James Ojo Adakole
When Titi (not real name) woke up at exactly 4:00a.m on September 12, 2019, she had no inkling it would be a terrible day for her. As usual, she took her bath, got dressed and by 5:00a.m, she bid her husband and very young son farewell and left her home situated at Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos State for her workplace located at Victoria Island (VI), a hustling and bustling highbrow suburb in the state.
Like many residents shuttling between the Island and Mainland in Lagos, waking up early is the surest antidote to outsmart the usual gridlock that happens on the roads mostly on working days of the week.
Her travail began when she got to the park and couldn’t find any bus due to an early morning shower. Her desperation to get to work at all cost made her board an eight-seater Sienna bus that was calling for passengers.
Titi was not alone. Others who also worked in VI standing beside her boarded the bus, with no knowledge it was driven by a gang of armed robbers commonly referred to as ‘One Chance’. Below, in her own words, Titi tells her story….
Journey to hell
On September 12, 2019, I left home around 5:00a.m in the morning for a bus stop at Iyana-Ipaja where I could get another bus to Victoria Island (VI). On getting to Iyana-Ipaja, I was standing alongside other passengers waiting for a bus, including the man who eventually boarded a ‘one chance’ bus with us.
We were all desperately searching for VI buses because that day it was raining in the morning so everywhere was flooded. After waiting for several minutes without any headway, I started moving towards another park at Iyana-Ipaja to see if I could get a bus there. It was then I saw a bus and the driver was shouting ‘VI,VI.’
Sighting this, I ran after the bus as it drove to the express because I was late for work already that very day and was trying to beat the usual gridlock experienced during the morning rush hours.
When I got into the bus, an eight-seater Toyota Sienna, there was one man sitting close to the door. Then a lady joined me, followed by two other guys. We were four in number that boarded the bus at the same time with four other guys already inside the bus totaling eight passengers while the driver made it nine.
Earlier, the guy sitting close to the door asked us to enter as he was not ready to vacate the seat. On a normal day, I would have probably become suspicious and questioned his intention, but because I was late already as it was almost 6:00 a.m then (after spending about an hour searching for a bus) I decided to let sleeping dog lie. As we were moving, the driver asked to know if any of us had N500 or N1,000 so he could stop by at a filling station along the road to change it into lower denominations. I told him I had N300, which is the exact transport fare. We all had low denominations except the lady on the back row who said she had N500. The driver collected the money and promised to give her the balance later.
Whenever I enter any bus, I usually check the Google map to know where there’s traffic so that I can direct the driver on possible alternative routes to follow. As we were progressing, I saw there was heavy traffic along Dopemu bridge axis towards Mangoro. It was a terrible standstill, so the driver suggested we pass through an alternative route connecting Agege to Ikeja and then proceed with the journey from there. Since that has been the norm, nobody objected. So, he made a turn back at Iyana-Dopemu towards a nearby street, which was all dark, because the day hadn’t fully broken then. The next thing we all heard was ‘hands up’.
I started shivering immediately and asked myself what could have happened. That was my first experience with ‘One Chance’ robbers. The guy by the door again said, ‘hands up.’ Before we could comprehend what was actually happening, he started barking violently at us, saying, ‘Are you people crazy, are you mad.’ I started praying, asking God to help me, that I did not want to die.
In a twinkling of an eye, he brought out a gun, took my bag, phones and asked me to unlock the phone. After I unlocked it, he checked my account balance via the internet banking app on my phone. He checked my Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) account and saw N90,000 balance; he checked my First City Monument Bank (FCMB) account, which is my salary account and discovered I had no money there. He then checked my First Bank account and saw N1.8 million.
When he saw that, I tried to appeal to them not to touch it, telling them it was my husband’s account. I told him that I took his phone because mine was stolen recently. I was just trying to cook up something pathetic that could discourage him.
I begged him to only touch the N90,000 but I barely finished talking when three thunderous slaps landed on my face in quick succession. Then he bellowed, ‘Are you mad, are you stupid, how could you lie to me?’
While this was on, the guy sitting beside me was also being rough-handled by the other members of the gang inside the bus. So, when the guy slapped me, he brought out acid, opened it and threatened to pour it on me if I didn’t cooperate. As a science student in secondary school, I knew what acid could do if it came in contact with the body. After he opened it, I started coughing because it had a terrible odour.
“He closed it afterwards, sensing I was feeling uneasy. He therefore warned me to fully comply with their directives or risk being drenched with acid or even being shot to death instantly.
Many calls, no response
In the heat of the moment, my husband was calling me, because whenever I am leaving for work every morning, I call my husband to tell him when I leave the park, the kind of bus I boarded and when I eventually get to my destination. But on this day, I could not communicate with him, which made him anxious. As he was calling, they were cutting the call, followed by another round of beating.
The guy took my bag, my wedding ring, my wristwatch and he also removed my earrings, my umbrella and my purse which contained my ATM card, voter’s card and my office ID card. The ATM card was for my GTB account. The guy asked for the pin to access it. I told him I had forgotten. He slapped me angrily in return, so I told him the pin. On getting to Dopemu, a member of the gang manning the door of the Sienna dropped while the other two sitting at the back with the other lady reshuffled their sitting positions. After providing my ATM details, they left me temporarily and descended on the guy sitting close to me, beating him angrily.
After taking all he had on him, they dropped him. Then, they turned to the lady at the back seat. The guy sitting with the lady started fingering her and raped her inside the bus. The other guys also took turns to rape her. While the lady wept bitterly, they unleashed beatings on her, collecting all she had on her and dropped her afterwards, so I was the only one left with them inside the bus.
“Then they told me bluntly they won’t mind killing me or raping me also if I don’t cooperate with them, having seen what happened to the other two. I told them I would give them whatever they want at least to save my life. So, they started with me squarely. I unlocked my First Bank account and they transferred N300,000 to one account followed by N200,000 to another account, totaling N500,000. After using the mobile app, one of them suggested they should use a code to transfer another N150,000 but the code was not connecting. In annoyance, I was slapped several times again.
Then they said that when I am eventually dropped and people asked what happened, I should tell them armed robbers stole N500,000 from me. Shortly afterwards, the one who took my ATM card called to inquire how the whole thing was going and told them to quickly drop me as the day was fast breaking and they didn’t want to fall victim to police.
Not satisfied with what they had done to me, the other guy sitting beside the driver said they would use ‘Plan B’ for me. On hearing that, I screamed, wondering what ‘Plan B’ was all about. This time, I was sitting on bare floor inside the vehicle because they had already removed the seats.
What amazed me was that we passed through various checkpoints manned by police and other security agencies at a speed that ordinarily should arouse suspicion in them, but nothing was done. I felt so bad that my country is not secured. I expected them to trail the vehicle to find out why it was moving at that speed. Then one of them said, ‘do you think police can arrest us?’
Then they insisted they would use ‘Plan B’ for me since they could not withdraw all the money in my account and that they’d deal badly with me so I will use the remaining money in my account to treat myself. Then I started crying again, saying, ‘God help me, I don’t want to die, please don’t kill me, my life is very important.’
It was that point that the driver weighed in and started asking me series of questions about my state of origin, where I worked, marital status, number of children I have, where I live and other personal questions. On discovering that we came from the same locality in Abeokuta, he shouted ‘Jesus’ and told other members of the group not to use the ‘Plan B’ for me.
From ‘Plan B’ to ‘Plan C’
He then pleaded that ‘Plan C’ should be administered on me. On hearing that, I screamed again, confused on what they meant but that attracted several slaps again. Then I was asked to cover my face so I won’t be able to recognise them, which I did. The one who seemed to be from the same place with me then further pleaded that they should return N300,000 out of the transferred N500,000 and go with N200,000 but other members of the gang denied his request.
Then I started begging again. They asked me the job my husband was doing, I told them he had no job and that I am the only one shouldering family responsibilities as well as the breadwinner of the house. This led to an argument between them. While this was going on, the one standing close to me dipped his hand into a small bag slung around his neck and fetched two bottles. He then opened them and put his fingers inside the two bottles. I don’t know what substance was contained in the bottle. After fetching part of the substance on his palm, he rubbed them on my face. Then I started screaming loudly, writhing in pain and clutching my face. As I was screaming, they opened the door and threw me out of the moving vehicle and I fell down on my chest.
For about two hours, I was rolling on the floor, with my eyes closed. All I could muster was to scream for help from passers-by. Unfortunately, where they dropped me seemed like an estate, as it was very quiet. It was one of the security men on duty that attended to me immediately and helped to get a commercial motorcycle so I could quickly go and block my account after I explained what happened to me.
All this while, I couldn’t get myself until we arrived at a nearby First Bank branch where I went to block the account. When I got to the bank, I met the manager and they promised to report the incident to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Then I asked if there was no way they could reverse the money, considering my situation. The manager said he would try his best.
I was only able to see clearly on the second day. I have not gotten myself since then. My chest still aches even though I have been doing monthly medical check-ups because of the damage caused by the impact of the fall when they pushed me out of the vehicle. It also worsened my sight. I used to have long-sightedness before but now, it has worsened. I can’t even see things close to me very well again. I struggle to see clearly as my eyes drip water intermittently because of the substance they rubbed on my eyes.
Travails with police
When I got home, my husband asked we go and report the matter at the police station. Then we went to Oko-Oba Police Station around Ogba axis. On getting there, before I could lay my complaint, I was given paper to narrate everything that happened to me in writing which they said would cost me N1,500. I started crying immediately for what our country has turned into.
Afterwards, I was asked to provide N30,000 for them to obtain a court order to be served on the bank. By the time they listed all I would do to recover my money, it was about N200,000. They said I would pay for them to buy fuel and a lot of things. I angrily left that place. How can you expect me to pay so much just to address what happened to me in my country?
After that, we went to meet our lawyer to see if he could help and he took us to Area F Police Command and the experience was almost the same. It was also estimated there that I would need about N150,000 to recover the money. Even though my husband was willing to borrow the money and pay so we could recover the lost money, I told him he shouldn’t bother.
Till now, our lawyer couldn’t do much about it. I told my husband to leave everything for God and that He understands everything from beginning to the end. There is nothing I can do than to leave it in the hands of God.