Burn, Burn, Burn: A trip to Area C
As it happened, penises weren’t the only thing in danger of disappearing from the streets of Lagos. People, it was alleged, were stealing entire live bodies for the same reason they stole penises: Juju, money and ransom.
The city was in a panic about this. My first day at the hotel, I turned on the TV to see footage of “instant justice” being carried out on some accused kidnappers. Newspapers were full of advice about how to elude the them. (Never go out alone, lock your doors and “Be slightly suspicious of everyone and everything”). Then one day, a homeless 11-year-old kid was accusing of trying to kidnap another child. He denied it, but the crowd didn’t believe him. Their judgment was final.
The lynching was caught on camera and played on the nightly news, which proved too much: Nigerians were outraged. The police actually got involved. And Toni was writing an in depth story about it. When he invited me to come along for his reporting, I knew I couldn’t pass it up.
We drove down to the National Stadium, parked and walked over to where we could see black marks still staining the road. There were bits of burned tire laying on the ground and some thin radial wires. Toni, who was also a poet and an author, shook his head.
“When I saw this happen,” he said, “I just cried.”
Toni interviewed some motorcycle drivers who had seen the boy killed. Then we climbed on a bus and headed down the road to the burned out shell of the Area C Police station. The windows were broken out and black streaks rose up from them. The yard in front of the building was full of torched automobiles.
It had happened a few weeks earlier, when a policeman from the station had been manning “checkpoint” where he stopped an army officer and demanded the officer pay him like everyone else. The officer refused. The policeman (according to the story) slapped him. So the officer drove back to his barracks, rounded up his troops and did what the army does best: Burned the station down.
Toni and I picked our way through the yard to the front steps. There on top of the stoop sat two policemen on chairs. Toni greeted them and, since he didn’t have any press cards, he gave them each a collection of his poems. They grunted and started leafing through the books, seemingly pleased. Probably the only policemen in Nigeria to be bribed with poetry.
After a minute, one of the officers looked up.
“So what do you want?” he said.
Toni told them he was doing a story about the lynching of the boy.
“These crimes with juju,” one officer said, “they are not recognizable by law. Because with the law, you have to be able to prove the crime was committed. We cannot prove that, so how can we prosecute them?”
“These things are very difficult to investigate,” chimed in the other policeman. “It is like this business with the penis snatching. You can just forge a lie and get someone killed.”
Toni talked to them for a little while, but they didn’t have much to offer, since the investigation was ongoing. So we left them to their poems and walked back out to the road.
“For the people,” Toni said to me, “it is real. For the law it is not. For the law it doesn’t exist. That is why the crowds do this. They know the law can’t do anything. So they take things into their own hands.”