Lawrence Anini, also known as ‘The Law’ or “Ovbigbo” was born in 1960, the year Nigeria gained her independence, to the families of Owuo in Orogbo village, Orhionmwon area, about 20 miles from Benin city, the capital of then Bendel(a merger of Delta and Edo states). He lost his father at a young age and attended Oza Primary School. He completed the school and got promoted to Igiedumu Secondary School. He dropped out 3 years after acts of truancy. He was an only son of three children and so he started apprenticeship to become a mechanic.
He still maintained his rebellion under this new tutorship and had to be be laid of after just three months after he stole N7(about 6500 in today’s money) from a colleague.
Next he learnt how to drive and became a lorry driver before the age of 18 as well as a taxi driver. His bad behaviours surfaced again here, as he become a Chief thug in the motor park, controlling and brokering peace deals between warring thugs. This was at the height of political activities in the country and he became a useful asset to nefarious politicians. He started his life of crime as a transporter for drug loads and thieves. Then he escalated to highway robbery.
After this, he finally created his gang of Monday Osunbor, Solomon Osemwemkhai, Johnbull Ahunwan, Moses Idahosa, Philip Iwebelua, Benard Obi, and Friday Ukponwan. They also had strong backings in the police force.
They started operating as regular bank/highway robbers and carjackers. He also colluded with Kingsley Eweka, who he formed a strong bond with. But things took a twist after two of Anini’s gang members were arrested and executed. Anini felt betrayed by his police network and embarked on a retaliatory spree where he vowed to murder at least 50 policemen before his death. He started his spree in August 1986 with a bank robbery where a police officer and some civilians were killed.
They upped the tempo that same month by killing two police officers at a barricade which was meant to stop Anini.
Anini claimed that the motive behind his killings was because police killed his father and brother at Ibadan, and also his friend, Kingsley Eweka. Eweka was a Prince of Benin who was executed for armed robbery mid 1986. As he faced the firing squad, his last words were: “My friend and his boys would avenge me”. That friend turned out to be Anini.
On 14 August, In one of the few operations carried out outside Benin, Anini attacked First Bank in Sabongida Ora and stole 2000(about 1.7M). During the operation, a policeman ran into a house to take cover and Anini and his gang opened fire on the house. They killed the policeman and two children who lived there.
On the 6th of the next month, Anini killed the driver of Assistant Inspector General of Police, Christopher Omeben and took the Peugeot 504 he was driving. They decapitated him and buried the body at a location far away from Benin. His carcass wasn’t found until Anini’s arrest. The driver was not actually their original target, but the AIG.
Their top accomplice in the police force, George Iyamu, wanted Omeben assassinated but the gang the mistook the driver for the superior.
They struck again some days later with the killing of two policemen. The killing of Mrs. Remi Sobanjo, a chartered accountant who was killed at her own office and the notable death of Frank Unoarumi, a former employee of the Nigerian Observer newspapers, were also carried out by them.
After he killed Unoarumi, he was met by a full force of armed policemen and rather than fight, Anini took flight into the nearby market and mingled with the crowd.
Anini carried out an robbery attack on a gas station along Wire Road, Benin, shooting the station attendant. He carted away the day’s proceeds and then flaunted the loot by spraying as he drove away.
Anini continued this theme of spraying loots as he drove away from his operations and many believe this to be a side of generosity on the path of the cold-hearted killer. But less sympathetic accounts dub it a tactic to draw crowds so as to obstruct the trail of police cars chasing him.
Anini stole the Mercedes Benz 200 of the Ovie of Ughelli, Delta state, in commando-style, forcing the ruler to return to his Palace in a taxi.
He began the first day of the next month, October, which was his and Nigeria’s birthday, by attacking the vehicle of Commisoner of Police after he had just killed a police officer earlier. This incident made the infuriated President to ask the then Inspector-General of Police, Etim Inyang, a very popular question, “My friend, where is Anini?”. Who replied, “We are still looking for him, sir.”
That same month, Anini robbed Africa Continental Bank and stole N46000 (almost 25M).
Being a former taxi driver, Anini was so good a driver that a Deputy Commissioner told a reporter from Punch that Anini ‘is too good on the wheel’, thus he was never beaten in a car chase. Another officer claimed that Anini was so deft at driving that he could reach out and pick up a piece of paper from the road while driving at 120 kmh.
Anini showed this skill after one failed operation, when he reportedly had to escape from the police by driving in reverse for a greater part of the distance from Agbor (Delta State) to Benin City (Edo State).
Nigeria’s president at the time, General Ibrahim Babangida called for a state of emergency and a manhunt was launched in Bendel State, where it was believed that Anini and his gang were based.
A lot of people believed that Anini was more a spirit than human and that he had the ability to appear and vanish, but this sentiment was not shared by then Governor of Bendel, Colonel John Mark Inienger, who suspected that Anini’s evasiveness was more down to his cohort with some members in the police force.
He said, ‘ Anini doesn’t live in the winds. He lives amongst us. People in this area [Benin] know his whereabouts so they should be able to provide the information. It looks as if everybody is maintaining sealed lips over his whereabouts.’
He added in a later speech, ‘There may well be some rift between Anini and the police on which only Anini can give the answer, and that is why I am doing everything possible to have the police get Anini alive because I think he has something to tell the public.’
It was later uncovered that the another reason people refused to report on Anini was a fear for their welfare. A lot of people knew about the corrupted channels in alliance with the robber and feared a leak of their identities.
In truth, Anini had been arrested on one occasion but was released by Police Chief Superintendent George lyamu, who not only ran a gang of robbers of his own, but who had actually provided weapons for Anini and suppressed information given by citizens concerning his whereabouts.
Anini once questioned lyamu on why he did not ensure that his friend, Kingsley was spared since he had paid the N50,000 demanded from him for that purpose. lyamu dismissed him with the threat that the next time he caught Anini, he would personally shoot him.
At a point it was reported that a bounty of N30000 (over N28M in today’s money) was placed on his head and the bandit, in recalcitrant fashion, retorted by increasing that amount to N50000 (an equivalent of N47M)
Anini was an heavy smoker, capable of finishing 4 packs of cigarette in an hour.
Anini was reported to have abducted and sexually assaulted two females but the majority of Nigerian newspapers which was male-dominated failed to criticise the act. Rather glorifying the act by using words like “show all night”, insinuating that the girls must feel privileged to have experienced the sexual prowess of their molester.
Anini’s reign so affected lives that police officers posted from Benin City to other states were rejected for fear of corrupting the officers I their new states of posting.
Anini also reportedly wrote numerous letters to media houses using political tones of Robin Hood-like words, to describe his criminal acts. One of those letters read thus:
‘Tell our President, we like him but we are not happy here in Bendel. The payment for everything is too much. That is why I now divide any money I get to the people.’ Six conditions were given for peace to return to Benin: no more prosecution of innocent armed robbers; a stop to collusion between the police and the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers, and with members of the Ogboni cult; no more harassment of market women returning from their work; the ‘abolition of the collection of 50k-N5 [by the Highway Patrol] equal treatment for everybody; and fair treatment for all legitimate drivers by the police.’
Demola Bello, a writer for Sunday Tribune expressed concerns in a report on 5, October that the police had formed a corrupt alliance with Anini which gave him the liberty to operate as he did.
She wrote ‘A time comes when the whole mechanism of law and order gives way. In a situation like the one we have in Benin, the police and criminals have some understanding. Now the understanding breaks down and we have an Anini situation.’
Anini’s end came on 3, December that year when he was arrested at a house during a sexual romp. As reported by Steemit, this was the synopsis of the arrest:
‘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 Stree 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 the 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.” He was from there taken to the police command headquarters where the state’s Police Commissioner, Parry Osayande was waiting.
In the excitement that they had finally apprehended Anini, the policemen forgot about the six girls with Anini, all of which escaped.
Due to number of shots Anini received to the leg, it had to be amputated at the military hospital. This immobilised him to a wheelchair.
Expecting an hardened human who wouldn’t even flinch at the most daunting situation, the Nigerian police were surprised at how readily Anini expunged information on the details of his banditry. This brought to dust all the myth surrounding Anini invisibility.
At the hospital on his sick bed, Anini begged: “If this country wants to help me, they should not kill me. I will help Nigeria solve the problem of armed robbery.”
The Head of State, Babangida ordered for a speedy trial, so Anini was tried alongside his gang members and police accomplices. During the trial, George Iyamu denied all the allegations of collaborating with Anini that were made against him, and in return, the infuriated Anini who could only speak in pidgin shouted from the seat of his wheelchair, “You be shameless liar, you be a shameless liar!“.
lyamu was tried along with members of Anini’s gang by the Second Benin Armed Robbery and Firearms Tribunal, sentenced to death and executed. His properties were confiscated.
Following the brief trial, Anini, his gang, and five conspiring police officers were all sentenced to death by Justice James Omo-Agege of the Benin High Court.
In passing his judgment, Justice Omo-Agege remarked, “Anini will forever be remembered in the history of crime in this country, but it would be of unblessed memory. Few people if ever, would give the name to their children.” He was executed by a firing squad on March 29, 1987.
Not one man had held a country to ransom like Anini did in 1986.