Two former staff of BMPRO Makeup, a cosmetic company owned by Banke Meshida Lawal, were arrested in Lagos and swiftly transferred to the police headquarters in Abuja where they were detained for four nights over their alleged theft of N27 million.
The two suspects, Demilade Williams and Annabelle Warrie, were invited by the police for questioning on a petition written against them by their former boss, who accused them of profiting from her company’s brand and diverting the company’s funds to their personal accounts after they had resigned from the company.
Speaking to our correspondent, the suspects said they were tricked by the police, who said they would be taken home after spending a night at Alagbon Police Station but were instead were flown to Abuja where they were further detained.
According to Ms. Williams and Ms. Warrie, they fell out of goodwill with the BMPRO boss when they expressed their interest to resign from her company and start up their own venture, stating that they had worked in the company as makeup artists for 7 years and 5 years, respectively, without any clash between them and their boss.
Ms. Warrie said the relationship they had with Ms. Lawal was a cordial employee-employer relationship, hence their shock when they were confronted with an allegation of theft which came just weeks after they resigned from the beauty company.
Narrating their ordeal, Ms. Warrie said on September 28, two police officers visited the apartment she shares with Ms. Williams in Surulere, Lagos State and informed her that the police had a petition for their arrest. Ms. Williams was not home, so Ms. Warrie had to go to the police station alone.
“When I got there, I was shown the petition that accused both of us of using the name of the company to get clients and diverting N28 million of the company funds to ourselves. I was shocked,” Ms. Warrie said.
“I wrote a statement as instructed by the police. I thought I would be allowed to go home but no one was around to sign my bail bond. So, I was detained till the next day.”
She said her parents came for her bail the next day, September 29, and that she was asked to return with Ms. Williams the following week so that she could give her statement.
Ms. Williams gave a similar account.
“While leaving the police station that night, they told us that I would have to come to the station on Tuesday, the 2nd of October, to make my own statement on what I know about the petition,” she said.
She explained further that they were not detained on October 2 when they both returned to the station. However, Ms. Williams said three different interview sessions were scheduled between them and the claimant but Ms. Lawal did not honor any of the meetings.
“On the 15th of October, we were there [Onikan Police Station] at the time they asked us to come, about 2 p.m. We got to Onikan around 2:10 p.m. and waited till 5 p.m., we did not see anyone who looked like Banke Meshida Lawal. The same OC legal that was in charge of the case kept telling us she was on her way,” she said.
After hours of futile waiting, Ms. Williams said they were informed that the matter had been transferred to the police headquarters in Abuja on Ms. Lawal’s complaint that Onikan Police Station was not handling the case as expected.
“Instead of going on and on with the police, we asked what was the way forward. We were told that the AIG monitoring unit has an annex in Alagbon Police Station. They said we have to follow them to Alagbon or Abuja but we said we cannot follow them to Abuja today.”
On getting to Alagbon, Ms. Williams explained that they were served with entirely different petitions with different allegations.
“Now the new petition was no longer saying we were using the company’s name to collect clients. The new petition said that we diverted office funds to our personal accounts which have accumulated to N27 million. It was no longer N28 million.
“We wrote another statement, the same thing we have been writing. It was about 7 p.m. when we finished the statement. We had thought we would go home but we were taken behind the counter. They told us they will detain us, because the person who would sign the bail bond had gone home.
“We slept at Alagbon. The next morning, they told us to go home and have our bath and that we would come back to the station for more interviews. They tricked our parents and said they were taking us home and that they would bring us back for the interview. The police got a cab to take us, thinking we were going home.”
She explained that it was not until they got to the third mainland bridge that it dawned on them that they were going to Abuja and not their home as the police had told their parents before they left the station.
“We had no phones with us, no money. There was no way to reach our parents. We were warned to behave ourselves. To our surprise, there were already plane tickets with our names when we got to the airport.
“We had no ID cards to identify ourselves when we got to the airport. When we got to the boarding section, the police man placed his ID card on our tickets and told the airport officials that we were criminals,” Ms. Williams said.
The accused said when they landed in Abuja, they were taken to the force headquarters but were later transferred to Maitama Police Station where they were detained without phones to reach their parents.
Ms. Williams said their parents became suspicious when they arrived to their the house and could not find them. She said their parents went back to Alagbon Police Station but the officers played dumb.
When our correspondent contacted the BMPRO boss, she requested that all enquires on the issue be directed to her public relations person, and then forwarded a number to be reached. The contact confirmed that Ms. Lawal informed her to speak on her behalf.
“She [Lawal] consults and works for some prominent people who have wisdom and advised to keep it low for the police to handle the matter. By the time it reaches a considerable level, her lawyer will make an official statement,” the contact, who did not want her name published, said.
Commenting on the issue that led to the arrest of Ms. Williams and Ms. Warrie, Ms. Lawal’s self-described friend said the matter is a criminal matter. She added that the two ladies have been collecting money from clients “without remitting the money into the company’s account. Some of those people were not even attended to, they were not given the requested services.”
These clients, she said, were angry that they paid for services which were never rendered. She reiterated that Ms. Lawal’s lawyer would release an official statement when it becomes necessary.