Today’s subject of Navigating Nigeria is Damilare, an events specialist who came face-to-face with death at the hands of an angry mob. He shares his story about surviving mob violence and how his experience has made him an advocate in the fight against jungle justice.
Tell us about your experience with jungle justice
I used to work in Lekki as a talent manager for a record label. One day in July 2016, I planned to go home along with my colleagues after work but I was hungry, so I went out to buy food first. My colleagues already left when I returned to the office so I had to find my way home alone.
I lived around Kingdom Hall in Sangotedo, so I walked down to Marwa bus stop and took a bus headed to Ajah Bus Stop. On getting there, I waited for another bus to take me to Sangotedo when I saw a parked red car. I approached it but immediately noticed its occupants were nodding at each other, like it was time for them to do something.
That should have been a red flag
I didn’t think much of it and approached the car to ask where it was headed. Someone dropped from the passenger side of the car and asked me, “O boy, why you hold my leg that time?”
I was confused. I didn’t know him and was still trying to wrap my mind around what he was asking when the first set of blows came. The first one landed on my head and then one person hitting me became two, two became five and five became seven. I was wearing a white T-shirt and it was soaked in blood in no time.
They tore my shirt from my body and were trying to strip me completely naked. I kept asking what they were doing but all I kept hearing as they were beating me was “Na dem. We go kill dem today. Na so dem dey do.”
That was when I started shouting and ran to the middle of the road but cars just drove past me. These people chased me and dragged me back to the side of the road and kept beating me with sticks, stones and blows to my face.
At one point they were trying to break my knees. They said once they did so, I wouldn’t be able to run and they’d do whatever they wanted to me. Other people at the bus stop would stop by to either curse me or hit me.
Damn. What did they say you did?
According to my accuser, someone touched his leg when he was passing through Ajah Bus Stop but he didn’t find anything strange about it. It was when he got to the next bus stop at Abraham Adesanya he found out his phone was missing.
He raised alarm and mobilised people to follow him back to Ajah Bus Stop to find the thief. The person he claimed touched him was wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. So when they got to Ajah, they were looking for someone that fit that description, and there I was: wearing a white T-shirt and a pair of jeans. That was all they needed, no questions asked.
What really stood out for you during this horrible experience?
One thing I noticed was they were so bent on stripping me naked and humiliating me. It wasn’t enough that they were hitting me, they had to humiliate me and make me beg for my life. I cannot wish this experience on my worst enemy. I begged and begged and explained in English, Yoruba and Pidgin.
There was an area boy I kept pleading with. I told him I didn’t know my accusers and that I’d never met them before. But the mob kept saying “Na lie e dey lie, na so dem dey do. Make we kill this one today.”
Someone suggested they call the police and I even begged them to do that. The police station wasn’t far from where we were but someone in the crowd said the police shouldn’t be involved because they’d release me the next morning. They said they’d teach me a lesson by burning me alive that night.
The area boy asked me why I would go about stealing but I maintained my innocence. Fortunately for me, when a police patrol team drove by, he ran over to the other side of the road and called them to the scene. That’s how I was saved from death.
At the station, my accuser wrote his statement and kept telling the police he wanted to leave. He said he had an emergency meeting in Port-Harcourt the next day. The police let him go but I think he paid them some money.
I spent the night in a cell with my swollen face and injuries. The next day, my colleagues came to release me after the police took my statement.
How did you recover from your experience?
My face was swollen to almost double its size and I had cuts on my head. I was first taken to Doren Hospital for treatment, and later got to tend to myself. Apart from the physical injuries, I had to deal with PTSD, depression and panic attacks.
I spoke to a therapist for a long time but I’ve not gotten over the psychological effects of that experience. I’m grateful to my family and friends for their understanding and for helping me.
How did the experience shape you?
One thing I’m happy about is I used that experience to create a positive impact. Six years ago, my friends and I set up an initiative that goes to different communities in Lagos to educate young Nigerians on the dangers of jungle justice. We often use football to interact with them — by setting up matches, donating football kits, balls and all that.
My friends who are lawyers and human rights activists also talk to them and make them understand that jungle justice has no place in human society. We can’t be judge, jury and executioner.
I’ve also been on radio and TV to discuss these issues, emphasising the need for Nigerians to have some measure of trust in the police and allow them perform their duties.
In some cases, we noticed that police officers allow jungle justice to happen. The inaction can be due to pressure or the size of the mob — like in the ALUU incident and even recently in Ikorodu. So our discussions also extend to law enforcement.
I’m grateful we’ve been able to initiate these conversations on jungle justice and spread the message. Our group is called Project Candlelight and we go about with our mission to stand against jungle justice. I’m happy I was able to use this experience to initiate change.