There is no doubt the fact that the fairly used auto-mobile business popularly known as ‘Tokumbo cars’ is flourishing in the Federal Capital Territory due to the ever-growing number of middle class citizens resident in the capital city.
This is in addition to the growing number of business men, professionals, commercial taxi drivers and the expanding numbers of civil servants who are in dare need of mobility to ease their movement to and fro their offices.
It is also instructive to note that the difficulties associated with traveling to the neighbouring Benin Republic or Kotonu as it is fondly called by car smugglers also gave rise to the number of customers who choose to patronize local car stand or market, within the city, Kudos to the Nigerian Custom Service.
However, there is a troublesome twist to this prosperous business venture as stolen cars has suddenly and steadily crept-in and subsequently infiltrated and inundated the market.
The questions now begging for answers is how these stolen cars successfully made their way into the market? Notwithstanding the vehicle registration formalities by relevant government bodies, which of course is aimed at checkmating the excesses of car theft among other things.
A victim of this new form of organized crime, Mr. Job Rubi narrates his ordeal in the hands of car dealers and law enforcement agents in the Federal Capital Territory.
Rubi who spoke to our correspondent exclusively, explained that the Federal Road Safety Corp and Nigeria Police Force impounded a Toyota Camry he purchased from Zalfa Motors in Nyanya, and handed it over to another man in Calaba, thereby stripping him off his means of livelihood.
According to him, “My name is Job Arubi, a taxi driver in Abuja. On the third day of November 2014, I went to Zalfa Motors in Nyanya, by AP filling station through an auto-dealer agent, Mr. Umaru Idris, and bought a fairly used Toyota Camry, 1998 model with the following chasses number (JT2BG22K9V0095267) from one Mr. Dnjuma who claimed that the vehicle was imported from Kotonu by Apex Motors, in Abacha Road Mraraba in Nasarawa state.
“With the transaction over, I proceeded to the headquarter of the Directorate of Road Transport Services (DRTS) popularly known as Vehicle Inspection Officers’ (VIO) in Mabushi where I did the necessary registration as well as obtain a commercial plate number. I completed the registration in a record time through the help of one VIO officer (name withheld), and obtain the following plate number (ABJ 606 KU) for the vehicle. I started work with the car, immediately after the registration because that is the only means through which I feed my family and take care of my other needs.
“However, eight months after the purchase and registration of the vehicle, I got a call from a desk officer, of the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) Mr Akwashi in Mabushi inviting me to come and sort out a problem with my chasses number. And when I got to the office, I was told that my vehicle was a stolen vehicle. Therefore I should park the vehicle in their office and come back the following day. When I returned to the office the following day, I was told that my car had been impounded and handed over to the police criminal investigation department.
“I followed them to the police station where I was told that the vehicle will be in police custody till the completion of police investigation. The police started work immediately by arresting and detaining the auto dealer agent, Mr. Umaru Idris, the car merchant Mr. Danjuma.
“Meanwhile these two arrests led to the arrest of two other collaborators in Jukoyi who admitted that they sold the stolen car to the car merchant in Zalfa Motors, Nyanya but however said that the person who usually supply them vehicle to sale is based in Port Harcourt. Nonetheless all effort to get through to him proved abortive as all his known mobile number was switched off. Fortunately, another SUV were recovered from the two suspects in Jukoyi by the OC Anti Car Theft Mr. Ajide and his team and subsequently impounded.
“The police have also contacted the said original owner of my car from Calaba and had since released the vehicle to him. They have also released the auto-dealer agent and the car merchant without refunding me my money. When I inquired from the police why they released the principal suspect in the case, they simply asked me not to teach them their job.
“Meanwhile I was reliably informed by a friend in the station that the team of police investigators in charge of the case had collected bribe from the two suspects and released them. The auto merchant is now at large as he had deserted the car stand where I bought the car. To make matter worst, the management of Zalfa motors has also refused to reveal his way about.”
To this end, investigation by our correspondent on the circumstances surrounding the aforesaid story reveals that Apex Motors, Abacha Road Mararaba in Nassrawa state which was purported to be the importer of the stolen car does not even exist.
This is therefore an indication that the owners of Zalfa Motors Nyanya and many other car dealers in Abuja may be collaborating with criminals across the country in dubious effort to reap off unsuspecting customers who may fall victim of their treacherous business dealings.
Efforts to speak to management of Zalfa Motors meet a brick wall as the Chairman who was supposed to speak to the press on the foregoing issue was said to be perpetually unavailable in the office.
Our correspondent who visited the business premises more than four times was told that the chairman was not on seat, even when they claimed that he was the only person that can answer questions from newsmen in the absence of the principal suspect who is already at large.
The more worrisome scenario therefore is the fact that the law enforcement agencies that are charged with the responsibilities of regulating the aforesaid activities also seem to be collaborating with these dishonest business men to reap off innocent Nigerians who are honestly struggling under rain and sun to make ends meet.
Findings by our correspondent also revealed that there is lack of synergy between VIO and FRSC in the Federal Capital Territory, a circumstance that seem to provide a fertile ground for car theft to thrive in the territory.
This is evident in the conflicting positions of the two agencies regarding the issue under discourse.
Explaining the position the FCT DRTS, the Image Maker of the agency Mr. K. K. Iloduba, who initially declined to comment on the ground that he is selective of the caliber of media men he grant audience, reluctantly explained that though he knew little or nothing about the case, it is not possible for a registered vehicle to be reregistered in another location in the country without being dictated.
He boastfully claimed that the case is a hoax, deserving no attention or wasting of precious energy responding to questions bothering on that.
He however dismissed the claim that the said stolen vehicle was registered in VIO office in Abuja, arguing that the agency cannot commit such blunder.
Meanwhile, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) affirmed that the vehicle was registered by VIO in Abuja while also explaining that re-registration of vehicle is very possible since the vehicle registration data base of FCT is not linked to 36 states.
The officer who did not want his name in print further explained that if someone registers his vehicle in Enugu and it was stolen thereafter and sold to someone in Kogi or Nasarawa state, it cannot be re-registered in those states since the database is linked to each other but if it is brought to Abuja, it can be re-registered because FCT database is separate from that of 36 states.
He further explained that if the chasses number is used in the process of registration, then it can be dictated. This is because every vehicle has only one unique number. And unless the chasses number is altered, if enter it on the system, the data of the owner will display on the screen.
He added that the vehicle registration done in states in known as ‘Autoreg’, while those ones done in FCT are called ‘Evreg’.
He also explained that VIO do not have a unified database, saying that their registration data is state by state based.
He equally noted that the only way to secure a vehicle from unscrupulous elements that are in the business of snatching cars from their owners is to make sure what he called ‘prove of ownership’ in the process of car registration is obtained.
He added that it is only prove of ownership or item number that can tie the ownership of your vehicle to you, hence the imperative of insisting that you obtain it before leaving the registration point.
It is however unfortunate to observe that a reputable organization like Directorate of Road Transport Services (DRTS) uses an officer who lacks the requisite knowledge of Public Relations and the internal workings of the organization to serve as their spokesperson and image maker. An English adage said that “No one can give what he does not have”
Therefore the top hierarchy of the agency should embark on quick reform and redeployment of officers with the view to putting square pegs in square holes when appointing new officers to head any department especially the one that deals with their public image.
In conclusion, the Inspector General of police should also investigate the allegation of collection of bribe by the officer in charge of the aforesaid case with the view to bringing Zalfa Motors to justice for collaborating with thieves to sell stolen vehicle to innocent buyers.
Effort should also be made to impound the entire vehicle on their stand with the view to ensuring that the business of stolen vehicle will not continue thrive in the territory. A stitch in time they said saves nine.