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Bitter tales of ‘one-chance’ victims  along Akure-Owo road

By Maria Famakinwa

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Despite the risk associated with boarding commercial vehicles along the road,popularly called Soole, many passengers traveling to Owo and other places from Akure still engage in the practice. The illegal motor parks along Akure/Owo road are always busy with activities, while only a few vehicles can be seen at the designated motor park at Benin Garage. A cross-section of passengers who were seen at one of the illegal motor parks said they prefer them because they are usually faster and cheaper.

As good as their reasons for patronizing roadside motor parks may sound, some of these passengers often fall victim to “one-chance,” the name Nigerians use for thieves using both public and private vehicles. It is an organised crime, perpetrated by frauds-tiers using a strategy of hailing passengers into their waiting vehicles. They capitalize on the cheap transport fares, especially during rush hours. Once passengers are in their vehicles, the one-chance gang members force victims to comply, using coercion and violence. They take the victims’ possessions and may hurt them physically and traumatize them emotionally. Passengers are sometimes thrown off a moving vehicle. There have even been cases of victims being killed.

One of the lucky victims of “One Chance” is Mr Ojo, who boarded a vehicle along Akure/Owo road going to Ifo but was robbed of his belongings including cash, and thrown out of the moving vehicle. He said: “I boarded a vehicle along Akure/Owo road in February this year because it was faster than going to the park. After 15 minutes of boarding the vehicle, a passenger in the vehicle asked me to surrender everything with me if I love myself. It was then I knew that I boarded the wrong vehicle because the three other passengers including the driver were partners in crime. I was shivering as they searched my bag. They collected my phone, cash, and bag and threw me out of the moving vehicle. I thank God that I am still alive to narrate my experience. Since then, I have vowed never to board any vehicle outside the designated motor parks again.”

Another victim, Mrs Omolola Olawuwo, explained that anytime she heard stories from victims of “one chance,”she always conclude that they were too gullible or not conscious enough until she became a victim. She said: “I wanted to travel to Lagos from Ore last year November and went to the park and was told to pay N4,500 which I considered too high since I could get it cheaper if I trek 15 minutes distance from the park. I took to the idea and moved forward. Not quite long, I saw a car and the driver was pointing a finger, I stopped the car and he agreed to carry me for N3000 which was better than the price at the park. Immediately I entered, the driver asked everyone to pay that he wanted to buy fuel which I did. As soon as he finished buying the fuel after about 35 minutes into the journey, I heard the driver asking the lady in the front seat to tell her what was inside the bag she kept in the boot and the lady started arguing with the driver. Immediately I knew that I was in the wrong vehicle. They noticed I was not comfortable and the man who sat beside me at the back asked why I was shaking and advised me to cooperate if I like myself.

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“Before I knew what was happening, another lady at the back whom I thought was not part of them collected my bag and mobile phone and told me to bring out all the money with me and calm down. I told them I had N6000 left with me aside from the N4000 in my bank account. She hissed and described me as a bad market. I agreed to transfer the N4000 in my account to them but they refused. They started communicating in another language which I could not link to any tribe because I had lost my composure praying not to be killed.

“My fear was heightened when I observed that the driver who had been running at high speed reduced the speed, I thought they wanted to take another route to harm me but was surprised when they opened the vehicle door and threw me out. All these happened within 30 minutes. I struggled to stand up and started begging for help. Thank God for sending a good Samaritan to me. It was a farmer going to farm, I explained my predicament to him and he saw bruises on my body. He was the one who told me that I was around Ajebamidele. He gave N1000 to travel back to Ore. I thank God for sparing my life because many innocent passengers have been killed through the same process, ” she said.

The woman who urged commuters to always prioritize their safety by patronizing designated motor parks where commercial vehicles are registered to operate also appeals to the Federal and State governments to constantly inform the general public of the dangers of patronizing roadside motor parks. She also urged them to install closed circuit cameras in crime hot spots with regular security patrols to reduce the opportunity for one-chance criminality.

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Another victim of one chance, a student of Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Osun State, who simply gave his name as Olutoba, explained that he boarded the vehicle along a Roadblock  in Akure two years ago because he was in a haste and could not wait for the commercial vehicle who just started loading with one passenger in it. He said: “However, I learned that it was better to be late than never to be the fate. There were four passengers at the back and one at the front together with the driver. As we were going, suddenly, the driver diverted to the bush path claiming that he wanted to avoid officers of Road Safety. The excuse was not tenable as far as I am concerned but I decided to play along. As soon as the driver was trying to navigate the bad road, I opened the vehicle, I jumped out and started running.

“One of them started running after me asking me to wait. I increased my speed and started shouting for help. I ran like I never did in my life until I got to a place where some farmers were working on their farms. By the time I looked back, I did not see the man pursuing me again. I narrated what happened to the farmers and they congratulated me and told me that some innocent passengers had been kidnapped on the same road. Though I left my bag and some documents inside the vehicle, my phone and some naira notes were in my pocket. It was a lesson learned bitterly but I thank God for being alive,” he said.

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The Hope spoke with the Deputy Branch Manager, Ifelodun, Benin Garage, Chief Amodu Balogun, who also affirmed that passengers who do not patronize designated motor parks put themselves at avoidable risks. He revealed that some passengers who refused to board vehicles at the parks but boarded along the road most times returned to the park begging for assistance after they might have been dealt with by “one chance” drivers.

On what they are doing to address the problem, Balogun said: “There is nothing we can do about it because we have been warning passengers to always come to the park to board vehicles but most of them will not listen. Their reasons for patronizing roadside vehicles are that it is faster and cheaper compared to those at designated parks. Anyone who boards a vehicle outside our parks is none of our business. We have put safety measures in our parks to the extent that if any passenger forgets his/her luggage, such can get it back just like the ones here (pointing to some luggage forgotten by passengers) which will not be found if such passenger forgets such in the vehicle boarded beside the road because there is no park to trace such.”

On the efforts put in place to stop vehicles outside the park from carrying passengers, Mr Balogun said: “We have our men on ground monitoring them which often leads to quarrels between us because any of them caught will be arrested. However,  the point remains that passengers should come to the park to board vehicles because some people with evil plans now disguise themselves as real drivers, pick up passengers along the road after giving them cheap prices, and drive them to unknown places. Many innocent souls have been wasted in this way. Passengers need to be sensitive to what is happening across the country and prioritize their safety,” he warned.

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