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Kill him; he’s one of us

Mob lynching has become a national pastime. Last week, a celebrated Nigerian author shared a chilling story of how a man was lynched in Abuja…

Mob lynching has become a national pastime. Last week, a celebrated Nigerian author shared a chilling story of how a man was lynched in Abuja on the false suspicion that he stole a woman’s phone. The woman later found her phone, but the man lost his life to the mob. 

The Abuja incident is not an isolated event. Earlier in January, a 28-year-old man was mistaken for a motorcycle thief and killed in Gwagwalada. Sadly, these incidents have become so common that few make it to the news. They only become memories for those who witness the barbarity or the victims’ families. For the country, the victims are just blots and statistics. 

Nevertheless, the memory of Aluu 4 lynching is still fresh in many minds, not in the least the minds of the families of the four young undergraduates that fell to the savagery that was the mob’s idea of justice.

If Aluu 4 was a distant memory for some, the killing of Ahize Okoli, a part 5 undergraduate at the Obafemi Awolowo University on the allegation of theft, or that of Deborah Samuel in Sokoto for alleged blasphemy, should ring fresh and chilling. The mobs are very much alive with us, and they are deadly.

We are already used to deadly groups. Boko Haram and their associates—bandits, pirates, kidnappers, unknown gunmen—have combined to put Nigeria among the top guys in the global terrorism index over the last few years. The carnage wreaked by these groups is telling in the viciousness of their methods and objectives. 

While mobs who lynch do not attract as much attention as Boko Haram and co., we should be concerned about the evil they do, even if they don’t see it as one. According to SB Morgen, at least 391 individuals were killed by mobs between 2019 and 2022. How many have bandits and unknown gunmen killed within the same period?

Mob justice is evil of the self-righteous kind, and its roots go deep into the public psyche. A Nigerian on the roadside can morph into a raging mob-killer in a heartbeat. They won’t mind gathering stones and clubs or donate their fuels just to see that their brand of justice is served.

To them, justice is a carnival of clubs, stones, and bonfires. They are judge, jury, and executioner. Anyone dragged to their courts is guilty by default. Very few escape the death sentence.

This mentality drove students to kill Deborah in Sokoto and Ahize in Ife. It is the same mob hubris that led a community to murder the quartet of Ugonna Obuzor, Lloyd Toku, Chiadika Biringa, and Tekena Elkanah in Aluu, Port Harcourt. Perhaps more ironically, similar vindictiveness led youths acting under the guise of protest against police brutality to kill and burn Sergeant Adegoke Ajibola and Corporal Rotimi Oladele in broad daylight in Ibadan.

In the final analysis, one wonders where the justice lies. The victims of mob madness rarely get the justice they deserve. Very few members of the mobs ever make it to the courts or prison. The killers of Osagie and Deborah are still at large, as though the police are searching for them. Some of those who killed Ugonna and co. in Aluu are soaking in the community air moistened by their victims’ blood. They could care less. The government is barely doing anything. What’s there to fear?

Mob action doesn’t represent Nigeria’s penal codes, nor does it represent the rulings of the Qur’an or the Bible. Traditionalists are not known to bludgeon suspected criminals on impulse. What justice does the mob so maniacally pursue? 

We should not excuse criminals, real or imagined, but we should not deny them the right to a fair hearing either. Only then can we assume moral superiority. Fairness gives us an edge. Mob lynching puts the mob and the criminal on a plane of equal culpability: the criminal for allegedly flouting the law and the mob for disregarding it.

If we persist, we will only end up perpetuating a vicious cycle of crime and abuse of justice, where no true justice is served except a stream of blood that can never quench the fire we are building.

In the end, therefore, the mobs are no better than the supposed criminals that they condemn. They are just associates that end on different sides of abuse, injustice, and victimization. So when next we hurl stones and set tires on fire, when next we cry and curse the poor fellow that is just an equal victim of our collective malaise, let us do well to remember: he is one of us!


Adoto, a researcher, writer and journalist, writes via [email protected]


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