Read the story of Nigeria’s most notorious armed robber in the 80s who was dreaded by the police as he killed and robbed massively at will thereby becoming a national threat.
Lawrence Nomanyagbon Anini on his hospital bed after arrest
Lawrence Nomanyagbon Anini, was one of Nigeria’s most notorious armed robbers who held sway in the old Bendel State (Now Edo and Delta States).
His reign in the 80s was so bloody that he was even discussed at the State Security Council meeting. Anini was born in 1960, and was executed on March 29, 1987, following his conviction by a Benin High Court for armed robbery.
Anini was born in a village about 20 miles from Benin City in present day Edo State. Anini, dreadfully called ‘The Law’ or ‘Ovbigbo,’ migrated to Benin at an early age, learned to drive and became a skilled taxi driver.
He became known in Benin motor parks as a man who could control the varied competing interests among motor park touts and operators. He later delved into the criminal business in the city and soon became a driver and transporter for gangs, criminal godfathers and thieves.
Later on, he decided to create his own gang which include, Monday Osunbor, Ofege, and others, and they started out as car hijackers, bus robbers and bank thieves. Gradually, he extended his criminal acts to other towns and cities far north and east of Benin.
The complicity of the police is believed to have triggered Anini’s reign of terror in 1986. In early 1986, two members of his gang were tried and prosecuted against an earlier under-the-table ‘agreement’ with the police to destroy evidence against the gang members.
The incident, and Anini’s view of police betrayal, is believed to have spurred retaliatory actions by Anini. In August, 1986, a fatal bank robbery linked to Anini was reported in which a police officer and others were killed. That same month, two officers on duty were shot at a barricade while trying to stop Anini’s car. During a span of three months, he was known to have killed nine police officers.
In an operation in August of 1986, the Anini team struck at First Bank, Sabongida-Ora, where they carted away N2, 000. But although the amount stolen was seen as chicken feed, they left the scene with a trail of blood. Many persons were killed.
On September 6, same year, the Anini gang snatched a Peugeot 504 car from Albert Otoe, the driver of an Assistant Inspector General of Police, Christopher Omeben. In snatching the car, they killed the driver and went to hide his corpse somewhere.
It was not until three months later that the skeleton of the driver was spotted 16 kilometers away from Benin, along the Benin-Agbor highway. A day after this attack, Anini, operating in a Passat car believed to have been stolen, also effected the snatching of another Peugeot 504 car near the former FEDECO office, in Benin.
Two days after, the Anini men killed two policemen in Orhiowon Local Government Area of the state. Still in that month, three different robbery attacks, all pointing to Anini’s involvement, took place.
A day after the operation, Anini, The Law, turned to a ‘Father Christmas’ as he strew wads of naira notes on the ground for free pick by market men and women at a village near Benin.
Anini thus spear-headed a four-month reign of terror between August and December 1986. Anini also reportedly wrote numerous letters to media houses using political tones of Robin Hood-like words, to describe his criminal acts.
My friend, where is Anini?
Worried by the seeming elusiveness of Anini and his gang members, the then military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, ordered a massive manhunt for the kingpin and his fellow robbers. The police thus went after them, combing every part of Bendel State where they were reportedly operating and living. The whole nation was gripped with fear of the robbers and their daredevil exploits.
However, police manhunt failed to stop their activities; the more they were hunted, the more intensified their activities became. Some of the locals in the area even began to tell stories of their invincibility and for a while, it felt like they were never going to be caught. However, at the conclusion of a meeting of the Armed Forces Ruling Council in October 1986, General Babangida turned to the Inspector-General of Police, Etim Inyang, and asked, ‘My friend, where is Anini?’
At about this time, Nigerian newspapers and journals were also publishing various reports and editorials on the ‘Anini Challenge’, the ‘Anini Saga’, the ‘Anini Factor’, ‘Lawrence Anini – the Man, the Myth’, ‘Anini, Jack the Ripper’, and ‘Lawrence Anini: A Robin Hood in Bendel’. The Guardian asked, emphatically, in one of its reports: ‘Will they ever find Anini, “The Law”?’.
Finally, it took the courage of Superintendent of Police, Kayode Uanreroro, to bring the Anini reign of terror to an end. On December 3, 1986, Uanreroro caught Anini at No 26, Oyemwosa Street, opposite Iguodala Primary School, Benin City, in company with six women.
Acting on a tip-off from the locals, the policeman went straight to the house where Anini was hiding and apprehended him with very little resistance. Uanreroro led a crack 10-man team to the house, knocked on the door of the room, and Anini himself, clad in underpants, opened the door. “Where is Anini,” the police officer quickly enquired.
Dazed as he was caught off guard and having no escape route, Anini all the same tried to be smart. “Oh, Anini is under the bed in the inner room”. As he said it, he made some moves to walk past Uanreroro and his team.
In the process, he shoved and head-butted the police officer but it was an exercise in futility. Uanreroro promptly reached for his gun, stepped hard on Anini’s right toes and shot at his left ankle. Anini surged forward but the policemen took hold of him and put him in a sitting position.
They then pumped more bullets into his shot leg and almost severed the ankle from his entire leg. Already, anguished by the excruciating pains, the policemen asked him, “Are you Anini?” And he replied, “My brother, I won’t deceive you; I won’t tell you lie, I’m Anini.”
While in the police net, Anini who had poor command of English and could only communicate in pidgin, made a whole lot of revelations.
He disclosed, for instance that Osunbor, who had been arrested earlier, was his deputy, saying that Osunbor actually shot and wounded the former police boss of the state, Akagbosu.
Anini was shot in the leg, transferred to a military hospital, and had one of his legs amputated. When Anini’s hideout was searched, police recovered assorted charms, including the one he usually wore around his waist during “operations”.
It was instructive that after Anini was captured and dispossessed of his charms, the man who terrorised a whole state and who was supposed to be fearless suddenly became remorseful, making confessions. This was against public expectation of a daredevil hoodlum who would remain defiant to the very end.
Shortly after the arrest of Anini and co, the dare-devil robbers began to squeal, revealing the roles played by key police officers and men, in the aiding and abetting of criminals in Bendel State and the entire country.
Anini particularly revealed that George Iyamu, who was the most senior police officer shielding the robbers, would reveal police secrets to them and then, give them logistic supports such as arms, to carry out robbery operations.
Trial and execution
Due to amputation of his leg, Anini was confined to a wheelchair throughout his trial. He was sentenced to death by Justice James Omo-Agege and executed on March 29, 1987.