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Mighty Joe, the notorious robber who terrified Nigeria until he was executed in 1973

January 17, 2019 at 06:30 am | History

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson | Staff Writer

January 17, 2019 at 06:30 am | History

Nigeria has a long list of notorious armed robbers who made the lives of people around them a living hell. In the 1980s, Nigeria’s most dangerous outlaw, Lawrence Anini and his gang started their criminal activities until they were nabbed and executed.

Lawrence Anini

There was also Abiodun Egunjobi, who went by the nickname Godogodo and the one-eyed robber. He killed close to 100 police officers until his arrest in 2013.

However, before the likes of Lawrence and Abiodun, there was Isiaka Busari who was popularly known as Mighty Joe.

Isiaka Busari became the king of the underground soon after his gang leader Ishola Oyenusi aka Dr Rob was executed in public after causing fear and panic in the late 60s and early 70s.

Mighty Joe largely operated in Lagos where he was born and raised. Born in 1936 to a struggling mother and father, Mighty Joe lived with his parents and four other siblings. Unfortunately, due to stark poverty, three of his siblings passed away and Joe was left with only a sister. 

Mighty Joe was forced to quit school after completing standard four due to his father’s inability to pay for his education. With nothing else to do, Mighty Joe developed a keen interest in boxing and would sneak out of his house to box against his parents’ will.

He left his mother’s house to fend for himself shortly after the death of his father. With the need to make money, Mighty Joe left the boxing space and went into the buying and selling market often getting many of his goods from the port. It was there that Mighty Joe started learning how to steal and outwit traders after joining a gang under Abiodun Egunjobir.

Several accounts indicate that Mighty Joe was especially feared by women. In one account, it is said that he harassed a young lady and poked her eye with a lit cigarette he had in his mouth leaving the poor lady blind.

By the 1970s, Mighty Joe had become the most wanted robber in the whole of Lagos. He had also made a name as being more deadly than 
Abiodun Egunjobi and had managed to get a gang made up of ex-soldiers who gave him physical protection with the backing of spiritual powers he sought from popular juju men.

Like several other notorious criminals, Mighty Joe’s robbery reign came to an end when he was arrested for snatching 10 naira from Micheal Osayunana, a bar attendant at a hotel in 1973.

After his conviction, Mighty Joe is reported to have converted into Islam and prayed fervently for his execution to be reverted but luck did not shine on him.

Mighty Joe Praying

On June 6, 1973, Mighty Joe was escorted with several police officers with him to the Bar Beach where he was executed in front of millions of people present. 

According to a report in the Daily Times newspaper of June 7, 1973;

It was the end of a savage legend yesterday. ‘Mighty Joe’, the kingpin of the underworld was silenced by the bullets of the firing squad. Thousands of Lagos people breathed a sigh of relief following the execution at Bar Beach. The man, Isiaka Busari, alias ‘Mighty Joe,’ for many years constituted himself a big terror to the people of this federal capital particularly those around Mushin where he lived and practised his trade.It was not until November 30, 1971 that nemesis caught up with him. And the offence for which he died by the firing squad at the Lagos Bar Beach yesterday was for snatching a mere N10 from a hotel bar attendant, Mr. Michael Osayunana.
This offence, which compared with many other heinous crimes which he committed and got away, will fade into insignificance. But before he died yesterday, ‘Mighty Joe’ had a VIP ride from Kirikiri Prison to the Bar Beach. He was taken in a police van escorted by six lorryloads of tough-looking anti-riot policemen.


The execution of Mighty Joe who had become known as the leader of the underground men sent out a huge relief in Lagos until the underground men rose again in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Before he was executed, Mighty Joe was asked to say his lasts word to which he is reported to have responded: “May God bless everybody, both my friends and enemies. Tell my wife, my mother and my in-law to keep fit.”

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