By The Punch
Yet to fully get over the loss of their father and breadwinner 14 years ago, July 1, 2017 inflicted an even bigger wound on the Chinedus – a modest family struggling to make ends meet. Taking refuge in a rented apartment barely comfortable for them in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, surmounting the hurdles life throws on their path as a unit on daily basis has not been easy.
That fateful night, the family’s situation got more troubling. Their eldest child, Paul, who had been a pillar and fortress for them these past 14 years, was killed in the most brutal manner metres away from their home. The sorrow that has beclouded the household ever since, is indescribable.
A National Diploma holder in Accountancy from the Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu, the 26-year-old Abia native had woken up that Saturday not knowing what danger lay ahead of him. Trashing his usual domestic chores before going to the store to pick up a few personal items, there was no reason for him to entertain any type of fear. A promising stand-up comedian, events anchor and farmer, Paul had huge dreams ahead of him. Apart from supporting his three siblings – Elizabeth, Sunday and Ruth with the little money he made, he also looked after their mother, Celestina, a petty trader, from the lean income as well. His fiancée, Esther – a dependable ally – also tasted from his goodwill as well. Such was the 26-year-old’s large heart. But by 11:50pm, everything changed. Paul, in company with two others – Shola, a rewire, and Sunday, a mechanic – were mistaken to be members of dreaded killer-cult group, Badoo, as they made for the spot where his newly-acquired second-hand car had broken down the previous day. He had gone to pick it up from the painter’s shop when suddenly around Odogunyan bus-stop, the vehicle broke down. The young man will never live to ride in the car.
“Paul had been in the house throughout that Saturday until about 10:00pm when he left for Ikorodu Garage to wait for the mechanic and rewire who were coming all the way from FESTAC,” Elizabeth, younger sibling of the late comedian, told our correspondent during an encounter earlier in the week. “Shola, the rewire, used to be our neighbour here at Ikorodu before he moved to FESTAC after he got married in 2010,” she continued. “He is a specialist in Honda cars and that was why my brother begged him to come and help fix his vehicle. If not for the traffic they encountered along the way, they would have arrived Ikorodu earlier to tow the car with the SUV Shola brought from FESTAC.
“But before they could get to where Paul’s car was parked, they were stopped by some guys on the road. One of the guys who stopped them told the others that he knew my brother and that they should be allowed to go. The others refused and proceeded to searching the vehicle. They saw the chain Shola wanted to use to tow the vehicle and brake oil in the boot of the SUV. Immediately the guys saw these, they started shouting Badoo. Even though the other one said he knew my brother well in the area, which another person among them also confirmed, they went ahead to kill the three of them by burning them alive. By the time we got there by 3:00am after receiving a call from somebody who witnessed the scene, it was too late. They had been burnt already,” she said as her emotions threatened to overwhelm her.
Heartbroken at the sight of the charred remains of their beloved Paul, Elizabeth and the rest of the family still find it hard to believe that the person, who had played the role of father to them these past 14 years was indeed no more. While the loss is a pill too bitter for them to swallow, the misery could have been worse had it not been God’s mercies, our correspondent learnt.
“We all could have been dead by now if not for divine intervention,” Elizabeth told Saturday PUNCH with a firm voice. “I, my mother, younger sister and Paul’s girlfriend could all have been killed by the same guys after they identified us to be his relatives. Immediately they saw a small plastic containing gear oil in the boot of the car that conveyed us to the spot where the three of them were burnt, the guys started shouting Badoo family. They shoved and pushed us about for several minutes and were going to descend heavily on us when one man ordered them to leave us, that if we were indeed Badoo members, we couldn’t have had the guts to come to that place. That was how we escaped being lynched that morning.
“Paul was an easy-going person who would never hurt anyone. He was the only one we looked up to for our needs since our father died 14 years ago. He didn’t deserve to die in such a pathetic manner,” she added.
Still unable to come to terms with the sad reality, Paul’s fiancée, Esther, has been locked in grief since the tragic events of that fateful day. The lovebirds, who ignited the fire of their relationship on July 1, 2014, were looking forward to capping off that Saturday in style being the 3rd anniversary of their time together. Apart from gifting his woman a special wristwatch and other lovely items, the 26-year-old comedian had also arranged a nice cake to go along with the mood. But after leaving home around 10:00pm that night and promising to return to her warm embrace not too long afterwards, the journey ended for the Abia native. Esther is still searching for what went wrong one week after the tragedy.
“Life has been empty without Paul,” the 24-year-old lady told our correspondent in a quaking voice. “Though we were yet to marry, he was a huge and special part of my life,” she continued. “That Saturday was the 3rd anniversary of our love story but to now lose him on that same day aggravates the pain I feel inside. Apart from buying a cake, he showered me with gifts as well and we were both looking forward to celebrating with the rest of the family that night before he stepped out and never returned.
“Since that incident, once it is around 1:00am, the exact time I woke up to call his number on the day he was killed, I am no longer able to sleep again. I suddenly wake up and start thinking about him. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to overcome this pain,” she said.
Pastor Femi Adebayo of the Harvest Place, Maryland, Lagos, where the late Paul worships, told our correspondent that a memorial service to honour the victim and also seek for justice, would be organised at the cathedral on Saturday.
Over recent weeks, members of Badoo cult group specialised in killing victims by smashing huge stones on their heads before cleaning their blood with a handkerchief after sneaking into their apartments in the dead of the night through loosely-shut doors and unprotected windows, have wreaked havoc in many parts of Ikorodu. Though no accurate figure exists, the gang is said to have killed more than 30 persons since it began its blood-spilling campaign about one year ago. Angered by the growing spate of killings and the inability of law enforcement agencies to arrest the frightening development, residents have resorted to maiming and killing anyone suspected to be a member of the gang. Sadly, innocent lives like Paul, Shola and Sunday have been consumed in the ensuing melee.
But troubling as it sounds; angry mob taking out their anger on persons suspected to have done wrong but later discovered to be innocent persons is not new – over the years, many citizens have lost their lives to this public and ruthless form of justice.
For example, on December 15, 2016, the Zonal Head of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority in the Apapa area of Lagos, Mr. Bakare Olatunji, was stabbed and stoned to death by an angry mob following the death of a transport worker allegedly knocked down by the agency’s van during a routine operation in the area.
Ten months earlier in February 2016, a mob in Ondo State snuffed life out of a man accused of involving in homosexual acts. He died a day after receiving heavy pummeling from the blood-thirsty mob.
In June 2012, the world was treated to one of the goriest sights and greatest form of injustices when four undergraduates of the University of Port Harcourt were killed in the most ruthless manner by a mob that falsely accused them of being robbers. The victims – Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Lloyd, Chiadika Biringa, and Tekena Elkanah, otherwise known as Aluu 4, were beaten with sticks, dragged along the rough paths of Aluu, a small community in the heart of Rivers State, before finally set ablaze by their attackers. Five years after, their innocent voices still cry out for justice.
“It is only in Nigeria and Africa that one can still hear of this absurdity,” Sociologist, Anayo Chukwuma, said. “At the least suspicion, people who have no facts, raise the alarm and somebody gets killed in the most brutal way. This type of barbaric behaviour should not exist in a modern society where there is rule of law.
“But this disturbing trend goes to show the failure of our system as a country. There is almost nothing working well in this society, so the tendency for people to do things their own way will be quite high.
“Something has to be done fast before more lives are lost,” he said.
According to human rights lawyer, Uduak Nta, jungle justice is not only animalistic but also a crime against humanity and good sense of reasoning.
He argued that by pronouncing ‘jungle justice’ on persons suspected to have committed a crime, perpetrators were in fact committing bigger crimes themselves by taking the law into their hands.
“When the so-called jungle justice leads to somebody being lynched, those who perpetrate the crime have done worse than whatever the person they have killed is accused of.
“Nigeria is a country governed by laws and so if any group of persons suspect any individual to have committed any form of crime, the best thing is to hand them over to law enforcement officers for proper investigation and prosecution. Anything other than that is a gross violation of what the law says,” he said.
The deaths of Paul, Shola and Sunday have heightened fears among residents of Ikorodu community over being mistaken for members of Badoo cult group. And because of this, many individuals and families apart from improving security around their immediate surroundings, have equally resorted to shunning late night movements as part of new strategies to staying safe.
For example, during a visit to the area earlier in the week, most Community Development Associations following series of meetings among members, have warned residents not to be outside their homes beyond 10:00pm.
Also, social events like weddings, house warming, birthday parties and burials have been limited to around 6:00pm in many parts of Ikorodu so that visitors and organisers can all safely return to their homes before it gets too dark.
Drinking joints and night clubs across the town have also been forced to adjust their mode of operation as a result of the situation. For instance, while many drinking joints close shop once it is 9:00pm in many parts of Ikorodu nowadays, club houses whose businesses mostly boom at night, have been encouraging customers to come in before 10:00pm to avoid any form of harassment by local vigilantes in the community. Though this has taken a heavy toll on sales, a handful of operators of such businesses, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, say things will remain like this until the security situation improves and tension in the town simmers down.
For now, residents of Ikorodu remain highly apprehensive, afraid of what the next minute would bring.