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October 14, 2023

Juju and Penis panics, By Ugoji Egbujo

Juju and Penis panics, By Ugoji Egbujo

The epidemic is back. A few weeks ago, a man left his house for the trade fair market in Lagos. If the traffic were godly, he would have used his car. But like so many other bosses in that town, he left his luxury cars and jumped on an okada. Somewhere around Abule Ado, he disembarked and handed the fare to the okada man.

Then he turned to complete his journey on foot. But the okada man grabbed him, screaming, “My penis! my penis! my penis!” Before the man could fathom the okada man’s hysteria, a crowd had gathered. The now shivering okada man, who had his crotch in his hand, said his penis had disappeared, and he was dying. The jury didn’t need any further education. Since okada man said the passenger stole his penis when he handed him the fare, the passenger became a genital thief.

The wheel of jungle justice doesn’t grind slowly. The bewildered passenger swore with his children and grandfathers. But the pulsating mob ordered him to return the missing penis or die like a witch. By the time the police arrived, the man had been beaten into a weeping pulp. Some said he was stabbed by some okada men in an attempt to torture him into confession and restitution. The doctors couldn’t revive him. Hours after he left home for the market he was dead. 

The police regrouped and stormed the crime scene. They harvested many okada riders. The man whose penis was supposed to be missing had eloped. Someone said the penis, whose disappearance nobody in the crowd had bothered to confirm, had returned. A few days later, the Seriki of the okada riders in the area was running around seeking how to arrange the tithe required to secure the release of the detained okada riders.

When the epidemic of penis disappearances came in 2001, some men walked around with their hands in their pockets and their family jewels in their tucked-in hands. Perhaps if they clutched it, no juju would be able to prise it away. The current epidemic hasn’t reached that fever pitch. But a couple of days ago, a woman raised an alarm at the federal secretariat in Abuja. She said her vagina had disappeared. That was shockingly new. An innocent fellow was arrested. Fortunately, police intervention was swift. The woman had lost neither vagina nor breast. The police have promised to prosecute her

But a previous episode in Abuja, two weeks ago, was a bloody drama. A viral video showed some animated officers of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps accusing a man of penis theft and battering. The two men whose penises were supposed to have been stolen simultaneously were pleading that his penis be returned. The man accused of theft looked shell-shocked until blows and cudgels started landing on his skull.

At some point, an NSCDC ran in and came out with a dagger with which he threatened to butcher the assumed offender. The other NSCDC officers who were armed were all the time threatening to shoot the man. The chaotic scene played out at the headquarters of the security agency. The fate of the already battered man isn’t uncertain because the NSCDC officers pulled him away from the camera to find some definitive treatment for the man’s diabolical intransigence. Again all through the duration of the video, none of the enraged officers of the NSCDC bothered to verify the absence of genitals. 

Officers of an agency established to protect property and life believed that genitals could be stolen magically. And without any empirical determination of the veracity of the allegation, dispensed mob justice at the headquarters of the agency and recorded on video. It is frightening. The agency said the eight officers involved in the battery of the innocent man have been arrested. But a security agency that arms people who are so pathologically ignorant should be overhauled.  

The belief that genitals can be stolen magically for money rituals is a contagious delusion in many cultures. It had existed before Christ came. Once a cry is heard, the accused becomes a wizard and risks instant death. It’s prevalent in Africa but it has happened in Asia and South America. Commonly called koro in parts of Asia. It has other names. Once dismissed as utter nonsense borne of malice,  the phenomenon has been reported by otherwise objective persons who had no malice for the alleged offenders.

However, regardless of the conviction of the afflicted and the vividness of manifestation as described by them, no lasting retraction or disappearance of the genital has been found following these alarms. Psychiatry has bundled it together with other inexplicable phenomena like latah, thought to be mediated by cultural myths.The Diagnostics Statistical Manual-IV of Mental Disorders, which is the bible of psychiatry, classifies it as Culture-Bound Syndromes.

Recurrent and locality-specific patterns of aberrant behaviour and troubling experience. The scanty research that exists suggests there could be paraesthesia, temporary partial retraction, depersonalization, and other psychosomatic symptoms which could be the manifestation of underlying psychosexual anxiety and other neuroses in an environment where there has been some acculturation to the superstition. 

So perhaps an okada man who has heard stories and believed becomes wary. If he is going through hard times and has had some bad dreams, then he is on the edge. He receives some money or a touch from a passenger and feels an instant weakness or numbness in his groin. He grabs his crutch and doesn’t feel his shrunken genitalia. Dread possesses and overwhelms him. The magical force that has snatched his organ has rendered him a living dead.

He has to do all he can to retrieve his organ before his situation becomes permanent. Before the ritualist to whom it has been blue-toothed starts pounding it in a mortar. A mob answers his anguished cry. The numbness and shrunkenness he feels are in his head, but the mob is already in a righteous frenzy. The menace of witches and wizards is insufferable. If the mob unzips him, they will find, at worst, a retracted penis. Even if they find a penis, they might say it’s only a shell.

Often mob justice is delivered with dispatch because the system cannot be trusted to bring witches to book. If the putative victim is taken to a hospital and his delusion is explained to him, he will acknowledge the return of his organ. But often the alleged thief is forced to touch the groin of his perceived victim. if he holds the genital and the man suffering from the delusion believes the magic has been undone, the mob will still reach the same conclusion, and the ‘wizard’ or ‘witch’ is lynched.

Panis panics happen in waves because the phenomenon thrives on suggestibility. Once case births a multiple. As the story spreads, people’s mental states change to become mindful and therefore receptive to the occurrence of the magic. They are partly psychogenic and partly sociogenic. To break the cycles, the government must engage in mass enlightenment campaigns. In cultures where penis panics are prevalent, discussions that involve genital organs are often taboo and hushed. But the government must use religious and traditional institutions to reach the people and undermine superstitions and delusions. Too many innocent people have been lynched.