Nigerians and the Mob Mentality

burnt-african-8117As the country amps itself for the holiday season, the everyday stresses that characterize life in Nigeria often escalate. This is often a period of heightened armed robberies and fraud. It is also a heightened period for mob violence.

This week a young man was mobbed to death by a crowd that accused him of being gay. The death is the latest in a long, unending string of mob violence in the country – the vast majority of which goes unreported. While mob violence isn’t new in Nigeria, it has taken on a chilling dimension as the ubiquity of cell phone cameras have allowed bystanders and participants to film these gruesome deaths and post them online. These videos are then viewed thousands of times by people who profess to be horrified by them only to breathlessly pass them on to others.

But when it is claimed that the victims of this depraved mob violence were gay, what is disturbing is how different the reactions become. Accusations of homosexuality of the victims seem to sanctify these brutal acts of mob violence and those who, in other instances, may have condemned it now support it.

Many have said that mob violence in Nigeria is the result of the country’s slow, corrupt justice system. A system that can sentence one person to death for stealing mobile phones and allow another who has stolen billions in funds to a six-month term in a luxury hospital. But the truth is much more complex. There is something dark that lives at the heart of this country and it comes to light in the anonymous spaces of the internet and the crowd.

An onlooker films a scene of mob violence on his camera phone.

As writer Teju Cole notes in a piece in the Atlantic, this dark awful thing did not spring up yesterday.

“And even though I know that lynchings would largely disappear in a Nigeria with rule of law and strong institutions — just as they have largely disappeared in other places where they were once common — I still wonder what extreme traumas have brought us to this peculiar pass. I suppose it must be a blood knot, one that involves all the restless ghosts of our history-maddened country: the gap between rich and poor, the current corruption of the ruling class, the recent military dictatorships, the butchery of the Civil War in the late ’60s, the humiliations of British colonialism, the internecine battles of the 19th century, and the horrors of the slaving past. We have, by means of a long steeping, been dyed all the way through with callousness.”

In his essay “The Blackness of Black: Africa in The World Today“ Author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o attributes it to a kind of self-hatred. Ours is a situation in which we have internalised the negativity associated with our bodies and our race, thus we have little regard for ourselves or the value of our own lives. We clothe this brutality in the same outfits the West has since the days of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade – under the guise of law, religion and exploitative social and economic systems.

The biggest sin, then, is not that certain groups of white people, and even the West as a whole, may have a negative view of blackness embedded in their psyche, the real sin is that the black bourgeoisie in Africa and the world should contribute to that negativity and even embrace it by becoming participants or shareholders in a multibillion industry built on black negativity. If it was a case of a few social foibles here and there, it would not matter, but in a post-colonial situation, the internalized negative view of the black body can have fatal consequences. In Africa today, sixty years after independence, there still persists a systematic disregard of African lives by their own state, a continuity of the colonial.

Thus, our own acceptance of the mob murder or our fellow citizens, our titillated pleasure at viewing the horrors of mangled bodies on our phones and laptops – even our justifications of such acts under the guise of religion or law, is emblematic of deep well of self-hatred. One that wishes nothing but its own extinction.

So as we enter the final weeks of the year, when the season calls for self-reflection, joy and celebration, let us look again at our unexamined psyches. If we are to become whole and complete, a people who value themselves and truly know their worth, we cannot continue to accept any form of violence no matter who it is directed at or why. For when we seek to destroy the other, we only destroy ourselves.

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