Jane Toku did not cry when she recalls seeing the smouldering remnants of her son’s corpse on the morning he and three of his friends were lynched ten years ago.
At daybreak, the four students encountered a local vigilante group in Aluu, a village behind the University of Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria’s oil metropolis.
There had been a string of robberies in the area, and people were wary at that hour of the morning. Llody Toku, Ugonna Obuzor, Chiadika Biringa, and Tekena Elkanah were given a fake trial and found guilty of petty theft.
Their punishment was swift: they were stripped, marched through the neighbourhood, savagely beaten, and set ablaze.
“When I came, I pushed my way through the mob and knelt in front of my son’s body.”
“I observed his pal Tekena’s chest heave with his dying breaths,” Mrs. Toku added.
Such mob killings are not uncommon in Nigeria, but this was the first to go viral on social media, eliciting significant indignation, protests, debates about the country’s justice system, and questions about a society in which such levels of violence are acceptable.
“I’m weary and sick of coming here to lament after these heinous deeds,” a lawmaker remarked during a debate on the tragedy in the National Assembly.
“It is critical that ‘jungle justice’ be stopped because it is awful,” radio personality Yaw stated as celebrities slammed the event.
Despite the shock and outrage over the lynching of the students, now known as the Aluu Four, and the conviction of three persons, including a police officer, for their roles in the lynching, mob attacks continue to occur throughout Nigeria.
According to SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based think group, there have been 391 mob killings in Nigeria since 2019, with at least five this year alone.
That begs the question of why the anger over the Aluu Four’s murder did not result in a national reckoning over lynchings.
“One very key cause for this is the failure of the criminal justice system,” said Dr. Agwanwo Destiny, a criminologist from the University of Port Harcourt’s sociology department.
He cited examples of criminal suspects who were turned over to the police and then released without being investigated, only to seek vengeance on those who had given them up.
“Such occurrences destroy trust in the justice system, so when people are accused of a crime, people are eager to cast judgment and vent their emotions,” Dr. Destiny explained.
It’s an argument made by activist Annkio Briggs, who spearheaded protests in Port Harcourt demanding justice for the kids and their families because she “couldn’t trust the system to do what was right,” according to the BBC.
Mob killers in Nigeria are rarely apprehended and prosecuted.
Two individuals detained in May following the lynching of a Christian student in Sokoto on blasphemy charges have yet to stand trial, while police say the main perpetrators are still at large.
It was one of four mob killings reported in that month alone:
A mob burned to death two men in the Lagos neighbourhood of Ijesha for allegedly stealing cell phones.
One man was slain in Lugbe, Abuja, on blasphemy charges.
Commercial motorcyclists lynched a sound engineer named David Imoh in the Lagos neighbourhood of Lekki.
Suspects have been charged in all incidents, according to the police. However, due to the glacial speed of justice in Nigeria, it could be years before any verdicts are issued.
The ICPC, Nigeria’s anti-corruption body, declared the court to be the most corrupt branch of government in the country two years ago. It claimed that more than nine billion naira ($21 million; £19 million) in bribes were proposed and paid in the sector.
According to Dr. Destiny, news showing that justice is for sale to the highest bidder weakens trust in the system.
What the four students were doing when they were stopped by the vigilante group in Aluu has never been determined.
According to one version, they were thieves, while another claimed they were members of a violent gang.
“He wasn’t a perfect youngster, but he was humble and trusted us.”
Mrs. Toku stated of her son, “He was close to us because we had our second child 11 years after him.”
The four best friends were in their late teens and early twenties and came from middle-class families.
Ugonna 18, and his comrade Lloyd, 19, dubbed Tipsy and Big L, were rising stars in Port Harcourt’s rap scene.
Love In The City, one of their three unreleased tracks, could almost be a foreshadowing of what happened to them.
Growing up in a city like PH, where Ra was born to sing,
We enjoy the street life because
There is no love in the city’s heart.
When the garden is exhausted, how can the seeds grow?
It used to be extremely calm, but the arrival of oil crude caused conflict.
“There can be no rationale, no reason why someone should die like way,” said Gloria During, a friend who shared the Hilton guesthouse in Aluu with both musicians.
Aluu is well-known for its private apartments, which are rented by students who are unable to get lodging at the university’s limited hostels.
It was a small village with numerous undeveloped plots and a large farmer population at the time.
Today, Port Harcourt’s booming metropolis has caught up with the outskirts of Aluu, with Pentecostal churches taking up the majority of the area and additional hostels springing up.
However, two barren plots remain in the heart of the community: the playground where the students were originally detained and sentenced to death, and the burrow-pit, several hundred yards distant, where they were marched to, beaten, and killed.
Despite the countrywide shock when the atrocity occurred, most of Nigeria has moved on.
Time, on the other hand, is a constant reminder for a mother of the death of a beloved first son with a bright future ahead of him.
“He had a promising musical career; he would have advanced far by now,” Mrs. Toku stated.