates, on the road.