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New pattern of car theft sweeps across Lagos

Many residents in Lagos State have raised concern over the growing number of components of luxury cars that are being stolen across the state.

It is becoming a reality that cars, especially the more expensive ones, are being stolen piecemeal nowadays.

Car thieves no longer find it fanciful stealing a whole car but instead, the most costly and important components that are undoubtedly high on demand are the main focus in recent times.

In the last few months, several cases have been reported in different parts of the state, raising fear in the mind of Lagosians, especially car users.

Usually, those at high risk are residents who park their cars on the streets as a result of space constraints in the compounds where they live. But, these days, it has been discovered that cars parked in supposedly secured places are still being cannibalized.

The criminals have devised a new strategy, instead of going for the entire car, which may be implicating and cumbersome, they now target the costly parts of SUVs, those of Toyota Corolla, the brain box and other parts that are in high demand. There used to be a time when the thieves targeted on car tyres. After they removed the tyres, they would support the vehicle with heavy stone to wedge the car.

Observers blamed the situation on the prevailing state of the economy and the high unemployment rate, especially among the youth in Nigeria.

But some have also said that those behind such crime are sophisticated criminals with perhaps, links within the area where the theft occurred.

However, some concerned Lagosians have lamented the government failure to fight crime, noting that the rising cost-of-living crisis was to blame for upsurge in crime rate in society.

“What do you expect; there is hunger in the land; that can be part of the problem; it is only God that is keeping us with the porous security system we have.

“I don’t know why the government has not adopted technology to fight crime in this part of the world,” Umoru John, public affairs analyst, said.

A particular incident in an estate in Surulere in Lagos, a top media executive had some important components of his SUV car dismantled and stolen.

According to him, the pattern of theft suggested that there was a connivance between those in charge of the security of the estate and the thieves.

He explained that the criminals successfully carried out their nefarious act despite the presence of “tight security” at the estate.

The criminals were said to have arrived at about 12 midnight, and the gate was wide open, which was unusual. The security men were nowhere to be found. The thieves knocked at the door of their target victim, and as soon as someone came out to ascertain who was knocking, they held him, tied him and went on to dismantle the components of an SUV parked in front of the house and another vehicle.

In another similar case elsewhere, it was reported that the robbers, armed with a rifle, acted like they were in the estate to make a visit and forced the gate open, assaulted the security guard, quickly disabled the security systems of few cars being targeted, and made away with the valuable cars’ parts.

Mustapha Gbadebo, who is a victim of this recent pattern of auto theft, said that he got back home around 10pm, parked his Toyota Camry (spider) right in front of his building as usual, came out around 4am to get his phone charger in the car with the car intact, but was surprised when he came out at 6am and discovered that vital components were missing and the bonnet was open.

“Everything was fine, I got my phone charger, locked up my car, and checked it over again; it was so shocking when I woke up and was ready to go to work, I got to the car some few minutes before 6am only to find out that the car bonnet was open.

“Oh! The brain box was gone, I felt so devastated, confused and helpless,” Gbadebo said.

Some of those who spoke to BusinessDay, narrated their sad experiences, emphasizing that those involved in such thefts were auto experts, going by the ease with which they dismantle whatever they want to remove from the vehicles.

Christopher Ndulewe, a Lagos resident, said that his car mirrors were removed at a supermarket in a shocking way.

“I had gone into the parking lot of a big supermarket somewhere on the island, parked my car and securely locked it as I thought. By the time I came out, the two side mirrors had gone; I was perplexed. This was a big supermarket where you have security people around, yet, they were not aware when such a thing was done.

“I raised the alarm which attracted many people. They said they had CCTV and I insisted I needed to know what really happened. I was shocked when they led me to the camera and I saw what happened. The expertise deployed in stealing the mirrors was marveling. The hungry-looking urchin was as if he had a magnet in his hand, within a matter of seconds the mirrors were off.

“By this time, he had made away with the mirrors, but I held the security men and insisted they should bear the responsibility of replacing the mirrors. I put it to them that there may be an element of complicity and wondered why nobody was manning the cameras. The cameras were mounted for the sake of it. But to cut a long story short, the thief was caught a week after when he came again to carry out his evil enterprise. What happened thereafter, is now history,” Ndulewe said.

With the current trend, security experts have advised residents and car users to take extra precaution by installing security cameras, alarms, and motion sensor lights to deter potential intruders.

They also called for more collaboration with estate management to enhance security measures and ensure proper surveillance.

Some auto experts told our correspondents that auto theft has become so sophisticated that the improvement of technology has enabled the thieves to carry out their evil trade with ease.

On why it has become more fashionable for thieves to go for the components and not a whole car nowadays, Lawal Ogunyemi, a security analyst, said: “Modern vehicles are equipped with advanced security features such as immobilisers, keyless entry systems, and GPS tracking, making it more difficult for thieves to steal entire cars.

“One reason as to why this pattern is beneficial to these car thieves is that there is a constant demand for replacement parts in the automotive repair and aftermarket industries.

“Stolen components can be sold to unscrupulous repair shops or individuals looking for cheaper alternatives to buying new parts.”

The use of immobilizer has been strongly advised. Immobilizer is an electronic security device fitted to a motor vehicle that prevents the engine from being started unless the correct key 9transponder or smart key) is present. This prevents the vehicle from being “hotwired” after entry has been achieved and thus reduces motor vehicle theft.

This new style is not synonymous with Lagos or Nigeria. A recent report had it that the Police from all around the United Kingdom (UK) had been busy dealing with the vehicle crimewave, where thieves stripping cars and stealing their valuable component parts whilst they are parked on the owners’ driveway, usually while they are asleep.

“Many such victims seen by police are reportedly traumatised when they go to their vehicles the following morning to find just the bare shell of what was their family car just a few hours earlier.

“The thieves whilst described as both locusts and scavengers clearly know what parts they are after and appear to be more than capable of dismantling and removing parts from most vehicles in a matter of minutes as suggested by those who have subsequently reviewed their CCTV footage,” a report said.

Items that are mostly targeted according to the report are body panels, dashboards, doors and bonnets, wheels and tyres interior trim, seats, steering wheels complete with air bags, electric mirrors with cameras and LED headlights.

“Many will later learn that their cars are so bereft of anything valuable that they have in fact been written off by their insurance companies as beyond economical repair due to the cost of replacing stolen parts with new genuine spare parts.

“Not only that but victims are often denied transport for several days, will have to pay £350 to cover any policy excess, learn that their premiums would double and bizarrely learn that their car would not be reported stolen by the police because they still had it or what was left of it.

“Ironically once the insurance company have taken possession and sold the shell to a new owner via an auction or salvage dealer it would almost certainly be rebuilt using second-hand spares likely ‘from a source that could readily supply them’”, the report added.

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