According to police authorities, criminals now contact their victims on the telephones, threatening to kill or kidnap them. The criminals then send a bank account number with the instruction that their victims credit the account with a specified amount of money to prevent being killed or kidnapped.
The police said Owolabi’s family was one of the victims to such operations.
A housemaid with the Owolabis, identified simply as Rebecca, had committed suicide in May.
Mrs. Abosede Owolabi, a mother of five, said about a month later, specifically on June 6, 2013, she received a telephone call from a stranger who told her that he would implicate her if she did not pay N5m.
She said, “My housemaid, who is from Benin Republic, hanged herself in her room in May and I reported the matter to the Ikotun Police Division. Police did investigation and the courts were also involved. After autopsy, it was determined that there was no foul play and the case ended.
“On June 6, a strange man called me saying that he had evidence that I killed Rebecca and told me that he would inform the media if I did not pay him N5m. I told him to go ahead since I had nothing to hide. He got angry and told me that he had been paid by someone to kill me and my family but he would spare my life if I paid the money.
“The caller seemed to know me well as he mentioned the names of my family including the names of my children living abroad. I negotiated with him after subsequent calls and he told me he would accept N500, 000, So he sent me a First Bank account number.”
The victim said she went to Ikotun Police Station to report the matter and the police told her to play along.
“I told the caller that I had paid the money into his account even though I had not. He told me he had not received the alert and he sent Zenith bank, Guaranty Trust Bank and UBA account numbers asking me to pay into any of those accounts.
“I continued to delay and after some time, I went to report the matter at the State Criminal Investigation Department, Yaba, and then I later reported the matter at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Ikeja.”
Owolabi said as she delayed payment, the caller continued to send her threat messages. She said the caller seemed to know where she was and was monitoring her family, causing them to live in fear.
“The caller seemed to be following me everywhere. If I turned on the generator, the caller would call my phone and say I just turned on my generator. The caller would even tell me what my seven-year-old son was doing in school and at some point, I had to withdraw my son because they threatened to kidnap him.
“One day, they came to my street firing bullets and they dropped a note in front of my door, threatening to kill me,” she said.
PUNCH Metro learnt that detectives at SARS were able to get one of the banks to alert the caller that money had been paid into the accounts.
It was learnt that as the owner of the bank account attempted to withdraw the money, he was arrested and he disclosed the identities of his associates.
One of the suspects, Dapo Olowu aka, Junior Pastor, 38, was a neighbour to the Owolabis. He was arrested alongside other suspects such as Olasunkanmi Areago, 20, and Adeniji Ochuko,33. Their gang was led by one Taiwo Akindurodemi, who is currently at large.
Olowu, who claims to be a pastor said, “Akindurodemi is my cousin. He got information regarding my neighbour’s housemaid and told me that the Owolabis were responsible for the death of their housemaid. He deceived me into believing that they indeed killed their housemaid. I did not know that he was lying.”
Areago, who claimed that he was also deceived by Akindurodemi, said, “We asked Akindurodemi whether he had evidence that the woman and he said yes. He said he had the picture to prove that the woman beat up the housemaid till she died and later hanged her to cover up the crime as suicide case.”
Ochuko, who was the owner of the account into which the victim paid the blackmail money, denied being a member of the gang.
He said, “Akindurodemi told me to send my account number, saying his uncle would pay in some money.
“My giving them my bank account name and number was not to assist them commit crime. We are friends and I never knew that they were criminally minded.”
The spokesperson for the state police command, Ngozi Braide, said the new pattern of crime was becoming prevalent and urged members of the public to always report to the police rather than paying criminals.