Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

21 Jun Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

Mob Justice in Zone 5

Last Friday, a lady returning home from work stood by the kerbside at Herbert Macaulay Way, Zone 5, waiting for a cab. Her mind was possibly on the journey ahead, or on the impending rain, or on some domestic issue; obviously someplace other than the bag hanging from the crook of her arm. A young man noticing her distraction snuck up to her, snatched the bag and fled in the direction of Wuse Market. Her lamentation set some passersby after the suspect on about an 800m race. It was about 6:30 p.m.

(I was not at the scene of the incident; eyewitnesses would later narrate the preceding to me and other inquisitive latecomers as a back-story, after the suspect had taken his pursuers round the market and had been caught and was being given a beating.)

I sighted the scene from across the road. From that distance it looked like a clip from The Passion of the Christ. A lone man in white shirt (now tattered) staggering ahead of a mob, enduring slaps, conks, punches, and flogging from all angles. Even those who were not part of the hunt enjoyed the spoil. Not many passersby could resist drawing nearer, if only to be a witness. Soon a hedge had formed around him and he had dropped to the ground, submitting totally to the whipping and kicking.

If the aim was to extract a confession from him, it failed. To the question where he had hid the bag, he had no answer. He was either an epitome of a hardened criminal or he had lost his memory. Every moan that escaped his bloody, swollen lips was echoed as ‘he said zone 3’, ‘he said stall 3’, ‘store 3’.

Upon close inspection, it could be seen through the slime and grime and blood that he was a light skinned, clean-shaven young man. That earned him some extra whips accompanied with the phrase, ‘fine boy like you’, as if stealing were a legitimate profession reserved for the ugly. The charges against him were many: stealing, as expected; stealing from a woman; stealing in daylight and in a crowded place for that matter; laziness; and attempted escape. Each carried a penalty averaging ten lashes delivered concurrently on any part of the body.

One of the market guards confirmed the suspect was actually a thief. He came often in a rush, the guard testified, to deposit items in shady locations. The testimony raised the impetus of the mob to inflict its brand of justice. It was agreed immediately that he should die. So the beating continued with renewed madness. At this point, all lessons from the Aluu 4 were disregarded. Everyone was encouraged to partake in the process. Dangerous statements that could not be attributed to anyone in particular flew in the air.

Someone, possibly a carpenter passing by like everyone else, had with him a saw. It might have become useful had two policemen not appeared and taken charge of the torture. They worked their boots all over his head, just to assure the mob that the thief was in good hands. (The mob is a mix of onlookers, photographers, and executioners.) With pieces of his trousers he was bound, hands strapped to the back. He was lucky to be alive.

Three days earlier, for the same crime of bag-snatching the police at Wuse division confirmed to newsmen that they shot and killed an unidentified thief, while his two accomplices escaped. These kinds of stories are now common on the metro section of newspapers: ‘Wuse Market Shut Down as Traders Protest Incessant Stealing’, ‘Fleeing Robbery Suspect Gunned Down at Utako,’ etc., etc.

7:00 p.m., with his blue boxers falling off his waist, the thief was led away in one direction, and the mob dispersed in different directions, the location of the stolen bag still unknown.