Demola Rewaju: Herd mentality, mob justice and humanity – How Nigeria condemns itself (Y! Politico)

by Demola Rewaju

There is a certain specie of goats that demonstrate the phenomenon of herd mentality most aptly – their ears are quite long as are their legs and they generally appear to be quite sheepish or dumb in appearance. You may have seen them before, filing past in one single file, the one in front determining the pace and direction, sometimes helping them to cross roads or jump ditches without harm. But when suddenly the one in front leaps over the edge of a cliff to death, all the others inevitably follow.

With humans, this also applies and it is sometimes called ‘group-think’ – settings where the ideas of one person usually becomes the prevailing idea in any group or the guidance of the thoughts of a group along certain fixed lines that are accepted by most and do not permit deviation from them by outliers or non-conformists.

Mob Justice functions much along the same lines – someone in the crowd suggests something, another echoes it and by the time the third person says the same thing, it starts to look like a logic so obvious and right that nobody disagrees and all go along quite willingly, like goats in a single file. Sometimes, someone who perceives himself as having less intelligence than others immediately takes up the cause and drive its cause with such fierceness, to rid himself of any doubt to the contrary, to show others that this had been his own thought all along, proving himself in some way as wise as the person who had initially suggested that course of action.

So with human herd mentality, there are hierarchies – at the top are those who drop ideas with much subtlety as to what the herd should be doing. Then are those who perhaps younger than the first set continue to harp on the wisdom of what had been said until those at the bottom of the herd accept it as true and act on it.

Come with me, if you please, to the streets of Kano where a woman named Bridget is about to be killed. No one has any idea what exactly it is she had said or done except a few but the bloodlust is thick in the air already and must be satiated. To our left is Alhaji A who has been to Mecca fifteen times. If he wants Bridget to bleed, then maybe guilty of death. Just somewhere in front is Mallam X who had studied under some of the best religious scholars in the world. If he wants Bridget dead, the possibility increases that she’s guilty of death. And there’s gentle Alhaja who doesn’t even fight – if she wants Bridget dead, she just has to be guilty of death. Monguno is sharpening his knife too – all these people from very different backgrounds want Bridget dead and they can’t be wrong – she is most certainly guilty of death. So we join in and hurls stones too…but wait: “why is Alhaji Zubair shielding her? Perhaps she isn’t guil…” but before we can think differently, someone shouts “Don’t you know Zubair is her lover? So and so has seen them together at such and such a place, he has vested interest in keeping her alive even at the expense of religion. Sheikh Hussein teaches us that anybody who….” and so on and so forth. Obscure authorities are quoted. Eventually, the woman dies. Like Bridget in Kano died. Like Tekena, Ugonna, Chidi and Lloyd: the four killed brutally in Aluu. Mobs are not geographically or religiously restricted.

And so it happened also in the last election and many times ever before then as many times ever after now. Oby Ezekwesili is opposed to Jonathan, El-Rufai also is opposed to him. Tunde Bakare too. Raji Fashola also. Kayode Fayemi too. Therefore, Goodluck Jonathan must be a very terrible leader indeed.

And there’s Japheth up ahead. Even the gentle Tolu too is against him. Oh wait, even Chris Ihidero is there. And Chude, and Yemia, and Onigbinde, and Nedu, and Stanley – all these people surely cannot be wrong! Even Ayo Sogunro is against him!!! This man must truly be evil, I will vote him out.

“But why is Toyosi Akerele clinging to Jonathan? Maybe there’s something about this man that she sees but we’re not seeing…”

“Oh stop! Don’t you know? Toyosi is hoping to benefit from contracts in the PDP government, just like Alhaji Zubair, she has vested interests”.

The rest is history.

The point here is simple: mob justice follows the same crowd psychology patterns that many of us get enraptured in everyday and act upon with even more terrible consequences. Remember the once much celebrated Dasukigate? Many still tweet today along the lines of “But God will punish these people o! See how they stole Nigeria blind!” – without evidence other than what government puts out to distract from the worsening economic conditions. “If your father chopped Dasuki money, may you and your entire generation rot in hell” – people who pass summary judgement based on evidences they neither saw no heard and are ready to execute same are everywhere, in Kano, in Niger, in Aluu but mainly on the internet. We have an opinion on everything and woe betide a DemolaRewaju, Eloka or JoyceOdukoya who has a different opinion. “Oh, don’t you know? Demola too benefitted from corruption nau, isn’t he Koro’s boy?” like Alhaji Zubair, he also has vested interests.

And so we condemn people and pass judgement on them. That’s what happened to Bridget in Kano but make no mistake, it happens daily on the internet – our idea of justice and retribution is often as passionate and maniacal as that of mobs elsewhere but all mobs are the same everywhere. And that’s why most people who condemn mob justice are really part of the mob themselves.

“But I could never behave like those animals that killed Bridget!”

Sorry, but this is how it starts – when you hold a dogged opinion of what things are or how things should be, when you pass summary judgement even without listening to what the other person has to say, when you deliver the verdict and execute it yourself, you are just like them.

And they are not animals – even animals do not kill other animals over religion. Guess what else they do not kill other animals over? Rape. I’m sure you can’t kill for religion but if someone rapes your daughter or mine and we had opportunity to kill, we would, wouldn’t we? And that would be justified, wouldn’t it?

But we’re not animals – animals do not kill unless they feel threatened or feel hungry, those things are all too human and it is in recognition of that humanity that we must stay watchful. A person appears to be a god, very calm in disposition and affable in mannerism. He or she thinks like us and must therefore be like us in every way. Until that  same person kills his wife over a case of suspected infidelity, then we say he was an animal in human skin but no, he was just human. You see, humans all have motives, biases and raw emotions which when stoked in the presence of an opportunity to get away with it are exhibited with ruthlessness.

And this leads to the final point – the psychology of the anonymity of mobs. Mobs do not let us feel guilty because it is a collective decision taken with consequences for all. Those who killed Bridget hid under that anonymity that no outsider would ever be able to single them out of what was a collective action. Any surprises that nobody admits to having voted Buhari these days? That the anonymity of the mob – everyone in it acts without taking responsibility for it. And even when identified as one of the arrowheads, simply say you did it out of religious zeal and you have no apology for it – after all, Goodluck Jonathan was indeed clueless and was robbing the nation blind. This was Alexis de Tocqueville’s summation of Democracy in America – “tyranny of the mob” but those who founded Democracy never expected that a time would come when entire crowds would think in one direction and nobody would dare challenge them, that was why the freedom of opinion was enshrined in Democracy – the majority will have their way while the minority must have their say. And so it was that everyone hated Jonathan in 2015. But it was not everyone – he polled twelve million votes against Buhari’s fifteen million so it was not exactly everyone.

And that is the beauty of thinking for yourself and daring to voice out a contrary opinion. Sooner or later you will find that you are not walking alone.


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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