…Car snatchers, ATM fraudsters threaten peace
By FRED ITUA and FRED EZEH
In the past, when folks gathered to talk about insecurity in Nigeria, Lagos was often referred to as the hotbedn of crime. A handful of other states were also listed on the ignoble roll and the governors of the states with this dubious title battled to redeem their images.
In the South-East, for instance, kidnapping and armed robbery were recurring decimals. In the South-South, militancy and cultism held sway. The South-West was embroiled in political turmoil. The North Central was relatively peaceful, with pockets of herders/farmers clashes. The North-East was battling with Boko Haram, while the North-West had Islamic extremism to contend with.
In all of these, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, was insulated. However, the once-peaceful city lost its innocence on October 1, 2010, when suspected Niger Delta militants detonated explosives at the Eagle Square, during the 50th Independence Day celebration of the country.
That attack was soon followed by another major blast. The Police Force Headquarters was bombed and scores of people were killed. The bombing of the United Nations office in Nigeria soon followed. Again, scores of people died, while assets worth billions of dollars were destroyed.
Motor parks, media houses, worship centres, shopping malls and recreational centres soon became targets. Almost seven years after the first bomb went off in Abuja, it has been one misfortune after another. Sadly, there appears not to be an end in sight.
Today, kidnapping, ‘one chance’ and car snatching are common crimes in Abuja. The reason for this new wave of crime, according to pundits, could be found in the many jobless, criminally-minded youths in the city.
Abuja houses some of the richest and most sophisticated buildings in Africa, which are unoccupied. It also houses Nigeria’s richest men and women. Almost every rich Nigerian has a safe haven in Abuja where he or she cools off.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently released a unemployment figures in Nigeria, with youths mostly affected. Observers have described the admixture as a time bomb waiting to explode.
Abuja it has its peculiar security challenges. However, recent developments, particularly government economic policies that have plunged the country into economic recession, have spurred criminal ingenuity in the youths trying to make ends meet. Kidnapping, car theft, buglary and prostitution, among others, are the order of the day in the city’s thriving underworld.
Men and women of the underworld have deviced different modes of operation to keep afloat in their business of dispossesing the residents of their belongings.
Recently, cases of car theft have been on the increase. The most targeted cars, according to checks by Daily Sun, are Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, popularly called Honda Academy, and CRV.
These cars can easily be unlocked by keys of similar designs and they are easily disposed of because of their popularity in the market. A motorist told our correspondent that time to revisit the use of pedal lock has come.
Some places are notorious for car theft in Abuja. Gwarinpa, specifically the popular Charly Boy bus stop or Galadimawa is a hotbed. Wuse District, particularly Zone 7, where NAFDAC and other government buildings are located, is also a no-go area. Criminals often snatch cars from drivers and, sometimes, steal parked vehicles.
The National Assembly axis is another scary area. Vehicles parked outside and within the expansive National Assembly complex have in recent months been stolen by thieves. The popular Eagle Square is not exempted. The large car park, where visitors and civil servants who frequent the Federal Secretariat park their vehicles, is now unsafe.
It is now also unsafe to drive the aforementioned cars at night, especially in lonely areas. These car snatchers ambush and unleash terror on residents when they least expect them. They hang around traffic lights and sharp bends, where motorists are often expected to beat their speed. Sadly, again, no stolen car in Abuja is ever recovered.
Crime rate has indeed spiked in Abuja. Recently, there were cases of some well-dressed young men that flooded Abuja metropolis, impersonating security and secret service officers. These young men strategically positioned themselves at commercial banks and their environs in Abuja waiting for their targets.
As part of their modus operandi, they would approach their target as they dashed out of the bank after transactions, possibly with black plastic bags containing huge sums of money. They would intimidate their victims with fake identity cards of any of the Nigerian security or intelligence agencies, insisting that the person come with them to their office.
Before the victims are taken to their non-existent offices, they would first dispossess them of communication gadgets, thereby denying the victims access to any means of communication.
With the conviction of them being genuine officers, they would whisk the victim away, usually in a tinted car, as the victim tried to make calls. However, a little freedom is granted to the victim to make calls a few metres to the headquarters of any of the offices of the security agencies. To further convince the victim, they would point their car towards the gate of the office and ask the victim to alight from the vehicle and step aside to call whoever he or she wants to call and meet them inside. Immediately the victim gladly alights to make the calls, off they would zoom with the money and that would be the end.
One such victim of a similar financial crime in Abuja was Rachel Musa. She narrated how her bank account was emptied by fraudsters who, at gunpoint, dispossessed her of her automated teller machine (ATM) card with the personal identification number (PIN) on Friday evening at an isolated location in Garki II, Abuja.
Narrating the story to Daily Sun, Musa said: “I had need of money that fateful Friday evening when banks had closed for the weekend. I hardly use ATMs but, because of the urgent need I had for cash, I quickly rushed to a nearby ATM machine to make cash withdrawal. I just inserted my debit card and was about to begin transaction when two young men arrived at the machine. They walked up to me and displayed their guns to me with laughter and insisted that my countenance be filled with smiles so that passersby wouldn’t suspect whatever was going on.
“They confirmed that my PIN was correct. They also allowed me to make the first withdrawal before they collected the card. With the knowledge of my account balance, they collected the ATM debit card and zoomed off. All I kept receiving thereafter was debit alert on my phone until they emptied my account. There was nothing I could do because it was night hours and the banks had closed. Worst still, it was weekend. That was how they withdrew all the money in my account.”
Musa said that a report was lodged to the police and the bank after the weekend holidays, but all efforts by the bank and the police failed to identify and arrest the thieves.