In the history of crime in Nigeria, Oyenusi was a cold-blooded armed robber who held sway in the early 70’s, stands on a very special threshold that none can ever dream of attaining. He was a terror. He and his gang carried about operations in Lagos City and neighbouring states. In criminal books, Dr Oyenusi was the first celebrity armed robber in Nigeria in those days. He took the nation by storm shortly after the Civil War ended and before he was executed on Wednesday, September 8, 1971, at the famous Bar Beach show in front of 30,000 watching Nigerians, no one believed that ‘The Doctor’ would be captured, as he was famed for ‘disappearing’ or his body not penetrable by bullets.
His full range of crimes included armed robbery, carjacking, and murder. He robbed banks and looted stores. It is safe to say, Ishola Oyenusi was a menace. He unleashed boundless terror on many Nigerians and would even kill for a stick of cigarette. He called himself Dr. Oyenusi to be fancy. He was far from a medical doctor. Information on his background is sketchy. His date of birth is not known. It is however known that he came from a poor background which ultimately led to a life of crime. His parents couldn’t afford his secondary school education, so he had to drop out.
He committed his first major robbery when he snatched a car along Herbert Macaulay Road in Yaba, Lagos, and killing its owner just because his girlfriend was broke and needed money to buy her make-up. He eventually sold the car for 400pounds (Nigeria’s currency then) and handed the money to the lady. He actually snatched the first car he saw on the road. Such was the ferocious nature of his audacity. This is the reason why he is sometimes referred to as the romantic armed robber. He had a mean streak in him also as he was hot headed and very arrogant, even to the law.
His professional criminal career started after the Civil War in 1970. Dr. Oyenusi and his gang of robbers went on a spree, robbing banks and killing people in cold blood. His knack for killing his victims made people call him “Doctor Rob and Kill”. By the end of the Civil War, Oyenusi had metamorphosed into a cold-hearted robber who took delight in causing pains to his victims. 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’. When Oyenusi reigned at the height of his regal confidence, he declared: ‘The bullet has no effect over me’.
Abubakar Tsav, a former Lagos Commissioner of Police who was an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in Lagos during the notorious days of Oyenusi told The Punch in March 2020 that “he (Oyenusi) was an expert robber and was ruthless and very notorious because that was the first time we experienced a case of armed robbery”. Tsav witnessed, first hand, the days of his reign of terror as a police officer. He was only comparable to Lawrence Anini who confined his reign of terror to Bendel State (present day Edo and Delta states).
His last robbery was when he and his gang attacked the WAHUM factory in Ikeja in March 1971, where they stole 28,000 pounds, which was unprecedented in those days. A Police officer was killed in the process. The Nigerian Police Force caught him during the armed robbery operation.
Though he had no medical training, he preferred to be called ‘doctor’. The perception at that time was that he was invincible and possessed some mystical powers that could make him appear anywhere when his name was mentioned, this created fears in the mind of the people and even security operatives who avoided mentioning his name. “Some policemen were afraid of him. Many of them were scared of mentioning his name,” Tsav said. “They thought he could suddenly appear in their midst with the mention of his name.”
Armed with native charms and weapons – Dane guns and the rest, the lives of his victims had no value to him, he wasted them at will in the most gruesome manner after dispossessing them of their valuables.
After evading arrests at different times, the law finally caught up with Oyenusi in 1971 when he was arrested, tried before the Military tribunal and executed by firing squad on September 8, 1971 with his gang members at the Lagos Bar Beach. Justice was swift for the dare devil killer. He was sentenced to death. On the day of Dr. Oyenusi’s execution, which took place at the Lagos Bar Beach by firing squad, it was reported that about 30,000 Nigerians showed up to see his end.
Up to the point of his execution, Oyenusi was so confident it was not the end of the road for him. “When he was arrested, he kept on boasting that he would escape and that was why he was kept under strict security watch,” Tsav said. “He believed he had mystical powers that could make him disappear, and that if we shot him, the bullet would not penetrate.” He missed it, at that point all the charms he depended on failed him, it was clear that whatever grass the charm was made of had withered and the flowers had faded, it was all over for the man who threw many homes into mourning and turned many into sudden widows, orphans and widowers. It was a sad end for Oyenusi, but the beginning of relief for the populace and end to a reign of terror.
At 10 a.m, Oyenusi and his gang were brought in trucks. People booed them as they slowly got down and marched towards their death. Oyenusi was “sweating profusely but managed to smile all the way to the stakes. He kept smiling and smiling and smiling but could still not hide the agony and terror written boldly on his face”. Some witnesses claim that he would have never become a criminal if only his parents had had enough money to send him to school. After journalists interviewed the criminals, the soldiers pointed the gun at them and fired. That was the end of Ishola Oyenusi.
“Oyenusi smiles to his death,” read the lead story on the front page of Daily Times newspaper the morning after his execution. Despite his public execution alongside other members of his gang, the fear of Oyenusi did not clear off easily in the land, it was so prevalent at that time that in 1977, six years after his death, no actor was willing to play his role in a movie by veteran movie director, Eddie Ugbomah, titled “The Rise and Fall of Dr. Oyenusi”. “Everyone feared retribution from the “Dr.s” gang, so the director played the role (of Oyenusi) himself,” Frank Ukadike wrote in his book “Black African Cinema”.
37 years later, Nollywood actor, Odunlade Adekola, made another attempt at retelling Oyenusi’s story. This time without any fear of retribution, ‘Oyenusi’ was released in 2014 to tell the story of the life and atrocities of the dreaded armed robber. The movie was a huge success. Though his life and atrocities have been adapted into movies, Oyenusi lived a far more ruthless life than Nollywood could depict him.
In the history of crime in Nigeria, Ishola Oyenusi’s name aka ‘Dr Rob and Kill’ can never be erased. He was a daredevil armed robber and expert at what he did. If robbery was a course in an institution, Oyenusi would probably graduate with a first class degree and would likely be retained as a lecturer in the faculty to pass on his knowledge to those behind him.