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MEMORY LANE

For the love of infamy

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Every generation has its element of historical menace in the number of rogues who earned her lavish of attention through banditry. Some of such personalities. names send fears and chills down the spine of the citizenry. Yet they had their odd fame. Their daredevil would seem folklores to later generation but after the fables their reality show they were humans too. The criminal elements on spotlight here are among the most notorious in the history of Nigeria. They terrorised the country and their infamy spread beyond the country. EMEKA CHIAGHANAM recalls the men who made people shiver with fear when their names were mentioned back in the days. His report:.

LAWRENCE ANINI

IN ONE of the Armed Forces Ruling Council meetings in 1986, President Ibrahim Babangida; worried by the seeming elusiveness of Anini asked the Inspector General of Police, Etim Inyang, “My friend, where is Anini”? General Babangida gave him the mandate to get Anini either dead or alive. Anini’s notoriety had become a national security concern. In the 1980s, no name drew fear in the old Bendel State (present-day Delta and Edo States) and its environs as Lawrence Anini did. In many instances, people took cover when word spread that Anini was approaching their direction. The fear of Anini was palpable that security operatives had to abandon their duty posts on the hint of his approach. 

  Born Lawrence Nomanyagbon Anini, he rechristened himself ‘Anini the Law’, or simply ‘The Law’. Some people referred to him as the ‘Robbers Robber.’ Whichever name or title you identify Anini with, he was a bandit that struck fear in people at the mention of his name. Anini grew larger than life, and people wove myth of invisibility around him. 

  Anini, the celebrity armed robber, operated his gang of terror with the aid of Monday Osunbor, his deputy, who was a dreaded killer without mercy. Inspector George Iyamu was number three in Anini’s gang; he was the senior police officer that made Anini’s career successful. Inspector Iyamu supplied intelligence and arms to Anini’s gang. Other notable members of his gang include Friday Ofege, Henry Ekponwan, Phillip Iwebelue, and Prince Kingsley Eweka.

  In the beginning, ‘Anini the Law’ wasn’t a bandit. He left his village for Benin City in search of a better life at a tender age. While in Benin City, he learnt how to drive and became a skilled taxi driver for gangs and thieves. He mastered intrigues and the dynamics of motor parks in Benin City and became known as a man who could control the varied, competing interests among motor park touts and operators in the city.  He later created his gang by recruiting Monday Osunbor and others.

   Anini and his gang started to snatch cars, robbing buses and banks and extended their criminal acts beyond Benin City. Anini’s reign of terror picked starting from 1985 when he penetrated Bendel State Police, recruiting the services of Inspector George Iyamu and others who supplied guns and pieces of information. Iyamu, the highest-ranking among them most benefited immensely from the gang.

  But a deal gone wrong with the police heightened the gang’s reign of terror. In early 1986, two members of his gang, Kingsley, alias Baba K and Kele were tried and prosecuted against an earlier backdoor bribe induced agreement with the police to destroy evidence against the gang members. Anini felt betrayed and vowed retaliatory measures.

  The first major causality of the gang’s attack was in August of 1986, when they struck First Bank, Sabongida-Ora; they carted away paltry N2,000. Anini left the scene of the robbery with a trail of blood in which a police officer and as many other persons were killed. In a separate incident that month, Anini killed two police officers on duty who tried to stop his car. 

  Anini and the gang struck again on September 6, 1986, when the gang snatched a Peugeot 504 car from Albert Otoe, the driver of an Assistant Inspector General of Police, Christopher Omeben. Otoe was killed in the process. It was three months later that the skeleton of the driver was spotted 16 kilometres away from Benin, along the Benin-Agbor highway.

  Every human has his or her soft side though. This would manifest through the road channel as Anini did in his Robin Hood-style when he threw wads of naira notes on the ground for free pick by market men and women at a village near Benin City after a robbery operation.

  Acting on a tip-off from the locals, Anini once believed to possess magical powers that could make him appear and disappear at will was on December 3, 1986, caught at the house where he was hiding in Benin City in the company of a girlfriend. When the police knocked on the door, Anini opened the door but tried to outsmart the police team when he was shot on the leg. The leg was later amputated. Anini used a wheelchair throughout his trial. He was convicted and  executed on March 29, 1987.

ISHOLA OYENUSI

  It could be hard to call armed robbers romantic and chivalrous. Love can do anything even in cold blood to prove its loyalty. Such was the case of Ishola Oyenusi’s first robbery act. The first car he snatched was a non-expensive car on Herbert Macaulay Road in Yaba, Lagos. He killed the owner in cold murder, sold it and gave the proceeds to his broke girlfriend. 

  Many Nigerians would readily recall Lawrence Anini and Shina Rambo as the most famous armed but Ishola Oyenusi was the first celebrated armed robber in Nigeria. His reign of terror caused more havoc than Lawrence Anini.

  Oyenusi, Nigeria’s king of gangsters confessed he joined the armed robbery business in 1959, operated in Lagos and its environs, but came into limelight after the Nigerian civil war ended in 1970. Oyenusi and his gang of six robbed banks and people in both daylight and night and never let any of his victims live to see another day; he killed them all.

  Dr Oyenusi as he styled himself, wanted to be a medical doctor but didn’t finish his secondary school education because his parents were not capable of furthering his education. He lived up to another of his nickname of ‘Dr. Rob and Kill’, because he was known to kill people like chickens that he would kill even for a stick of cigarette.

  In March 1971, the Nigerian Police arrested Oyenusi and his gang of six after robbing WAHUM factory at Ikeja, Lagos, and killed a police constable in the process.

  After organising and leading so many deadly armed robbery attacks in Lagos and other cities in the South West, Doctor Oyenusi was arrested by the police in his house in Ibadan by a police officer who recognised him.

  On the day of Oyenusi and his gang’s execution, more than 30,000 Nigerians trooped to Bar Beach in Victoria Island ,venue of the execution. Even years after his execution, people still dread his name that in 1977, when the veteran movie director, Eddie Ugbomah, called for actors to play the role of Oyenusi in a movie he was about to produce titled, ‘The Rise and Fall of Dr Oyenusi,’ people were so scared to come forward to act the role of the armed robber.  They feared that the remaining members of Oyenusi’s gang would hunt them down and kill them. Ugbomah was threatened, he received a letter from thieves, and his store looted. Ugbomah called off their bluff with the film, eventually releasing the movie in 1977.

SHINA RAMBO

  Many people thought the Shina Rambo movie was a mere script character. In real life, Shina Rambo’s banditry played huge than what movies depicted about him. In one instance, Rambo and his dangerous gang robbed 40 exotic cars in one day and drove all of them in convoy, from Lagos to Cotonou, with security operatives taking cover at his approach. 

  Rambo, dark-skinned, well-built man that towers 6 ft 5 inch terrorised South-West Nigeria in the 1990s. He carried out his operations in broad daylight, armed with sophisticated weapons and bullet belts and explosives strapped roundabout him. Rambo operated between Nigeria and the Benin Republic, centering his activities between Lagos and Cotonou.

  Born into a polygamous home to a soldier father likened to a robber, he used his military influence to rob innocent citizens, and always brought a huge amount of money home. It did influence young Rambo. Unlike Anini and Oyenusi that were nabbed and executed, most information on Shina Rambo were based on anonymous sources. Different versions abound on how he went into robbery.

  According to Rambo, “I remembered when I was about seven years old, my father came home with a lot of money, foreign currencies, with blood on it, and they were using something like a woman’s scarf to wipe it. Then I asked him, is this an animal’s blood or human blood? But he wouldn’t answer me; they were drinking, smoking, and merry-making.”

  He started robbing houses and switched to robbing expensive vehicles on the highway and financial institutions. For his movie like escapades, many people believed the police couldn’t catch him because he used charms to protect himself during criminal operations.

  The twist to the Shina Rambo banditry started with his disappearance by some people arguing that one of his gang members killed him. Another version said the police killed Shina Rambo during one of the robbery operations. Another angle to that was that the police captured him, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison. No proof supports any of this.

  Then the claim of one RCCG pastor, Mathew Oluwanifemi, who claims he is Shina Rambo and that he has completely changed his life and devoted himself to serving God. Not a few people argued that Pastor Oluwanifemi is Shina Rambo that sent fear down the spines of people.  

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