When robbers reach the end of the road, when they are caught with their hands in cuffs and jail term staring them in the face, they give all kinds of excuse for their involvement in crime. That is the case with Daniel Uzochukwu Achiugo, the leader of a three-man robbery gang currently cooling their heels in a police cell.
“My wife could only give birth to a son. We decided to work on it in 2019 by going to the hospital. This was how we discovered that she had fibroid. I was advised by the doctor that if I still have plans to make more babies that my wife needs surgery to remove the fibroid. The cheapest I could get was at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), where they asked me to bring N380, 000 to remove it manually,” he narrated.
Instead of striving to raise money by honest means, he enlisted Okechukwu Omenihu, and Onyema Ekeleme to help him steal a car at gunpoint. Alas, what they assumed would be a quick and easy robbery snowballed into a fiasco that is about to send them to jail.
From Okrika in Rivers State, Achiugo travelled to Umuahia to recruit the two jailbirds. They commenced their operation by randomly picking a target who coincidentally turned out to be a popular lawyer known for his pro bono services to inmates of Umuahia Prison. The gang abducted the victim with his car and after driving him around the town ejected him and made away with the vehicle which was taken to Port Harcourt and handed over to a certain Abdul, notorious for fencing stolen good for criminals in Rivers State. A few days later, crack detectives from Inspector General of Police, Intelligence Response Team(IRT) annexe office in Rivers State tracked down the suspects and picked them from their various locations. In an extensive interview with Saturday Sun, the suspects and their victim reconstructed the dangerous affair that took place on that fateful night in February.
The lawyer who became a victim
On February 25, 2020, the night of the crime, the suspects who were armed with a gun had trailed their victim to his house in Umuahia. They abducted him for a few hours before ejecting him out of his car and subsequently zoomed away with his car and other valuables.
By a stroke of luck, the case was fully unravelled under a week. Detectives recovered the stolen car and the suspected robbers all arrested.
Recounting his ordeal on that day, the lawyer (name withheld) told Saturday Sun over the phone how he was attacked shortly after he returned home from work.
His story: “After the day’s work and personal errands, I drove myself back home at about 7 pm. I have lived in that area for years and no one has ever attacked me. I am a very popular lawyer. I got home, opened the small gate and entered my compound and opened the bigger gate. I drove my car into the premises and came down to close the gate, that was when two young men accosted me. One of them pointed a gun at me and ordered that I should surrender. They requested for my car key, and after starting the vehicle, they asked me to get in the car. After about some five minutes drive, I asked them if they had not observed that I am a lawyer since my car was filled with my wig, gown and legal documents. They assured me that they will not harm me but needed me in the car to ensure that no one is tracking the car.”
He continued: “I asked them if they have been in Umuahia Prison because I have done a lot of works for the prisons and if they are armed robbers or if they were criminally-inclined, they must have seen my name written on things that I donated.”
After driving around for one hour, they took his phone and other valuables and ejected him out of the car. “It was somewhere in the bush where I didn’t know. They told me that they are robbers and that after two days they will return it. I never knew that they were car snatchers, it was after my arrest that I was made to understand what they are,” he narrated.
Before he was allowed to go, the lawyer witnessed a drama.
“The Okechukwu guy was touched when he realized that I am a lawyer. He told the one driving to park the vehicle that he is no longer interested and when that one refused, he pointed his gun at him and threatened to shoot.”
While he did not understand the reason for the melodrama, he was however baffled that they still did not allow him to take his car.
“Go to Umuahia and ask for Barrister One Touch, I am well known. I do a lot of humanitarian work for the prison. I have helped released so many of the inmates without collecting a Kobo, especially those that have stayed so long,” he said.
According to him, “They have been in prison for years; they should’ve known me and allowed me to go away with my car especially when I introduced myself. I guess that is why Nemesis caught up with them.”
For him what would have been bad experience ended on a good note by a twist of fate. “On the day of the incident, I reported at the nearest police station in Umuahia and while they were investigating the matter I received a call from someone that my vehicle was sighted in Port Harcourt where it was displayed for sale; the person who went to buy the vehicle sought to know the source and picked a complementary card in the car while inspecting the interior and called the number and the receiver in turned called me on phone,” he recounted.
He added: “The man that called happened to be a policeman and when we went there the car was no longer there. I made a report first and luckily my car was recovered and the suspects arrested.”
Robbing to pay for surgery
Saturday Sun also had a lengthy interview with 40-year-old Daniel Achiugo, the mastermind of the robbery who claimed he resorted to crime because of the urgent need to raise money for his wife’s fibroid operation.
The native of Umuahia North, in Abia State, gave a brief history of his storied past.
His story is reproduced unedited: “Shortly after my primary school days, my parents asked me to travel to Kaduna and live with my elder sister. I was able to do a Diploma in Computer before I got a job at a publishing firm in Kaduna. In 2009, when the Sharia Court activities were popular in the North, my mother pleaded with me to return home for fear that i might be killed.
In 2010, I relocated to Okirika in Rivers State where I lived for some years with my mother’s best friend. She tried her best to fix me in one of the refinery companies in the state but it did not work out. The only option I had was to become a tanker driver, but I do not like driving big trucks. I ended up buying an Okada which I was managing until I was able to rent my room. I also got a bus on hire purchase months later and got married around the same time.
“Unfortunately around that period which was 2014, my mechanic sold one master key to me and encouraged me to try it out. I did and successfully stole a Sienna bus in Umuahia. I sold the bus and used the money to pay off the owner of that bus that I got on hire purchase. I stopped because I lost the key.
“Since 2014, my wife could only give birth to a son. We decided to work on it in 2019 by going to the hospital, this was how we discovered that she had fibroid. I was advised by the doctor that if I still have plans to make more babies that my wife needs surgery to remove the fibroid. The cheapest I could get was at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), where they asked me to bring N380, 000 to remove it manually.
“My car was already giving me a problem. I just finished burying my mother. I was broke, but I love my wife so much that I want her to be the only mother of my children. It was then that I remembered Onyema, my friend who works in a mechanic workshop in Umuahia motor park where I used to load passengers. I told him that I needed someone who will join me to snatch a car. I already know one Abdul, a car dealer who promised to help me sell the car. Onyema referred me to his cousin Okechukwu who just returned from prison. He was the one who arranged the vehicle and gun that we used for the robbery.”
Achiugo explained how they ended up picking the lawyer as their victim. “On the agreed day, we were in a Keke Maruwa that Okechukwu hired and driving through town around 7 pm with no particular person in mind. This was how we spotted one Toyota car that looked new around Cameroon Street along Ibeku Road. The owner of the car was about to park. We attacked and overpowered him with our gun. We wanted to run with the car but the area was still busy so we forced him to join us to a spot where we could safely drop him off.
“I was about to slap him when he started pleading and claimed that he was a lawyer and an expert in saving armed robbers and kidnappers. He mentioned a lot of persons that he helped and that touched Okechukwu who has been in prison. He (Okechukwu) asked me to leave the lawyer alone because according to him, he is our friend and many criminals in prison need him alive. He warned me that if I harm the man, it would backfire. I agreed and pampered him. He was even the one who offered us N3000 to buy fuel. We did not even give him an ordinary slap or force him to transfer money into our bank account.”
Nonetheless, Achiugo would not allow him to go scot-free. “I discovered he had so many female clothes for sale, so I picked about 10 pieces for my wife. I also took his phone because there was the possibility that he was lying. He told us his name was Barrister One Touch and assured us that even if they catch us, he would be willing to take our case free of charge.”
After ejecting him out of the car, Achiugo took the car to Abdul, the man who sells stolen cars. From him, he got a piece of bad news. “He told me that it will be difficult to sell the car because the chassis number was engraved all over its body. So I left the car with Abdul to find a way to either sell it or dispose of it. I went back to Okirika where I live with my family and continued my transport business. I was surprised when the police knocked on my door and arrested me.”
With the table turned against him Achiugo was counting on the lawyer to get him off the hook: “I know that I have committed a crime but the lawyer knows that I did not touch him. This is where my desperation landed me. I feel very bad and I hope the lawyer will help me now that I am in trouble,” he stated.
The two felonious cousins
The second suspect Okechukwu Omenihu who was recently released from Abia Correctional Centre after 15 years lamented that it was the lawyer’s pleas for help that jolted him back to reality.
“It was when he started begging and mentioned that he had saved a lot of kidnappers and robbers that I realized that I am on my way back to prison. I told Achiugo that I was no longer interested and as soon he dropped off the lawyer, I ran home. I warned him to return the car as I do not want to be part of that car theft again. He refused to listen and went ahead to steal clothes, phones and money from the man. Unfortunately, I am here again. It is only God that will save me,” he wailed.
On his past crime that earned him a 15-year jail term, Omenihu claimed that he was accused of murder.
This was the story he told Saturday Sun: “In 2004, I fought with someone at a viewing centre in my village at Ndume Ibeku, Umuahia North. He was a Chelsea fan while I am an Arsenal fan. We started arguing and he abruptly took a bottle and stabbed me at the back. He stabbed me again on my chest. I was so enraged I took another bottle and stabbed him back. Both of us ended up in the hospital but he died days later. I was arrested while in hospital and charged to court for murder. My parents died in an accident after one of the court proceedings. Luckily for me, the judge while reviewing my case decided to release me on sympathy ground. In prison, I learnt that no matter how hard I try, I will always be labelled an ex-convict by the outside world. I watched a lot of persons who were released and re-arrested again. This was why when I came out, I told my brother Onyema that I wanted to hustle and get good money. I was at his mechanic workshop when Daniel came and asked for help to get a gun. I told him that I wanted to be part of the deal and after he agreed, I called my cellmate who is a robber. He was the one who told me where to get the gun. We agreed to give him N30, 000 for the use of the gun. On the agreed day, he arranged the vehicle and we snatched the car only for me to realize that our victim was a lawyer that can save me.”
The third suspect, Onyema Ekeleme is still awaiting trial over a case of kidnapping and robbery. The 39-year-old, a cousin of Okechukwu Omenihu, also gave a background to his criminal record.
“I stole a car in 2017 and was sent to Abia Correctional Center. We had snatched the vehicle from a woman and almost made good our escape before men of the Nigerian Army caught us and handed us over to the police who charged us to court. I was later released on bail in December 2019 while my cousin Okechukwu was released in January 2020.”
Continuing, he said: “When I came out I decided to stay away from crime because I suffered a lot in the army cell where we were detained before we were handed over to the police.”
While he had resolved to steer clear of crime, he had no qualms introducing Achiugo to his cousin. “Because he has been disturbing me that he needs to do a quick job and make money,” he said.
Ekeleme wailed: “Please forgive me. I have changed for good. I have paid for the crime I committed in 2017. My only mistake is knowing about the theft of the car and not reporting them to police.”