Beautiful and unassuming, Romoke Animashaun, a 21-year-old undergraduate of one of the universities in the South-West, met Samuel on Facebook. It started like a harmless friendship on social media but by the time Animashaun realised it was not, it had spiralled out of control.
A couple of months after their meeting on the social platform, Samuel invited the young woman for dinner and she accepted. He had suggested a place where they would meet before going for dinner together.
They agreed to meet at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos and leave for a posh restaurant at Lekki, Lagos. Samuel arrived in a Toyota Camry saloon driven by his friend, identified as Tayo.
Unknown to Animashaun, they were rapists and robbers.
Stories that touch
On their way to Lekki, Tayo pulled over at a lonely spot, and as if on cue, the two men jumped out of the vehicle, wielding machetes. They ordered her to come out of the vehicle and undress or be killed. Animashaun felt like magically disappearing into the ground.
After so much wailing, which was only met with fierce slaps and stony faces, the duo had their way, taking turns to rape her. They also robbed her of her phone, cash and jewellery.
“I thought it was going to be a very simple and harmless date; I didn’t know he (Samuel) had ulterior motives. On that fateful day, I was just bored. So, when I saw his message notification pop up on my phone; I replied considering the fact that I had a pool of messages from him that I had ignored on my Facebook messenger.
“It felt so unreal; I really wished I was dreaming. I will never forget that day in my life; I wish I never replied any of his messages. And it had been out of boredom. My life will never remain the same again; these people have changed the story of my life.
“I’m still in severe pains because my parents instructed the doctors to flush my system to avoid any form of unwanted pregnancy. Will I ever recover from this?” she said with her heads bowed lost in thought,” she asked with tears in her eyes as she recounted the sad event.
After the assault and the departure of the hoodlums, Animashaun gathered herself and raised the alarm. She was able to find help and police operatives attached to that area were alerted to the crime.
“I gave the description of their car to the police and they were able to find them. However, as soon as they were stopped by the police, they took to their heels. Tayo was arrested, but Samuel escaped. I have identified him and he had confessed to the police that he committed the crime. He said Samuel recruited him for the job,” she said.
Similarly, Towobola Adeniji, a 35-year-old computer scientist cum IT expert, met Chika, a bridal hairstylist, on Twitter in November 2016. It was easy for them to get along after they discovered that they both resided in Akure, the capital of Ondo State.
It started as a friendship but later developed into something serious for Adeniji, who started looking forward to their moments together on social media, when they chatted for long, sometimes into the night.
“What endeared me to Chika were the intelligent and logical comments she made on Twitter. I always dreamt of the day I would get a chance to talk to her; so immediately I found out on her timeline that it was her birthday, I sent her a lovely message. That was how we became friends on twitter. We never had a boring conversation because we always had loads of things to talk about.
“We couldn’t go a day without talking to each other on the phone as we had exchanged phone numbers. It was as though our conversations were strong enough to build trust on or so I thought. Chika looked calm, reserved and innocent,” he said.
But the day they finally met, Adeniji got the true meaning of the phrase – don’t judge a book by its cover.
“I was already in love with her or maybe it was just lust. Chika has a beautiful face and a lovely body. I was happy when she told me she would give me a chance to prove to her if I would be a good and reliable boyfriend. She told me she had trust issues, but I assured her several times during our chats that she was safe with me.
“In my heart, she had more than a five-star rating. My heart was beating faster when we eventually fixed a date to meet each other in person.
“I changed my bedspread, fixed my faulty air conditioner and made sure my place was clean. I felt the need to present myself as a very responsible and modest man because I was of age and was looking at starting a strong relationship that would lead to marriage,” he said.
The much anticipated day coincided with their tenth month of friendship and online romance and Adeniji even prepared to welcome Chika with her favourite meal.
“When she arrived, we ate and drank together, but she refused to take alcohol with me. This further impressed me as it made me feel she must be responsible. I had planned to also take her out but she advised that we shun our planned trip to a karaoke night so that I could save my money.
“She opted for only Suya and yoghurt. Since she had said she would not sleep over at my place because according to her, it was against her personal ethics, I dropped her off at a junction at 10pm. She said she would pick a taxi home from there.
“But I was shocked when I got home to discover that some dollars I borrowed from my uncle, who just returned from the United States and some other cash in my wardrobe, were missing. I was still recovering from the shock when I started getting debit alerts from bank, saying my money had been used to buy things online.
“I felt like a fool. I went back to where I had taken her the other night to ask for her but no one knew who Chika was,” he said.
After the experience, Adeniji made a decision not to ever engage in relationships on any social media platform.
“I have learnt my lesson the hard way. Chika blocked me on all the social media platforms and her number has not been reachable ever since the incident,” he added.
Social media platforms have played a huge role in making the world become a global village. But despite the many advantages of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tinder, Skype, and others, many people, especially youths, have had terrible experiences with people that they met online.
In July 2012, Cynthia Osokogu, a 24-year-old daughter of Gen. Frank Osokogu (retd.), left Abuja for Lagos to meet her death. The postgraduate student of Nasarawa State University had been chatting with a new friend on social media. In the course of their conversations, they had developed friendship and some level of trust.
It was learnt that Cynthia’s social media friend had picked her up at the airport on her arrival in Lagos, from where they went to a hotel in Festac. At the hotel, her social media friend and an accomplice tied her up, robbed her of the money she brought to buy goods for her boutique and strangled her to death.
Even though there have been testimonies of people finding true and lasting love on social media, Temilade Ajanaku, a postgraduate student, will never venture into finding love on social media again.
While some of her friends are crazy about having a large number of followers on their social media platforms, Ajanaku, 28, has devoted her life to self development, church and books. Her new approach to life was borne after what she described as the most horrible experience of her life.
The Oyo-State born postgraduate student could not hold back tears in a chat with our correspondent when she narrated how she almost made her parents go bankrupt because of a mistake she made.
“It all started like a joke until I had to tell myself the truth. I met Alexy, a wedding photographer, on Instagram. He was always sending me messages of how he loved and admired my personality. After much persistence, I finally gave him my phone number and that was how our friendship, which later graduated to a relationship, started.
“We were friends for three months before I agreed online to date him. Even though he was based in Abuja, the distance was somewhat made shorter with several video calls daily,” she told our correspondent.
Six months into their relationship, Alexy had a wedding to cover in Ibadan and the online lovers immediately agreed to use the opportunity to see each other. The plan was for Ajanaku to meet her boyfriend in the hotel where he lodged. They met there and according to Ajanaku, out of excitement, she allowed Alexy to make love to her even though it was the first day she was going to see him in person.
“I felt very cheap but I did it out of excitement because Alexy looked even more handsome in real life than in his pictures; the pictures didn’t do him justice at all,” she said.
Later, she realised that that feeling was nothing compared to what was to come.
“After Alexy left for Abuja, he sent me video clips and pictures of our amorous sessions in bed. I was beyond shocked; I couldn’t believe my eyes. I questioned him and told him to delete the pictures, but he warned me not to be rude to him. He said I should pay N5m into his account within six months or he would upload all the pictures online.
“I begged and begged but he was defiant. I emptied my savings account, sold my Apple laptop, phones, fridge, TV set and some gold jewellery my mother bought for me in Dubai. I sent all the money to him but the blackmail didn’t stop,” she said.
Ajanaku, who is the only child of successful medical doctors, said it got to a point where Alexy started demanding money almost every month.
“Alexy didn’t stop the blackmail; he continuously demanded money from me almost every month and the least was N50,000. I had a clothing business; it gradually went down. I started losing so much weight. Eventually, I was only able to confide in my cousin in Abuja, who is a high ranking officer in the military.
“I told him everything and immediately, he ordered some of his officers to raid Alexy’s studio; he was apprehended and forced to delete all the pictures and videos. I am only happy now because the problem is over and he has stopped pestering me,” Ajanaku said.
Similarly, Irelayomi, the daughter of a textile retailer in Idumota, Lagos, was a victim of kidnap after she went to visit her Instagram lover, whom she had only known for a month.
“I met Akeem on Instagram after he sent me a message that he would love to start a serious relationship with me; but I told him there was no way I would give him a response online except I see him in person. After he persuaded me persistently, he made an arrangement for us to meet in his house in Victoria Island.
“I was eager to meet him because our chats and phone conversations had been very interesting and engaging,” she said.
Her emotions were clouded with anxiety as she took a taxi to meet Akeem, who had introduced himself as a car dealer.
“When I got to the house, I was shocked to find so many men there. I started feeling uncomfortable but before I could utter a word, I was roughly grabbed from behind. My mouth was taped and my legs were tied together; it was like a dream. That was when it dawned on me that I had been kidnapped.
“Akeem put a call through to my mother and demanded a ransom of N1.5m; she was too devastated to even beat the price down. So, she immediately contacted all our family members to make a contribution. Thankfully, I regained my freedom after the ransom was paid. My mum made me delete all my social media apps after I was released,” Irelayomi said with a deep sigh.
Like Irelayomi’s mother, another parent, Mr. Adewale Olaniyan, a public servant, told our correspondent that he could not understand the craze among youths to befriend strangers online.
He recalled how in his days as a youth, having relationships with the opposite sex was considered as a deep connection that required knowing the parents of those involved and even the history of their lineage.
“I remember telling my two female children to deactivate their Facebook accounts when I heard about how a calamity befell a young lady like them. I didn’t want them to be tempted to make friends on social media that would put them in danger.
“In our days, when we wanted to search for a partner or even a girlfriend, we usually did adequate background research before initiating any form of relationship with the opposite sex; but these days, young ladies just meet strangers and they become comfortable with them automatically,” he said.
Experts warn of dangers
A sociologist at the University of Lagos, Dr. Franca Attoh, lamented the rate at which youths ignore the real world for the virtual space, called social media.
She described the virtual space as unsafe and people making themselves vulnerable to criminals on social media as naive.
“The virtual space is not the real world even if it has become a trend. It is a make-believe world because it is unlimited in time and space. For example, if a young girl should meet a guy on the Internet as against the real world and she put her life in his hands, then she must be naive,” Attoh said.
Using the lifestyle victimisation theory, the sociologist explained that people in the habit of meeting others online instead of the real world were facing a high risk.
“People who put out all their information on social media are at a very high risk of meeting people who could harm them; their lifestyle has made them become vulnerable to being victimised,” she added.
According to a renowned psychologist, Prof. Oni Fagboungbe, who cited Cynthia Osokogu’s case, said from empirical studies, people hardly learn from other people’s experience.
“People hardly learn from history because of a particular theory that is called illusion of personal invulnerability that states that even when people see ugly things happening, they still go into it, believing nothing bad can happen to them.
“People are usually engrossed with the positive aspect instead of weighing the negative sides as well. When it comes to social media relationships, the cost is greater than the benefit,” he said.
According to Pastor Olabode Ajakaiye of United Baptist Church, Agege, the youth of this generation seek relationship on social media because they see it as cheap; as they think it doesn’t cost them anything.
“The youths of this generation usually want things instantly; they don’t take into cognisance the fact that friendship needs to be nurtured for it to mature into a proper relationship. Many people are not ready to be patient and pray over their relationships for it to mature and bring good dividend,” he said.
A lecturer in the Department of Islamic Studies, Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin, Kwara State, Sanusi Lafiagi, identified ignorance as one of the reasons why young people would continue to seek relationships on social media.
“A large majority of youths are unaware of the fact that social media life is a virtual life. Thus, they get too engrossed in it until they become carried away by the fantasies that go on on the platform, forgetting that most of the stories on social media are not even genuine,” he told Saturday PUNCH.