Dubbed “the most dangerous criminal of this decade” even though the Seventies were barely underway, “Doctor” Oyenusi — as he liked to style himself — sprang out of the wreckage of the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War, a charismatic, cocksure gangster whose lordly disdain for the law cast the terrifying portent of social breakdown.
Beyond Oyenusi loomed a systematic collapse of order that long outlived him. In years to come, other celebrity crime lords would follow; eventually, armed robbery proliferated into a frightfully ubiquitous feature of life in Lagos. Maybe the Doctor smiled at the stake because he foresaw his legacy.
Disturbingly unable to combat the plague systematically, authorities would resort to occasional high-profile executions instead, provided, of course, that the culprit’s misappropriations were of the retail street-crime variety, rather than the fruits of wholesale corruption.
Oyenusi was never in the same universe with such exalted impunity as enjoyed by the masters of the state. He got into the robbery business back in 1959, boosting a car (and murdering its owner into the bargain) to make it rain for his broke girlfriend. While he eventually expanded his operations into a brutal syndicate, he was still just a hoodlum; the infamy that packed the Bar Beach with 30,000 fellow humans who booed and jeered Oyenusi to the stake was merely enough to make him worth the quashing. (He was condemned to death specifically for a raid on the WAHUM factory in March 1971 that also claimed the life of a police constable.)
Six members of Oyenusi’s crime ring went with him to the stake on the same occasion. An eighth man was also shot in the batch for an unrelated armed carjacking.
There is a 1977 film by Nigerian director Eddie Ugbomah based on this flamboyant gangster’s life, The Rise and Fall of Dr. Oyenusi.