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Police, lawyers warn as pranksters play costly jokes, endanger lives

TOFARATI IGE takes a look at the activities of pranksters who play expensive jokes on unsuspecting Nigerians for financial gains

“That was the scariest day of my life. I actually thought I was going to die, and my life flashed before my eyes. I started thinking of my parents and how they would cope with my demise, considering that I am their only child.”

Those were the words of Gift Chidera, as she recalled her encounter with pranksters.

Reliving the experience in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, it was apparent that it still had an emotional toll on her.

According to her, she was walking on a lonely stretch of road, when a man dressed in an all-black outfit and ski mask suddenly jumped in her front. The man stated that a woman had paid him to assassinate her (Chidera) for dating her husband.

“I had never dated a married man, and I pleaded with the stranger that it was a case of mistaken identity. I told him I was just a 200 Level university student, and that my parents took care of all my needs.

“However, he insisted that he would kill me, even as he pointed at a bulge in his trouser, which he claimed was the gun he would use to end my life. At that point, survival instinct kicked in and I was no longer thinking rationally.

“I told myself that even if I would be killed, I would not go down without a fight. I instantly made to run, but before I could even take three steps, I tripped on a stone and fell face flat, injuring my legs and hands in the process. The guy then walked up to me and told me it was a prank. By that time, I was agitated, my dress had been stained, and I was breathing irregularly. I was so upset and I kept raining slaps on him. He kept pleading and some people in the vicinity begged on his behalf. He eventually took me to a hospital where the minor wounds were treated. He bought me a new dress and gave me some money for lunch. However, for some days after the incident, I was not myself. Sometimes, I would wake up in the middle of the night panting and sweating profusely. It was really not a funny experience, and I hope that the government would do more to regulate their activities.”

Pranks, skits as money-spinners for creatives

There is no doubt that social media has provided a means of livelihood for many people. From comedians, who put their videos online and get paid in dollars, to a new breed of professional pranksters, who are amassing millions of views playing expensive pranks on unsuspecting members of the public, social media has become a place for creatives to make fortunes.

Inasmuch as those prank videos provide comic relief for some, the consensus opinion seems to be that they are becoming too expensive, extreme, risky and distasteful.

However, it bears stating that prank videos are, by no means, a new innovation. In some countries, including the United States of America, and even Nigeria, they have been a part of pop culture for some time. Popular prank shows and videos in and outside Nigeria include ‘Scare Tactics’, ‘Impractical Jokers’, ‘Candid Camera’, ‘Punk’D’, ‘Kraks Pranks’, among others. Most of the listed programmes were handled by media organisations, and were regulated by relevant stakeholders, especially in the broadcast industry.

But with the advent of social media platforms, which are largely unregulated in Nigeria, a new generation of pranksters have emerged, and in many cases, they throw caution to the wind and leave sour tastes in the mouths of those they play pranks on.

Some days ago, a prank video went viral on social media. It showed a young girl who had come into an apartment for ‘hook-up’ (prostitution). Shortly after she got into the house, a man dressed in red and white attire like a voodoo priest stepped out, and stated that she was to be used for a ritual. Expectedly, the girl burst into tears and pleaded desperately for her life. She was eventually informed that it was a prank; but not after she had been turned to an emotional wreck.

In another video that made the rounds on social media sometime ago, a driver signed to a ride hailing company had been seemingly contacted for a ride. When the driver got to the location to pick up the passenger (who unknown to him was a prankster named Abdulwasiu Jimoh, aka Kun Zlim), the supposed passenger put a luggage in the car’s trunk, and asked the driver to drive into the compound to carry some other luggage. However, the driver stated that he could not drive into the compound but would assist the passenger to retrieve the bags from where they were kept.

However, immediately he stepped into the premises, the gate was locked and two other men dressed like occultists in  red and white outfits emerged with calabashes in their hands. The prankster then brought out an egg and told the driver that he had to put the egg on his forehead so as to exchange his life with that of the driver.

The unsuspecting driver was obviously agitated, and he pleaded profusely with the passengers-turned-ritualists to spare his life. While doing that, he also attempted to jump over the fence, desperate to escape and preserve his life.

 After some minutes of a harrowing ordeal, he was informed that it was a prank. But, even at that, he asked for the gate to be opened first, before he could relax.

In yet another video that went viral, Kun Zlim approached an official of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, and stated that a friend had paid him to assassinate the traffic control officer because the latter impounded his car.

The LASTMA official immediately started begging Zlim to spare his life, stating that he did not know the friend Kun Zlim was referring to. After pleading for minutes and Zlim not budging, the frightened LASTMA officer attempted to run. However, Zlim then informed him that it was a prank. Out of breath, the LASTMA officer stuttered, “I don’t like this. You have given me hypertension (sic).”

Unsuccessful skit makers-turned-pranksters

One of the most popular pranksters on social media at the moment is undoubtedly Abdullahi Moruff, aka Trinityguy. He usually dresses in a white flowing robe (jalamia), and some of his most popular prank videos are the ones where he pulled the wigs and cleaned off the make-up of random women on the streets.

In an interview with our correspondent, Trinity stated that he started his career in the entertainment industry as a continuity manager in Nollywood but switched to playing pranks on people when he did not achieve desirable success in the movie industry.

Recalling how the journey started for him, he said, “I started making skits in 2016/2017. Before then, I was a continuity manager in Nollywood. Also, I used to mix funny videos together. I actually started playing pranks on people in 2018 by removing women’s wigs in public.”

Telling Saturday PUNCH how he makes his videos, Trinity said, “The length of time it takes to shoot videos depends on different factors. There are times that it takes four days to make a single video. There are also times my members of my team and I would be outside for as long as seven hours and not be able to generate any content. For some skits, it could take up to three days, to get the reaction I want.”

In a similar vein, Kun Zlim, who studied Mass Communication at the University of Ilorin, noted that he started his content creation career as a skit maker.

He said, “If I tell you it was easy, that would be a lie. At a point, I did not feel like making skits anymore. I then decided to be playing pranks on people. l felt like I needed to do something else. As a matter of fact, what encouraged me to continue playing pranks on people was that the first video I released went viral on the Internet. Suddenly, I started seeing myself (the video) on YouTube, WhatsApp and other social media platforms. Since then, I have kept at it.”

Peter Alabi, aka Trylips’ foray into being a prankster started from making skits too. According to him, he started making skits in 2019, though he was not consistent with it at the time. He stated that it was not until 2021 that he took it more seriously, and has been regularly releasing videos of different pranks since then.However, Trylips said people often exaggerate the dangers associated with prank videos.

He said, “People often exaggerate these things on social media. It is usually not that intense at the spot where I am playing the pranks. I don’t go out alone, as my crew is usually with me. Also, when I realise that the prank seems to be going too far, I put an end to it.”

Also accusing critics of being hypocritical, another skit maker, Daniel Onyemachi, aka Machigold, said, “Many people are actually hypocrites. They appreciate foreign content, but not those done by Nigerian pranksters.”

Expensive pranks taken too far?

Though  pranks started as harmless jokes, it is apparent that many people now find them  distasteful, insensitive and dangerous.

Trinityguy admitted that once, while playing a prank on someone, the person fled and had an accident.

Recounting the incident, he said, “There was a guy I met on the street, and I told my personal assistant that I would like to prank him. I went to the guy and told him I was a thief, and had a gun with me. He obviously thought it was for real, not knowing that there was a cameraman around. I told him to follow me, that I had N60m I had stolen from somewhere. But in the course of running away, the guy had an accident. I had to take him to the hospital, and I spent a lot of money on his bills. I later made him aware that it was a prank video, and I neither had a gun nor N60m anywhere. I visited him three times in the hospital, and we settled everything. He was quite understanding. As it turned out, one of his relatives knew me. And thankfully, the accident was not that serious.

“At the end of the day, I could not even generate any content. It was a rough day for me. There were also times I got arrested by the police.”

Despite such an occurrence, Trinity maintained that he was never scared of doing prank videos.

He said, “It was only in the early days when I just started, that I used to be scared. Sometimes, people would stone me and even beat me. But in the end, when I inform them that it was a prank video, everyone laughs, and that means I have been able to entertain them.”

On yet another occasion, while riding on a motorcycle (okada), Trinity accosted a lady dressed in a white and black dress, and stated that she was dressed indecently. When he called her a prostitute, the lady responded by slapping him. She even slapped him when he repeated the word, and he immediately emptied the bucket of water he had been holding all along on her. Flabbergasted, the lady stood transfixed, looking at her wet dress, and the total stranger that had just poured a bucket of water on her on the road.

Trinity stated that he eventually bought her another dress and she laughed over the incident.

He said, “After the prank, she told me that my face looked familiar, and she was actually wondering if I was the one or not. I even asked her if I could post the video, and she gave her consent. I compensated her and bought another dress for her.”

Family members not spared

Meanwhile, not only strangers are prone to being played pranks on. Twin sisters, Moyin and Doyin Oladimeji, aka Twinz Love, became social media celebs when a video of them telling their mother that one of them was pregnant went viral. Though it was a prank, many people thought it was actually true as the distraught mother lamented about how they had brought shame on her, despite all the sacrifices she had made for them to be successful. Since then, their stock-in-trade has been to spring different pranks on their mum. However, this has made some to opine that the pranks were staged, as it did not seem plausible for their mum to keep falling for all their pranks, especially considering their antecedents.

On why they decided to make their mum the victim of their pranks, Doyin told Saturday PUNCH, “It came after seeing her reaction to the most random things we did or said. We figured that it would be really fascinating for us to show everyone (those reactions) with the hope that they would smile and even laugh as much as we did.

“The first prank that brought us to the limelight was the pregnancy prank. Her reaction was priceless, and many people loved it.”

Moyin added that some people did not know that their videos were pranks, and such people often advised them to stop ‘stressing’ their mum.

Pranksters, experts differ on profiling

Practically all the pranksters that Sunday PUNCH spoke with claimed that they always observed people to know if they were fit before playing pranks on them. However, psychologists and psychotherapists told our correspondent that they were not qualified to do such.

Prankster, Trinity, claimed that before choosing his ‘preys’ whom he would play pranks on, he usually observed them to decipher their state of mind and even medical condition.

He said, “I always observe people before playing pranks on them. I know that people are facing many problems in Nigeria, and they could react in different ways to pranks. For instance, I never play pranks on elderly people. Also, if I see that a person looks sick and does not have the ‘strength’ to handle whatever I am bringing, I would not go near them.”

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Kun Zlim also stated that he spent time observing and ‘profiling’ people before playing pranks on them.

He said, “I study people’s moods before playing pranks on them. As a matter of fact, there were some videos I shot that did not make it to the Internet. If I get the feeling that the person is not healthy, I would call it off.”

As for Machigold, he stated that he often sent members of his team out ahead to scout whatever location they would use for their pranks.

He added, “They would meet people there and inform them that we wanted to play pranks. They would also speak with the louts (area boys) in the area.”

However, a clinical psychologist, Oluwakemi Akintoyese, insisted that pranksters were not qualified to assess people to determine if they could handle stress or not.

She said, “Even as a professional, I rely on a lot of clinical assessments and evaluations to be able to produce a profile (of a person) and that cannot be done in seconds. The fact that somebody looks okay physically does not mean they are emotionally balanced or stable.”

Akintoyese added that even when people eventually knew that they had been pranked, their stress level would not go down immediately.

She said, “When people are in stressful situations, the epinephrine hormone is released in the body, and it causes agitation. Even when the person eventually knows that it was a prank, their excitement level would not come down immediately. As a matter of fact, some people could slump or have a heart attack as a result of such pranks.

“If pranksters want to create content, they should do things that would calm people down and make them laugh. With the level of insecurity and economic uncertainty in the country, many people are under pressure, and any additional stress could be fatal.”

A psychotherapist, Onome Idada, noted that even the minutest emotional stress could trigger some people and alter their states of mind.

She said, “In the course of my job, I have seen people behave irrationally when they undergo stress. Some of them become disoriented and disconnected from reality, and that could lead to anything. I have watched some prank videos, which I found alarming as a psychotherapist. In some of the videos I have watched, some of the people, who were oblivious of the fact that it was a prank, attempted to run for their lives. In such cases, they could have run into gutters or ditches, or even get hit by a vehicle.

“The best way to avoid this, to an extent, is for the pranksters to take charge of the scene, and make sure that whatever could cause harm to the victims is removed. They should also have members of their crew lurking around to make sure they can easily grab the victims if they seem to be running towards harm’s way.”

The victim of a prank,  Bayo Daniel, told our correspondent that the experience left him terribly shaken.

He had just stepped out of a local restaurant (buka), when a man accosted him and claimed that he had stolen his money inside the canteen. He started shouting and within seconds, people gathered around us. Out of the blue, a heavy slap landed on my right cheek from behind. Instantly, a mob had formed, and my heart was already in my mouth.

“However, after the slap, the guy who claimed I stole his money confessed that it was a prank, and his cameraman and other aides who had been recording the whole drama corroborated his claim. The guy who slapped me apologised and instantly threw some punches at the prankster. He warned him sternly not to repeat such, as things could have gone terribly wrong, and a life would be lost.”

Enduring attacks

Apparently, to be a prankster in Nigeria, one must be prepared to be beaten at any point. It’s all in a day’s job.

Zlim confessed that he sometimes got scared when playing pranks on people because things could easily go awry. He stated that because of that, whenever he wanted to play pranks on anybody, he usually avoided crowded places.

He added, “If you watch my videos well, you would realise that I usually go to isolated areas. I make sure there isn’t heavy traffic there (to reduce the risk of people running into oncoming vehicles).”

On his part, Machigold recalled how he was pushed into a gutter by an angry woman. The prankster, who is usually dressed in a somewhat oversized black suit, and wears long dreadlocks, said, “There was a prank I played at the beginning of this year.  A woman was drinking sachet water and it fell. She got angry and pushed me inside the gutter. My other colleague ran but she chased the cameraman. She grabbed him, collected his phone and tore his cloth. It was later she understood that it was a prank.”

However, Trinity stated that on occasions when he was arrested, at least one of the police officers would be his fan.

He said, “There was a particular case where I was arrested for making a video. However, on getting to the police station, I realised that the DPO was my fan. That was how we settled the case there. At times, if the DPO did not know me, at least someone in the station would recognise me.”

Real or fake?

Many people are of the opinion that most of the pranks these days are nothing but elaborately scripted and staged dramas. Those in this school of thought believe that the attitude of some of those that were being pranked made it seem like they were in on the charade.

Reacting to those insinuations, Trinity stated that his prank videos could be divided into two — planned pranks and real pranks.

Distinguishing between the two, he said, “Of all the pranks I have played, only about five per cent are planned. By planned prank, I mean that when that what I want to do is ‘heavy’, and I don’t want to get into trouble, I would tell the people around that I wanted to play pranks on a particular person, and they should not interrupt us.

“I would have asked my personal assistant to call the person, and I would introduce myself to them. Some of them would agree, and things would go on smoothly. However, the real pranks are the ones where I don’t inform anyone before doing them.”

Doctors cite health concerns, call for caution

A former President of the Nigeria Medical Association, Dr Francis Faduyile, opined that playing pranks on people posed health challenges that should not be overlooked.

In an interview with our correspondent, he said, “There are different levels of tolerance, as regards how people can withstand stress. This also has to do with the state of the person’s health. There have been many cases of people who collapsed and died upon hearing bad news. So, playing pranks on people could be costly. Chronic or acute stress could be fatal.”

Another doctor, Emmanuel Ibironke, maintained that it was irresponsible for pranksters to put people in harm’s way all in the name of making prank videos. He said, “It is common to read about people who slumped and died, or did not wake up from their sleep. Most of those circumstances had no level of stress but because of underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, many people had passed on.

“One can then imagine when people with such underlying health conditions are exposed to needless and unexpected stress. It most likely would not end well.”

Pranksters risk civil, criminal liabilities— Lawyers

A lawyer, Idris Balogun, cautioned pranksters to be careful of the types of pranks they played, as they could be held liable for both criminal and civil wrongs.

He said, “Pranks may be for entertainment purposes but if any injury is suffered by the victim — be it physical, emotional, mental or psychological — the prankster risks getting prosecuted for criminal liabilities, civil liabilities; or even both.”

According to the lawyer, pranksters could be charged with assault (under section 252 of the Criminal Code), disruption of public peace or constitution of nuisance. Should the victim of the prank die as a result of the prank, the prankster will be charged with manslaughter, the lawyer said.

“In terms of civil liabilities, where criminal charges cannot be established, the victim can sue the prankster for assault and battery, tort of negligence or damages if the victim suffers any loss or damages as a result of the prank,” Balogun added.

The lawyer also noted that the consent of the victims of pranks must be sought and obtained before such content is posted on social media or other platforms.

He said, “Posting such prank videos on the Internet without the consent of those ‘pranked’ is a clear violation of the latter’s privacy rights. Note that such consent must be unambiguous, simple and clear.”

Another lawyer, Justin Obiechina, added that in situations where the anxiety occasioned by the prank leads to the death of the individual, the benefactors (specifically family members) of the victim can take legal action against the prankster under Section 33, Chapter Four of the constitution, which protects the right to life.

“However, they would have to prove that the prank led to the person’s death, and that even though there was an underlying health condition, the actions or omissions of the prankster triggered it, leading to the person’s death,” the lawyer added.

On when pranksters should draw the line when it came to playing expensive pranks on people, another lawyer, Oladele Olabode, told Saturday PUNCH, “Pranksters should learn to draw the line by avoiding pranks that are too dangerous or expensive. There is a popular saying that, ‘many lizards are crawling but no one knows the one suffering from stomach ache’, and that means one cannot, by mere looking, decipher who is suffering from an underlying health condition or not. Hence, pranksters should conduct due diligence and be reasonable while playing pranks in order to avoid civil or criminal liability.”

Pranksters will be arrested, say police

The Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Command of the Nigeria Police Force, Benjamin Hundeyin, warned pranksters against assaulting people and disturbing public peace.

He told Saturday PUNCH, “Anybody who assaults another person or disturbs public peace will be arrested. However, the Lagos State Police Command has not received any complaint in that regard. It means Lagosians are okay with it; that is if such things actually take place in the state. If we get reports about this, we will swing into action.

“Beyond that, if we see anybody disturbing the peace, such person would be arrested, even if no one makes a complaint. In the event that we have not spotted such persons, the next best thing is for members of the public to report such incidents.

“I must also state that assault does not have to involve physical contact. If a person acts as if they want to slap one and one gets scared, that can be classified as assault, according to the laws of the land.”

Further urging members of the public not to hesitate to bring such actions to the notice of the police, Hundeyin added, “I had actually warned a particular prankster who goes about pouring water on people in the pretext that they should help him put the bucket/bowl of water on his head. However, he seems to be based in Ibadan, not Lagos. I told him that the day anybody reports him to the police, he will be in ‘soup’, because he will be arrested.”

However, it  is not certain if the police threat will deter pranksters from playing expensive jokes.

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