At the sight of these Nigerians whose pictures appear below, one would conclude they are military personnel of any of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Unfortunately, they are mere impersonators.
Forty-one of them have so far been arrested by operatives of Operation Checkmate of 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, since the Federal Government handed down the lockdown order in Lagos and Ogun States and Abuja, to curtail the spread of the Covid-19.
Surprisingly, some residents in the areas where these suspects were picked, were yet to be convinced that they were not military personnel after all, following the dexterity with which they carried on.
Residents of Olugba community, along Ilogbo road, Ogun State, were the most stunned, as one of their own, whom they held in high esteem, Allen Afolabi Adegboyega, was picked on April 15, 2020, for parading himself as an Army Captain.
Captain Allen as he was fondly called, also commanded respect in the midst of land grabbers in the area. None of them dared encroach on his property, right from when he started building, until it was completed, apparently for fear of the consequences. His building also had a warning sign post which read ‘Military zone, keep off’, to further ward off intruding land grabbers.
However, during his arrest, he was discovered not to have had any close dealing with the military. During a search at his apartment, an enlarged picture of him in Nigerian Army’s woodland camouflage with Captain’s rank badge, was seen hanging on the wall.
Also discovered was a throw pillow which had picture of him in military uniform and in mufti. The throw pillow was a souvenir he reportedly shared to friends to mark his 52nd birthday, on April 15, 2020.
As investigation into his alleged indulgence continued, it was discovered that portrait of him in military uniform was photo shopped! Closer observation by operatives of the division revealed that the portrait was that of one Captain Oni who lost his life five years ago in the fight against terrorists in the North/East. Through Photoshop, the late captain’s head was cropped out and replaced with Allen’s.
Crime Guard gathered that handcuffs, one white MP anklet, two pairs of brown anklets, five Military Police lanyards and three pairs of black work shoes were recovered in his apartment. Additional Army accoutrement recovered included a pair of combat boots, six Lt. Col. ranks, two Major rank badges, three MP berets, one MP muffler and forged 81 Div. Prov Gp letterhead paper.
He was paraded Thursday at the 81 Division headquarters, at Kofo Abayomi, among 12 other impersonators, in the third batch of arrest.
Two weeks ago, seven persons, among whom were a spouse of a serving female military personnel and a dismissed soldier were arrested. One week later, 11 impostors, among them, a farmer, were arrested.
When approached, Allen identified himself as Managing Director of a private security outfit.
Asked how he came about the military uniform, he said, “I am not a military man, the real person in the picture is a military man. All that was done was to crop his head out and replaced with mine.
“I did it to ward off omo onile (land grabbrs). When I was about building a structure, they came to harass the workers. Some people said they only respect the military. I did what I did to scare them away”.
I escort trucks for N80,000
Another suspect paraded alongside Allen, was Afolabi Hassan. In his case he was discovered to have been dismissed as a Corporal from the Nigerian Army, four years ago. But during his arrest at his residence at Abule-Egba area of Lagos, like Allen, a portrait of him in complete Army woodland camouflage uniform with a Lieutenant rank badge and Military Police badges were found on his wall.
Further checks revealed that he recently promoted himself from the rank of a Major to a Lieutenant Colonel.
When approached, he claimed he had never stolen nor harassed anyone with the uniform. Rather, he said he used it to have easy passage into the Lagos ports. According to him, “I use the uniform to survive. I am a father of four. I wear the uniform to escort trucks from Mile Two to Tin-Can port.
“I was dismissed in 2016 as a Corporal because I went on Awol ( Absence Without Official Leave). I bought this uniform from someone at Abacha market in Abuja. I do not use it to steal. I collect between N70,000 to N80,000 from my clients to escort their trucks from Mile-Two, to Tin-Can port. Out of the amount, I give members of the Taskforce N50,000 and take the rest home” .
Another suspect was 34-year-old Festus Nwanazie. He was arrested on Thursday at Maza Maza First gate, along Mile-Two, while he was allegedly beating a member of the public. Unfortunately for him, a team of Operation Checkmate that was driving past the area, stopped to find out what was happening, upon sighting the suspect wearing a camouflage face cap. But during an encounter with him, he denied molesting someone, claiming rather to have gone to assist a soldier who was being attacked by a mob.
According to him, “I was standing at Maza-Maza, waiting for a commercial bus when one shuttle bus hit a soldier who was on a motorbike. The soldier, started fighting with the driver. I went to his defense when I noticed that he was being overpowered by some boys that gathered. I saw the soldier’s cap on the floor and wore it. Before I knew what was happening, the soldier disappeared and when the OP MESSA team came around, they arrested me because I am not a soldier”.
Similarly, Siasia Sunday, a resident of Aduragbemi street in Shibiri area of Ajagbandi, who was clad in a military camouflage vest and navy blue trouser, was arrested Wednesday, while attacking an official of the Nigeria Security Civil Defence Corps.
In an interview, he explained that he was invited by a friend who was being molested, for back-up, only to end up in the military custody while the person that invited him escaped.
He said in an emotional laden tone, “I am a sea scout, my friend, a naval personnel who had a misunderstanding with Civil defence official called me to rush down and by the time I got there, I saw OP MESSA . The vest I wore was bought at bend down boutique”.
A dramatic scenario played out when one of the suspects, Sule Akinshiku, who was arrested in military uniform, was discovered to be a farmer. Akinshiku, 34, blamed himself for his decision to wear the uniform which he said he got from a serving soldier. He stated that he wore it to escort people who did not have a pass to move around the state due to the lockdown.
He said, “I make between N4000 and N5000 every day, out of which I give N1000 or N1500 to the person that gave me the uniform. I am a farmer but because there was not much to do at the farm owing to the lockdown, I decided to use the uniform to feed my family”.
On his part, Akingunola Folorunsho, who was arrested with a double-barrel gun, claimed to be a Marine Engineer. He said he used the weapon found on him for hunting, adding that he was on his way to the farm when he was accosted. When asked where he got the military camouflage jacket he was found with, he said he bought it during his trip outside the country.
Another drama played during one of the parades last week, as one of the suspects, James Felix, a deserter who was dismissed from the Nigerian Army in 2015, appealed to the Chief of Army Staff to reabsorb him into service. He denied using the uniform to commit crime. He said, “I left the North East for seven days without permission and was dismissed. But when I went to Ojo barracks to pack my things, I was not allowed to do that as I was told there had not been any signal to that effect. Since October last year, I didn’t have anything to do. I want to use this medium to appeal to the COAS to reinstate me into the Army because I love the profession and I had already spent ten years before I was dismissed”.
Some of these dismissed soldiers were arrested while using commercial buses to convey passengers from Badagry to Mile-Two and other parts of the state, using their supposed identity for easy passage.
General Officer Commanding 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maj. General Johnson Irefin who confirmed the arrest of these suspects, disclosed that some of them were discovered to have forged Army Provost letterhead, which they used to apply for visa, unknown to them that there was a laid down procedure for military personnel. He explained that the major aim of Operation Checkmate was to curb excesses of soldiers, especially during the lockdown period.
He said that the measure had begun to yield positive results, as it had exposed activities of those who used army uniform to commit acts of criminality in Lagos and Ogun states.
He said, “You will be shocked at the level these individuals are impersonating the Army. Both the fake Lieutenant Colonel and Captain have a photo frame they used to deceive members of the public and on their internet profiles and pages they looked like real military personnel.
Informing that the suspects would be handed over to the Police, he appealed to members of the public and other security agents to always ask for identification cards of soldiers whenever they see them and contact the Army authorities if they have any doubt.
He said: “These arrests were based on information. We will continue to do this operation to clean Lagos and its environs of this kind of hooligans,” he said.