Igando, a Lagos community in Alimosho area, but located on the LASU/Iyana Iba – Egbeda/Iyana Ipaja Express Link Road made news recently when the evil activities of a cult, the Awawa Confraternity, which specialises in initiating into their fold primary and secondary school pupils, aged 8-16, in the densely populated area, was busted by the Lagos State Police Command.
Now, there seems to have arisen in the same community another cult gang or group which specialises in robbing people of their valuables, namely wristwatches and smart phones. Accounts given by victims show that, members of the group use, one, fear-mongering, of belonging to an unnamed vicious cult, to psychologically wear down their victims’ resistance and thereafter dispossess them of their valuables.
Two, although victims confess to encountering two or three of them at a time, they claim to have more than 50 of their members spread all over Igando and always
ready to harm, at the snap of the finger, anyone trying to resist them. Three, they operate mainly within certain axis, between Igando Bus Stop and one Shaba Ojo Street located close to Best Option fuel filling station which itself is located adjacent to one Omolade Bus Stop/U-Turn, although police sources believe that the ‘cult’ members don’t live within that vicinity. One of the victims’ accounts, however, seems to contradict that assumption.
Four, they seem to target teenagers and young adolescents, between the ages of 15 and 20 and thereabout. Put together, the stories sound as if some confidence-tricksters are up to some games. But who knows, residents of the community could be up to something worse.
It usually takes the form of the Wolf-and-Lamb encounter recorded in the world-famous Aesop’s Fables, and which later led to the Wolf devouring the young, innocent Lamb. “How dare you muddle the water from which I am drinking?”, the Wolf was said to have challenged the Lamb who was beginning to drink a little down from a spring on a hillside from which the Wolf was lapping water from the upper part. “Nay, master, nay,” said the young Lamb, “if the water be muddy there, I cannot be the cause of it, for it runs down from you to me.” “Well, then,” said the Wolf, “why did you call me bad names this time last year?” “That cannot be,” said the Lamb, “I am only six months old.” “I don’t care,” snarled the Wolf, “if it was not you, it was your Father.” And, with that he rushed upon the poor little Lamb and ate her up.
Unlike the Wolf, members of the phone-robbing cult-gang usually start their evil operations by accusing their victims, of putting on their “colour,” whatever that means, and it could be anything, from black, green, white, yellow to red. Before then they would have positioned themselves at a strategic point within their operation axis from which they could monitor passersby before picking their targets.
MaryJane and Onyinye’s ordeal
Findings by Saturday Sun show that the experience is so psychologically traumatizing and traumatic that, days and weeks after the encounter, victims who suspect that the cult members are operating with charms with which they hyponitise people before robbing them, are unwilling to talk about it. They believe that the people who always warn, after robbing them, not to tell anybody otherwise they would come back and kill them and wipe out members of their families, can actually carry out their threats if they went against their instruction. They only agreed to talk when this reporter promised to use pseudonyms in place of their real names.
Sixteen-year-old MaryJane Nwozor (surname withheld on request) said she and her friend, Onyinye Ofor (surname also withheld) preparing to sit for this year’s Joint Matriculation and Admissions Board (JAMB)’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) were coming back from extra-curricular studies of that day when they ran the cult-gang phone robbers at a street close to the fuel station. That was after they came out from a nearby plaza where they had gone to buy snacks.
“Time was after 3pm,” she recalled. “We were coming out towards the fuel station. But before we got there, a guy accosted us and told us that we were flying their cult colour. I was putting on black jeans and a bracelet while Onyinye was putting on a red wristwatch. So, when the guy told us we were putting on their colour, we were like: how? He accused Onyinye of putting on a red wristwatch.” “He asked if we were cultist girls,” Onyinye recalled. “When we said no, he told us to avoid cultists and added that they are more than fifty in the area that are watching us.”
MaryJane recalled the guy putting on black shorts and red polo shirt which he covered with a multi-coloured jacket. “He was putting on a cross-earring, in one of his ears,” she said. “His hair was rough, somehow tattered. He was not looking good. He had in his company one other guy who I presume to be younger than he is. That one was like following us at the back. This happened at the junction leading to the street after Best Option fuel station. The street is called Shaba Ojo. A Hausa man usually stays there to sell oranges. At first, after arguing with him, he left us momentarily. We thought he had gone. But when we got to the junction leading to that street, he stopped us and said if we move a step further that our lives would be in danger because they have 50 of their members around there. He said they are hiding and that although we can’t see them they are monitoring and watching us. He said if we move or go to our houses, they would trace us and wipe out our families. That was when we became scared and decided to cooperate with them. They told us that we should behave as if we know each other before. He said if we mess up, they might stab us to death.”
“He now asked us to enter into that street (Shaba Ojo). It’s a bit sloppy. He said we should go down the street. There’s a compound there. We entered and sat down on a pavement in front of one of the houses. He said we should sit down there and be doing and discussing as if we are friends.” “He said we should act as if we know him so that nobody will know what was going on,” Onyinye remembered. “He told the other guy with him to go and tell their boss that we are his sisters, that he should not harm us; he should not do anything to us,” MaryJane added as she continued with the narrative. “That one said it is ok but said as he was going away that he should not fuck up the business. He left.”
He now asked if they had any money on them. When he found out they had only N100 each on them, he asked them to walk down a shop and buy a sachet of Chelsea dry gin, a white handkerchief and a stick of cigarette but warned them not to look back as they were going. But before they could know what hit them he had disappeared into the thin air with their phones.
MaryJane recalled what happened: “He now told us to bring our phones out. We did. He told us to open them, that we should put them on permanent open mode so that it will not get locked back. After going through them, I was with Techno Y3, black colour, while Onyinye was with I-Tel phone. He said there is a saying in the Bible to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. He said for saving us from harm, we have to pay them their own dues. We asked him to name his price. He said we should go and get him a sachet of Chelsea dry gin, one white handkerchief and a stick of cigarette. He directed us to a shop down the street. He said we should not look back as we were going. He said if we should look back, those guys would suspect that we are not really related to him as they had earlier thought. We then went down the street without looking back. We got to the shop only to realize that the owner sells nothing like those items they mentioned but biscuits and tailoring materials displayed in a show glass. But when we turned to go and tell the guy that we did not see the items he asked to buy, we found out that he had disappeared with our phones. We did not see him again.”
It was like a dream, a nightmare. How could they just lose their phones in broad daylight, in a twinkle of an eye? Gripped with fear, they did not raise any alarm nor report the matter to Igando Police Station which is nearby, on the other side of the expressway. They only took their tales of woe to Onyinye’s mum whose shop is located on Mufutau Olorunfemi Street, the next street after the one on which they were robbed. The woman who deals in various leather bags, including school’s own, was as puzzled as the children, by the story. Asked why she didn’t encourage them to report the matter to the police, Mama Onyinye who was watching and listening in on the day her daughter told her own side of the story exclaimed, after a mirthless laughter: “Police ke? Mba o (meaning “no” in Igbo), I no dey for their wahala.”
In any case, they tried to track their phones. “My younger brother wanted to track it that day with my mum’s phone but because I was angry I told him not to do anything at all,” MaryJune recalled. “I told him to just let it go but I wouldn’t know if he was able to track the phone later. My dad used to use the phone before I did. He decided to change to another phone and gave it to my mum. But my mum said I should be using it until she gets me a better phone for me. She said I should use it for my JAMB registration and all my JAMB registration details are there, including my g-mail. But I have retrieved the line.”
In Onyinye’s case, she said when she tried tracking the phone with her mum’s phone she discovered that it was being used in a compound located on the same street on which her mother’s business is located. The next time she tried to do so again she discovered that it was switched off. Contrary to the impression the police at Igando gaveSaturday Sun when they were contacted, she strongly believes that the phone robbers are located within the vicinity.
Interestingly, before Onyinye and her friend’s experience, her two brothers, Chinemerem and Chimaobi had had similar encounters along the same axis. But in their case, they did not lose their phones, although they almost did but for a little smartness and boldness on their own part. Chinemerem who claimed to have had the experience twice said: “The first time it happened I was going to the cobbler’s to mend my sandals. Some guys approached me at the Igando Bus Stop and spoke some slang to me which I told them I did not understand. I asked them to come plain and they asked me to identify myself. But I refused to give them my personal information. It was in the evening, between 6 pm and 7 pm. They said I should give them my phone to verify if I were a cultist. Although it was a rowdy place, nobody interfered because you know this is Lagos and it is all about facing your business. To me, they didn’t look like policemen. Neither did they introduce themselves but they said they were anti-cultist. But I refused to hand over my phone to them.
“I was wearing a red wristband. They said it belongs to them and that I should give it to them. I told them that it was what my school gave me.” When he did not obey, they left him and walked away, probably because of the presence of the crowd. But the second time it happened to him he said he and his friend were coming from market. “Another set of boys stopped us and said that they want to see me. Remembering what happened the other day, I told them that I could not see them because I don’t know them .They said that they wanted to see my friend. He also declined. There was a gutter separating us and them. They wanted us to cross the gutter and come to them. We said we can’t do that. At this juncture, my friend left me and them and was walking away. The other guy followed him while the second one engaged me in conversation. He told me that I was wearing their cult colour. I was putting on a blue t-shirt and black shorts. He said that the black short is their colour. He asked why I am not afraid. I did not respond to the question. I left him and walked away to join my friend who was already waiting for me and that was how we escaped from them.”
Chima and his friend’s account
In Chima’s case, he too was walking with his friend, one Michael (surname withheld) when they encountered the so-called cult boys. “We were going to church on a Sunday morning; when we saw two boys whose look frightened us. The way they were dressed, they wore normal jeans with polo, one rubbed something like lead on his eyes. I saw them disturbing a girl in front of us but the girl did not give them any attention. It was then that it occurred to me that if they see us, they might also try to do the same to us. After the girl had gone, the guy went to the nearby ATM gallery (installed on the Best Option fuel station premises by Access Bank), to put his phone inside his pocket. I thought he wanted to withdraw some money. So I passed. But as I was passing, he called out to me but I did not answer because I was told not to answer them when they are calling me.
“He was calling me fine boy but I did not answer him. I kept walking fast. He then told Michael to call me. But as he was calling me, I was giving him signs that he should stop calling me and go. But he was still calling me. When I did not respond to Michael’s call, the guy ran and came to meet me and started saying that we were flying their colours. I wore a black and white trouser and yellow short-sleeve. I replied that I have not seen them wearing that colour so it is not their own. But he told me to shut up and stopping arguing with him. He said that we should cooperate if we know what’s going on because they are more than hundred around that side, that they even killed someone the day before. He asked if we were cultists. We said no. He asked if we have any proof. We said yes and he asked us to show him my phone.
“At first, I didn’t want to bring it out, but I later did but I stood by him so he would not run away with it. He went through and saw a photo of green Gucci cardigan and said it was their colour. I told them that it was not their colour and he told me not to talk again or else he would smash the phone on the ground. I told him that we were going to church and we were already running late. But he told us to stop talking about church. The other guy then joined us and took Michael’s phone and was scrolling through it.”
At this juncture, Michael took over the narration. “Sensing danger, I saw one man passing. I ran to meet him but he didn’t answer us. After him, I saw an elderly woman passing by. I went to meet her and she said I should walk in her front so she can keep a watch over me. I told her that these guys are with our phones. She looked in their direction. At that point, people had started gathering. So the guys quickly gave us back our phones. On receiving them, we decided not to go to church anymore. We decided to go back home but we were shocked to find them following us after everybody had gone. We quickly ran away.”
Gabriel Enyeazu’s shocking encounter
Eighteen-year-old Gabriel Enyeazu’s experience, like others before him took similar form of accusation of wearing a cult’s preferred colour, except that in his own case, he lost his phone under a mysterious circumstance. “It happened on a Tuesday, on May 29, last year, when I was going to my mother’s shop. I remember vividly that it was on the Democracy Day,” he told Saturday Sun. “I remember that on that day, rain fell. So, I wore a sweater, with orange and white colours. But on my way, a guy came to stop me in a friendly manner. He came offering a handshake. Without suspecting anything, I stretched out my hands to acknowledge his gesture. It happened at the Best Option. I was wondering where I knew him. We kept on talking and it was like why am I wearing orange and white? I was like I don’t understand. He was now saying that today is their day, their cultist day. He said there are a lot of killers around looking at me. He said I have to be very careful. I should just cooperate with him.
“By this time I was trying to remove my hand from his but he was still holding unto me. I said he should let go of my hand. He said he wants to give me his number and asked if I have my phone in my bag. I lied that I didn’t have a phone. So, I brought a pen and a biro to write his number down. He now said, ok, thanks for cooperating. Then I left. But by the time I got to my mother’s shop in the market I discovered that my phone was nowhere to be found. Initially, I thought I forgot it at home. But on reaching home I discovered that it was not there either. And, that was how I lost my phone. Up till today, I am still wondering what happened to the phone because I was sure that I had it on me while I was talking to the guy. And, I never brought it out. I am sure they operate with a kind of charms. Once they call you and you answer, that’s when they would strike up a conversation with you. My advice to people is when they stop you, you can just leave and if they try to stop you, create a scene by raising an alarm. I think that is the only way to prevent them from harassing you.”
Other residents speak out
Puzzled by the strange narratives, Saturday Sun tried to find out what is happening. First, it went looking for one Hausa man who they said sell oranges at the entrance of Shaba Ojo and close to Best Option fuel station where most of the incidents are said to have taken place. The reporter was hoping to have him talk authoritatively on the issue but sadly on the day he visited he was not around. When he could not find him, he decided to walk into the fuel station itself.
But two of the petrol attendants that he spoke to, who go by the names, Bola and Gbemisola denied hearing anything like that. Bola who claimed to have spent more than a year as an employee of the station added that even if such a thing is happening there is no way they can know. “You know, this is a public place,” she said. “A lot of people come here to transact one business or the other. Some come to buy fuel and diesel. Others come to buy gas and to withdraw money from the ATM point. If there is anything of such nature happening we wouldn’t know.”
“We always see people standing idle here and doing nothing,” Gbemi admitted. “But we wouldn’t know whether they are waiting for people. And, you can’t ask them to go away because this is supposed to be a public place. But the only story I have heard is of people who come to withdraw money from the ATM here, very early in the morning, being attacked by robbers. It is said they operate as early as 5 am and late at night as from 10 pm.”
Leaving them, the reporter approached a Hausa man who sells tomatoes, ginger and garlic in front of the plaza from which MaryJane and her friend, Onyinye were coming out, after they had bought some snacks, before they were accosted by the cult boys. He gave his name as Yusuf. There have been times he has seen some people being chased on the road, he said, in smattering English. There have been times he has seen people whose phones and watches were snatched by robbers being consoled. There have also been times police have made some arrests on the road but he wouldn’t why or who and who were involved, he confessed.
The reporter’s attempt to get further insights on the matter from an Igbo woman operating a canteen in the same plaza wasn’t successful as she was not only hostile to his questions and enquiries but also asked him to leave. At the Igando Police Station, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) was said to be away to the state police headquarters, Ikeja, on a security meeting having to do with today’s gubernatorial election. In a phone conversation, he initially assured the reporter of attending to his enquiries after the election. But on a second thought, he later called back to say that all enquiries concerning their operations should be directed to the State Police Public Relations Officer who is the only one officially authorized to speak to the press on police activities. But a senior police officer at the station who does not want his name in print because he too is not authorized to speak on the matter admitted hearing such reports but assured that the Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) and his men are working on it even as he added that from their own findings the boys engaged in such criminal acts do not live around the area.
Some residents interviewed by Saturday Sun admitted seeing armed policemen patrolling the area on motorbikes but the victims who opened up on the matter said that they did so with the hope that the Lagos Commissioner of Police, Zubairu Muazu, would get to read their stories in the paper and do something about the cult issue before it becomes too late and spiral out of control like the Badoo Boys saga.