“Remember, there are only two types of people in Nigeria and they are good or bad and not Northerners or Southerners. Judge people by their character which they have control over and not by their places of origin which they have no control over. God Almighty made us and placed us in the families and locality where we were born. To then discriminate based on place of origin is to question the wisdom of God. And the wisdom of God is beyond the wisdom of man” ~ President Goodluck Jonathan.
Monday morning, the BRT chugged along; spewing black smoke from an engine that I suspected is on its last legs. The driver seemingly oblivious of the discomfort of the commuters as the carbon mono-oxide laden smoke filled the inside of the bus each time the bus had to come to a standstill because of traffic.
One of such standstill occurred at an unusual spot and it seemed to possess the hallmark of a bad traffic situation written all over it. The standstill commenced about 700metres before a relatively less busy bus stop, in the entire Badagry axis. Some held their breaths as others inhaled unhealthy doses of carbon mono-oxide and I thanked God that my children were back home, still asleep, as it was their mid-term holiday. As we inched forward meter by meter, I wondered when, in the life of our great country, will we reach the utopia where we will imbibe a culture of responsible use and maintenance of public property.
After about 20 minutes, the BRT finally got to the bus stop. Seeing people gather round, shouting with raised hands at 6am, I knew there must be something going on, which of course was the cause of the traffic, as you know Lagosians are world renowned for our inclination to watch and watch at the detriment of other things. I have seen a great deal of unspeakable things in our society in recent times. Man inhumanity to man in varying degrees with a more horrifying experience coming upon you just when you thought you’d seen the worst. Nothing I had seen prepared me for the spectacle that awaited 25 meters away.
A young boy 12-13 years of age, wearing the uniform of one of the better private schools in the area, clutching a fully packed school bag, was on the ground in the middle of about 15 adults of varying ages. From afar, I could see that they were kicking, slapping and generally giving this kid the beating of his life, and though his tears he kept shouting what I could not yet make out. As the bus came to a halt at the bus stop, though it wasn’t my designated destination, I got off as I had to find out what was happening, what had the lad done? Why was jungle justice being meted out on such a child?
As I walked to the scene, shoving people aside to get to the front, I could hear the boy shouting; “Please take me to the police station, please take me to the police station”. The desperation in his voice broke my heart and I pushed harder, shouting “stop stop stop beating him” as I got to the front. Already I heard a female voice respond; “are you the father of the thief, are you his gang leader”. As providence would have it, another man who also pushed his way to the front, arrived at the same time as I did. No sooner had he reached the front of the crowd that he held up an identity card and declared;
“I am a police officer and the next person who touches this boy will spend a week in the cell and I will make sure they go to court”.
This declaration stopped the mob in their tracks and gave room for what followed which saddened me beyond words.
In pushing my way to the front of the mob, I had heard numerous chants like; “na so dem dey do, kill am, beat am”. “na lie e dey lie, na thief” and a few other unprintable ones. I wondered what it is that would warrant such statements of generalization involving a lad of such young age. The police man, whose name I later knew to be; Inspector Abu Emmanuel, first declared in a manner not ever witnessed by me, of a random police man on the street, that;
“No matter what this boy may have done or not done, NOBODY had the right to touch him, beat him or molest him in any way. YOU should have either called the police to arrest him or taken him to the police station for arrest and investigation”
Needless to say I was an instant fan of this great Nigerian.
Inspector Abu went on to ask what happened and a man of around 35years old who looked like he was dressed for a low end job, responded and the following conversation ensueed
Man: “Officer, I was on the bus sitting next to this boy, when I got down from the bus, I checked my pocket and saw that my phone was no longer there, I chased the bus and found this boy holding the phone”
Inspector Abu: “you saw him holding the phone in his hands or in his pocket or you searched him?”
Man: “No I didn’t search him; he was holding the phone out in his hand”
Inspector Abu: “Did you ask him for your phone first or did he offer it to you first?”
Man: “As he saw that I had chased the bus nah, he offered me the phone. He knew I had caught him”
The inspector then turned to the lad who now had hope in his eyes again, making me realize that he had considered the possibility that he would be lynched and not survive the ordeal. A terrible consideration for one so young.
Inspector: “boy. What happened?”
Boy: “My name is Adewale XXXXX, I am an SS1 student of XXXX, I am 13 years old. This gentleman sat down beside me on the bus. After he got off the bus, I readjusted myself to be more comfortable as no new passengers sat in the seat he vacated. As I moved, I felt something by my feet under the seat, I reached down and I saw a phone. I thought it must be for the man that just got off so I was trying to give it to the conductor when I saw the man jump on the bus, so I just pointed it to him to ask if it is his own. The man just started shouting; “thief thief thief” and then one passenger dragged me off the bus and people started beating me”
Inspector Abu looked to the man and asked; “Did you feel that your pocket was picked?”
Man: “No I did not, but that is how they do, you will not feel it”
Inspector Abu: “But you did not search this boy. You actually saw your phone in his hand and he offered it to you?”
Man: “ehn eh, I didn’t search him but as he saw me he knew…”
At this exact moment, a man moved inside the center of the mob and as the lad saw him, he called out;
“Uncle Uncle, I was calling you when they started beating me, but you saw me when I took the phone from under the seats and you didn’t say anything, please tell them what happened, please uncle, please”
Inspector Abu, looked at the new man and asked; “Oga, is he telling the truth?”
New Man: “Yes officer. He found the phone under the seat and he was calling the conductor to give it to him and it was at that same time that the man came back into the bus”
Inspector Abu: “but Oga, if you saw everything, why did you not speak out when they turned the matter to accuse this small boy of theft?
I could have hugged this Nigerian.
New Man: “ hmm Oga, noooo o, I will open my mouth and they will say I am an accomplice and I will be beaten with him o, No way o, I decided to keep shut and mind my own business”
Inspector Abu: “ok sir. As you decided to keep quiet and keep the truth so that evil can occur here, I pray that the same will happen to your children and to you too. Amen”
New Man: “Ah officer, don’t curse me o. it’s not my fault o, it’s the way the country is o, how many of your colleagues have arrested people like that ehn? Please o. God forbid o.”
Inspector Abu, turning to the owner of the phone and false accuser, with a look of disgust all over h is face;
Inspector Abu: “And you, instead of gratitude you pay this boy back with evil, I pray that same will happen to you and your children, and all you people that did not stop the beating, did not listen to the boy and take him to the police station even if you thought he stole, the same thing will happen to your children”
There was a subdued chorus of; “God forbid” “I rebuke it in Jesus Name” “I deflect it with Holy Ghost fire”.
I walked away feeling as horrible as I have ever been as a Nigerian. I recalled the few memorable incidences that have happened to me that helped shaped me into a Nigerian who sees people as being of just 2 categories; Good and Bad, and not of certain ethnic and religious categories and my heart broke all over again, just thinking how far we have depreciated as a people, even as our places of worship have increased in numbers exponentially, with a ridiculously high number of us claiming to be pastors and Alfas. Where has our humanity gone, that we will not stand up to prevent the lynching of a child, even if the child committed some offence, giving self-preservation as our excuse? Indeed what is the quality of the self that we preserve when it has such an act on its conscience or is it that we have fallen so low that we no longer have a conscience?
Have we been so enslaved with sever poverty brought upon us by the continued looting of our common wealth by successive public and even private office holders, politicians and technocrats alike? Have we been so abused and deprived that we, the common man, have lost our humanity, changing us from a hospitable and selfless people who are genuinely concerned about the plight of our neighbor irrespective of where his village is or which direction he faces in worship? Have we become as bad as or even worse than the looters that we condemn?
Who are we? As I finished this article, my wife gave me more despicably sad news; An Oba in Ejigbo had ordered that a woman and her daughter that were accused of stealing pepper at some market, be stripped naked and pepper robbed all over their bodies and more forces into their privates. Someone recorded the entire macabre event and uploaded to YouTube which, thank God, caused an uproar which, again thank God, the police have acted on and arrested the Oba and the perpetrators of such barbarism. I thought about the stories of equally barbaric acts meted out by Nigerians on Nigerians, and how it seems that the incidence of such stories seem to be increasing, such that our psyche doesn’t recover from the shock of one, that we are assailed with another.
Have we so lost our humanity that the tribe and tongue and the religion of another is of more importance in our consideration of them and influences our support of them and their actions, and not the simple Godly consideration of whether they are good or bad people?
I ask you, I ask myself, I ask us all, to carefully and deeply consider what we think makes us different and compare to what makes us the same and in so doing, maybe we will rediscover who we are.
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