By Chioma Okezie-Okeh
A serving participant in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Lagos is currently telling operatives of the Lagos State Police Command how he abandoned his primary responsibilities as a youth corps member to become an arms dealer.
He had wanted to make some extra money for himself and therefore decided to add an extra business to augment the allowance he gets from the NYSC. He thereafter contacted an old acquaintance who encouraged him to become an illicit arms merchant. Unfortunately, he did not last long in the trade before he was apprehended.
The long arm of the law has caught up with 29-year-old National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, Joseph Ashiwobel. He is accused of specialising in buying and selling locally made arms believed to have been constructed in his village in Cross River State. He was arrested by operatives of Lagos State Police Command Special Squad days after he was declared wanted.
His illicit trade was uncovered on April 23, 2022 when his last consignment of seven locally made pistols was mistakenly given to another person, a certain Aji Augustine by the courier company that he contacted. Terrified, Augustine took the guns to the nearest police station.
At the police station, Augustine who lives in Ibeju Lekki area of Lagos stated that he sent money to his mother to buy food stuff from their village in Cross River. They agreed that the foodstuff should be sent through a transport company that also has a courier outfit. On the agreed date, he went to the park and was given two bags filled with food stuffs. He went home and handed the bag to his wife to unpack.
His wife unpacked the first bag and when she opened the second bag, she noticed a brown carton that was quite heavy and sealed up. She drew the attention of her husband to the weight of the parcel squeezed in between tubers of yam.
Her husband urged her to open it, as his mother did not specify that any of the food stuff was meant to be delivered to another family. She opened it and screamed at the sight of the guns. Terrified too, Augustine said he had no choice but to take the guns to the nearest police station where he would hand over the guns to the officers and explain how he came about it.
In the course of investigation, Saturday Sun learnt that the bus driver who made the mistake called Augustine to bring the bag and collect his own. Unknown to the driver, the content in the bag was not food stuff as claimed by Joseph. He was arrested and the courier company was ordered to explain how they unknowingly aided the movement of guns from Cross River to Lagos.
As soon as Joseph learnt of the arrest, he quickly alerted his buyer, one suspected notorious armed robber popularly known as Snatcher. Joseph, who was already in Lagos, ran back to his village while Snatcher fled to an unknown destination.
Determined to fish him out, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Alabi ordered the operative of the command special squad to track down Joseph and others.
After several days of tracking and monitoring, Joseph was finally arrested in Lagos. He led the police to arrest two of his buyers, Rasheed Oguntade and Aladeokin Ahmad while efforts are still on to pick Snatcher who is still at large. One locally made shot gun bought from Joseph was also recovered from Oguntade.
Plea for mercy
A native of Obudu in Cross River State, Joseph told Saturday Sun that it was his quest to make extra money that landed him in trouble. He said: “I am a graduate of the Federal University of Agriculture, where I studied Biology Education. I am currently a youth corps member serving in Lagos, which I started in September. It was in the course of my interaction with people in Lagos that I met one man who we call Snatcher. He is a local politician and some people said that he is an armed robber. They call him Snatcher because he is an expert in snatching stuffs.
“I only interact with him because we meet to play games and watch football. One day he asked if I can help him to buy guns from my state. He assured me that he has a good market in Lagos and his customers were disturbing. Initially I said no, but he kept putting pressure that he normally gets locally made pistol from Benue and Cross River. Nigerian economy is bad and the monthly allowance that I was receiving as a corps member is not enough to sustain me. I am married with two kids and as a man, I am expected to be sending monthly allowance to them.”
Now convinced to become an arms dealer, Joseph claimed that he remembered a man called Justin who buys and sells guns in Cameroon.
“I met Justin who is a Cameroonian about four years ago. Those days, the border towns of Cameroon close to our state were fighting. We the youths were playing ball and saw him carrying a big sack. Since he was not known, we stopped him and forced him to open the sack. It was filled with all kinds of locally made guns. He begged us that his entire community would be wiped out if he did not supply them with those guns. We allowed him to go after settling us with N5000.
“He became known in our area because he kept coming back for more. So, when I got an order to sell guns, I called him and he asked me to bring money. He was the one who sold the seven guns to me and collected N150,000.
“As soon as I secured the guns, I called Snatcher and we agreed to waybill the guns to him. I was afraid that if I carried it as a normal passenger, the security agents might discover it during stop and search at checkpoints. It’s better for them to find it and seize it.
“We agreed that I should buy tubers of yam and fish and hide it inside the bag. I got a brown carton and folded the guns in such a way that you would think that it’s packed fish. I then sent it through a popular transport company in our area and asked Snatcher to collect it. Later that night Snatcher called and said that the bag he collected was filled with foodstuff and no guns. I called the driver and he apologised. He said it was a mistake and promised to get it back. I took the next bus to Lagos to help trace the bag till I was told that the police arrested the bus driver. It was then that it dawned on me that they must have discovered the guns. I ran back to the village while Snatcher fled.
“I tried my best to see how I could sort it out, but police started investigating and it will be very easy to track me down to my house. I fled back to Lagos and wanted to stay low but the policemen found me,” he narrated.
Begging for mercy, Joseph lamented that all his efforts to become a graduate will be wasted if NYSC should hear that he wanted to sell guns. “This is the second time that I am selling guns to someone in Lagos. I am aware that it is bad but I wanted to make fast money. I felt that these guns would be used by politicians, not armed robbers. I am sorry and I beg the police to forgive me and give me a second chance to correct my mistake. Please don’t allow the NYSC authorities to discover what I did,” he pleaded.