By Chioma Okezie-Okeh
A An active participant in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Lagos is currently telling officers from the Lagos State Police Command how he gave up his main responsibilities as a member of the youth corps to become an arms dealer.
He had wanted to earn extra money for himself and so decided to add an additional business to increase the stipend he receives from the NYSC. He then contacts an old acquaintance who encourages him to become an underground arms dealer. Unfortunately, he didn’t last long in the business before he was apprehended.
The long arm of the law caught up with Joseph Ashiwobel, 29, a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). He is accused of specializing in the buying and selling of locally made weapons which are believed to have been made in his village in Cross River State. He was arrested by officers from the Lagos State Police Command Special Squad days after he was declared wanted.
His illicit trade was discovered on April 23, 2022 when his last shipment of seven locally made pistols was mistakenly delivered to another person, a certain Aji Augustine, by the courier company he contacted. Terrified, Augustine took the weapons to the nearest police station.
At the police station, Augustine, who lives in the Ibeju Lekki neighborhood of Lagos, said he had sent money to his mother to buy food in their Cross River village. They agreed that the food should be sent by a transport company which also has a courier service. On the agreed date, he went to the park and received two bags full of foodstuffs. 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 rather heavy sealed brown box. She drew her husband’s attention to the weight of the package wedged between yam tubers.
Her husband urged her to open it, as her mother did not specify that the food was meant to be delivered to another family. She opened it and screamed at the sight of the weapons. Also terrified, Augustine said he had no choice but to take the guns to the nearest police station where he would hand the guns over to the officers and explain how he got there.
During the investigation, Sunday from Saturday learned that the bus driver who had made the mistake had called Augustine to bring the bag and collect his. Unbeknownst to the driver, the contents of the bag were not food as Joseph claimed. He was arrested and the courier company ordered to explain how they had unknowingly aided the movement of arms from Cross River to Lagos.
As soon as Joseph learned of the arrest, he quickly alerted his buyer, a suspected notorious armed robber popularly known as Thief. Joseph, who was already in Lagos, ran to his village for Thief fled to an unknown destination.
Determined to fish him out, Lagos State Police Commissioner Abiodun Alabi ordered the Special Command Team officer to track down Joseph and others.
After several days of stalking and surveillance, Joseph was finally arrested in Lagos. He led police to arrest two of his buyers, Rasheed Oguntade and Aladeokin Ahmad, as efforts continue to recover Thief who is still on the run. A locally made shotgun purchased from Joseph was also recovered from Oguntade.
Call for mercy
Hailing from Obudu in Cross River State, Joseph said Sunday from Saturday that it was his quest to earn extra money that got him into trouble. He said: “I graduated from the Federal University of Agriculture, where I studied biology education. I am currently a member of the youth service corps in Lagos which I started in September. It was during my interactions with the people of Lagos that I met a man we call Snatcher. He’s a local politician and some people said he was an armed robber. They call him Snatcher because he’s an expert in stealing things.
“I only interact with him because we meet to play games and watch football. One day he asked me if I could help him buy guns in my state. He assured me that he had a good market in Lagos and his customers were disturbing.I initially said no but he continued to push for him to get locally made guns in Benue and Cross River normally. Nigerian economy is bad and the monthly stipend I received as a corps member is not enough to sustain me I am married with two children and as a man it is expected that I send them a monthly allowance.
Now convinced to become an arms dealer, Joseph said he remembers a man called Justin who buys and sells weapons in Cameroon.
“I met Justin who is Cameroonian about four years ago. On those days, the border towns of Cameroon close to our state were fighting. We young people were playing ball and we saw him carrying a big bag. Since he was unknown, we arrested him and forced him to open the bag. It was filled with all sorts of locally made weapons. He begged us that his entire community would be wiped out if he didn’t provide them with these weapons. We allowed him to leave after he settled us with N5000.
“He became known in our region because he kept coming back. So when I was ordered to sell weapons, I called him and he asked me to bring some money. He was the one who sold me the seven guns and collected 150,000 naira.
“As soon as I secured the weapons, I called Thief and we agreed to hand over the arms to him. I was afraid that if I carried him as a normal passenger, security officers would discover him during stops and searches at checkpoints. It’s better for them to find it and grab it.
“We agreed that I should buy yam and fish tubers and hide them inside the bag. I took a brown cardboard and bent the guns in such a way that it looks like it’s packaged fish. I then sent it through a popular shipping company in our area and asked Thief to harvest it. Later that night, Snatcher called and said the bag he had retrieved was full of groceries and no guns. I called the driver and he apologized. He said it was a mistake and promised to get it back. I took the next bus to Lagos to help find the bag until I was told the police had arrested the bus driver. It was then that I realized they must have discovered the weapons. I ran towards the village while Thief leak.
“I tried my best to see how I could sort it out but the police have started investigating and it will be very easy to find me back home. I fled to Lagos and wanted to keep a low profile but the police found me,” he said.
Begging for mercy, Joseph lamented that all his efforts to graduate would be wasted if NYSC heard he wanted to sell guns. “This is the second time I have sold weapons to someone in Lagos. I know it’s bad but I wanted to make some quick money. I felt these guns would be used by politicians, not armed robbers. I’m sorry and I beg the police to forgive me and give me a second chance to correct my mistake. Please don’t let NYSC authorities find out what I did,” he pleaded.