By Precious Igbonwelundu
Operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Ikeja, have uncovered a syndicate of chefs from Benin Republic that targets and robs wealthy Nigerians.
The syndicate, the police said, operate by planting mules in the homes of well-to-do Nigerians in need of domestic helps in different parts of the country, only for the so-called house helps to find out where their bosses’ money, jewelry and other valuables are kept.
They master the routines of their employers, find out where hidden cameras are located and, in some instances, drug their victims to pave way for their leaders to break into such homes and cart away valuable items, after which they all return to Benin Republic to cool off with their loot.
But two leaders of the syndicate met their waterloo on Monday while they were on a similar mission at a mansion in Magodo, a highbrow neighbourhood in the Isheri suburb of Lagos.
The suspects, Joseph Kobeto Taiwo and Victor Didier Deyo, who claimed to have worked as chefs to prominent Nigerians like Chief Alex Ekwueme, Amb. Babagana Kingibe and Senator Magnus Abe as well as wealthy Lebanese, European and American families in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, were tracked by detectives investigating a burglary case in Ikoyi where jewellery worth more than N200 million were stolen.
The Nation gathered that the duo had planted one Alice Kumoji in the home of a wealthy woman in Ikoyi, who provided information on the gold and diamond jewelry owned by her madam. They were said to have burgled the woman’s home in January, carted away the priced items after testing and weighing them with pocket-sized tester and scale.
Police investigation, it was learnt, revealed that the suspects usually made the mules take oath of allegiance and secrecy before sending them to targeted homes in different cities across Nigeria.
Confessing to the crime, Deyo said his first burglary mission was in 2002 at a residence in Ikoyi during which he claimed they did not find anything useful.
Deyo said: “I have been working in Nigeria for many years as a chef. I cooked for big men. I started way back with a salary of N15,000 and grew up to my current wage, which is N100,000 monthly.
“Despite cooking for Nigerian big men, I discovered I was not making progress in life. I was a chef for Babagana Kingibe between 2003 and 2004. They were paying me N35,000. But suddenly, they brought their relative to learn from me and they sacked me after he had learnt how I prepare meals.
“Then, I left and got a job as a chef for Senator Magnus Abe. After a while, I left his place and worked for some Lebanese families. I worked in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja.
“But each time I visited my country, my people would start telling me how others who came to Nigeria newly had built houses and acquired properties but I do not have anything. It was as if I was not doing enough and it was being used to mock me back home.
“I started wondering how the others were getting their money until I was introduced into the deal in 2002. But I stopped for a long time because I did not get anything the first time.
“I joined because my countrymen who were also chefs to big men were the ones who made me realise that they were getting the money by breaking into rich people’s homes.
“Rich Nigerians like to show off and they keep expensive jewellery and other valuables loosely in their homes. So, what we do is send our people to such rich neighbourhoods where they usually need helps, and our agents will find out where items of interest are kept, communicate and then we would plan the day to break in.
“We go with our scales used to weigh gold and also a diamond tester. Once we gather the jewellery, we take them to Cotonou where an Alhaji pays for them and we share the proceeds.
“Honestly, I never went for any burglary after 2002 until last year when I met Joseph Kobeto Taiwo. It was through him I joined in the Ikoyi operation in January. The jewellery we got was taken to Alhaji and he gave us CFA 10 million.
“From my share of CFA 2.5 million, I bought a motorcycle and a plot of land. Unfortunately, the land I bought had earlier been sold to other people and so, it was problematic.
“We were arrested in Magodo on our way to breaking into another home. One of our colleagues, who is in Ikoyi Prison, called us about a job there. He said the domestic help he planted there provided information on valuable items and that we should go and steal them so that we would use his share to perfect his bail.
“He gave us the number of the help, a man who was giving us direction on how to get to the house. The plan was to steal those things and then go to Abuja for another burglary before we would return to our country with all the items, but the police arrested us before we could do them.
“It was after our arrest that I knew Alice had been arrested and was also in prison custody.”
Taiwo, who also claimed to have worked as a chef for the late Chief Alex Ekwueme and the late Chief T.O. Benson, said he started stealing in 2015 after his Lebanese employer failed to pay his wages for three months.
“He owed me three months salary and he refused to pay, so, I saw his Rolex watch and took it. That was in 2015. I sold it in Cotonou for an equivalent of N2 million.
“Since then, I have been doing it. We get our people who are willing to come to Nigeria and work as cooks or house helps and we make them take oaths to provide information about their employers.
“We put them under pressure in their assigned homes so that they deliver on the assignment. After robbing the house, they leave with us and never return to the area. They are then sent to different locations for the same purpose.
“I also got CFA 2.5 million in the Ikoyi operation in January. We did not know the jewellery was worth over N200 million. It is either the Alhaji cheated us or the woman might have lost most of it in other ways.
“It was only CFA10 million we got from them, and I used my share of the money to do foundation.
“Alice got CFA 2 million from the deal. It was the police that told us she had been arrested and was in prison. I did not know that before now.”