“ANINI will forever be remembered in the history of crime in Nigeria, but it would be of unblessed memory. Few people if ever, would give the name to their children.” – Justice James Omo-Agege, 1987
Lawrence Nomanyagbon Anini, birthed sometime in 1960 (date and month not verified) was a Nigerian bandit who terrorized old Bendel State (now Edo and Delta States), especially its capital, Benin City in the 1980s along with his sidekick Monday Osunbor. By 1986, his robbery exploits had reached such a dreadful state that it became a national issue. It was so bloody that for those who grew up in the 80s, the name Lawrence Anini can never be forgotten as the highest criminal in Nigeria who almost debilitated the country.
Anini was born in a village about thirty kilometers from Benin City. The only child of his mother, he lost his father when he was a boy and has two sisters. He migrated to Benin at an early age to enroll in Oza Primary School. Exhibiting signs of truancy, he struggled to finish his primary school education and entered Igiedumu Secondary School. Three years after, he dropped out of school to become an apprentice at a local mechanic shop.
He learned to drive and started work as a taxi driver but after his master fired him, he slowly transformed into a leader of the local motor parks. He was known in Benin motor parks as a man who could control the varied competing interests among motor park touts and operators.
Onset of Larceny
Anini, also known as ‘The Law’ or ‘Ovbigbo’, delved into criminal business in the city. He began as a driver and transporter for gangs, criminal godfathers and thieves. He soon decided to create his own deadly gang which included Monday Osunbor, Friday Ofege, Kingsley Eweka, Henry Ekponwan, Phillip Iwelube, and others. He became a much-feared gang leader whose approach got people quaking. His group started out as car snatchers, bus robbers and bank thieves predominantly in Benin. Anini was a specialist in all aspects. Gradually, he extended his criminal acts to other towns and cities far north and east of Benin.
In early 1986, two members of his gang – Kingsley alias Baba K and Kele – were tried and prosecuted against an earlier under-the-table bribe induced agreement with the police to destroy an evidence against the gang members. The incident, and Anini’s view of police betrayal is believed to have spurred retaliatory actions by Anini. During the span of three months, Anini was known to have killed nine police officers.
One unique feature in Anini’s reign of terror was police complicity. The complicity of the police enhanced Anini’s reign of horror as he was able to infiltrate the police echelon and connived with top police officers as his gun suppliers and informants.
The biggest of them was Police Inspector George Iyamu who benefited immensely from the gang; he joined them in sharing the loot.
Anini spear-headed a four month reign of terror between August and December 1986.
⁃ On August of 1986, the Anini team struck at First Bank, Sabongida-Ora, where they carried off N2,000. They left the scene with a trail of blood where many persons were left killed.
⁃ In the same month, another fatal bank robbery linked to Anini was reported in which a police officer and a child were killed.
⁃ Also in August, two police officers on duty were shot at a barricade while trying to stop Anini’s car.
⁃ On 6th September, 1986, the Anini gang hijacked a Peugeot 504 car from Albert Otoe.
⁃ The driver of an Assistant Inspector General of Police, Christopher Omeben was killed and his corpse, hidden somewhere. After three months, the skeleton of the driver surfaced at sixteen kilometers away from Benin, along Benin-Agbor highway.
⁃ A day after the attack, Anini, operating in a Passat car believed to have been stolen, also effected the hijacking of another Peugeot 504 car near the former FEDECO office in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria.
⁃ Two days after, Anini’s men killed two police officers in Orhiowon Local Government Area of Edo State.
⁃ Still in the same month, three different robbery attacks took place, all pointing to Anini’s involvement. They include the murder of a chartered accountant, Mrs. Remi Sobanjo; the killing of an ex-employee of the Nigerian Observer newspaper, Mr. Frank Unorami and the stealing of a Mercedes Benz car in Benin that belonged to the Ovie of the Ughelli monarch.
⁃ Anini struck at a gas station along Wire Road, Benin, where he stole a substantial part of the day’s sales. He shot the Station’s attendant and jovially began to spray his plunder along the road for people to pick.
⁃ On October 1st, 1986, the Independence Day, Anini’s men gunned down a policeman within the city.
⁃ Later on the same day, the State Commissioner of Police, Casmir Igboke was ambushed by the gang in Benin, followed by a salvo of bullets. The police boss had a narrow escape with serious injuries.
⁃ On October 21 of the same year, the Anini gang terminated the life of a Benin-based doctor, A.O. Emojeve, who was gunned down along Textile Mill road in Benin.
⁃ Anini and his gang members robbed the Agbor branch of the African Continental Bank and went away with the sum of about N46,000. The next day, Anini, popularly known as ‘The Law’, turned to ‘Father Christmas’ as he threw wads of Naira notes on the ground for free pick by market men and women at a village near Benin City.
Anini wrote numerous letters to the media houses using political tones of Robin Hood-like words to describe his criminal acts
The then Military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida was perturbed about the activities of Anini and queried the then Inspector General of Police, Etim Inyang on the bandit’s whereabouts. He gave him a mandate to get him either dead or alive. An order for a massive manhunt for the kingpin and his fellow robbers was issued.
However, the police manhunt did not hinder their activities; the more they were hunted, the more intensified their dangerous, awe-inspiring acts. The whole nation lived in panic of the robbers and their berserk exploits. It felt like they weren’t going to be apprehended.
At about this time, Nigerian newspapers and journals were also publishing various editorials and reviews on the ‘Anini Challenge’, ‘the Anini Saga’, ‘Anini: A Robin Hood in Bendel’, ‘Lawrence Anini, Jack the Reaper’, and others.
Anini was believed to be a spirit in possession of magical powers; it was also believed he could teleport at will.
Some of the locals in the area even began to tell stories of their invincibility.
Anini’s reign of horror was brought to an end on December 3rd, 1986, in a major operation led by a heroic Superintendent of Police, Kayode Uanreroro, who acting on a top-off from local residents caught Anini at a house in Benin City between 2nd and 3rd East Circular Road in the company of his girlfriend who was known to have betrayed him.
Uanreroro led a crack 10-man team to the house where he was hiding and apprehended him with very little resistance.
He knocked on the door of the room and Anini himself in underpants, opened the door.
“Where is Anini?”, the police officer quickly inquired.
Stunned as he was caught off guard and with no means of escape, “Oh, Anini is under the bed in the inner room.” He replied, trying to be smart by making some moves to walk past the police officer and his team and in the process, shoved and head-butted the police officer but it was to no advantage.
Uanreroro swiftly reached for his gun, stepped brutally on Anini’s toes and shot at his left ankle. Anini moved forward but the policemen latched on to him, put him in a sitting position and drained more bullets into his shot leg. It almost severed the ankle from the entire leg.
“Are you Anini?”, the police man asked again.
Anguished from the excruciating pain, “My brother, I won’t deceive you; I won’t tell you lie, I am Anini.” He answered.
From there, Anini was taken to the police command headquarters where Parry Osayande, the state’s Police Commissioner, was waiting.
While in the police custody, Anini’s hideout was searched. Police recovered charms, including the one he always wore around his waist during his activities.
He was dispossessed of his charms. The man who almost enfeebled the nation and was perceived to be dauntless suddenly became remorseful and making confessions. This was against the public expectancy of a madcap ruffian who would stay imprudent to the very end.
Although, he had poor command of English and could only communicate in Pidgin, Anini divulged his accomplices within the Police hierarchy, the key roles played by police officers and men, in aiding and abetting of criminals in Bendel State and the entire community. He disclosed how George Iyamu leaked police secrets to them, gave them logistic supports and aimed to kill an Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Intelligence and Investigation, Christopher Omeben.
Iyamu, however, denied ever knowing and conspiring together with Anini.
End of life
Of the 10 police officers Anini implicated, five were convicted.
Anini was transferred to a military hospital several days after he was shot in the leg, where he had one of his legs amputated.
The Country’s military leader, Ibrahim Babangida demanded a speedy trial. He was confined in a wheelchair throughout his trial.
He was convicted of most of his charges and sentenced to death by Justice James Omo-Agege of Benin High Court.
In passing his judgement, 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.”
The robbery suspects, including Iyamu, were also sentenced to death.
Their execution took place on March 29, 1987.