Police in Rivers State capital, Port Harcourt, recently took a gang of robbers off the street. The suspects allegedly terrorized commuters along the Rummokuta axis of the city posing as cab drivers and passengers.
Their modus operandi was simple. After enlisting cab operators, they’d pick unsuspecting victims from various bus stops, robbed them and then dropped them off. They also detained victims, until they’d withdrawn money from their accounts. For several months, they had free reins. Citizens who fell into their trap were picked clean of their possessions.
Recently, the quartet of Didi Jolly, Chisom Unegbu, Micheal Matthew and George Ala came to the end of their criminal career when they were tracked down and arrested by operatives of Inspector General of Police, Intelligence Response Team (IRT).
More incriminating facts about their lives emerged during questioning. It turned out three of the suspects were members of the dreaded Icelander cult. All of them initiated while they were still teenagers and students in Junior Secondary School.
Saturday Sun’s interview with the suspects is distilled into gripping stories of their trajectory in crime, the little steps they took that put them on the wrong side of the law and how they graduated from cultism into robbery.
Diary of their crime
Didi Jolly, 28, the mouthpiece of the gang gave Saturday Sun a concise summary of their nefarious activities.
“Recently, we concentrated on using cabs to rob people. One of us would drive the vehicle, pretending to be a taxi driver, and pick one or two passengers. The rest of us would also board the same car and while in transit robbed the passengers. We usually sell their phones at Yam Zone at Creek Road in Port Harcourt. We did not collect iPhones because it has iCloud. Normally we sell the most expensive phones for N10, 000, or at most N15, 000.”
Jolly insisted that he is not a kidnapper. “We only snatched bags and robbed people,” he clarified. “But if we pick someone who has money in his account, we would keep him hostage till we withdraw enough money from the account.”
When probed further about his past, Jolly divulged more damning details, including his membership of the Icelander Cult.
Jolly who hails from Obugbasa Local Government Area of Cross River was born and bred in Rivers State. His cult activities, however, drove his parents out of Rivers.
His sty: “My parents were living in Port Harcourt where I and my siblings were born and bred. I was a student of Maris Comprehensive Secondary School before I dropped out of school in my second year. It was very common amongst students to belong to one cult group or the other.”
He was 14 when he was initiated by a senior student he took as his “school father.”
“During break time, he took me to an uncompleted building behind our school with the excuse that we were going to buy snacks. When we got there, he sent me to buy a bottle of Squadron (a liquor). As soon as I came back there were so many boys especially our seniors. The next thing I knew, they had removed my shirt and started beating me. Thereafter, they forced me to drink the liquor. After that, they proclaimed me a member of their cult and threatened that failure to abide by their rules would result in death. They also warned me against telling my parents the truth.”
While almost every boy in the neighbourhood was a cultist, his mother who was very religious had warned her children she would not tolerate such.
“So I had to keep my membership secret for months untill the day 50 boys who are members of our cult group visited my house at night. I was supposed to be on duty. We usually took turn to watch over our area to forestall attacks from rival cults. But because I was still living with my parents, there was no way I could sneak out on that day. So they came and forced me to follow them and even threatened to deal with my family members if they didn’t allow me to work for them.”
With his secret in the open, he was faced with dire consequences: “I can remember that night so well, how my mother wept while they dragged me away. When I returned in the morning, she told me that they had decided to relocate to Cross River. She begged me to come along, but I refused. Everyone, including my father and my twin brother, moved to Calabar.”
With his parents gone, he became homeless and had to struggle to survive. He managed to hang around the school for a year before he dropped out. From there, his life took a downward spiral. His footsteps, subsequently, led to the underworld.
“It is normal for members of cults to snatch bags and phones. I was attending cult meetings at Okirika town until 2009 when we were dispersed by Federal government’s amnesty. Thereafter, we only met in secret. I wasn’t lucky. Things were tough for me until I met one Gbongbon who allowed me to live in his room. He was the one who introduced me to robbery,” he said.
Caged inside police cell, it was time for misgivings, and Jolly regretted not hearkening to his mother’s plea. “She kept calling, begging me to relocate to Calabar,” he said, “If police should release me, I wouldn’t mind trekking to Calabar.”
The second suspect, George Ala, 26, told Saturday Sun how he was initiated into cultism six years ago at the age of 15 when he was a JSS 3 student of Comprehensive High School, New Road, Borokiri.
“It was my father who first died. A year later my mother was poisoned,” narrated. After the death of my father, I started learning carpentry after school hours,” stated Ala, a native of Bonny Island, Rivers State,
A fellow apprentice introduced him to cultism. “He took me to the bush after work and I was forced to join them. My mother who was sick at the time warned me my life might be ruined. In order not to worsen her health, I promised her that I would stop. Unfortunately, she died. Our neighbours buried her body at the cemetery.”
His mother’s demise accelerated his journey to the dark side of life. “Her death left us desolate because my mother never took me and my brother to her people or my father’s relations. We were alone,” he affirmed. “Two months after her death, the landlord evicted us from the house. We started sleeping under the bridge or at any place that homeless boys converged. In the morning, we’d beg for money on the street or do any available casual job. One woman who heard our story decided to take my brother home as a houseboy.”
For him, however, there was no redemption. “I remained on the street, mixing with bad boys until the day a popular guy, known as Gbongbon (he normally gave me N500 every other day) asked me to follow him out.”
That was his baptism of fire. “That day, we snatched several bags and I was rewarded with N5, 000. This was how I started until Gbongbon started the cab robbery business.”
Ala’s duty was to tail a victim into their cab. “Gbongbon, who is the expert, made arrangement for all the guns that we use during operations,” he stated. “But the gun didn’t have a single bullet. We just used it to scare people into submission.”
The story of the third suspect, Michael Matthew, had similar strands. He also was a member of the Icelander cult. He, too, initiated while in Junior Secondary School.
He recalled: “We went for a birthday party and on our way back, we met a lot of young boys known to me and they made a mockery of me that I was not a member of any cult. After the humiliation, I decided to join them. One day, when I came home late, my mother was so suspicious she decided to check my body and saw marks. It was common in our area so she knew what it was. She reported me to the community head.”
He ran away from home. “This was how I ended up in the streets and had to survive,” he stated.
The sheep that moved with dogs
Chisom Unaegbu was different from the other three. An indigene of Ehite Mbaise in Imo State, he grew up in Rivers State, but he had no ties to any cult and he used to earn a legitimate livelihood as a taxi driver in the city. He was the proverbial sheep that moved with dogs and consequently, are faeces. He did not dilly-dally in telling the police why he became part of the crime gang. He thought robbery offered a faster way to pay for the car he bought as a hire purchase, he told detectives.
“I am not a cultist,” he declared. “But my father abandoned me for reasons best known to him. We suffered a lot because the money my mother made as an auxiliary nurse was not enough to take care of three children. Consequently, she asked me and my sister to drop out of school, so that our elder brother can further his education. I decided to learn how to drive a car and I became a taxi driver.”
He continued: “I got a car on hire purchase and the agreement was for me to make a daily delivery of N5000.”
He was struggling with the delivery of the daily target when his friend, Michael, suggested an easier way out.
“They told me all I needed to do was to drive my car, picked an unsuspecting passenger while I leave the rest to them. The agreement was that even if we didn’t make enough money, they must give me N5000 so I can pay my daily contribution,” he stated.
The arrangement seemed good to him: “A lot of people enter private cars at that Rummokuta and they pay at least N150 per drop,” he stated.
And with the assurance of minimum risk, he agreed to make his Toyota Camry available.
Operating around Rummokuta axis between the hours of 8 and 9:30 pm, Unaegbu has lost count of the number of victims they robbed since he joined the gang in January. “But I can assure you that we did not kill anyone,” he said. “We used the gun just to scare them to submit everything they have.”