In his neighbourhood in Agege, a Lagos suburb, the fear of Wale a.k.a. Walesstic was the beginning of wisdom. His name sent jitters down the spines of residents until the night the youthful member of a notorious street gang, Awawa, was arrested after his gang attacked rival gang boys in the area, resulting in the destruction of properties and break down of law and order.

Walestic was arraigned before a magistrate court in Ikeja and subsequently sent to the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, where he was remanded until his bail conditions were perfected and he regained his freedom.

But by the time the 22-year-old mechanic turned gangster returned from prison, his life was never the same again until he was felled by police bullets during an exchange of gun fire in a botched robbery operation.

Although his stay in prison was for seven months, he met a group of boys who were serving various jail terms for stealing. They struck friendship and he joined their gang as soon as they were freed. He became more daring and fiendish but was killed when his gang attacked some residents of the Alagbado suburb of the city about three years ago.

Walestic’s sad story found an encore in the deadly robbery ring of Simon Tyozenda, a native of Benue State, and Lucky Friday (24) an indigene of Delta State, who confessed that they formed their robbery gang in Kirikiri Prison.

The duo were arrested by the operatives of Rapid Response Squad (RRS) of the Lagos State Police Command for attempting to kill a cab driver after snatching his vehicle, a Toyota Camry saloon marked APP 145 EE on the Lekki-Epe highway on March 14, 2018.

Simon, the gang’s leader, had used his girlfriend’s mobile app to order a cab hailing driver around 11:00 p.m. and hatched a plan to lure the driver of the Toyota Camry to a desolate location, kill the driver and take away his vehicle.

According to the police, the suspects were taking the driver to a deserted axis of Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos, when their vehicle was stopped by RRS officers for a stop and search, while one of the suspects seated at the back of the vehicle was spotted hiding a long knife.

It was said that the two ex-convicts who were released from the Kirikiri Maximum Prison in January, 2018, had in February, 2018, snatched a Toyota Corolla marked FST 663 EZ along Badore Road, Ajah at about 2 am after killing its driver.

The body of the driver, Godfrey Ovie, dropped in Badore by the suspects, was discovered the following day by the police.

The suspects had sold the car to one Usman for N350,000 and the buyer was about moving the car to Jigawa State after paying N100,000 out of the said sum when RRS undercover arrested him.

‘How we formed robbery gang in prison’

While correctional facilities are meant to reform and rehabilitate convicts to become better citizens after serving prison terms, quite a number of ex-inmates have gone into the underworld after their release.

Simon, a former hair stylist and private security guard in Badore area of Ajah, Lagos, narrated his journey into the underworld after his days in prisons, saying: “I met my colleague, Lucky Friday in Kirikiri Prison. We became friends, and when I was released, I gave him the number of my brother for him to call me.

“When he was released, I promised him I was going to assist him to resettle properly. Since then, we have been working and operating together.”

“Our first operation was where we killed the driver of the Toyota Corrolla. He was a Taxify driver. I stabbed the guy in the stomach twice and I dropped him off the vehicle on the road in Badore, Ajah at after 2:00 a.m.

“We threw away the knives and bought new ones for the fresh operation we were arrested for.”

He added: “Before killing him, I placed the order to Taxify cab to pick us up at Lamgbasa, Lekki at past 11 p.m. Our destination was Abraham Adesanya Estate, but we needed a desolate location to snatch the vehicle from the driver.

“It was the same business that took me to Kirikiri prison. I was introduced to it by Michael. Unfortunately for me, I was arrested while Michael escaped. I spent four months behind bar. It is sad I’m being arrested again over the same business.”

Like Simon and his partner, 27-year-old robbery kingpin Francis Ogbonna’s life behind bar was the leeway to crime. He was arrested again two months after leaving Kirikiri in September 2016.

Ogbonna was arrested by the Inspector- General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) as the brains behind the gang of car snatchers that terrorised Aguda, Ijeshatedo in Surulere and Ikotun areas of Lagos.

Four cars and a locally-made gun were recovered from Ogbonna and his gang members, Chisom Joseph and Oloko Raheem, when they were arrested in a hotel they used as hideout.

Ogbonna, a native of Umuahia South Local Government Area of Abia State, in his confessional statement, said he left the Kirikiri Medium Prison, Lagos an angry man and that he hatched the plan to start his car robbery gang while in the prison all because he wanted to correct his past mistakes.

He said: “I came to Lagos immediately after my secondary school education and was living in Surulere where I drove a taxi until 2013. That year, I relocated to the East.

“But after trying my hand at different jobs, I came back to Lagos and ventured into crime in November 2015.

“It started when one of my friends whom I went to secondary school with, Uchenna, asked if I could help drive a stolen car from Lagos to Owerri.

“I knew Uchenna was an armed robber and that the car he was talking about must have been snatched in a robbery. So, I began to move such vehicles for him. We moved mainly at night and he paid me N50,000 for each car.

“I remember delivering a Toyota Camry and a Toyota Sequea SUV. The third vehicle I moved for him was a Lexus 330 but I was arrested by some Customs officials in the process. I was later released.”

On December 13, 2015, Ogbonna was again arrested when some Customs officials stopped him and Uchenna in a vehicle they had snatched from a man in Lagos, while another member of the gang narrowly escaped.

Ogbonna said: “I was arrested and Uchenna ran away. The Customs officials took me to Lagos and handed me over to the police. I later took them to Uchenna’s house but he ran into the bush when he saw them and fled to his village. “I was charged to court and remanded in prison. At the Kirikiri Prison, I met Joseph and Raheem.  I knew them at Aguda and we normally smoked Indian hemp together.

“They knew me as a taxi driver. They told me they were also arrested for robbery. We became very close in the prison.

“In May 2016, Chisom and Raheem were released on bail while I was released in July. While in prison, I contacted Uchenna and he told me of his plan to travel out of the country because some of the men who worked for him were killed during an operation.

“I told him that he was the one who got me into trouble, and when I kept calling him, he changed his number.  I became angry because I was the only one facing the problem he put me in. I decided that my revenge was to go into armed robbery fully.”

Ogbonna would later befriend one Amos in prison, who on being freed linked him to a stolen car buyer identified simply as Alhaji and another receiver of stolen cars called Tosin.

“I told Tosin that I had no gun and he asked me to meet him. He said he would arrange a gun for me. I informed Raheem about my robbery plans and he told me he was ready to participate.

“The day after I spoke with Tosin about the gun, he came to meet me at a hotel where I lodged in Aguda, Surulere. He brought me a double-barrel locally made pistol with five cartridges.  I immediately called Raheem, Joseph and one David. They met me at the hotel and we embarked on our first operation.

“We went to Ojuelegba that night and robbed a cab driver of his vehicle. We went to Ago Palace Way and snatched a Toyota Corolla. That same night, I went to Alhaji at Cele area, and handed over the Corolla to him. I parked the taxi in Surulere. The next day, I called Alhaji to demand our money but he refused to pick my calls.

“The following day, I went with Tosin to snatch a Honda Accord at Kilo. I gave the car to Tosin. We also snatched a Toyota Camry in Aguda. We used the taxi cab we had snatched earlier to move around during these operations.

“We went to sleep that night and abandoned the taxi on a street.  We also parked the Camry on another street overnight. The following day, we drove in the Camry to snatch a Honda at Akerele in Surulere. We snatched a Toyota at Ajao Estate that same night.”

“The following week, I was in a hotel in Ikotun when Tosin brought some policemen and I was arrested.  Now, I am regretting everything I have ever done. If the police have mercy on me, I would like to become a policeman to help fight crime.”

Confessing, 22-year-old Joseph, a former barber, said he was introduced to robbery by one of his customers called Tigana.

He said: “One day, I was smoking Indian hemp with him and I told him to ‘teach me how to fish’. He collected my phone number that day and called me later.

“I went to meet him at a hotel where he bought drinks for me and introduced me to Raheem and other men. That was the first day I went out on operation with them. We drove to Victoria Island later that night and robbed a man of his car, money and phones.”

“I was arrested after strings of robbery and sent to Kirikiri Prison where I met Ogbonna,” he added.

Only prison reforms, good justice administration can ensure better life for inmates in and out of prison -Experts

Experts are of the opinion that government needs to do more about reforming the prison to ensure that inmates, especially those who are not on death row, live better lives on leaving correctional facilities.

A lawyer and rights activist, Modestus Onwordi, urged prison authorities to provide conducive environment for inmates to be properly rehabilitated and reformed for a change of attitude.

He said: “The harrowing experience of inadequate food and shelter among other terrible hygienic conditions are enough to harden the minds of inmates, so much so that some of them graduate from being petty thieves for which they are remanded or jailed into underworld kingpin after befriending their likes in the correctional facilities.

“We all know that in many of the so-called prisons or correctional facilities in the country, the space are filled up with huge number of convicts and awaiting trial inmates, who are dumped there for so long that they tend to develop a strong connection with other hardened criminals there, who would encourage them to further their involvement in heinous crime.

“The solution lies in making the environment conducive and hygienic as well as ensuring decongestion in such a way that remanded or detained inmates do not stay there for too long.”

A social worker, Johnson Dipeolu, was of the opinion that only dependable justice administration system can bring about properly reformed inmates, who can live crime-free lives outside correctional facilities.

“The facilities are over-crowded with inmates. Both hardened criminals and others who are there for lesser offences are lumped together, giving room for character influence and bonding that encourages freed inmates to get in touch and form criminal gangs.

“For me, the judiciary or courts have a key role to play by ensuring quick dispensation of justice such that awaiting trial inmates don’t stay for too long to be indoctrinated into dastardly crimes.

“Also, the police must carry out diligent investigation and jettison the over-reliance on confessional statement to prosecute suspects.

“Most times, victims of police prosecution through confessional statement tend to embrace crime as vengeance for serving jail term or being detained for offences they are innocent of.”

Culled from The Nation