The Curious Case Of Deejay's Missing Dick
Filed Under: NSFW, Non-Fiction, Nigerian Nightmare
Offices have rules. If you’re going to download movies illegally, wait till everyone is out of the office, so no one’s productivity suffers because you’re sucking up the internet’s bandwidth.
Deejay respected this, and that’s why he stayed behind for two hours after the office closed for the day. He worked as a social media manager at a company where management was too old to understand what he did. Still, they respected his output.
When he eventually left the building, it was because he’d grown tired of staring at his screen and began to worry about his lonely walk to the okada place.
Murtala Muhammed Way is a one-way stretch that starts at Jibowu, passes in front of Yaba Left, Tejuoso Market, a railway station, a military barracks, and ends at Oyingbo Market. It gets lonely and treacherous after nightfall. Everyone has heard a story of Yaba robbers armed with knives, machetes, and guns, waiting by ATMs, springing out of dark corners, or creeping up behind you. So on most nights when Deejay left the office late, he’d roll up a trouser, go a few buttons up, or switch to slippers in his backpack.
On that night, he was too tired for all of it. Tired enough that when he’d gotten on the road and began walking towards the okada place, he realised he hadn’t paid much mind to the man walking toward him from the left, the distance of three cars away. He was dressed in a white shirt and a face cap to cover his eyes.
Deejay trudged on, tracking the man behind him by the length of his faint shadow. Then, just as he’d begun to make out the okada men in the distance, he felt a strong nudge on his shoulder.
“I can’t remember much after that,” he said. The next few minutes were a blur. He’d gotten on an okada and reached his apartment building, an old hotel past its glory years repurposed as single-room apartments for rent.
He became aware of himself as he entered his apartment. “You know that thing in Nollywood movies when it’s as if something enters a person and they’re jolted back to consciousness,” Deejay explained, “that’s how it felt.”
The first thing he thought about was his phone. He checked his pockets, then his backpack – his phone was gone. The first person he thought about was the guy in the white shirt with the face cap.
He sighed, and as he took a step closer to his bed, he felt a numbness sweep through his lower body, from his waist to the sole of his feet. It was as if all the blood had left it; his feet barely felt anything as he took one step after the other.
Maybe some rest would do, he thought, as he began to take off his clothes. First, his shirt, then his pants, then his socks. When he took off his underwear, the numbness shot up from his waist to his eyes.
His head spun, and his eyes were dizzy for a few seconds. But one thing came back into focus. There was nothing there where there should have been a dick hanging loose and now getting some air. Instead, just a ballsack, and what should have been a dick was something just about the size of what’d typically be his tip.
“Look,” Deejay said. “I’m not small down there, so imagine my panic when I looked down and saw nothing.”
In his pre-degree year at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Deejay stayed in an all-boys hostel off-campus. They had toilets but no bathrooms, so a few dozen schlongs hung loose in the yard in all their glory every morning.
As inevitable as the sun rising from the east, someone suggested they do an actual dick-measuring contest one day. “There was this Nupe guy everyone thought was going to win,” Deejay told me, hiding a blush, “but I won.” And so everyone who was there that day remembers it with the title Deejay was bestowed – Ẹlẹ́pi of Ẹpí – an acknowledgement of his size.
But on that Wednesday night about a decade later, just one year after moving to Lagos, his crown was missing. At that moment, Deejay could only think about the person who brushed his shoulder.
In December 1973, mobs killed fourteen men across five cities in Northern Nigeria. In April 2001, over two weeks, at least 12 people were killed across five towns in southwest Nigeria – eight of them, visiting evangelists, were burnt to death. One woman had already been beaten till her face looked like a bruised tomato. The police rescued her just as the mob had placed a tyre around her neck, and was ready to set her ablaze.
In the 28 years between them, dozens more were lynched across Nigeria by burning, bludgeoning, or both. The same jungle justice charge had transcended space, jurisdiction and time and was the same in all these cases: all victims were accused of stealing men’s penises.
Everyone has heard that a dick got snatched, just as everyone has heard about kids picking rubber bands and turning into yam. Or heads vomiting money in a forest or a wardrobe. Stolen penises are so mainstream in the Nigerian urban legend that, when you’re in a crowded place, and someone brushes your shoulder, you check your pockets for your phone, then your crotch to feel for your dick. The streets have rules.
No one can confirm, but everyone knows – it’s Nigeria, things dey happen. And when things happen, they require something that matches that energy. It’s why, when Deejay gathered himself, he knew where he had to go next.
The Wednesday service at the Yaba branch of The Covenant Christian Centre is special – Pastor Poju, the founder of the church, usually preached there. So It could only have been fate that the day Deejay’s crown got snatched, his deliverance was a few hours away.
“Covenant Christian Centre!” Deejay hailed the first okada flying by as he reached the bus stop.
“I no dey go that side,” the rider said without stopping.
“I’ll give you 1k,” Deejay shouted back. ₦1k for a ₦200 trip? No Agbero’s wahala was bigger than that margin. Deejay was there in less than ten minutes.
Church hadn’t seen much of Deejay in the months leading up to that night. It hadn’t seen as much of Deejay since his university years. Back in school, he did all-nighters, spoke in tongues, and attended weekday fellowships. When his dad was out of his job, Deejay stood in church before God, in sweat and tongues, and made his case: “I’ll not leave this place until you’ve gotten a job for my father.” He didn’t have to stay a whole weekend. His mother called to tell him his dad had just landed a new job.
“I was a proper spirikoko,” he recalled.
Pastor Poju was still on the podium when Deejay reached the church. When the pastor finished preaching, Deejay rushed to the front of the congregation of a few hundred people. But by the time he got to the front-row seats, Pastor Poju was already gone. He’d missed him by a few seconds.
But, in God’s house, Deejay wasn’t giving up. As the church emptied, he walked up to some men – he wasn’t even sure if they were pastors; they just looked pastorly.
“My thing has disappeared,” Deejay said to the men as he pointed to his crotch.
Deejay repeated himself.
“Can you help me or not,” he snapped, as one of the men tried to rationalise it.
They led him into a smaller room in the church.
“Let us pray,” the person who looked the oldest and most pastorly said. And so they prayed and prayed till they called timeout. Then, they asked him to check if his dick was back. He went into the restroom, stared into his pants, and then fiddled with his hand.
His dick was not back.
“Young man,” the most pastorly said to Deejay, who wasn’t feeling like much of a man, as he returned to them, “you need to have faith. So go home and continue praying.”
Faith – Deejay hadn’t had much of this in a long time. It started two years before his final year in university when he got an F in a course he was sure he would pass. “I went to the lecturer,” he said, “and asked to see the breakdown of my results.”
Deejay was right. His lecturer had failed to add his pre-exam coursework to his final score, “and she promised to have it fixed.” An academic session passed, and she didn’t, and then another until it became clear he would have to spend an extra year in school to retake the course.
Just as he refused to accept that his father couldn’t find a job, he refused to take this one. And so he went to where Christians across campus take their hopelessness, no matter the denomination: The Wailing Wall.
Initially built for squash, the giant white wall became a little Jerusalem for Christians across OAU to go and pray about everything from heartbreaks to straight A’s. The Wailing Wall received a new prayer from Deejay and his girlfriend: to graduate without an extra year because, indeed, what God cannot do, does not exist.
Deejay took that extra year.
When he settled at his desk inside the exam hall, he buried his head on his desk and cried his eyes shut. Deejay begged God for something he believed he deserved, and he didn’t get it. Right there, he lost his faith.
But on that Wednesday night when Deejay lost his dick, he regained his faith. He was a spirikoko again, praying to God with all devotion and conviction.
“Lord,” he screamed to God from his bedroom, “give me back what belongs to me!”
In the thick of his prayers, his girlfriend showed up. Telling her why he was praying hard wasn’t easy.
“I kept saying fuck! Fuck!” Deejay said. “I was holding my head whenever I tried to tell her. I just couldn’t bring myself to say it to her.”
Eventually, he did, and “mogbé, mokú,” she cried.
“When she asked me to show her,” Deejay screamed no. It was as if he couldn’t bring himself to be seen like that.
Deejay’s walls were so thin, in the past, his neighbour had once teased him the morning after a loud night of oohs and aahs of non-prayerful activities. But that night, all they heard were tongues and wailing.
Deep into the night, his sense of time blurred by hours of prayer, Deejay took a break and went to the bathroom to check his dick. And something interesting was unfolding.
Peeping out of his nutsack was his cap – not all of it, just enough to know that something was there. Deejay returned with the progress update for his girlfriend. And so they prayed harder with a renewed sense of hope.
Another bathroom visit later – and after each one that night – his Lord was slowly giving him back what belonged to him.
Something became clear that night: his dick didn’t disappear; it retracted, like a turtle into its shell.
“To be honest,” Deejay said, “I’m a Christian, but I also like to think of myself as a realist. I believe something supernatural happened that night, but I also researched it and found koro.”
Koro is a condition where the sufferer believes overwhelmingly that their genitalia is disappearing. For male sufferers, where it’s more common, they think their dicks are disappearing, and the symptoms manifest differently, depending on who it’s happening to.
Psychiatrists, who describe it as genital retraction syndrome, also call koro a culture-bound syndrome: a group of symptoms they believe are recognisable only within specific cultural contexts.
For example, ghost sickness exists in indigenous people of North America with symptoms like fatigue, loss of appetite, suffocation, recurring nightmares, and a general feeling of terror.
In these cases, people manifest symptoms that aren’t connected to any underlying factors, the way a fever might lead to the discovery of a malaria parasite in the blood.
Psychiatrists acknowledge the existence of these conditions, even when they don’t fully understand them. Koro was included in the fourth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association in 1994.
Koro itself exists in multiple cultural contexts and manifests differently in these cultures. For example, in Malay culture, the word koro is used to describe a turtle's head, and it’s not hard to see why – a turtle’s head looks like a wrinkled penis. In Malay society and many others, there’s the fear that the penis is retracting into the abdomen. In China, where early records about koro date back over 2,000 years, sufferers have an overwhelming fear that if the retraction is not stopped, the sufferer will die.
Koro is generally rare, but occasionally, it becomes an epidemic and causes mass panic. In late 1967, rumours that koro was caused by eating pork crashed the sale of pork in Singaporean restaurants. The General Hospital Outpatient Clinic, which usually saw fewer cases a year, started seeing up to eighty koro cases daily. The pandemic later spread to India in another form, then Thailand and other countries across Southeast Asia.
In West Africa, koro pandemics generally manifest as theft panic, like the examples from 1973 and 2001. One time in 2002, Sani Maibalangu said a woman touched him, and he felt as if someone had emptied a bucketful of cold water on his head.
A small mob quickly gathered, beat the woman and stripped her. They beat her for the next thirty minutes and begged her to “return and revive it”. When it was ‘returned’, they let her go.
According to Ivan Crozier, a scholar of sexuality, by common knowledge of juju’s existence, West Africans have already created the cultural framework where we believe that human beings and material possessions can disappear. If people can disappear, then so can body parts.
Deejay had a cultural framework of his own. He grew up in Ibadan with a lot of Nollywood. He still describes the world with some Nollywood colours.
“There was the dream I used to have a lot as a child,” Deejay said.
It started with him getting chased down Dogo Street into a dark corner by a man. He’d cover Deejay’s mouth with his left hand and grab Deejay’s crotch with his right. Then the “Nollywood thunder sound effect” would follow. The first time it happened, he woke up, ran to his mum, and recounted the nightmare to her. She brought out her bottle of the golden anointing oil and rubbed his crotch with it while calling on the blood of Jesus to cover it.
And there he was on that Wednesday almost two decades later, his nightmare alive.
Everyone’s heard one of these stories, but no one we know has ever been there – no one I know – until Deejay. I spoke to a psychiatrist about Deejay's experience. “It appears he has always had a pre-existing anxiety about losing his penis,” they explained, “the dream from his childhood and what he experienced are almost identical.”
While they didn’t make an actual diagnosis, Deejay’s experience, they suspect, “feels like an anxiety attack with a misinterpretation of his physical symptoms.”
“It’s the interface of anxiety, culture and myth.”
Still, Deejay says, “unless there is a purely scientific explanation to the physical change, I'd stick to my story of ‘they stole my penis.’''
This much was clear: Deejay was taking a walk on a Wednesday night when he got a strong nudge on his shoulder. At home, he believed someone had snatched his dick. He felt real panic and desperation. So he went to church, found faith, and he prayed.
As hours of prayer and bathroom checks passed, Deejay’s turtle head reared more of itself out of the shell. Deejay woke up the following day without really remembering when he’d fallen asleep
And at dawn, the first thing he felt was the bulge of morning wood and a pressing need to pee.
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This story was made possible by a small village:
Fubara, who found me a psychiatrist to speak to. And the psychiatrist, for speaking to.
Jyte too, who’d have led the editing process, but couldn’t. She’s how it went from zero to the first draft nonetheless.
Afolabi, whose editing took this from a second draft to a third draft.
Mariam, for all the illustrations – I told her to do whatever she liked, and that’s exactly what she did.
Most of all to Deejay, who came through to have an enthralling conversation with a complete stranger about his dick, at such short notice, and being so patient through my questions.