By Victor Ayeni
As unproven claims of ‘missing genitals’ seems to be spreading, gratuitous violence has been unleashed on persons believed to be responsible for it, VICTOR AYENI writes on this and the views of experts who describe it as a delusion reinforced by mental health issues
Grace Abraham was obviously engulfed in panic as she reeled out her name in rapid succession to a stern male voice probing her with questions in a disturbing video posted on TikTok on October 7.
In the video, the woman who admitted being a resident of Gosa community in the Federal Capital Territory was accused by two men of “magically” stealing their penises.
A boy – who appeared to be her son –stood close as her native attire was drenched in sweat as she nervously fiddled with a phone in her hand.
“So your business is to remove people’s phalluses; you go about stealing men’s penises, you now want to make a phone call the way you give men your phone so that after they are done making the call, penis will vanish. Isn’t it?” Abraham’s accuser yelled in the video which has been shared by 458 TikTok users as of Wednesday afternoon.
The woman made efforts to deny each accusation, shaking her head to convey her innocence, but the man in the video had none of it.
Speaking in pidgin, he screamed, “Call that person you want to call right now and you know what, you will return these men’s genitals to them. Today, you will die. Today will be the first and last time you will do this thing.”
The two men who claimed to have had their manhood “stolen” in the video were fully clothed and there was no photographic or video evidence beyond their claims.
However, Saturday PUNCH learnt that these men were later arrested for making false claims and the woman was rescued by security operatives.
On Sunday, October 8, a similar allegation was made by 18-year-old Ebube Linus against a 68-year-old widow, Mrs Ann Ekechukwu, in Asaba, Delta State.
Linus had raised the alarm that the woman, a fellow passenger in a tricycle, physically touched him after which his manhood allegedly vanished.
According to a disturbing video that went viral, misguided touts mobbed Ekechukwu and stripped her naked before she was rescued by the police.
Speaking to journalists after his arrest, Linus said, “I greeted her and she replied to my greeting. So, as I alighted from the DBS junction I started feeling somehow and I went to meet the woman to ask, ‘What did you do to my body? Reverse what you did’.”
But after an investigation, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Bright Edafe, said, “We later discovered that nothing was wrong with him (Linus), as his manhood was intact. He just lied against a poor woman, a mother, a daughter and a wife.”
Wave of disappearing penises
For many Nigerians, stories of people claiming their privates went missing usually after a physical touch by someone else are not new. Findings by our correspondent showed that the self-acclaimed victims are usually men, and the body part they often claim ‘disappear’ is the penis.
Oftentimes, the victims claim they felt a sensation in their body after touch or an encounter with someone, prompting them to raise an alarm to attract a crowd, after which a ‘culprit’ is fingered as responsible and passersby become the street court and judge.
A demand is made of the accused to replace the affected organ, and if they unfortunately fail to do so, a harsh death in the hands of a raging mob is often on the cards.
For weeks, there have been several claims of stolen genitals across the country. Although there is no visual evidence to substantiate these claims, our correspondent gathered that they have instilled a morbid fear among many men.
An Abuja resident, Gbola Olukoya, said such claims had generated much panic among citizens.
He told our correspondent, “The stories are many here. In fact, many men are now purchasing charcoal, bitter kola and needles and placing them in their pockets whenever they go out because they believe these things will prevent their genitals from being stolen. It’s that bad.”
Commenting on the baffling trend, another Abuja resident, Mr Kingsley Godwin, said, “I have heard of cases of missing organs but where are the pictures or videos to confirm these things? None. These are the results of years of people being conditioned by Nollywood and religious tales about body parts being stolen or retrieved by magic and witchcraft. Now, we are seeing the result; people readily believe these things without any proof.”
On his part, a businessman who also resides in the capital city, Joseph Ehioghae, described the claims of ‘missing manhood’ as a format used by criminals.
Ehioghae stated, “Most of the time, those individuals being accused are actually the victims and those claiming their manhood disappeared are the real criminals. These criminals would position themselves around and look out for someone they know they can easily intimidate and walk up to them and hit them.
“If you are frightened, the criminal would scream at the top of his voice that his penis disappeared. This is the new method used to rob people of their valuables.”
Corroborating Ehioghae’s observation, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Benin, Edo State, Afolabi Aroyewun, said at the root of the false allegations was economic hardship.
He noted, “What we are seeing now is caused by the economic hardship Nigeria is currently facing. It is a situation people now use as a decoy for mob action, to steal and commit crime. The prevalence is a result of the economic crisis because things are not easy.
“Some people who have been living on charity and the goodwill of others but no longer enjoy that because there is not much to give have to compensate for that, they devise other means of getting money.
“The focus of the individuals is not on the missing genitalia. When it happens, the situation is used to raise a false alarm, which would cause a mob action and while that is going on, their colleagues around the scene would use the opportunity to commit several atrocities.”
The descent into barbarism
As rumours and panic spread with the tales of missing genitals across different states, insatiable violence also began to accompany it.
On Friday last week, the FCT police command disclosed that about 62 cases of alleged disappearance of manhood had been reported across the territory.
The FCT Commissioner of Police, Haruna Garba, also revealed that 51 suspects who wrongfully accused others of stealing their manhoods had been arrested and charged to court for misinformation and causing breach of public peace.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the first among recently reported cases of male organ ‘disappearance’ was on September 20 when one John Ugwu in Gwagwalada area of Abuja made the allegation, resulting in the lynching of the accused.
On September 22, a young man named Rokeeb Saheed, also accused one Lucky Josiah of causing his male organ to “go missing,” whereas a medical examination by the police confirmed that Saheed’s organ was fine.
A video that was shared on X (formerly Twitter) on October 6 showed Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps officers viciously assaulting a middle-aged man who was alleged to have “stolen” the manhood of two men at the national headquarters of the agency in Sauka, Abuja.
Days after the video went viral, the Commandant-General NSCDC, Dr Ahmed Abubakar Audi, called for “the arrest of the officers involved for questioning and thereafter, necessary action”.
On October 7, an angry mob in the Dei Dei area attacked policemen who had gone to rescue a man identified as Mubarak who was almost lynched over an allegation of manhood disappearance.
Two days later, residents of Lugbe mobbed two young men after one Abdulrasheed Jeje raised an alarm, alleging that they had made his manhood vanish.
The Kogi State Police Command on October 10 paraded three suspects – Harish Abdurasheed, 18; Yakubu Mohammed, 25; and Haruna Adamu, 28, for false alarm that led to the lynching of a man accused of ‘snatching’ their genitals.
Similar allegations have also been made in Nasarawa State. On October 8, an unidentified man narrowly escaped being lynched in the Mararaba community after his sport utility vehicle was set ablaze for allegedly stealing a male private parts.
In Lafia, it was alleged that three persons’ manhoods disappeared in Tudun Kwandara, followed by cases at the Federal University, Lafia, and Tudun Kauri which prompted the state PPRO, Rahman Nansel, to warn that drastic measures would be taken against anyone caught misleading the public.
A legal practitioner, Mrs Morayo Ayeni, during an interview with Saturday PUNCH, pointed out that the claims of missing genitals were rumours that lacked corroboration by medical experts.
Describing jungle justice as a barbaric crime, she further explained that the Nigerian criminal and penal code prohibits mob lynching and those involved in them could be charged for the murder of the suspect.
Ayeni stated, “There are certain questions that should be addressed by society: how real is the story of missing human genitals? How many people have been medically confirmed as victims? Has anyone been caught to be in possession of human genitals?
“We are yet to have confirmed cases by medical experts, therefore there is nothing like missing genitals; it’s a mere rumour and hearsay, and therefore it’s not admissible in court. However, there are exceptions to that principle.
“It’s quite unfortunate that a lot of people have been deprived of their fundamental human rights through mob lynching in relation to human genitals. It’s important to note that a person is innocent of an allegation brought against him until he is proven guilty, Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
She stressed that the constitution placed a heavy burden on the prosecution because of the standard of proof required to displace the presumption; proof beyond a reasonable doubt. “This in effect means it’s the duty of the prosecution to prove the guilt of the suspect of the human genitals,” Ayeni added.
Citing section 66 of the Police Act, 2020, the legal practitioner added that “the law gives the police the power to prosecute and since there are police divisions in almost every neighborhood, citizens should cultivate the habit of handing over any suspect to the police for proper investigation in the interest of justice”.
Old syndrome, renewed hysteria
A medical doctor with the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Ninyo Omidiji, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH in 2020 identified the loss of penile erection which had been dubbed “missing manhood” as Koro syndrome.
Omidiji had said, “The first cases were seen in Asia, where it was considered to be culture-specific syndrome or culture-bound syndrome because it was considered to be limited to those areas until we began to see cases in other parts of the world like Europe and Africa. It is called Koro syndrome.
“Sometimes, it may occur as an isolated case and at other times it may be mass hysteria in which a number of people at the same time will report the experience. They have a strong belief that their genitals disappeared.
“Koro syndrome is characterised by a person’s acute anxiety attacks due to their overwhelming belief that their sex organs are retracting and disappearing into their body and that this retraction is fatal, despite the lack of actual physical changes to these organs.”
Our correspondent gathered that one of the earliest documented cases of Koro (also known as genital retraction syndrome) in Nigeria dates back to 1975, and was recorded by a psychiatrist posted to Kaduna State, Dr Sunday Ilechukwu.
According to the April 14, 2008 edition of Harper’s Magazine, Dr Ilechukwu was in his office when a policeman accompanied two men into his office and asked for a medical assessment. One of the men had accused the other of making his penis to disappear, which caused a major disturbance in the area.
As Ilechukwu narrated it, the victim stared straight ahead during the examination, after which the doctor pronounced him normal. “Exclaiming,” Ilechukwu wrote, “the patient looked down at his groin for the first time, suggesting that the genitals had just reappeared.”
According to Ilechukwu, an epidemic of ‘penis theft’ swept across Nigeria between 1975 and 1977 but there seemed to be a lull until 1990 when the stealing resurfaced.
“Men could be seen on the streets of Lagos holding on to their genitalia either openly or discreetly with their hands in their pockets. Women were also seen holding on to their breasts directly or discreetly, by crossing their hands across the chest,” Ilechukwu wrote.
The name Koro, according to Bionity, an online biotechnological information source, came from Malaysia/Indonesia and it means, ‘head of a turtle’ – a description that likens a retracted penis to the appearance of a turtle withdrawing its head.
Highlighting the outbreaks of Koro in China between 1948 and 1985, the site adds that genital retraction has not been recorded in the country for about two decades.
The site noted, “The phenomenon is often, but not always, associated with occult belief such as witchcraft. These panics frequently, but not exclusively, occur in places where access to education—particularly in science and human biology—is limited, or otherwise restricted (for example, when government policies restrict such education). Others have been reported under the influence of drug use.
“European folktales are replete with examples of witches who could steal men’s genitals. These penis panics appear to have ended with enlightenment. One particularly illustrating example can be found in a joke in the otherwise quite serious Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) that details the experience of a man attempting to retrieve his stolen penis from a witch who has hidden it in a bird’s nest, along with those of others.
“Although Koro goes back to ancient times, beliefs have evolved to better suit modernity. Whereas in the past the causes were usually identified as supernatural, e.g. sorcery, a recent Koro episode in northern Thailand placed the blame on Vietnamese communist agents who supposedly put chemicals in the water supply.”
The source also indicated that aside from the emotional distress, Koro by itself is not physically harmful, and no actual retraction takes place.
“Injuries have occurred when stricken men have resorted to apparatus such as needles, hooks, fishing line, and shoe strings, to prevent the disappearance of their penises,” it stated.
A mental health expert, Sola Adepoju, in an interview with our correspondent, said the belief in ‘disappearing’ genitals thrives on suggestive ideas placed in the mind.
Adepoju noted, “These tales of missing penises thrive on suggestibility and this occurs when people are exposed to such stories repeatedly and from different trusted sources. Their mental states are changed and their minds are more suggestible towards believing that such superstitious ideas are real and the same things are happening to them.
“There are certain superstitious beliefs that people see in Nigerian movies and hear in religious gatherings and these channels of thoughts interpenetrate each other and on a wide scale, they lead to social neuroses. So, there has to be an intentional move to create awareness, enlighten people on scientific knowledge, train them to reason objectively, and question irrational claims.”
No disappearing genitals – Medical experts
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH on the phenomenon, the Chief Executive Officer of Lifeboxlabs, Dr Olusina Ajidahun, described the reports of ‘missing penises’ as cases of Koro syndrome which has been defined as a delusional disorder.
Ajidahun noted, “There have been many news reports about penises disappearing but I don’t think it is true. I think we might be having cases of Koro syndrome and it is a culturally-bound delusional disorder in which a person believes that their genital (penis or vagina) has disappeared or vanished, is shrinking, or has been stolen.
“It causes problems because some of these people can become cynical or have anxiety issues. Let’s not forget that most of these so-called ‘penises disappearing’ are reported to be happening in Abuja. Koro is culturally bound and a lot of people are influenced by the same cultural beliefs.”
Further explaining the dangers of jungle justice which often accompany allegations of ‘stolen genitals,’ the doctor noted that mob violence usually targets innocent people and there should be civilised ways of handling cases of Koro syndrome.
He added, “If people feel that their genitals have ‘disappeared,’ I feel that the first port of call should be to go to a hospital to see a doctor because a lot of times, these genitals are still there.
“Like in one of the videos that emerged last week, the so-called victim later came out to say ‘I’m sorry, my penis is still there. It wasn’t stolen.’ But who is going to take action regarding the person that was accused of ‘stealing’ his penis and was brutalised and beaten by the mob because you were walking in a market and this person touched you?
“Another thing is, you don’t even get to see the so-called ‘disappeared penis.’ If it really disappeared, then let us see your trousers, but you will just see them touching that part, saying ‘it’s not there, it’s not there!’ If we have cases of Koro, then the law enforcement should step in and take the so-called victim and suspect to a hospital and let medical examinations be carried out.”
Ajidahun stressed that nobody should be beaten as he decried the resort to violence when people make claims, including those unsubstantiated. “There are sensible ways to handle things and those who wrongly accuse others should be punished by the law,” the doctor added.
An Abuja-based family health consultant, Dr Agbor Ebuta, in a viral video, noted that the Chinese documented in their textbook on Internal Medicine an imbalance between Yin and Yang, which could result in what has been described as ‘shrinking’ penis.
He added, “In West Africa, for example, between 1997 and 2003, no fewer than 36 people were documented to have been lynched. In 2020, five people were lynched in Guma Local Government (Benue State) after being accused of involvement in the ‘disappearance’ of a penis.
“What really happens is that a patient feels that his genital is shrinking into his abdomen at the risk of disappearing or they actually feel that the testicles have ‘disappeared.’ They suddenly raise an alarm and accuse anybody who has come in contact with them.
“If they are unlucky, the mob assembles and they can be lynched. If they are lucky, the police passing by can arrest that situation and take them to the hospital where, more often than not, the medical officer confirms that no genitals disappeared.”
Ebuta further stated that the claims of ‘disappearing penises’ are basically due to patients who suffer from acute panic anxiety attacks.
Ebuta noted, “Most of these patients have underlying mental health problems like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, hypochondriasis and some may even have neurosyphilis.
“A medical doctor should assess these patients, explain to them what the problem is, provide treatment if they have mental health problems and refer them where appropriate. So there is nothing like ‘disappearing penis’ because no penis has disappeared in the last 2,000 years since documentation.”
Meanwhile, a clinical health psychologist and neuropsychological expert, Dr Abel Obosi, stated that the country’s cultural beliefs in mysticism fuelled the prevalence of genital relapse syndrome.
Obosi further noted that a false belief of feeling pain or moving objects in the body without medical evidence or explanation was related to another medical condition called hypochondriasis.
Continuing, he said, “It is a fear and they can be specific to individuals, and once that happens, only that person experiences it and there is no physical evidence to show that it happened. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, it is characterised as a psychiatric disorder.
“They need a medical examination, and when it is clear that they are fine, the psychiatrist can come in to give them evidence that whatever was going on was in their mind and provide counselling and therapy.”
Additional report by JANET OGUNDEPO.