True Story: How I Saved a Girl from Jungle Justice in Onitsha
Last Saturday, I was traveling to Imo state. I stopped over at Onitsha, picked a bike to Upper Iweka to drop at another park where I would board another bus. As I was paying the bike man, I sighted a dark rough-looking man drag a girl by her blouse. The force was so much that, instantly, the girl’s blouse was torn. The man went ahead to push her down and started dragging her along the floor. Because I had been rounded by passenger hustlers, I had to pay for my ticket ASAP considering that the bus was about leaving. But they didn’t have change. They were running around for change when I looked again and saw that the girl had been stripped to her pants, battered and still being dragged on the floor. By this time, it wasn’t the man alone; a crowd of men (emphasis on MEN) had joined him. They surrounded her. I could hardly see her as the men were shouting, “O zuru ori” (“She stole”). I was confused. I have never witnessed jungle justice like this in my life. The men who had gathered were all hefty, rugged-looking, thick-voiced – you know the regular Upper Iweka agberos. The girl kept screaming yet her voice was completely swallowed up by the men. People were filming already with their phones, and screaming “Kpo ya oku” (“Set her ablaze”).
Concerned, I asked a woman seated close to me to go there and save the girl. Maybe they’d respect her as an elder. She replied, “Look at this one. It seems you’re new here. Leave them. She stole. Let them kill her.” A man in the bus chipped in: “That was how one girl entered my aunty’s shade, said she was on her period and she needed to wear pad, only for her to enter my aunty’s shade and steal all her money. If no be say I dey inside bus now I for join hand beat am.”
So, we would just fold our hands and watch someone burn to death? But I couldn’t. I looked at a guy in the front seat – he was about my age. He smiled and winked at me (maybe it was his own way of saying, “That was the right thing you said”) and proceeded to tell another man recording the incident to stop; he asked the man if he would be recording if it was his sister there. That statement alone impressed me. I was relieved I wasn’t alone. I told him to come down from the bus. When he did, I appealed to him to help me save the girl. He nodded and asked how we would do that.
I pointed at a pure water seller. “Buy four,” I said. He did. “Now when I get into that crowd splash the water.” He said Okay. No objection.
I pressed into the crowd and he splashed the water. Reacting to that, the crowd dispersed a little. I could see the girl and the man who had accused her. I went straight to the man and held him by his belt, asking him what the girl stole. At first, my intention was to convince the crowd that whatever she stole was not enough to kill her. And because stealing is a sin, killing her is another sin. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I wanted to solicit for pardon. For her to be handed over to the police. But I was shivering within me yet I was able to scream over and over, “Wetin she steal?!”.
All the man said was: “Somebody stole something in main market and she is the person”. The woman who was in the bus with me had already appeared. She asked the man, “And you didn’t catch the person in Main Market?” That was how sense entered their heads. The crowd started asking the girl what she stole. She made it clear that she didn’t steal anything, that she was buying something and felt a sharp push, and the next thing she was there on the floor. That she hasn’t been to Main Market. Suddenly, the Accuser pushed through the crowd and started running. Apparently, he wasn’t alone in whatever he was planning. A keke pulled up, he jumped in and drove off.
Later, someone would say that this was a new style of kidnapping. Apparently, they had wanted to drag the girl into the keke and drive off with her in the guise of taking her to the police station. Obviously, they lost control.
The women started raining curses on the Accuser as they helped the teary girl with clothes. Some men took it upon themselves to find him and beat him up. The bus conductor handed me my change and asked me to get in the bus. On our way out I took this pic below, a cluster of people apologizing to the girl.
I am sharing this story because I want us all, especially young people, to stand up against jungle justice anywhere. Add your voice and help rescue the situation instead of standing there, recording with your phone or complaining about it. You can start by sharing this so others can find courage too. #SayNoToJungleJustice
PS: Women need to wake up in this country and know that they have as much power as the men. Knowing how much women have suffered in the hands of patriarchy in this country and around the world, how can you see a crowd of men surrounding a woman and you just wave it off and continue with what you’re doing?