Ochlocracy
October 30, 2012 7:06 AM   Subscribe

'Perplexed ... Perplexed': On Mob Justice in Nigeria
posted by ianK (20 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Jungle justice": The term seems to confirm the worst prejudices that outsiders might have about life in Nigeria.

Jungle justice is not the half of it. But we should be fair enough to set Nigerian street justice in its various contexts.

Mob rule -- or to give it its technical name, "ochlocracy" -- was not invented in Nigeria. Theories of the mob predate ancient Rome. Extrajudicial murders litter the post-Civil War history of the American South, all the way to, and beyond, the story of James Byrd, Jr., in 1998.


Ancient Rome? Isn't it more fair to put this in a modern context. "Jungle justice" was meted out by Libyans on Gaddafi and who knows how many of his stooges and the same thing is happening in Syria and race has nothing to do with any of it.
posted by three blind mice at 7:40 AM on October 30, 2012


Mob justice is absolutely terrifying to witness, even from a distance. But it's too common in places where the justice system fails often and deeply. Even here, who hasn't felt plain anger when a child molester walks, or every white collar criminal gets nominal jail time.
posted by tatiana131 at 7:42 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ancient Rome? Isn't it more fair to put this in a modern context. "Jungle justice" was meted out by Libyans on Gaddafi and who knows how many of his stooges and the same thing is happening in Syria and race has nothing to do with any of it.

The whole article seems to be about putting this in a specific, modern context.
posted by brennen at 7:56 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole article seems to be about putting this in a specific, modern Nigerian context - and then saying - well, it wasn't invented here - using examples wholly unrelated to the situation in Nigeria. This makes Nigerian "mob justice" appear to be strangely specific to Nigeria when it seems to me like it's going on in a lot of other places concurrently.

OK the bit about someone having their penis stolen might be specific to Nigeria. Not sure that would get a rise out of a crowd in my town.
posted by three blind mice at 8:09 AM on October 30, 2012


"Jungle justice" was meted out by Libyans on Gaddafi and who knows how many of his stooges

There's a pretty big difference between beating and shooting a dictator who has brutalized your community for decades and sticking a teenage suspected shoplifter in a column of burning tires.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:09 AM on October 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


Inspector.Gadget: There's a pretty big difference between beating and shooting a dictator who has brutalized your community for decades and sticking a teenage suspected shoplifter in a column of burning tires.
Not if you're commenting from the safe distance of the internet. (lights a pipe, leans back in seat, prepares to expound on How To Fix Things)
posted by IAmBroom at 8:19 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I lived in Africa for a while as a kid and the security advice we got given was if you had an accident, even if people were injured, and it was your fault, you drove on.

It struck me, with the moral clarity that kids often have, as profoundly wrong. I remember telling my folks that. But the reason was the same as in this article: there would be no time to explain or help the injured. You would be set upon.

Also - what the article mentions briefly is the power of video and camera phones, which is the key here. Fatal beatings and the gruesome sight of someone being necklaced are ten a penny on the internet. What was once captured rarely by brave photojournalists and remained for a long time a dark threat of the townships is now public and publicly horrifying. The victims are not just charred corpses on street corners but captured, named and immortalised to some extent in cyberspace. It is a catalyst for a change both in public attitudes that enable mob justice and the judicial laissez faire that enables it.

Finally, the Gaddafi analogy may not be such a great one. There is a theory - that, admittedly has not got much traction - that Gaddaffi wasn't murdered by mob justice. Certainly the kind of show trail he would have faced, the international platform for exposing a lot of the dirty laundry of various heads of state he would have got, made it more attractive he was quickly dispatched than brought to trial.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:39 AM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


That article and the situation it describes is profoundly terrifying.
posted by flippant at 9:39 AM on October 30, 2012


Yes, horrible. This is exactly why it is so important that a civil society attempt to maintain the rule of law with strong protections for the innocent and guilty alike.
posted by Justinian at 9:59 AM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can easily grasp this behavior in many circumstances, but I've never understood it as a response to "penis theft." People kill someone with no one bothering to check that something's actually happened? It's not like anger at a hit-and-run driver that turns out not to have been the guy at fault, here, complete innocence is easily determined.
posted by tyllwin at 10:11 AM on October 30, 2012


I can easily grasp this behavior in many circumstances, but I've never understood it as a response to "penis theft."

My understanding of the "penis theft" hysteria is that the victim may only suffer a shrinkage of their genitals, which would be difficult to disprove. I imagine that in places where witchcraft is feared, an accusation of this nature would not be made lightly and would tend to be taken seriously.
posted by orme at 10:54 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great article... The parts about the compression of time are very good. I wonder whether being better dressed than the mob increases the chances that you will be set on.
posted by subdee at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2012


This is such a common occurrence in Nigeria and it has really surprised me that the Uniport incident has commanded the spotlight that it has. Life in Nigeria is cheap next to worthless and folks get killed in the most gruesome ways over trivial crap. For example, many years ago when I lived in FESTAC town in Lagos, I witnessed a mob set upon a guy who was stealing car radios. In the blink of an eye, the guy had tires and kerosene thrown over him and set alight. The police were nearby but did not intervene. The country is dysfunctional, the people by and large are dysfunctional. Shoot ask any Nigerian about Operation Sweep in Lagos State back in the 90's. Lagos was in the grip of a nasty crime wave so in response, the military government responded with a deployment of Northern Mobile Policemen (MOPOL). Mobile Police are especially feared in Nigeria. They are just a cut above regular policemen in terms of weaponry and savagery. These MOPOL killed so many people, both guilty and innocent. The concept of a trial is not something that people were familiar with so they just became Judge Dredd and killed folks on the spot. Those were not fun times.
posted by RedShrek at 11:29 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another example of mob justice in Libya is the killing of sub-Saharan Africans by the "freedom fighters": A Turkish oil worker reported witnessing the murder of 70 to 80 Sudanese and Chadian guest workers with pruning shears and axes by Libyans who accused them of being Gaddafi mercenaries.
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:37 PM on October 30, 2012


You certainly don't have to look deeply to find examples of mob killings in American history, even in the modern era but the writer using James Byrd, Jr. as an example is odd. His murder was a straight-up hate crime by three people where the victim was not accused (wrongly or not) of anything. A terrible crime, a horrible, unforgivable act, but not a case of a mob taking "justice" into their own hands.
posted by Morrigan at 3:52 PM on October 30, 2012


I agree with tyllwin that the penis theft aspect of these lynchings is deeply weird:
In 2011, in Gusau, a town in the northern state of Zamfara, Saminu Ibrahim, a journalist, went to a local branch of Skye Bank to withdraw some money. While he was there, one of the bank staff, Idowu Olatunji, suddenly experienced a hysterical episode in which he felt his penis had vanished. This peculiar form of anxiety, which happens with some regularity in public places in Nigeria, is usually followed by the accusation that someone nearby "stole" the penis. A crowd gathers and rarely is there any kind of examination of the accuser's body. His word is simply taken for it, and a beating of the accused, sometimes fatal, follows.
...
That day in Gusau, the banker Olatunji accused the journalist Ibrahim of penis theft. All of a sudden, Ibrahim found himself in mortal danger from a crowd. They closed in on him with murderous intent, and only the presence of quick-thinking policemen saved him from a grisly death.
It also seems to me that orme is right about a connection to witchcraft in general; a number of months ago now, for the purposes of another comment, I was looking over the Wikipedia article on Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches), the late 15th century handbook of and roadmap for European witch persecutions to come, and I was stunned to read that
The Malleus Maleficarum accuses male and female witches of infanticide, cannibalism and casting evil spells to harm their enemies as well as having the power to steal penises. It goes on to give accounts of witches committing these crimes. [emphasis added]
But instead of being a merely incidental manifestation in a context of witchcraft of a reaction to a potentially disconcerting phenomenon that every man might experience, as I think orme implies (My understanding of the "penis theft" hysteria is that the victim may only suffer a shrinkage of their genitals, which would be difficult to disprove. I imagine that in places where witchcraft is feared, an accusation of this nature would not be made lightly and would tend to be taken seriously), I see a conviction that penis theft can occur as one of the deep springs in human nature that virtually requires the construction of a special category of human being who could accomplish such an obviously supernatural theft: namely, the witch.
posted by jamjam at 6:24 PM on October 30, 2012


Anarchy is a better word to describe this.
posted by Brian B. at 8:12 PM on October 30, 2012


Smith, Moira. "The flying phallus and the laughing inquisitor: penis theft in the Malleus Maleficarum". Journal of Folklore Research, January 01, 2002.
posted by away for regrooving at 1:29 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would imagine penis theft is especially high in places with indigenous superstitions *and* overly air conditioned offices. Like a bank in provincial Nigeria.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:14 AM on October 31, 2012


That is a truly wonderful article, away for regrooving, and I'm very grateful to you for leading me to it.

Lest we think we've grown completely beyond the grotesque superstitions at the heart of the Malleus, I excerpt the translation of a passage Moira Smith made for her article:
Finally, what shall we think about those witches who somehow take
members in large numbers--twenty or thirty--and shut them up together in a
birds' nest or some box, where they move about like living members, eating
oats or other feed? This has been seen by many and is a matter of common
talk. One should say that it is all brought about by the devil's work and
illusion. The senses of the witnesses are deceived in the manner we have
mentioned above.
Longer-term members here (sorry, but it was inevitable), may be reminded of the 'bucket of cocks' meme which made so many appearances in MetaTalk a while back, though I haven't seen it lately.

Something very odd is going on with all this.
posted by jamjam at 12:34 PM on November 1, 2012


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