The recent spate of arrests of military personnel, especially a Marine, Femi Oyewole, raises fears of growing insecurity in the country as more law enforcement officers are caught for various crimes, writes SODIQ OJUROUNGBE
There is great concern among Nigerians and security experts over the repeated involvement of Nigerian Army and Nigerian Air Force personnel in various crimes in recent times.
Monitored reports, in recent months, have indicated that some security officers, including from the Nigerian Navy, are now running kidnapping and robbery syndicates which, by implication, threaten the safety of lives and property.
The most recent of these arrests was that of a 50-year-old marine, Femi Oyewole, suspected of leading a car theft syndicate operating in and around Lagos.
According to the Daily Trust, Oyewole, who was arrested by policemen assigned to Zone 2, Police Headquarters, Onikan, Lagos, confessed during a parade of suspects held last Wednesday that he sold most of the stolen cars to senior officers of the navy.
The naval rank was paraded along with three others, identified as: Joshua Adeleke, Kabiru Ismaila and Ukpabi Bright Ikechukwu.
The naval rank told reporters he had been arrested three times for the same crime of car theft and robbery but always secured his freedom and continued his heinous activities.
He revealed that despite being captured, the Nigerian Navy did not set up any disciplinary committee against him because some of the senior officers were allegedly complicit.
He said: “I am a serving naval officer assigned to Western Naval Command Headquarters, Naval Base, Harbor Road, Apapa. I’m the leader of a car theft gang. I have served in the Nigerian Navy for 22 years. I have been arrested for similar offenses by the police. I have also received over 15 vehicle units from my gang members.
“In 2016 I was turned over to Western Naval Command when police discovered I was a serving naval officer for necessary disciplinary action.
“I was later arrested along with Joshua Adeleke and Kabiru Ismaila for a similar offense by agents of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in 2019, where seven units of vehicles were recovered from me.
“I was handed over to the naval authorities for the necessary disciplinary measures, while Joshua and Kabiru went on trial.
“No disciplinary action has been taken against me because some of the recipients of the stolen vehicles are senior officers in the Nigerian navy,” he said.
Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Area 2 (Lagos and Ogun states), Adeyinka Oyeleke, while parading Oyewole along with the other suspects, said she received information on December 20, 2022 that a gang of car thieves had robbed a victim of a Gold Toyota Sienna vehicle and sold the same to one of their many buyers.
AIG, which was represented by Area Public Relations Officer, Hawa Idris Adamu, said the officer in charge of the Anti-Piracy Squad, SP Mariam Ogunmolasuyi, was tasked by AIG with exposing those behind the auto theft syndicate.
He said the officer took action, during which four suspects were arrested in connection with the crime.
During the arrest, two gold Toyota Siennas (1999 model) and a white Toyota Camry (2003 model) were reportedly recovered from the suspects.
Speaking to our correspondent on Monday evening, the PPRO said the suspects were being charged in court.
Oyewole wasn’t the first security officer caught running a robbery syndicate. A few days before his arrest, a Nigerian army soldier was also involved in an alleged robbery operation at the phase one estate in Kurudu, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
A few days later, an Air Force personnel was also arrested by soldiers at PHDL Phase 5 Estate, Kurudu, Abuja as he assisted two civilians in abducting a resident of the estate.
On 23 January 2022, an army officer, Corporal Mohammed, and an airman, Corporal Olathe, were reportedly arrested, also in Abuja, for alleged armed robbery and kidnapping.
Nigerian Air Force spokesman, Air Commodore Wapkerem Maigida, in a telephone interview with The PUNCH on Sunday, said: ‘The incident is being investigated and he (Olathe) will be punished according to the rules of the armed forces if found guilty “.
When one of the suspects arrested with Oyewole was interviewed, Joshua Adeleke admitted that he had stolen many vehicles together with Ismaila and that all the cars were handed over to Oyewole who sold them.
Adeleke said Oyewole bought some of the vehicles at ridiculous prices like N100,000 and N150,000.
He said, “Oyewole is our financier. It is on his instructions that we go steal cars, and then we deliver them to him.
“We have sold over 25 vehicles to Oyewole Femi. He buys them at ridiculous prices like N100,000 and N150,000. He pays us money in bits and pieces; sometimes N40,000 and sometimes N80,000. We sold him the recent golden model 1999 Toyota Camry with registration number MUS 499 AM for N100,000,” the suspect revealed.
On 31 August 2022, the Zamfara State Police Command arrested Sa’adu Lawal, 41, a former army officer. Police recovered an AK 47 rifle, no. 0971987, and an AK49 rifle, no. 347094 from the suspect.
According to State Police spokesman SP Mohammed Shehu, other items recovered include 5017.62x51mm GPMG live ammunition and empty magazines.
The Niger State Police Command in December 2022 launched a manhunt for three soldiers and two police officers, including an assistant superintendent of police, indicted in connection with the bombing of the senator who represented the senatorial district of Niger East, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa.
The state Department of Criminal Investigations and Force Intelligence said a police investigation indicated the three Army officers, said to be from the 31st Minna Artillery Brigade, including CPL Mohammed J., were reportedly been involved in assassination attempts.
Security experts have identified the recruitment process and the much vaunted poor welfare package as the main factors responsible for the involvement of security officers in criminal activities.
One expert, Jackson Ojo, has insisted that the recruitment model in the Nigerian security forces is weak and unhealthy.
Ojo complained that politicians have taken the decision of who becomes a security officer in the country.
He noted that people recruited into the country’s security architecture would need to be profiled and mind-controlled as well.
He said, “When you build a mansion on a very weak foundation, it’s as if you haven’t built at all. What is the recruitment model for the Nigeria Security Forces? The recruitment model in Nigeria’s security forces is very weak, rotten and unhealthy. There is no good in the recruitment process of our Nigerian security men and women.
“In Nigeria, when you want to recruit, they won’t even do any profiling, they will just go to a politician and that politician will give them someone for the vacant position. The politician will bring some of his political thugs; it is the politicians who will only provide a list of criminals who have worked for him before and those are the people who will be recruited into our security forces.
“The recruitment model in Nigeria is bad and wrong which is why we can never get it right.
“The other factor we have to consider is that no matter how disciplined someone is, when you limit that person to be a police officer or an army officer and there is no good welfare package, such a person will evolve into something else.
“When you recruit someone into the Nigerian military and pay them a salary that can’t buy them a pair of trousers or pay their rent, they will go into self-help. He will use that same uniform, same gun that you gave him to fight crime, he will use it to perpetrate crime,” the security expert noted.
Another security expert, Ayo Bamidele, revealed that the Nigerian security forces are overcrowded with criminals.
“The Government must do more to ensure that due process is followed in the recruitment exercise. It also has to improve their welfare because if the recruitment process is good and there is still a poor welfare package for our security officers, we will still face the same problems,” she noted.
Navy keeps mom
Efforts to obtain Western Naval Command spokesman Commander Edward Yeibo were unsuccessful. He did not return calls or respond to several text messages that were sent to him.
Our correspondent also contacted Navy spokesman Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan. He did not return his calls or respond to WhatsApp messages sent to him, despite indications that he had read them.