The name ‘Oluwole’ still connotes negativity even as successive governments of Lagos State have done a lot within their power to stem the tide of the then Oluwole foggery market.
Located at the heart of Lagos Island, Oluwole was originally a hub of business activity in the Lagos metropolis, dealing in all kinds of merchandise of legal identity, until at such a time when it was discovered that there is more to it than meets the eye in the market. Oluwole was not just a hub of business activity, but a centre of notorious foggeries of whatever kind, ranging from academic certificates, international passports, identity cards, signatures (no matter how complicated) and any other thing relating to documents and documentations. This is not forgetting the buy and sale of fake currency notes.
The perpetrators were not just touts, but individuals with high intelligent quotient, which unfortunately were tailored toward committing crimes and the non-sublime. These ‘intelligent’ touts are known to have lured their clients into committing nefarious activities. At present, there are many Nigerians who still flaunt fake academic credentials bought from Oluwole market. It is worst that most of thee foggeries are so perfect that they are hardly detected.
The Oluwole illegality persisted for years as successive governments failed to curb the excesses of the forgers who derived pleasure in cloning signatures and various documents. Though there were reported cases of arrests by consecutive administrations, such arrests never stopped the crime. It had become a cankerworm that had eaten deep in the fabrics.
However, sometime in 2007, security agents comprising personnel of the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Nigeria Police Force and the State Security Service immediately went into action by arresting some of the unlucky individuals who could not escape. At the end of the four hour raid, fake NYSC certificates, fake vital government documents, several passports of virtually all the countries of the world were recovered, including visas. Some of them had passport pictures of their clients on them. But the most shocking discovery was that of the newly introduced e-passport by the Nigeria Immigration Service.
The raid, as thorough as it was, did not stamp out the activities of the forgers, as the intensified their activities clandestinely. Consequently, raid after raid drove the evil doers to the Mandillas area of Lagos where they held sway for a while.
Mandillas, before then, was regarded as a commercial centre on Lagos Island populated mainly by traders who sell imported clothes, ties, bags, wrist watches and shoes.
But the arrest of a man, Afeez Abiola, who specialises in using fake N1, 000 notes to buy motorcycles, wholesale recharge cards and other goods changed the concept.
With the development, policemen from Lion Building who arrested the man, said that forgers were now found in every nook and cranny of Lagos Island.
Abiola explained that for genuine N5, 000 notes, one could buy N50, 000 fake in N1, 000 denomination in Mandillas. That was the height of deceit the criminals at Oluwole were endowed with.
“That is how I usually get my own. Once I bought the fake money, I would mix it with the genuine ones to confuse the person I wanted to buy goods from,” he said.
But for the administration of Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), felt the best way to tackle the menace was to bring down the home that housed the perpetrators.
In his policy of creating a megacity, the government came up with the idea of Central Business District, which would later consume the den of notorious forgers on Lagos Island.
The effective transformation of the Lagos Island Central Business District to an acceptable international standard has driven away the forgers from Oluwole community. While most residents were compensated by the government for the demolition of their houses, the traders in the area realigned to fence off impending forgers. Today, an ultra modern market sits on Oluwole community.
The then Special Adviser to the Fashola on Central Business District (CBD), Mr. Oyinlomo Danmole, gave a detailed account of how the government was able to reduce the activities of the touts.
He said prior to the demolition exercise and the consequent Attention of the giant project, his office had dislodged the street urchins, through the establishment of CBD Traffic and Sanitation Corps.
According to him, the government moved against street urchins who had turned the popular Carter Bridge into hideout by decongesting it of the usual commercial and vehicular traffic.
He further said: “Street traders who, hitherto displayed their wares on both sides of the bridge and the adjoining pedestrian bridge were dislodged and forced back to their shops. The commuter bus operators were provided with alternative parking lot and ease of passage while the pedestrians were encouraged to use the pedestrian bridge.”
But it is known and believed that the more government or rather, owner of the house devices means to ward off criminals, the criminals on their parts devices stronger means of perpetrating crimes. Consequently, as the government erected a gigantic edifice on the physical Oluwole, the ‘real’ Oluwole which is the phenomenon, crawled out of the house, and settled somewhere else to continue to perpetrate its nefarious activity. This means that Oluwole is still very much alive, breathing and undeterred. This is just as this correspondent discovered as he undertook a journey in search of what has become of the negatively inclined craft masters.
My first port of call was the corners around the crowded Nnamdi Azikiwe Street, where I looked out for someone who had the slightest make up of a forger. It was not easy to find, but the first person I approached looked me up and down and said: “I resemble them abi you want to arrest someone.” I was not deterred but intensified my search. After a short while, I asked another guy. He was clean but not well dressed.
“Please I want to arrange a certificate, could you tell me where I can meet any of these of boys that do it,” I said to him with the little confidence I could muster.
He did not answer, but feigned ignorance of my presence. I tried again, and he looked at me like, this time with disdain. I waited a few seconds hoping he would say something, but he said nothing. Gradually, I turned around and walked away. I have not covered a short distance, when I heard a light call of ‘oga’, which was followed with a rough tap on my shoulder. Almost certain who it was, I continued without looking back. The tap came again, this time, rougher. I turned spontaneously with a feigned anger on my face, my eye darting into his eyeballs. He said nothing, but waved at me to come with him, while walking away. I didn’t move. He had taken about two steps when he turned again, and said almost harshly, ‘come now, abi you want again. Then I suppressed a smile and followed him.
We said nothing to each other, and he led me in a rush through the streets and inner streets, until we appear on a narrow lane, more of a backyard, intertwined by two buildings. That was when I stopped, and demanded where we were going. In response, he asked me if I thought what I wanted to do is done in the open. I responded that I am aware of the secrecy, but I will go no further if I don’t get explanations. Then he said: ‘E no far again’.
What I did not know at that time was that he was not alone; he made contact with his colleagues after our first meeting, and they stayed alert, keeping a short, but reasonable distance.
While my investigative mind was urging on, my family mind dissuaded me from going. The later was more enticing, and I did not move again, and I told him so. Then from another corner, a young man in black trousers and a scripted T-shirt, stepped out and stood between me and the other guy. He said two words that froze me; ‘don’t move’. As he was speaking, his two hands were in his pocket. Suddenly, the left hand came out, brandishing an ID card. This he flashed across my face. I could only see DSS boldly on it. The ID card gave me hope, and reduced the heavy panting of my heart.
It was like I expected what happened next: they subjected me to a search. It was a good thing I left my recorder behind, and of course did not bring my ID card. They found nothing on me, but my ATM card and a few naira notes.
The other guy threatened that they were agents, and will make sure that I get to their headquarters. I was happy at his declaration, but did not show it. I was ready to welcome anything that would take me out of that place. I was done with reportage of that story. Fear has come over me. Again, I was sure they were not agents, and knew that I was dealing face to face with the syndicate I was searching for. I couldn’t even compare the card he flashed before me because I have not seen a DSS card before, but I realized that these were geniuses who could fabricate anything to near perfection.
It was not long before the first guy asked what exactly I wanted, behaving like his partner has not come. With my eyes darting from one to the other, I said that a particular woman needed a particular a university degree for a purpose known to her. I explained that I am acting as an agent. His next question relaxed me. He asked, ‘which school and do you have a sample of the certificate’. I answered in the negative, and promised to come back. At this, they laughed heartily, and said ‘okay’. I asked how I will find them when I return. The first guy said I should not worry, but just come. He added that they would find me. I asked them what amount we are looking at, and they said, ‘just go and return first’.
Before they let me go, I had to part with N1, 500 as part of what they called ‘Introductory fee’, and I left with a jump run, knowing that they don’t believe. My heart was in my mouth until I mixed up with the crowd again.
Obvious, Oluwole must have been routed by name and location, but they are still very much in existence as a phenomenon, and in every corner of themetropolis.