Bystanding Bystanders



25th August, 2011

10, Adebambo Street, Surulere, Lagos



It had been such a good day.

At first when she’d come, there had been the initial awkwardness, but that soon dissipated in the comfortability of their easy conversation. The kiss this time didn’t feel as strange as the first few times; as if their lips had finally come to the understanding that they would be meeting quite frequently, and had decided to make the best of these meetings. The corned beef stew he’d made had been a few ounces of water short of perfect, whilst the chicken had needed a heavy dose of salt. But all these little imperfections, and their light hearted disposition towards them, came together to make the day perfect.

“I don’t want to go.”

“Don’t say that darling, please. Don’t make this harder than it already is.”

“But it’s true.” She curled her lips and subtly sucked in air, forming that semi pout that she knew he loved.

“I don’t want you to go either. But you have to be home, or your parents will send out the hosts of heaven and earth to find you.”

She sighed heavily, and he pulled her into his arms in preparation for a kiss, and for the umpteenth time that day, their lips rolled their eyes at their meeting yet again. It was indeed, a perfect day.



25th August, 2011

27, Adebambo Street, Surulere



This was the worst day of her life.

She stared at the monster looming in front of her, as if staring at him long enough would transform him into a human being. How was this happening to her? As she crouched on the floor, waiting for the next blow that was sure to come, her mind went back to the beginning, as she tried desperately to figure out how it was, that she lay wounded on the cold, hard terrazzo floor of a house that wasn’t even hers by any rights. If she were being honest, she couldn’t say she was entirely surprised; the signs had been there. From the first time he’d punched his fist into the pillow, and broken the bed three weeks after they’d started dating, to the time he had pulled off the side mirror of her car with his bare hands, in jealous rage the week after…. She should have run then. Run for dear life. But no, a part of her had relished the idea that the thought of losing her could make someone go wild like that. But certainly, should she not have packed all her things and not made Lot’s wife’s mistake after he’d struck her the first time, seven weeks into their relationship? She couldn’t even think of a good reason why she hadn’t left that time. Was it becau…

“Aaaargh!” His right foot landed in the middle of her stomach, and brought her back to the present.

She coughed violently and screamed.

“Please! Afamefuna for the love of God! Biko nu, ewenu iwe biko!” (Please, don’t be angry)

“You wanted to leave me?? Muwa? (Me) After all I’ve done for you? Where did you think you were going that I wouldn’t find you? Your parents in the village? Or back to that your slutty friend Uche’s house?”

Chizoba began to sob. She realised that she hadn’t even thought that far ahead. All her energies had been channelled into getting out as fast as she could. Seven months of living the nightmare was enough. The worst part wasn’t even the rage, no. For her, the worst part, was not knowing what mood he would come home in; not knowing what his triggers were. The worst part was constantly walking on eggshells, living on a ticking bomb, not knowing when it would detonate; not even knowing where the pin was.

“Afam have mercy please. O zugo. Afam ozugo.” (It’s enough)

“Enough kwa? Mba nu nu. (No way) You must tell me where you were going?” His lips curled in an ugly snarl. “But why are you crying now? What have you done that is causing you to cry ehn? Wait oh. You were leaving me for him weren’t you? Chei!!! I knew it! You’ve been acting funny lately!”

“Afam…” Surely he was going to kill her today. There was no use. Perhaps it wasn’t so bad really. Maybe God had seen that her suffering was too much and so had decided to call her home early. She closed her eyes, waiting for what was coming next.

“You can’t answer abi? Abi? Okay. Get up.”

God, what was he going to do now? Her eyes flew open.

“Get up you harlot! That man’s house that you were going, you’re going to take me there. So that I can see the man on this earth that you thought was better than me.”

Haii biko nkem, (please, my love) there’s no other ma…” The slap that cut her off threw her into the wall.

“You were saying? Ehn?”


“Good. Let’s go.”

As he shuffled her down the stairs from their apartment on the second floor of the three-storey building, she couldn’t help but wonder about the neighbours. Was none of them home? Could they not hear her? Was she not screaming loud enough?

As he half dragged, half carried her out into the street where his car was parked, with her ripped clothes and bare feet, it dawned on her that she had one last chance at escape. This was Lagos for God’s sake, and Surulere for that matter, not some tiny remote village somewhere. There was no way he could get away with this out in the open street with people passing. Yes it was dark, but it was barely 9pm; people did not go to bed that early. As they stepped out into the street, she looked furtively ahead and spotted a couple arm in arm, walking towards them. This was her chance. She took in a deep breath and let out a piercing scream with all her might. Afam’s hand clamped over her mouth cutting her off mid scream, and pushing her angrily toward the back door of his Toyota Corolla. She turned her head slightly to see the couple stop just a distance away. The lights in the house opposite them came on. Perhaps God had decided today wasn’t the day after all.




25th August, 2011

Adebambo Street, Surulere, Lagos



“Oya come, let’s find you a cab.”

They walked down the street, holding hands and talking, still basking in the general euphoria of their day. Pausing briefly by a small roadside stall, they bought airtime for their phones, and continued on their journey. A few metres ahead, they spotted another couple who seemed to be in some sort of…something. “Maybe it’s doing them”, Ameze whispered conspiratorially to a chuckling Bolaji. Until the woman let out a chilling scream that could not be mistaken for anything other than what it was.

They stopped. They started again.

“What’s going on?” Ameze, whispering, tightened her fingers around his her lover’s grasp, who in turn let out a nervous chuckle.

“Looks like they’re just playing”, Bolaji replied, quickening his steps and by extension, hers.

Oh yes true. All these lovers.”

As they walked passed the car and the couple, Ameze averted her eyes as she heard Bolaji beside her call out “Easy oh”. But she didn’t avert them quickly enough to not see the man’s unmistakable snarl, his vice like grip around the woman’s neck in a chokehold.

She would later go on to regret that moment, kick herself for not stopping, and insisting that Bolaji stop. Or at least calling the police. For not doing something besides pretending that what was happening was not actually happening. She would later spend days trying to analyse why she didn’t stop. Was she scared? Was she embarrassed because the man looked bigger than her Bj and would fell him if it came to that, making him seem less like a man to her? Or was she just a terrible person? All these questions she would ask later, but at that moment, she walked on, praying for the girl in her head, and hoping that someone else on the street would come to her rescue, while she and Bolaji tried to use stilted conversation to forget what they had just seen, and return to the perfection of their day.

And the lights in the opposite house went out, as Amara’s world turned to blackness.




On March 13, 1964 in New York City, 28year old Kitty Genovese, returning home from work, parked her car and walked towards her apartment about a hundred feet away. She noticed a man coming towards her and she started to run, but 29year old Winston Moseley quickly caught up with her and stabbed her repeatedly under a street light. She screamed loudly, and lights went on in the ten-storey apartment opposite, and windows slid open. When Kitty screamed again, “Oh my God, he stabbed me, please help me”, a man in one of the apartments called out, “Let that girl alone.” Her attacker then ran off and left her bleeding on the floor. The lights went out in the apartment building, and the windows slid shut. Kitty eventually managed to get up, and she walked slowly and unsteadily to the entrance of her apartment which was at the back of the building. She didn’t make it however, and fell over the foot of some stairs in a lobby area. Ten minutes later, Winston came back, sexually assaulted her and when she tried to resist, he stopped her by stabbing her in the throat. Fatally.

According to police investigation after, dozens (about 37) of “respectable law abiding citizens” witnessed the killing, but no one came to her aid, or telephoned the police during the assault which lasted about 30mins.

In August 1995 in Detroit, 33year old Deletha Word on her way home from Belle Isle Park, sideswiped another car, but kept driving and didn’t stop. She got stuck in some traffic a few metres away on the bridge connecting Belle Isle with Detroit, and the driver of the car she’d sideswiped, 19year old Martell Welch Jr. caught up with her. He came out of his car, pulled her out hers, stripped her nearly naked, and started beating her up. His 6ft 4 former high school football player frame was no match for her barely 5ft self; he beat her savagely on that bridge, smashing her face into the hood of her car, body slamming her into the ground, choking her, and even taking out a crow bar and destroying her car with it. Deletha broke away twice. And twice Welch caught up with her. She broke away a third time, and climbed over the bridge, clinging to the railing for her life. Welch came after her again, swinging a car jack, and Deletha let go, falling 30ft to her death.

Dozens of people (35-40) watched this assault that lasted about 25mins in total, and no one offered to help her or call the police. Cars stopped, and people got out, but they stayed frozen in their places. It was reported that at some point during the assault, Welch held her out to the crowd, and asked if any of them wanted a piece of her.

In the October of 2012, in a community called Aluu, South-South Nigeria, a group of people; fathers, mothers and children alike, watched and did nothing, as four university students were beating to a pulp, skulls cracked open, brain matter oozing out, and finally set ablaze by members of some community. No one did anything.

I can imagine just how appalled you are. I can almost hear you judge all the onlookers, whilst saying to yourself that you would have done different, had you been in these situations. But would you really have?

The bystander effect is a psychological phenomenon in which someone is less likely to intervene in an emergency situation when others are present, than when they are alone. This usually happens for a number of reasons which I won’t elaborate on, but pertinent amongst them include, expecting/assuming that someone else will take responsibility, fear of looking like a ‘lesser man’ in front of all the other people, and taking your cues from the behaviours of the other people in the situation.

The bystander effect doesn’t only happen in life threatening situations. I’m sure if you think about it carefully, you may remember an instance or two were you didn’t react as you would normally have because other people were present.

I decided to put this out there for two reasons:

Firstly, because research has shown that if one person steps forward in such situations, others are more likely to join in. Witnesses to Deletha’s murder have said that if just one person had stepped up, they would have joined in. But no one did.

Secondly, studies have also shown that when people learn about the bystander effect, they are more likely to intervene in emergency situations because they know.

When I first learned about this phenomenon, I looked back and realised that I have fallen victim to this effect in a number of (thankfully) non-life threatening situations. But now I know enough to do better. I hope you do too.


P.S- If you ever find yourself the victim in such a situation, as much as you can, try to make the situation clear, and pick out one of the bystanders to focus on and ask for help. For example, say something like, “I’m in danger and I need some help. You there sir, you in glasses, please help me.” This puts the responsibility on one person, and makes them more likely to help.


To read up more on the Bystander Effect:

The Bystander Effect


1 thought on “Bystanding Bystanders”

  1. wow, I’ve missed your writing and I love that this has a message.
    I was in this situation(witnessing domestic violence) not too long ago and I remember making the wrong choice of rushing to act in anger instead of stepping in with a clear head. *sigh * Let’s just say now I know better.
    I’m sharing this link to as many people as I can. Thank you for this Dania


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