How We Caught Oyenusi, Mighty Joe

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Joseph Ogodo

Retired Police Inspector Joseph Itoto Ogodo, who was among the crack team of Police detectives that arrested the notorious robbery kingpins of the ‘70s, Ishola Oyenusi; and Mighty Joe in Lagos, turns 88 years. Pa Ogodo tells Adibe Emenyonu how the two gangsters and their cohorts were arrested. He also speaks about his career in the police force

You are now 88 years old. Can you tell us about your early life? 

I was born on April 27, 1934 in Sapele in present day Delta State. I attended First Baptist School, Sapele from 1944 to 1952 where I had my Standard Six Certificate. From there I proceeded to Abbot Commercial institute between 1953 and 1955. I worked briefly with the sawmill department of the African Timber and Plywood (ATP) from 1955 to 1958. I had a brief stint as a Revenue Collector at the then Sapele Urban District Council. That was from 1958-1959. After that I enlisted into the Nigeria Police Force in 1959 and went to Police College, Yaba, Lagos. Thereafter, I was posted to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

From all indications you spent most of your career with the police in Lagos. Why?

This was because I was in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). At that time, Lagos was the capital of the Southern Protectorate before it became the capital of Nigeria in 1959. With this, there was an influx of people both young and old to Lagos. This large movement of people into the new capital triggered several criminal activities that needed police investigation, being the capital of a new nation.

This, of course, was not enough to have made the force keep you for such a long time in Lagos. There must be something unique. Can you tell us what it was? 

I agree with you. There were several incidents of crime and criminality, but we had two major breakthroughs which may have necessitated my long stay in Lagos, though I also found myself in other states and cities outside Lagos, but only on criminal investigation. Because of the increasing cases of armed robbery and burglary, the then Commissioner of Police, Joseph Adeola constituted a Special Anti-Robbery Squad made up of a team of detectives headed by a Superintendent of Police who was popularly called the ‘Flying Policeman.’ He got the sobriquet because he was a good sprinter and athlete. So when you hear SARS, it is not new. It has been in existence. It was founded many years ago. So he formed the squad known as SARS to investigate the numerous cases of robbery in Lagos.

 There was this very robbery incident where a young police constable who was just six months in the service was shot dead at Ikeja. It was in connection with a company called Wahum, owned by one of these Asian countries on Allen Avenue. The company went to seek police protection to help convey their staff’s monthly salary. So a constable was assigned to accompany the staffers to the bank to withdraw the cash. He then escorted them back. Coming back from the bank to the company, the security man was hesitant to open the gate for them to drive in. This angered the police constable on escort duty and he went to meet the gateman to ask him why he was causing delay to open the gate for the vehicle to drive in. At that point, armed robbers opened fire and killed him on the spot, while the remaining bank officials scampered for safety into the company premises. The robbers went straight to the vehicle, a Citroen, and fired at the booth, got it open and took the cash box containing £10,000 meant for workers salary and drove off in another waiting car.

The matter was reported to the police. We had what was called the Lion Building in Lagos, housing the control room. The control room then called the Robot Cars (cars fitted with communication gadgets to look out for the robbers. Prior to this robbery incident, there was a reported case of car snatching along Ikorodu Road. A young man was robbed of his car at gunpoint. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the snatched car was the same one used to get away by the robbers at the Wahum gate. While investigation was still on after some arrests were made, the police learnt the leader of the robbery gang was Ishola Oyenusi who had been on police wanted list.

 It was at this time that the then CP constituted an X-squad from the SARS and made available a separate police station for them at Panti in Onikan area of Lagos. This time, all the policemen there were asked to go to other divisions for the X-squad to enable them handle all robbery cases without interference. So as a member of that squad, we were moved to Panti and began the investigation. We were a 10-member investigative team headed by one Superintendent of Police (SP) Oyebisi who hailed from Ibadan then the capital of Western State.

 In the course of investigation, we knew that members of the robbery gang came from different parts of the country, which first made the investigation cumbersome. Some were from the West, some from the Midwest, while some were from the East. But we were determined to do our duty. In the robbery gang was an Ijebu boy who happened to be the driver in all their robbery operations. There was also a member of the gang called Diokpa who, as gathered, was their armourer and in whose house the proceeds of each robbery was shared. While carrying out further investigation, we got all the gang members and accomplices arrested, including the Administration Officer of Wahum company. All of them gave us useful information.

The only person at large was their leader Oyenusi. In fact, they were the ones who revealed to us that Oyenusi was their leader. We didn’t know him nor had any of us set eyes on him. We were also told that it would be difficult to arrest him because he was always armed to the teeth. That he had a lot of charms in his possession. However, through further inquiries, it was revealed that Oyenusi was from Araromi in Okitipupa, now in Ondo State. We then had to embark on a journey to his home town through Epe boatyard. On getting to Araromi, Okitipupa, we were told that yes Oyenusi was from there but that for years they had not set eyes on him because he left the town long ago. We were in the town for three days and there was no further clue as to how to get him.

Somehow, information filtered to us that he was seen somewhere in Ibadan. Our team quickly mobilised and moved to Ibadan and succeeded in getting him through a commercial sex worker he usually patronised.

Tell us, how Oyenusi was eventually arrested?

Unfortunately for him, he was not armed when we saw him in the street of Ibadan. When he saw us, he started running and that was when we suspected he was the target and we started pursuing him. While we were chasing him, our leader, who incidentally was a native of Ibadan, began to shout saying “Egbami’o” (save me) the man running has been killing my people. At that point, everyone around joined in the pursuit and he was eventually arrested. To ensure he does not escape, he was first handcuffed and then tied with a marine rope inside a Land Rover jeep and taken to Lagos. The arrest was made on May 7, 1971.

We then contacted the control room in Lagos that Oyenusi had been arrested. In turn, the control room notified the Commissioner of Police, Joseph Adeola that the dare devil Oyenusi was in the police net. While on our way back to Lagos we were in constant touch with Lagos until we arrived.

We learnt he made some comments when he got to the Lion Building. Can you recall what he said? 

Yes! He told the CP, “your men have tried but they are lucky I was not armed by the time they tried arresting me, otherwise I would have killed them.” These were his exact words. He also disclosed that when we were going through Epe boatyard to Okitipupa to look for him, he was in the boat that left earlier. He said he suspected we were policemen and decided to disembark on the next boatyard station. He said he saw four men and suspected they were policemen, but could not open fire in such a crowded place. This was true because by the time we got to the Epe boatyard, the boat driver told us it was filled up and that we should wait for the next boat. That was when we missed him because he was in that boat. Again, we didn’t know him. But in the course of investigation when we met him he said he recognised us at the boatyard and so had to get off at the next boat station knowing fully well that we were on our way to his hometown, which was also his destination, to look for him.

Was the method of interrogation voluntary or forceful? 

It was voluntary, because we adopted persuasive appeals to extract useful information from them and also assured them all will be fine if they cooperate with us. It was then Oyenusi confessed that he never knew we could arrest him and bring him to justice. So he then gave names of those who were involved in the Wahum robbery and the role played by each of them, as well as other robbery operations they carried out in the past. He disclosed that the gateman of the company was aware of the robbery operation through the Administrative Officer of the company and that was why he deliberately delayed opening the gate. He told us that they also took the rifle of the dead police constable. He took us to the place where they threw the rifle away. It was a Mark-4 and we recovered it. From then, we became friendly with them because we never exercised any form of brutality. At this stage, we had to call for all the files concerning all the robbery cases he mentioned to see if we could get more persons arrested.

Before the arrest and prosecution of Oyenusi and his gang, did any of your team of investigators know who they were? 

No, until the Wahum incident. It was in the course of interrogation that all of them confessed the role they played. Even the gateman told us he was made to play the hesitant role so as to get the attention of the Constable to come down and ask questions, since he was the only one that was armed. Also, the Admin officer confessed how he got the security man involved so that the operation would be smooth.

How many of the convicts faced death sentence by fire squad? 

They were eight in number. So at the end, a case of armed robbery, murder was established against the eight involved to face firing squad. Before the firing was carried out, the then Military Governor of Lagos State, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson signed the Execution Warrant and they were tied to stakes and executed by firing squad.

What was the scenario like on that day of execution?

There was a mammoth crown from all parts of Lagos and beyond that came to watch the execution. There was a 16-man squad and a commanding officer. Two soldiers to each of the convicted robbers. After the firing, it was discovered that Oyenusi was still alive while others were dead. A medical doctor who went round to ensure they were dead was the one who informed that Oyenusi was still alive and the commanding officer asked all the 16 men to concentrate on Oyenusi until his head dropped and he was confirmed dead. 

What can you tell us about Mighty Joe’s arrest and prosecution?

Another incident was that of a man called Mighty Joe, a native of Kwara, living in Lagos then. He was tall, had a very broad chest with a tiny waist like a lion. He was a terror involved in many cases that had to do with robbery and assault. Whenever he did not rob, he went about harassing commercial sex workers, hoteliers and bar owners who pay royalty to him and members of his gang to stay in business, otherwise any refusal would be met with stiff penalty. In all this, he had a way of escaping from the long arm of the law, because he was reputed to have connections in high places, including high government officials. With this, he feels untouchable and above the law to the extent that he was never arrested or prosecuted when he was fingered in the case which involved the killing of a Lebanese businessman in Lagos. Anytime Mighty Joe wanted to cool off he went to any drinking joint with his gang to drink without paying. Same thing he did to sex workers, hoteliers anytime he developed the urge without paying and no one dared to ask questions.

So how did he meet his waterloo? 

To God be the glory, it was on a weekend when he drove his Peugeot 404 car to a drinking joint. On that fateful day, he was driving at Ikorodu road to have fun at Caban Bamboo, owned by Bobby Benson. On his way, he decided to stop over at a drinking joint at Mushin junction of Ikorodu road to have some bottles of beer before proceeding to his destination. The server attended to him and he drank four bottles of beer. After that he stood up and went to his car to drive off but the attendant politely told him Sir, you have not paid for the four bottles of beer you drank. Mighty Joe became infuriated, asking him where he got the boldness to ask him to pay for the beer he drank, and if he did not know who Mighty Joe was. To cut a long story short, he descended on the attendant and beat him black and blue. Not only that, he went to the counter and collected all the day’s proceeds and drove off afterwards. When the bar owner came back to see his attendant in such a sorry state, he asked him what happened, and he narrated how Mighty Joe beat him up and collected all the sales for the day.

The owner of the place, an Esan man, swore that this was the very last time he would tolerate the bully behaviour of Mighty Joe. He went straight to the CP and reported the case. This time, some police officers were drafted and the CP assigned the case to a senior police officer called Oloko who in turn liaised with our investigative team and Mighty Joe was arrested and detained. After investigation, his case was referred to the DPP for legal advice and they established that he had a case to answer. The trial began and he was sentenced to death by Justice T. S. Gomez-led tribunal. During his trial, Mighty Joe spoke in Yoruba language telling Justice Gomez “Ose’o”. So each time his defence counsel raised any objection to exonerate his client, the judge would overrule him, and Mighty Joe would exclaim: “Ose’o am not surprised.” Not only that, Mighty Joe was in the habit of quarreling with his counsel.

 On every court day, a lady I supposed was his wife would meet the counsel to inquire of the court proceedings. But each time Mighty Joe sighted her speaking with the lawyer, he would scream at the lawyer from the Black Maria that he was going to kill him when he comes out because he wants to take his wife from him. At the end of the trial he was found guilty. Before reading his judgement, Gomez, who was bespectacled, removed his pair of glasses and looked at Mighty Joe in the dock and said: “This is my judgement. The evidence adduced by the prosecutor cannot be swept under the carpet. The prosecutor proved his case beyond any reasonable doubt. The defence of the accused person is nothing to write home about. The tribunal therefore sentence you to death by firing squad.” Thereafter, the governor signed the death warrant and he was executed by firing squad.

On the eve of his execution he had a premonition of it. He told us in the morning that he had a dream where he was feeling very sad and that he feared something bad was going to happen to him but we told him there was nothing to fear and that all was well. Eventually when the Black Maria drove to his cell to fetch him he exclaimed: “I said it.” At about 9:00am of that same day on Radio Lagos, it was announced that Mighty Joe was going to be executed. Before we got to the Bar Beach many people had besieged the place, mostly those people he had one way or another wronged and who had suffered one humiliation or the other in the hands of Mighty Joe. 

Have you by any means had contact with any member of your team? 

Honestly, for almost 20 years now, I have not heard from any of them. We used to interact when I was in Lagos, but since then honesty I don’t know. Some may still be alive and some may have died but I have not seen or heard from any of them.

Can one say you may probably be the last man standing among the team? 

Most likely but I still don’t know. 

 At the end of it all, was there no form of compensation by the police authority to your team for a job well done? 

There was compensation. The Inspection General of Police, Kam Selem gave us a commendation letter and £10, which was a lot of money then. The commendation letter was dated December 1st, 1971.

As a man who saw it all, what message do you have for the younger generation? 

Especially to the younger generation, they should learn to live exemplary lives. In my case, the bicycle and motorcycle (Suzuki) I rode were from the loan I collected from the police. Not from bad money but money deducted from my salary every month till I finished paying. What will be will be. For instance, when I was at Alagbon, I went for a course test. I did very well. As a matter of fact, I came first but was not considered because I could not grease the palm of the officer who will recommend those of us who passed for a training course in England. This was in 1963. Eventually the colonialists, who believed in merit, had all gone and our brothers were in charge and they took the man who came 7th position because he could afford what they wanted. So having served creditably well and never considered for promotion to other higher ranks, I had to put up a letter for voluntary retirement in 1982.

How do you compare the attitude of policemen during your time to what we have now? 

Policemen during my time were service-conscious than what we have today. What we are seeing in this country was never so before. In those days, if you traveled to a distant land and got there late, you could go to a police station to seek accommodation, but that cannot happen now. There was this incident when I was detailed to invite somebody to the police station for a matter. When I got there, he attacked me. Even though I was with my service rifle, I was not tempted to shoot him. But can that happen today? So, the police then were much better in those days than what we have today. There are lots of variances. That is why you see a police man who just joined the force today and tomorrow, he will want to own a car, big mansion. The rate of corruption is higher now than before. That is why today, a police man who is supposed to be your friend and provide security turns around to attack the very citizen he ought to protect.

Given the regrets you mentioned, aren’t you fullfiled? 

Says who? Am quite happy. I am happy that I am still alive. I thank God for that. I have children who are doing well. All my eight children are all graduates. My eldest son’s first daughter, who happened to be my first grandchild, just got a scholarship to do her Masters degree in Harvard. So what else do I want that God has not given me? Though I lost my wife some years back, I refused to remarry. So, I am happy and thank God for it. You see as I said earlier, what will be will be. In 1999 long after my retirement, I got a warrant to travel to England to give evidence in a particular matter which began while I was still in service. I had correspondence with the British High Commission in London. All the documents were forwarded to me through the High Commissioner in Lagos. They sent a warrant and on the 23rd of June 1999. I left the shores of Nigeria to England. On arrival, I went to the Royal Court to testify. I was to stay for six months or even extend my stay if I so wished but I left and came back on the 15th of December same year.

This was the same place I was deprived of going in 1963 but had the opportunity to go. I don’t know whether it had anything to do with the police but I still went. This was why I said what will be will be. I am satisfied and happy.