By Ebitonye Akpodigha
The end of the road has come for three policemen in Lagos alleged to be terrorists to drug pushers and cyber-crime fraudsters in the Surulere area of the state.
According to New Telegraph, the three policemen followed a suspected fraudster into a banking hall to withdraw money from his account.
It was reported that the policemen, Sergeant Okechukwu Okpokwu, Sergeant Idemudia Monday and Corporal Bienonwu Richard, were all attached to Area C Police Command, Surulere, Lagos State.
Trouble started for the policemen after they sighted a car while on a ‘Stop and Search’ duty along Bode Thomas Street and accused the driver of being a fraudster.
Although the driver, who was in the car with a friend tried to deny the allegations, but a bank alert, which came into his phone while the argument was still on, belied his claims. Rather than arrest him, the policemen insisted they wanted a piece of the action.
They followed the suspect to the nearest First Bank branch in the area to withdraw some money. The policemen would have made away with the money, but for the Close Circuit Television (CCTV), in the banking hall which recorded the transaction. The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Fatai Owoseni, was said to have been furious with the policemen that he ordered for their arrest and orderly room trial.
They were subsequently later dismissed and charged with armed robbery. A police source said that the suspected fraudster was driving a Honda Accord car (End of Discussion), white in colour, when he was flagged down by the policemen. The policemen carried out a search of the car.
They accused the driver and his occupants of being cyber fraudsters, but they denied.
The policemen seized their phones and ATM cards.
The source said: “Unfortunately for the driver, at that precise moment, a bank alert entered his phone. The alert allegedly implicated them as being cyber fraudsters.
“The policemen were happy. They asked the suspects the meaning of such an alert. The suspects started begging. The policemen said they would collect N1m or arrest them.”
It was gathered that while this haggling with the suspects was going on, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), who was in charge of the team, sat in the police patrol van with the police driver, unaware that his men were making a deal that would change their lives. After haggling and begging, the policemen agreed to accept N350,000.
The driver told the policemen that he wouldn’t be able to withdraw N350, 000 with his ATM card. He said that he needed to go to bank to make withdrawal. One of the policemen, Okechukwu, said he would go with him.
The police source said: “Before leaving for the bank, Okechukwu went and changed from his uniform, into a mufti. He went to his team leader, the ASP, who was inside the patrol van, to tell him that he needed a few minutes break. All this while, he held unto the ATM cards and phones of the suspects.
“He didn’t want them to escape. He followed them to the nearest First bank branch there. The driver first used his ATM card to withdraw some money, but he couldn’t get up to N350, 000; he decided to cash the rest over the counter.
“Okechukwu followed him into the banking hall. After the driver collected the money, he handed it over to Okechukwu, but Okechukwu refused to collect it. He wanted to know if the money was complete. The suspect told him to count it. He proceeded to count it.”
Assured that the money was complete, Okechukwu handed the seized phones to the driver and his friend and went back to his duty post. When the driver got home, he narrated his experience to a friend.
The friend narrated it to a policeman stationed at police headquarters, Ikeja. The matter was taken to Owoseni. Owoseni ordered that the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), in charge of operations, should investigate the matter.
A radio message was sent that the policemen should report to the command.
When they walked into the DC’s office, they sighted the suspect and were shocked. The DC told the suspect to narrate his story. He did. The policemen said they had never set eyes on the suspect, let alone to have received N350, 000 from him. When the ASP heard the story, he was shocked.
He said he wasn’t aware of such an incident and didn’t know or recognise the suspect. The suspect told the DC that it was just the three policemen, Okechukwu, Monday and Richard that searched his car and later transacted with him. The suspect stressed that the ASP was inside the police van, with a police driver. The policemen still denied the allegation, insisting that the suspect fabricated lies against them.
The DC became infuriated and went to report the latest development to Owoseni.
The policemen were brought before Owoseni. Owoseni begged them to tell him the truth and bring out the money. Owoseni said if they told the truth and bring out the money; he would apologise to the suspect, hand over the money and forget the matter. But the policemen remained adamant in their denial.
The CP became confused and decided to question the suspect, turned complainant further. The driver stuck to his story. Determined to dig out the truth, Owoseni took over the investigation himself. He went to the bank and convinced the bank manager to play the bank’s CCTV recording.
Owoseni presented the recording to the policemen, but Okechukwu, even though he saw himself collecting and counting money in the screen, still said the image wasn’t him. Owoseni got angry. Owoseni ordered that the men should go on orderly room trial. It was during the trial that they owned up to their crime and brought out the money. The police source said: “While this was happening, the Area C Commander was not around.
The Acting Area Commander was called on the matter, and without thinking twice, started defending the men. He said they were innocent. The CCTV was played for him. The CP issued him query and later suspended him. The ASP and driver were pardoned.”
Last week Friday, their signal came out; the three of them were dismissed. The CP further instructed that they should be detained and charged to court for robbery.
“The CP said they held gun, followed someone into banking hall to collect money. He said it was robbery,” said the source.
He added: “There are allegations that Richard used to hunt suspected drug pushers and cyber fraudsters in Surulere and was always collecting money from them. It was also believed that he knows that particular suspect that led to his downfall. He was also described as a very rich man and terrorist to residents of Surulere. If they had brought out the money earlier, the CP would have pardoned them.”