Thursday June 6, 2019 will remain indelible in the minds of the entire Agugom family. Two members of the family, Joseph and Paul Agugom, would have been murdered in a gruesome manner by an angry mob on Lawanson Road, Surulere, Lagos.
On that fateful day, at about 12.45pm Joseph, along with his younger brother, Paul, a battery dealer who lives at No 10 Bishop Okogie Street, Ago, Okota, Lagos, were accosted at Lawanson bus stop while they were taking Paul’s wife, Justina, who is said to be mentally ill to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, Lagos.
According to the account given Saturday Sun by Paul, his wife had earlier broken window glasses of the car in which they were taking her to hospital. This development prompted them to bind her hands and legs with rope in order to immobilize her. She was also taken along with her youngest child, Munachimso, who is about a year-and-a-half-old to prevent both from missing each other.
However, as soon as they got to Lawanson bus stop, something terrible happened. Justina started shouting that people should urgently come to their help before she and her child are wasted by people she described as kidnappers and ritualists. She said their lives are in danger if nothing was done to stop them. Joseph and Paul ignored her ranting most of which she uttered in Yoruba and drove on. But it was not for too long before they realized that they had done so at their own peril. Not surprisingly, her continuous appeals for help started attracting the attention, sympathy and later, anger, of the people around.
Paul, who is popularly known as Alhaji said before they could ask “what on earth is happening?” some street urchins known as area boys stopped his car as he was the one driving, and threateningly questioned him on where he was taking the woman to. He made to explain but they cut him off and ordered him in an unfriendly voice to kill the engine of his car and come down. He did with the intention of explaining to them the bit they didn’t know about the shouting woman.
But without waiting for him to respond to their flurry of aggressive questions, they descended on him and his younger brother like a swarm of locusts or pack of jackals baying for blood and beat them black and blue. The more they tried in vain to explain the more they received severe beatings from the mob armed with various sizes and shapes of cudgels. The beatings reportedly increased when Justina alleged, in Yoruba, that they had earlier killed her other two children for money ritual and were now taking her and her last child away to go and kill. In fact, by the time the police arrived the scene after being alerted, Joseph and Paul had been so thoroughly beaten that they lost hope of coming out of the mid-day ordeal alive. The coming of the police turned out to be their only saving grace as the enraged mob were on the verge of setting them and their Honda CRV car ablaze. In fact, they had already deflated the car tyres and were waiting for someone to bring fuel and matches to be used in sealing up their hope with a blaze of bonfire before the Police arrived and started shooting into the air to scare them away.
“They almost beat me to death,” he affirmed in a chat with this reporter. “They took my money, N150, 000, which I was going to use at the hospital. They also took my slippers and my brother’s belt. They beat us like armed robbers, using all manner of weapons on us. I thought I was gone. In my mind, I was praying to God to come and save me because I was trying to save my wife’s life.”
Joseph, Paul’s elder brother who lives in Owerri but came to Lagos to help out, said he too did not nurse any hope of coming out of the ordeal alive. “As we were being clubbed by the mob, I asked myself so this is how I am going to die?”
Police intervention that saved the day
Saturday Sun learnt that it was two good Samaritans, a man and a woman, who alerted the Itire Police station, Lagos about the rampaging mob. As soon as the command’s control room received the distress call, the anti-crime patrol team led by the Divisional Police Officer, Itire, CSP Odey Ogah, drove to the scene and rescued the “alleged” kidnappers and took them along with the tied-up woman and her child, to the police station in order to establish the truth from cacophonous voices of claims and counterclaims.
It is while the rescued brothers were trying to catch their breath at the station that preliminary investigation revealed that the alleged victim, 28-years-old Justina, is married to one of the suspects, Joseph Agugom and the child belonged to both of them. It was also revealed that the victim is suffering from mental illness and was actually being taken to hospital for medication when she raised alarm and some members of the public stopped the car and descended on the suspects.
“Immediately we got to the police station, a policewoman at the station there who knows me was shocked to see that I was the alleged kidnapper and ritualist,” Paul said. “She called me Alhaji, my nickname, and told the DPO that it can’t be true because he knows me very well. As if that was not enough, another police orderly who also knows me shouted my name and equally echoed what the policewoman said.
“However, we were asked to make statements. While that was on, my wife started displaying unusual behaviour. As soon as she saw the DPO, she held him. She was holding and harassing everybody, saying meaningless things. That was when the DPO and others around concluded that she is really mentally sick and asked us to go and get medical treatment because my body was drenched with blood.”
In the course of investigation, members of both the suspects’ and victims’ families came to the station and made statements to the effect that the victim is suffering from mental illness and was actually being taking to hospital. The other two children, one seven years and the other, three-plus, were brought to the station, contrary to the allegation by Justina that they were killed by her husband for money ritual. Paul said when his children saw his condition, they started crying. His wife was later taken to hospital by the police for medical examination. When Saturday Sun visited their home at Okota, Paul said that she is responding to treatment at LUTH.
How the illness began
Paul and his elder brother hail from Umidim, Ikeduru Imo State, while Justina is from Lokpanta, Abia State. According to Paul, the illness started early last month. And, he confessed that this is the first time he is experiencing since they have been married in the past 10 years.
“On that fateful day, I just came back from a trip, and in the morning I left for my business. Suddenly, my sister who lives in Port Harcourt called me and said I should go home and meet my wife that she did not understand what she was saying. When I came, I saw her lying on the floor and making calls. She was uttering meaningless words. I took her phone but the phone was off. I called her name severally but she did not respond. Surprised, I took her to the hospital immediately. The doctor examined her, gave her some drugs and asked me to take her to Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba or LUTH. I didn’t believe it. I called her maternal aunt who I am very close to and intimated her of what was happening and she started crying. She called my wife’s junior sister that lives at Ikorodu to come and see what was happening and she came and joined us in the hospital.
“After this, I took her to Teaching Hospital, Elele, Rivers State, where she was interviewed for more than three hours but nothing was discovered. We came to Owerri and stayed for about five days at my brother’s place and there was no problem. We had to come back to Lagos later. But after a week we arrived Lagos, it started again. I called her aunt and she advised me to bring her to Ekiti where my wife’s parents are living. My wife was born and brought up in Yoruba land. That is why she speaks Yoruba very well.”
Paul said when they got to Ojota, they waited till about 6pm but the vehicle could not move because there were not enough passengers, so they went back home. “Justina’s aunt had wanted to take her to a church for spiritual deliverance,” he said. “So I called her aunt and told her that we won’t be able to make it. That night, the illness increased and I called her aunt and she said I should bring her to Ojota so she could pick her from there to Ekiti. But I told her it was better she came to the house first.”
It was in the course of doing so that the first tragedy struck. Paul explains: “On her way from Ekiti to this place, she had an accident and died. As I am talking to you now she is in the mortuary. We did not even hear the news that she was dead, but we heard that she was missing. It happened on Tuesday, but it was on Thursday when I called them to tell them what I was passing through. Amid crying, they told us that the woman was dead. It was when I waited for her aunt and did not see her that I called my family members and complained to them. That was how my elder brother, Joseph, came to Lagos to help me. He arrived on Wednesday and we were on our way to hospital on Thursday when this incident happened.”
Paul speaks on his state of health following the beatings
As things stand now, Paul and Joseph are in need of medical attention from injuries inflicted on them, as much as, perhaps, Justina. “During the beating, they nearly blinded me as they aimed again and again at my eyes. They gave me thorough beating like an armed robber and this affected my eyes. I have gone for an eye surgery because I can’t see properly now. I also seemed to have sustained some internal injuries because I find out that whenever I cough, I cough out blood. I have gone for an x-ray for this before I will start receiving treatment. I am yet to resume my business because of my state of health.” Joseph’s eyes, Paul said, were also affected by the beatings so much he can no longer drive at night. As for Justina, he said she is receiving some treatment at LUTH. “Her sister is taking care of her along with our last child who was with us in the car that day.”
Reflecting on the incident that nearly took his life and that of his elder brother, the man who holds various offices at St. Cyril Catholic Church, Okota, where he is not only a church warder but also in charge of Welfare of Catholic Men Organisation as well as being the Vice Chairman, Man Order and Discipline (MOD), sighed as he advised people to ask questions before they act.
“They should call the police in a situation like that,” he said. “I want the police to arrest those involved and bring them to justice and use them as deterrent to others. Police can identify them through the video that has gone viral. I too can identify them. The one that collected my money and my car key can be arrested. He drove the car to the police station, so if the police is serious about it, at least they can arrest him.”
In their reaction, police said they have launched a manhunt for those who participated in the mob action with a view to bringing them to face the law. In a statement released by DSP Bala Eliana, Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State, he advised members of the public to be careful in jumping to conclusion when anybody raises an alarm.
“Innocent persons have suffered death or bodily harm and inhuman treatment through jungle justice,” he lamented. “Members of the public have the powers to arrest anybody suspected of a crime but the law provides that such persons arrested should be handed over to the police immediately. It is only after thorough investigation that we can determine the truthfulness or otherwise of the allegations. And our law presumes an accused person is deem innocent until he is proven guilty by court of competent jurisdiction.”