Forty-year-old Ugwoueke Euphemia has narrated how she became a prostitute and unwitting member of a robbery gang in order to save her four children from starvation. Euphemia explained that she, her husband and children were living in a village in Benue State, but had to relocate to Gboko after crisis broke out. When Euphemia was pregnant with their fourth child, her husband told her that he needed to relocate to Makurdi to get a better paying job. The man left for Makurdi, but ended up falling in love with another woman, abandoning Euphemia and their children. Euphemia said: “He stopped sending money.
She said that it was better for me to ‘hustle’ since I have big breasts. I started going out with her, and with the money I made, I relocated my children to Enugu State. I have relations there, who assisted me to take care of the children while I ‘hustle’ at night. “In 2012, I met Emmanuel; he paid to spend a night with me. But in the morning, he was so happy with me that he begged me to be his permanent girlfriend. He promised to take care of my children and I. I accepted.
“He paid my rent and my children’s school fees. And just as he promised, he gave me more than enough money. One day, he told me that we were going to Owerri. We boarded a private cab and when we got to the hotel, he invited the driver to come inside and eat with us. He gave him Hollandia Yoghurt and roast meat. “We were still discussing when the driver suddenly fell into a deep sleep. Emmanuel asked me to go and wait for him outside. A minute later, he came out with the man’s car key. We entered the car and drove off. I was shocked and asked him what just happened.
It was then that he disclosed to me how he made his money. He told me that the name of the tablet was ‘Ativan.’ “Since I was benefitting from that business, I had no choice, but to con-tinue. My job then was to buy the food or drink and pour the sleeping tablet into it. Everything was moving well till 2013 when we travelled to Orlu. He bought roast meat and gave the driver, but he refused to eat. Emmanuel tried every other method, but the driver adamantly refused to eat. Emmanuel suddenly excused himself and disappeared.
After an hour, the driver asked me where he was, I couldn’t reach him on phone. At that point, the driver raised the alarm and people gathered. I told them that I was just a prostitute on duty, but they refused to believe me and pounced on me. I was seriously beaten and dragged to police station, from where I was charged to court. “I spent three years in prison before I was able to secure bail, thanks to one Mbachu. He goes to different prisons to help poor people get bail. I was released on September 21, 2017. “I returned to Nsukka and started managing my life. One day, my younger brother, Ejike, approached me and requested for that Ativan.
I knew the capability of the drug; I used to give it to my mum because of her constant headache. I warned Ejike that I didn’t want any problem. He assured me that his friend, Moses, was reliable and wouldn’t mention my name if arrested. I buy it N15,000 per carton.” Euphemia is alleged to be a member of a gang that specialised in lacing drinks and foods of car owners with sedative in order to dispossess them of their cars and other valuables. She and other gang members became guests of the police after operatives of the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT), smashed the gang. According to the police, the gang operates in different states, including Lagos and Ogun states axis.
The gang’s Waterloo began after it snatched a red coloured Toyota Corolla Saloon car marked GGG 720 FK from Clifford Echereode (34), living at 34Rd , E Close, Gowon Estate Egbeda Lagos State. It was gathered that on April 22, 2019, at about 10pm, Echereode was at Apple Junction, Festac, Lagos, in his Toyota Corolla Saloon car, which he uses for commercial transportation, waiting for any available passenger, when a man approached and requested that he should take him to International airport, Ikeja, to pick his brother. The man claimed that his brother was returning from Ghana about 11pm.
The man exchanged phone number with Echereode and cunningly lured him into a bar at Festac, where he bought roast meat for him. The unsuspecting driver ate the meat and soon fell asleep. The stranger disappeared with Echereode’s car, infinix Android phone and other valuables. Echereode took his complaint to the office of IRT, headed by a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Abba Kyari. The operatives swung into action.
The operatives tracked and arrested Kingsley Nweze (34), believed to be the principal suspect in the gang. The suspect, upon interrogation, confessed to the crime and further admitted to have stolen other cars through the same modus operandi. Nweze explained that after stealing such cars, he moves them to the eastern parts of Nigeria to be sold.
The confessions of Nweze, led to the arrest of Moses Ugwu (47), Euphemia and their receiver, Onyebuchi Odoh (48). Ugwu explained that after his secondary school education, he applied as apprentice to learn spare parts trade. He learnt the trade for nine years, but towards the end of his nine years, his master started picking on him, accusing of every imagined crimes. One day, the man sent him packing, without giving him the mandatorily monetary settlement that comes with serving a master and learning a trade under him. Ugwu said: “While serving my master, I realised there was so much money to be made by selling ‘scraps.’ When I became jobless in 2013, I started picking, buying and selling scraps, especially iron. I buy from mechanics and spare parts dealers. I then sell to a company that buys scraps at a higher price. The company, which normally melts iron, is in Asaba, Delta State.
It was the proceeds that I used to rent a house in Nnewi and got married. I have five children and they are all in school.” He said that his troubles started after the company that buys scraps from him, which normally assists him with loans, stopped such gesture in 2017. The buying and selling of scraps became a drag and no longer profit yielding. He said: “My income dropped drastically, I was only making N7000 a day. It was not easy to survive with five children. I was praying and hoping for a breakthrough when a friend introduced me to Ejike. Ejike told me that he was a professional car snatcher and wanted me to work with him.
He said that if he gets useless cars, he would give me. I would dismantle and sell it as scraps. It was while we were doing that business, that he introduced me to his sister, Euphemia, who sells sleeping drug. “Ejike told me that the easiest way to snatch a car was by convincing the driver to eat food, which he wouldn’t know was laced with sedative. He said that immediately the driver falls asleep, we would leave with his car.” Ugwu said that his interest was piqued. He decided to buy the drug. He bought it from Euphemia at N150, 000 per pack. He bought five packs, which was about N750, 000. He deposited N450, 000, promising to pay the balance later. “I bought that much because I was ready to go into the car snatching business. I didn’t want to hear that it could no longer be found in a pharmacy,” said Ugwu. He added: “In Nnewi, private taxi drivers now use expensive cars, especially in hotels. You need to be generous to succeed. What I usually do is to hire a clean looking car and tell the driver to take me to any hotel of my choice.
I’ll tell the driver that I sleep in the hotel, and that I would be travelling to the village the following day. I’ll also tell him that I wouldn’t mind paying for him to lodge in the same hotel with me, so that he would be available to take me around during my stay. “The excited driver will accept. At that point, I’ll order drinks and roast meat for him. The person that brings the foods and drinks, is usually an agent. His job is to lace the food and drink with the sleeping drug. A few minutes after taking the food, the driver will fall asleep.
I’ll collect the car key and drive off. It’s very simple. The victim wakes up after an hour.” Ugwu confessed to have been the person that recruited Nweze. Ugwu and Nweze would later steal three cars, selling each for N800, 000. He said: “I’ve warned Kingsley several times to stop using phones of our victims, but he didn’t listen. It was because of his carelessness that police traced and arrested us. I was attending the burial ceremony of my sister when IRT men came there to arrest me.” Nweze, explained that after his OND, his father gave him money to start a grocery business, but his shop was later demolished by the state government.
He recalled: “Out of job, I relocated to Lagos where I secured a driving job with EcoBank in 2014. I worked there for two years as a contract worker. My salary was N35, 000 per month. In 2016, all drivers were sacked. In 2017, I got another Job with UBA. The salary was N50, 000. I was satisfied with the job till 2018, when Moses asked me to quit. He said that the bank was using me as a slave. He said there was a way we could make quick money. He started giving me fairly used cars to sell. After each sale, Moses would give me N50,000.” One weekend, Ugwu asked Nweze to find a clean looking car for him.
Nweze hired an UBER driver of a Toyota Corolla Saloon car. Nweze and the driver went to airport to wait for Ugwu. Nweze said: “When we picked Moses, he told the UBER driver that he had a business meeting in the next three hours and quickly needed to eat. Moses took us to a restaurant at Ajao Estate.
He told the driver that he was hiring for the whole day. He called me aside and showed me the tablet he was holding. He asked me to go and buy roast meat (Suya) across the road for the driver and sprinkle it with the drug. I was confused, but obeyed him. The driver happily ate the meat. “A few minutes later, he was already asleep. Moses took his car key and we left. It was while we were leaving that he told me that was his line of business. He gave me N50,000 and asked me to go home. Two days later, he paid N170, 000 into my account. That was my salary for three months. I was carried away and decided to work with him.
I joined him to do several operations in Lagos. I was also able to do one myself. He gave me the drug, insisting that I was then strong enough to handle my own operation. I did and after selling the car, Moses gave me N400, 000.” Euphemia explained that Ugwu came to Onitsha in Anambra State, where they planned on how to apply the substance on foods and drinks of car owners. She said: “I provided the Ativan drug used by the gang.” Odoh, described himself as a car dealer and has been selling cars for years. He explained that between January and April 2019, Ugwu brought three stolen cars, including a red coloured Toyota Corolla Saloon car, which he asked him to sell for him. Odoh sold the cars and shared the proceeds with Ugwu. He disclosed that after his arrest, he took IRT men to his buyers, where the two cars were recovered.