Posts Tagged ‘Mob Action’

2016 has been an interesting year for me like I can imagine it’s been for a lot of people. For starters, my niece was born in February so I’ve got two shining lights in my life now. My family is great, work could be better but it’s good too, and pieces of my life have fallen in and out of place at different times.  The vagaries of life, isn’t that what some would call it?

In the past few days, I’ve been reading a book by Jon Ronson, “So you’ve been publicly shamed” talking about the democratisation of public shaming ab how people online and offline have developed a voice, one empowered to dispense justice as occasion serves.

From Max Mosley to Justine Sacco, Ronson chronicles stories of public shaming, the manifestation of deindividuation and how shaming is becoming a form of social control. Deindividuation refers to people partaking of things in a group they probably wouldn’t pioneer if, they had to individually. A more relatable, somewhat simpler term would be ‘The Mob’.

The book was personal for me in several ways, explaining a few concepts I want to work on in the New Year. I thought about the relief that confessions bring, and even though I’ve never said “Father forgive me for I have sinned” in a booth, I have felt (and I imagine it’s the same for a lot of people) the relief that comes from opening to God, a friend, partner, colleague, or parent. The “I don’t have to carry this alone” feeling, the belly-deep peace, the flat feeling equivalent of ‘he who is down fears no fall’, ground zero. At that point, emptiness is welcome. Feeling spent is almost a positive.

Shaming as it applies to men and women is also something this book explores in detail, how sexual issues (impropriety, idiosyncrasies, and mannerisms) are more likely to taint and damage women than men. ‘Slut-shaming’ as the offence and the punishment, an interesting concept, is also discussed. For instance, a woman is involved in a sex-scandal with a man, and the commentary naturally weighs more on her end, as snarky as it is hurtful and unforgiving. The man is mentioned, but it is the woman whose story is told with relish, her person and career hacked into. Women rarely ‘come back’ from the scandal.

As the punishment – a woman is in the spotlight for something the mob sees as wrong, whether it be financial impropriety or the misspeaks that are all too common online these days. The responses most of the time will bear on her sexuality, prescribing some sort of sexual punishment that deviates almost completely from the crime. Blame patriarchy, blame globalised expressions of ancient practices, blame anything you want.

How do people recover from a shaming? The truth is some people never do. Some others take years to rid themselves of the stigma, and even then, never completely succeed; it resurfaces every time they do, a permanent reminder of a wrong decision taken. Some others ignore it, and in doing so ‘take the power’ away from their traducers. There is a Yoruba saying that goes, “You cannot remove a man’s cap in his absence”. Not that a person cannot be shamed in their absence, but they must mentally enter that ‘dock’ for it to have any effect.

It might explain the ‘lack of shame’ that we say is ostensive in Nigerian/African/fix in your country’s leaders; the mental absence from the ‘gibbet’ where the shaming should occur. Think African leaders who have buried their umbilical cords in their offices and refuse to step down or hand over. But, I digress.

There is also ‘disrespecting the narrative’ created by the shaming which was influenced by the narrative of the action by creating a third narrative. Stay with me. Let’s say Ada does something ‘bad’ – narrative one. The public shames her – narrative two. She can decide to curl up and hide, or completely ignore the shaming, or she can flip the situation and create narrative three, make it anything she wants. That narrative disrespects one and two and is where my interest lies.

There are variations to shame, and the trauma caused by shaming. Various things trigger this trauma, and it differs from person to person. Same way grief, its manifestations and triggers are personal and differ from person to person.

Perhaps this is a good place to stop and express the rest of my thoughts when I finish reading the book and reflecting. Perhaps a nice concluding statement would be to take an extra minute before losing ourselves in the mobs that play judge and jury online/offline. Even when we think we have all the facts. Even when we convince ourselves that the person is worthy of the vitriol. Wait. Think.

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A few days ago I saw a link to a video about some ‘retribution’ meted out to a shoplifter at Shoprite, not sure if it’s Lagos or Abuja at this time.

The video starts with a lot of people screaming and a young lady who’s had most of her clothes ripped off, held by a young man who appears to be shielding her from the mob. She’s crying. The chanting is inaudible and then the video goes blurred for a few seconds. By the time it’s back she’s completely naked, crying even harder, and trying very unsuccessfully to cover her breasts and privates with her hands, and also stop the thronging mob from touching her. I have tears in my eyes at this point, the scene is reminiscent of people poking at a caged animal. I wonder if there aren’t any police men at the mall.

It gets worse; the lady trips and falls. I find myself asking, ‘why on earth are they trying to carry her’?  My answer lies in the next few seconds. She’s lifted, legs spread wide apart, and unhindered, some of the men start to touch her breasts and vagina. Others are content to film, take pictures, laugh and/or scream. I’ve had enough, but the video’s just about done too. All of three minutes and nine seconds, but that young lady will live with the trauma of this incident for the rest of her life.

This incident isn’t novel, neither is it isolated. We have become so disenchanted with our legal system that we have become judge and jury unto ourselves; we’d rather distribute punishment ourselves, and in the most barbaric and dehumanizing of ways. I could regal you with tales of close friends who narrowly escaped lynching, or some other mob action, and they were innocent!

Very recently our sensibilities were jarred by the murder if four students in Aluu, a hitherto unknown town in Rivers State, Nigeria. Details are still sketchy but the most popular story has it that the four young men, students at the University of Port Harcourt had gone early in the morning to recover a debt owed one of them. The debtor didn’t have the money and in the argument that ensued, started shouting, ‘thief thief’. Like ants to sugar, a crowd gathered, and without inquiring, the boys were rounded up, stripped, paraded through the town, beaten, clubbed, and then burnt. Horrible. Simply horrible.

Since a video of the gruesomeness went viral, countless individuals and groups have called for the prosecution of the mob that killed these young men. Movements have been born, hashtags have trended, and the emotion is almost palpable.

I joined one of such movements on Friday, the one calling for signatures to pressure the National Assembly to pass a bill outlawing mob action. It was started by @ofilispeaks, and currently stands at just under 3, 500 signatures, including mine.

Then, riding on the pent-up emotions from the video of the young lady I watched, I wondered to myself how I could help drive the campaign even further. I spoke to a very close friend of mine, a lawyer whose years of practice are a year shy of my age. My conversation with him? Let’s just say I did a U-Turn at the end of it.

Popular sentiment aside, we cannot ask for a new law addressing ‘mob action’ because embedded in our Criminal Code (for the South), and the Penal Code (for the North) are laws covering the act against the #Aluu4 – murder.

Matter of fact, we could tease out a minimum of four charges against the mob. Let’s start from,

1. Murder: everyone involved, active participants

2. Conspiracy to commit murder: since one person cannot conspire within himself, they all did, whether directly or indirectly)

3. Accessory to murder: the people standing by who did nothing to stop the murders, the ones who brought the fuel, tires, those taking pictures, filming, etc.

4. Incitement: the ones shouting, egging the perpetrators on, etc

5. Obstruction of justice: everyone present, even though witnesses say the Police in a van near by did absolutely nothing so technically there was no obstruction.

Are there provisions for each/all of the charges within Nigerian laws? Yes. Last I checked, more than ten people have been arrested and arraigned over the murders, further confirming that what we have is not a lack of laws, but the moral courage to effect them.

We lack the equality before the law which is why we made such a song and dance about #Aluu4 but just whisper a prayer for the souls that perish by the day via the floods, bombings, or the several violent cries rocking Nigeria at the moment.

We lack education, basic civic education that teaches us to respect life, human rights, and instills in us a natural abhorrence for mob action, or other expressions of jungle justice.

That, my friends, is what we should campaign about.