CURIOUSITY KILLS THE CAT: The Pictures That Broke My Heart.
By Ajibola Aries
‘what eventually happened to me…would not have happened if mine has been a society in which freedom of expression was more controlled, or refined with more respect and consideration for human value systems.’
Those who were familiar with trends in the Nigerian newspaper and soft-sell magazine industry in the mid to late 90s will recall that the era witnessed noticeable increase in the freedom of expression of soft-sell magazines and journals in Nigeria.
However, it is not about the Nigerian newspapers that I want to talk about in this instance; though on a very related issue – how the rather dramatic increase in the freedom of expression of these soft-sell magazines and journals has cost me a significant portion of my happiness and has influenced my perception of God, other human beings as well as other creatures of God, and, even, organised religion.
During that era of increased press freedom, another trend that accompanied that development was the emergence of large numbers of soft-sell magazines, many of which dabbled into the open display of pornographic materials. It was the era of such magazines such as Better Lover, Tickles, Love and Life, Forever, etc even though some of these magazines insisted that they were, strictly speaking, not pornographic magazines but are rather romance magazines which merely make use of certain erotic pictures as illustrations.
This argument may have some credibility in the case of certain magazines such as Better Lover and Tickles (of which I eventually became a customer) since they rarely display hard core, and their emphasis on erotic pictures actually diminished with time. However, this could not be said of the majority of other soft-sell publications which did not hide their motive of laying bare to the full glare of the public, all those nooks and crannies of the human body whose concealment is the very definition of human moral sanity and dignity.
Another category of soft-sell magazines and journals that went to the extremes in their exercise of freedom of expression were those ones that were known for their screaming, bogus and almost always untrue politically motivated headlines.
I remember that at that time, visitors to newspaper stands would find such headlines as ‘BIAFRA SECEEDS TOMORROW’ or ‘GRUMBLINGS IN THE ARMY; OFFICERS THREATEN MUTINY’ e.t.c.
During those earlier times when Nigerians were less experienced and were still new to such freedom of expression, such headlines used to be taken seriously by many people –including me, at newspaper stands, but with time, almost everybody came to realise that most of such soft-sell are merely sinister, short-lived underground publications which make exaggerated headlines just in order to make instant sales.
Up to the present times these publications continued; the only thing being that the politically motivated and ethnic based ones tend to emerge suddenly from time to time and then shortly disappear, while many of the romance oriented and erotic ones have become more subtle in their expressions.
In essence, the trend whereby certain publications in Nigeria go to the extremes in their exercise of freedom of expression has continued unchecked - at least to the best of my knowledge and also going by the comments of most other Nigerians who frequent newspaper stands.
The gist is that if you do not wish to see pornography or any picture or headline expression that you may find offensive, one place you are advised to avoid in Nigeria nowadays, especially in Lagos, is the newspaper stand.
Now, why is this background relevant to my story? The simple answer is that what eventually happened to me, which slashed a significant portion of my happiness and altered my way of thinking and my lifestyle, would not have happened if mine had been a society in which freedom of expression was more controlled, or refined with more respect and consideration for human value systems.
THE D DAY In early February 2008, I had a mission to accomplish in KanoState in Northern Nigeria and, as part of my preparations for the journey, I had to go to cash some money at the bank.
I went to the bank as a happy person but returned home as a thoroughly heartbroken person (an experience that also buttresses the fact that money in one’s hand is not necessarily a guarantee of happiness).
So, even though I successfully cashed the money, looking back today I know that my outing on that day is the type that I would not have embarked upon if I had known better.
The big mistake I made was that immediately I finished cashing the money at the bank, from the bank I went straight to the newspaper stand to see the latest newspaper headlines.
As usual, there was such a large variety of newspapers, magazines and journals for people to feast their eyes upon. I joined these people and started reading the different newspaper and magazine headlines.
As usual, I saw many of these flash-in-the-pan publications with their usual bogus headlines as well as those magazines full of erotic illustrations. In any case by this time, Lagosians were already used to seeing them and a lot of those who have reservations about them have since learnt to check headlines without being disturbed by them.
However, on that particular day, as I was glancing at one headline after another, something was happening around me. My attention was gradually drawn to a particular publication which a lot of people were staring at. I observed that most of these people had a way of walking rapidly away after looking at the publication. Furthermore, it was clear to me that these people were no longer in good mood as they walked away from the scene. My interest was aroused, as I wondered in my mind what kind of pornographic pictures could have attracted so much attention and disgust from people. I then decided to move nearer and see what they were staring at.
And psychologically speaking, that was my undoing.
Dear reader, what I saw was not pornography at all! It was something I did not expect to ever see being openly displayed in broad daylight at a newspaper stand in Nigeria.
The reader will need to henceforth use his or her strength of imagination to fully comprehend the rest of my narration.
I think the best way I can make the reader get carried along is to start by saying that what unfolded before my eyes was a series of gory pictures on the front page of a soft-sell publication called ENDTIME JOURNAL.
The meaning of the pictures unfolded to me gradually. The first picture was that of a very beautiful young adolescent lady in the nude – which would have made one to think that this could be another pornograppy. In this picture, the lady was looking tired but was conscious. However, the next picture showed this lady lying down on her side but now with both her hands tied together with a rope. The third picture shows two men carrying this lady, still tied up, onto a table. And it was the fourth picture and the ones that followed that broke my heart: the pictures that followed, in which I saw one of these men brought out a very sharp knife, showed in clear colour, the stage by stage slaughter of this young lady in cold blood by these two young men. Try and imagine this: seeing how the lady’s throat was slashed with the knife and her head removed, to how her blood was drained into a plastic bucket, how the headless body was being washed with water, to how all her limbs were removed, to the removal of her intestines - all by these men. I was so horrified to see the extent of the thoroughness with which these two men carried out this horrendous act of man’s inhumanity to man. It was clear to me from the pictures that this is an act that these men must have been used to doing. And to make it worse, they looked happy doing it. One of them even posed for a picture carrying one of the lady’s severed legs!
Barely knowing how to contain my emotions, I vented part of it on the newspaper vendor, almost shouting at the top of my voice, ‘what kind of nonsense is this?! Why are you displaying this kind of thing in the public?!’ The vendor initially argued with me, but when he saw that I kept up my loud criticisms and was about making a scene there, he calmed down and sat down, by which time some other people around had began to speak up in agreement with me. The fact that I saw other people supporting me made me to calm down, and I began to walk away towards the bus stop.
Inside the bus, I was downcast throughout the journey. Twice or thrice, tears trickled from my eyes. Any attempt by me to open my eyes made the tears to trickle the more and so I shut my eyes. Yet in this self-imposed darkness I kept seeing the face of the murdered girl with all its expression of unendurable pain and agony during the slaughter. At a stage I was literally weeping and I knew that a couple or so of the passengers sitting next to me were aware of my emotions, but I was too deep in my troubled thoughts that I hardly cared about what people would think.
When the bus came to a halt, the next thing that came to my mind was that I should do something. I shouldn’t just go home like that. What could I do that would satisfy my conscience that at least I ‘did something’ under the circumstance? I therefore went to a cybercafe and sent an email to the popular Channels Television informing them of the open display of these gory pictures by End Time Journal. I remembered that a few days before this, Channels Television had run a programme whose topic was based on condemnation of how newspaper vendors openly display publications with obscene pictures. In my email to Channels Television, I described the pictures as fully as I could, with details of the exact location. The essence of this is that I believe that as a responsible media outfit that is conversant with the rules governing publications, this television station may somehow find a more effective way of cautioning or restraining the likes of the vendor that I earlier had an argument with.
This event has had a lasting impact on my life. For a long time after this I could not find the courage to stop by to check newspaper headlines again at that particular spot, and, beyond this, I developed a phobia for newspaper stands in general, always feeling that I could by chance see that journal or the like of it again. It isn’t that I have never seen terrible pictures or scenes in the past; in fact, I have been on many travels and have lost count of how many horrible scenes of mangled, decaying or decapitated bodies that I have come across. However, there is something that struck me in a very different way about this one which made it to affect me so thoroughly: never before have I seen a real, clear, stage-by-stage slaughter and butchery of a live human being by fellow human beings who made the whole thing more painful by even looking happy committing such grossly barbaric act of cruelty. Perhaps one would have been less shocked if this show of heartlessness was committed by cannibals or some other people that are known to be uncivilised, but the people I saw in those pictures are men in modern dresses, looking neat, clean shaven and educated. From their looks I could see that these men are of South East Asian extraction and the terrible act took place in a modern building.
My experience with the pictures also affected my diet. For a long time I couldn’t eat meat again. I virtually became a vegetarian. And I felt so tortured having to avoid meat for so long because meat has always been one of my preferred delicacies. I found myself having to sacrifice what I consider to be an important part of my diet to please my conscience and emotions.
Perhaps the most significant lasting effect that this experience had on me is that I took a decision never to slaughter any animal again, even if this decision brings me into conflict with certain prescriptions of my religion. Today, it has become my principle never to slaughter any animal under any circumstance. I took this decision partly as a show of sympathy for the murdered girl and as a demonstration of my utter disgust for any act that resembles her slaughter. There is simply no way by which my conscience will not revolt if I ever try to slaughter an animal. And even if I have to witness the slaughter of an animal (for example as normally encouraged at the Eid praying ground on Muslim Sallah days), I usually stand at a distance, and this I do mainly with bad memories; not with the pleasure that other people feel.
A year after this experience I somehow mustered the courage to go back to that newspaper stand. I was interested in knowing the story behind those horrible pictures. But this I wanted to do without reading the journal or seeing the pictures again. Fortunately the journal was no longer there but I met the same vendor who I argued with a year earlier. He recognised me but was friendly to me this time around, maybe because he thought I wanted to buy from him. His friendly attitude gave me the courage to ask him what those pictures were all about, and he told me that it was about how members of an occultic church secretly engaged in acts of ritual murders, by tricking their members into an inner chamber where they slaughter them. The girl in question was one of their victims. He didn’t tell me exactly whether it was one of their members who took those pictures, but according to what he told me, those pictures somehow got leaked to law enforcement agents in that country and the men were arrested.
I wouldn’t know what became of those men, but it is evident that even in the most lawless societies of the 21st century, whoever gets caught in such dastardly act of cruelty can never go scot free. And that is even apart from the divine wrath such act will attract, which is surer and infinitely worse.
Till today it has become a part of me to always feel less happy whenever I remember what I saw on that day. No matter what makes me happy at any moment, the smile always vanishes from my face whenever I remember those pictures. I have never forgotten the face of that girl, and in my prayers I always remember her. Through my researches I have been privileged to stumble upon proofs of the existence of an afterlife. My own conviction that there is an afterlife is not all about religious indoctrination; religion made me to believe that there is an afterlife; but academic research made me to know that there is an afterlife. Thus, there is a relief that I do feel whenever I remember that that is not the final end of that girl. She will live another life in the afterlife and since she was killed at an age of innocence, I am optimistic that God, in His infinite benevolence, will put her in a better life in the hereafter. Erasing the memories of those pictures has been very hard for me.
I have repeatedly failed in my efforts to forget these memories.
In recent times I was very shocked and almost mad with myself when I came across those horrible pictures in one of my phones. I have forgotten that I actually used my camera phone to snap the upper half of that journal cover page in order to be able to remember the exact edition and number of the journal, and in the process, some of the pictures were captured by my phone. Seeing the pictures again in my phone re-awoke a whole lot of terrible memories and emotions in me. I quickly deleted them but the damage had already been done. I really hated myself on that day. I found it difficult to sleep on that night. Then I tried to pass that long night by writing this article to document my experience. That one has not helped either. I continued to be haunted by the face of that girl.
For reasons best known to it, my mind has chosen to retain this unpleasant memory.
I doubt if I would ever completely get over it.