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Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Babatunde Folorunsho: First to Face Public Execution in Nigeria

Mr. Babatunde Folorunsho (MR. Lace)

Eko Atlantic formerly called Lagos Bar beach is a centre of many activities that ranges from religious, social and entertainment to other types of activities. Before now, the Bar Beach as it was then known was also used as a venue of public execution for condemned criminals, armed robbers and those found guilty in coup d’etat in the country.

As a matter of fact, telling someone he will be taken to ‘Bar Beach’ in the seventies and early eighties, was like a curse, it was that obvious and bad. What it implies then was that one would be publicly executed because the Bar Beach was then synonymous with public execution for armed robbers and the likes.

Actually, history has it that the armed robbery cases after the Nigeria civil war was at an alarming rate. Therefore, the then Federal Military Government came up with a “Public Execution Policy at the Lagos Bar Beach”, Lagos State being the then Federal Capital and seat of Federal Government. The policy was aimed at reducing the rise of crime waves in the nation especially in urban cities.

This continued for a long time, indeed, for many years, until about the last three decades, when public execution at the beach was stopped.

It is worthy of note that one of the first set of convicts to be killed under the Public Execution Policy at the Lagos Bar Beach was a terror king, Babatunde Folorunsho, who was also known as Baba oni Lace (Mr. Lace). This was because he was fond of putting on very expensive lace materials, one of which he wore for his execution. Folorunsho was a hardened and notorious armed highway robber who specialised in car snatching with his gang members.

As noted earlier, Folorunsho was identified as a fashion conscious man used to adorning expensive lace attires, which was the choice of the well to do in the society then. He was nick named Baba oni lace (the man who adorned laces). It is in history that Folorunsho wore lace outfits even for robbery operations.

The man and his bandits remained the most notorious terrorists at that period. He threatened and harassed the Nigerian security outfits, the public and especially car owners in the early1970s.

Within the period of his reign, he was the most wanted criminal in Nigeria. At that time, the crime rate was at its peak, because the civil war had just ended. Therefore, Mr. Babatunde Folorunsho and people of like minds took advantage of the military government’s national stabilisation process to perpetrate crime.

It is reliably gathered that during his reign of terror, many of the people stopped using lace, they resorted to wearing dracon, a more expensive material and ankara prints. That was because they were often subjected to mockery as lace wearers or Babatunde Folorunsho’s cohorts because of the lace or Ara bar beach (or bar beach people) when in the outfits.

Not only that, those whose names were “Babatunde or Folorunsho” at that time were certainly not comfortable answering those names within the society because the two names were attributed to the criminal that was why at that time, some changed to their other names.

At the time, he became a renowned and most notorious wanted criminal by the police and community guards, he had become fearsome because of the magicall prowess attributed to him which made them called him many names such as invisible man, the man with magical power and untouchable among others because he remained a security threat to the police and the nation for years until luck ran out on him and he was later nabbed by the police.

Folorunsho, the notorious Baba oni lace was apprehended by the police during an operation in 1971. And that put an end to his terrorism and threat to the nation. Babatunde Folorunsho was charged with others for robbing a man called Mr. Alfred Marshall of his car in 1971. His arrest and subsequent appearance in court became good news to people as across the country. The arrest, which led to jubilation in many parts of the country, especially the western region, brought an end to his nefarious act.

On 8th and 13th of April, 1971, Justice James Ojomo sentenced Babatunde Folorunsho to death by firing squad. That made him the first to be convicted and executed publicly according to the military policy of the time.

The day, 24th July, 1971 remained a date in Nigeria’s history as a result of the public execution of the brigand and notorious armed robber who became the first to face the firing squad in the country. It was the first public execution to be carried out in Nigeria. As early as10AM that fateful day, people reportedly gathered at the Bar Beach to witness the execution. Sources said some people did not believe the execution will take place because it had never happened or heard of in Nigeria.

According to impeccable sources, the other two convicts executed together with Babatunde Folorunsho were Williams Alders Oyazimo (a Sub-Lieutenant in the Nigeria Navy) and Joseph Ilobo who were convicted of robbing one Alhaja Taibatu Opene of a loud speaker and record player.

At 1:00PM prompt, a military lorry drove in conveying Babatunde Folorunsho and other two convicts to the amazement of the waiting crowd. Anxiety mixed with excitement in the crowd. Bringing an end to the doubt of doubting Thomases who felt the execution would not take place. At a point, there was palpable silence but that was short lived.

First to step down the lorry was the man who everyone wanted to see the terrorist, Folorunsho the “Mr. Lace”. As usual, Babatunde appeared wearing an expensive lace material. On his wrists and ankles were restraints. They were led to the standing stakes and tied up by vicious looking armed men. The military chaplain assigned to them was Col. Pedro Martins. He asked Folorunsho to pray for forgiveness. Instead of praying, he continued laughing but did not utter a word. He was unperturbed and exhibited a lot of confidense.The chaplain therefore left him for the other two convicts.

When the chaplain approached Joseph Ilobo, he did not accept his fate easily as he protested till death. With deep sorrow, he said to the chaplain aloud “Are all these people here to see me die? Ah! this is a wicked world. I have not committed any crime”.

Babatunde Folorunsho, Ilobo and Oyazimo at Bar beach | Picture: Culledd from OLDNAIJA

When it was Williams Alders Oyazimo’s turn to pray for forgiveness, he told the chaplain in tears “If you search your conscience, you will know that a naval officer of my status will never go in the dead of the night to steal. I will die today, I am innocent of the crime for which I am condemned. Father, I am innocent. My blood will cleanse my family and my children will prosper”. Eye witnesses reported that Oyazimo’s last words touched many hearts at the bar beach and they sympathised with him, shedding tears.

At a signal, the executors smartly marched to the front of the condemned armed robbers. The palpable silence returned and the whole arena was like a grave yard. The executors raised their guns and got set awaiting the order to shoot. The command to shoot came from an unknown location in a loud voice. The soldiers rained bullets on the condemned men. They were inspected and confirmed dead by the military medical personnel. Their remains were untied from the stakes and taken away for burial at unknown place by military men.

That was how Babatunde Folorunsho aka “Baba oni lace” and other two convicts made record as the first set of people to face public execution in Nigeria. Popular musicians at the time, especially Chief Ebeneezer Obey released a record to admonished people not to consider those who wear lace as thieves.

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