1914: Seven retreating Frenchmen, with surprising results 1817: James Lane

1971: Ishola Oyenusi, smiling to his death

September 8th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1971, the Nigerian robber Ishola Oyenusi — “smil[ing] to his death,” in the words of the next day’s paper — was publicly shot with his gang at Lagos Bar Beach.

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.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Murder,Nigeria,Pelf,Public Executions,Shot,Theft

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59 thoughts on “1971: Ishola Oyenusi, smiling to his death”

  1. Idris Murutala says:

    I disagree with Araba Gbola.

    I had several jobs to pay my primary and secondary school fees in the 1970’s. Working on building sites, digging graves, general labourer, packing at Chinese firms etc. Life was tough. My family couldn’t afford the fees (75 pence) for my Standard 6 exams. The headmaster paid it for me.

    Robbing others never came to mind. I eventually made it to Europe, where I had multiple jobs to fund my education. Security Guard, waiting and dish washing in restaurants, Car Park attendant, shop cleaning etc; while studying fulltime to fund my A Levels, HND and degree.

    Cut a long story short, I was very successful. Wrong decisions meant I lost almost everything after I was made redundant.

    At the age of 65, I am still working part-time as car park attendant and cashier in a wholesale business AND studying for further qualifications. Just completed a Python course to add to my other skills.

    At the end of the day, the only thing I’ll take with me is my intelligence. Wealth can come and go, but the self-discipline and pride ensures that whatever happens to me I shall leave this life a decent person.

    Alan Sugar is a multi-millionaire. He had limited education, but managed to found Amstrad.

    Some of our parents have it tough as well.

  2. araba gbola says:

    Nigeria government should please help the less privilege because it was the parents inability to cope with children financially that lead this man to the kind of devil’s work, maybe he might not engaged in such action if the parent have enough money to cater for him, nigeria government please provide for nigerian needy, may he rest in peace.

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