Doctor’ Ishola Oyenusi is a name etched in the history of Nigeria as one of the most violent armed robbers, a criminal who unleashed boundless terror on many Nigerians. But who was he and what did he do that his name was associated with so much notoriety?
The Nigerian Civil War had just ended in 1970 but by the early 1970s, a stone-hearted armed robber, Ishola Oyenusi (he called himself Dr. Oyenusi even if he never finished the secondary school), was terrorising all of Lagos, Nigeria’s largest commercial centre. Before one tale of his daring exploits died down, another one had sprung up. Oyenusi was no ordinary pilferer, this snitcher was downright wicked and had all the self-confidence in the world to go with it. And you know something? He was quite romantic and chivalrous. There was a story of how he snatched his first car on Herbert Macaulay Road in Yaba, Lagos. Why? His girlfriend was broke. He eventually sold the car for N400 but the sad part was that in the process of stealing the car, the poor owner was shot dead. He actually snatched the first car he saw on the road. Such was the ferocious nature of his audacity.
Oyenusi’s arrogance was also legendary. In 1970, he was arrested and handcuffed by a police officer. As the policeman was ordering him around, Oyenusi blasted him and thundered:
‘People like you don’t talk to me like that when I am armed. I gun them down.‘
Hmmm, but that was not all. Oyenusi was so feared that when the famed movie director, Chief Eddie Ugbomah made a film titled The Rise and Fall of Dr. Oyenusi in 1977, there was no one bold enough to come forward to act the role of the armed robber because they feared his members would show them shege. Ugbomah had no other option but to act the role himself with the feature film depicting the senseless violence of armed robberies and the absolutely atrocious manner by which lives of innocent Nigerians were snuffed out. But there was one interesting thing that happened: a medical doctor by the name of Dr. Oyenusi was so mad at the film producer that he headed for the court trying to stop the shooting of the movie.
Actually, Ugbomah was threatened. He received a letter from thieves who invaded and looted his provision store, carting away all they could. In the letter, they promised to return his goods if he would only stop shooting the film in which he exposed the support received by the armed robbers from their ‘godfathers’ and even high-ranking officers in the Nigerian Armed Forces. The stubborn Ugbomah called their bluff and went ahead with the 16mm-flick (kindly send us a clip of this film if you have one). Ugbomah would later produce many other films such as Death of a Black President (1983), Esan (Nemesis), The Mask and Vengeance of the Cult in 1985.
In the 1970s, Oyenusi was no doubt the uncrowned emperor of Nigerian robbers and he is described as the ‘first celebrated armed robber in Nigeria’. He is regarded by some as the pioneer of conventional armed robbery in Nigeria. When Oyenusi reigned at the height of his regal confidence, he declared:
‘The bullet has no power.‘
As at that time, armed robbers were condemned to death and thousands joyfully came out to ‘enjoy’ the grisly public executions before the firing squad on the pristine beaches of Lagos. Although Nigeria no longer has very ‘famous’ bandits and thieves like Anini (at teh age of 26, Lawrence Nomayagbon Anini was the most notorious robber in Nigeria), Babatunde Folorunsho, Monday Osunbor, Shina Rambo, Buraimoh Jimoh, Oyenusi, ‘Mighty Joe’, ‘Captain Blood’ and George Iyamu (a former Deputy Superintendent of Police who was Anini’s collaborator), armed robbery is nonetheless a major problem in the nation.
In March 1971, Oyenusi was nabbed by the Nigerian Police after he organized a robbery in which $28,000 (value as at that time) was stolen. They killed a police constable in the process. Although the first public execution of robbers had taken place in April 1971, that of Oyenusi and his criminal allies was a special case and the Lagos government took time to prepare the grounds at the Bar Beach.
By 8.am, officials were already at the execution arena to check the whole place just to ensure that everything went on ‘well’. A combined team of police officers and soldiers struggled to contain the surging crowd of thousands of excited spectators. At about 9.15 am, a team of Lagos City Council workers came to the execution arena with empty mock coffins which they calmly laid behind the execution stand. Obviously, they were there to make fun of a man who had sent so much terror into their hearts. About half an hour later, eight robbers were led to the execution stand…