By Molly Kilete, Abuja
A 47-year-old man, who specializes in producing illegal vehicle number plates for criminals to enable them have smooth passage at security checkpoints, has told of how he was lured into the business by a member of staff of the Vehicle Inspection Office(VIO).
According to him, the officers usually gather in front of his shop to discuss about how lucrative the business of registering vehicle number plates.
The suspect, Omogbolahan Olarenwaju, who until 2008, traded in building materials in Lagos State, said that he started the business after his shop was demolished by the Lagos State government.
A native of Kwara State, Olarenwaju, who has been in the business of fake number plates for 10 years, produces specialized vehicle number plates like the United Nations, ECOWAS, Corp Diplomat, Presidency ,among others, which sells to criminals.
The criminals in turn use such number plates to ferry stolen vehicles, as well carry out other deadly activities without being stopped by security agents on the road as they usually accord the vehicles with these special numbers uninterrupted access.
The suspect who has produced thousands of these vehicle number plates before he met his Waterloo, was found to be in possession of over 80 illegal vehicle number plates at the time of his arrest by men of the IGP Intelligence Response Team (IRT), on May 20. He was arrested alongside two members of the gang, Nurudeen Lawal, who owns the machine used in producing the number plates and Basil Okpala, who does the artistic work before final production.
Before their eventual arrest, the trio, had produced illegal vehicle number plates running into hundreds of thousand, and smiling to the banks daily with the proceeds of fraud.
Trouble was said to have started for the gang following reports by concerned Nigerians on how the group produce specialized numbers and sell them to criminals who in turn use them to carry out nefarious activities without being molested by the police.
Following the report, men of the IRT were said to have launched an investigation and arrested Nurudin Lawal, who in turn led the team to arrest Omogbolahan Olarenwaju and Basil Okpala.
Upon interrogation, it was discovered that Olarenwaju is actually the major distributor of the fake plates, Okpara does the artistic design on the number plates while Lawal is the owner of the machine and major producer.
Lawal who is also a native of Kwara State was into the business of selling wristwatches for his boss before he left and opened a business centre where people make calls. Not satisfied with the profit he was making from the business, he said he nursed the idea of producing fake vehicle number plates and went ahead to buy the machine for N250,000.
After getting the machine, he rented a shop somewhere at Ikorodu and linked up with his kinsman and started the business.
Parading the suspects before newsmen in Abuja, Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, said that investigation conducted so far showed that the major persons that patronize them are persons of questionable characters who usually fix them on their vehicles in other to beat security checks, as well as those who use them to conceal and ferry illegal items from one destination to another.
Bursting their operation, Mba said that the police have recovered a list of both existing buyers and potential buyers who have placed orders for the numbers and would go after each and everyone of them and ensure that they are arrested to face the full wrath of the law.
Three of the suspects spoke with Sunday Sun:
Lawal: “My name is Nurudeen Lawal. I am from Kwara State. I joined this business shortly after I left the wristwatch business because my master was not having much supplies again. From there I opened a business centre where people make calls and when I was not making enough money I had to divert to this one. I have been in the business since 2010 or thereabout. I went into the business after I bought the machine used in producing these plate number from one man. He sold it to me for N250,000. After that, I got a small shop at Ikorodu in Lagos where I started production. I produce and sell one from N21,000.
My business is just to produce for people that ask me to produce. They are the ones that usually give me the numbers to use for them. I charge them between N1,300 to N1,500.
Olarenwaju: “My name is Omogbolahan Olarenwaju, I am 47 years old and hail from Kwara State. I am married with children. I got into the business after I saw the way VIO staff were making money from it. I used to have a shop opposite their office and I used to see the way they operate and I developed interest and went into it because they used to gather in front of my shop everyday to talk about now much they make for the day and I will just be listening to them. Before I went into the business, I was into selling of iron rods which is building materials in Lagos. But the government demolished my shop and there was nothing else to do. That was sometime in 2006 and 2009. After my shop was demolished, I started hanging around the VIO office and helping them to do paper work and from there I normally obtain vehicle license, particulars and other things and before I knew it, I graduated to producing the plates. Nobody introduced me to them (VIOs), I told you they were opposite my shop and I was able to make friends with some of them. They normally sit in my shop to discuss and I used to hear everything they say that was how I developed the interest to go into the business. When they saw that I have started the business, they too started giving me plate names like placement to produce for them and I will produce and I will deliver it to them in Lagos and here in Abuja. They usually pay me between N4,500 and N5,000, for each plate number that I produce.
Okpala: “I am an artist, I used to help them design the map work on the number plate whenever they have supplies to deliver and I usually charge N300 for each one that I design. I joined the group in January this year and I have designed over 100 maps for them. I have not worked too long with them before the police arrested me. I regret my actions because I am married with children, I never knew it would end like this when I started working for them.