Nigeria: Mob Violence and Nigeria’s Unraveling Economy

If Nigeria’s economy was creating enough jobs to get people busy, we’d see less crisis.

… the other thing (which is dark) that people do will haunt them, as it has haunted Igbos, which is that when things go wrong, they become easy to point the finger at. It is the sad nature of humanity (think of the historical pogroms against the Jews, they always happened during times of economic downturn), and the mitigating factors are economic.

The above chart from SBM Intelligence shows that you are actually more likely to be lynched in Southern Nigeria. It should be food for thought for Southern Nigerians. It should be food for thought for someone like me, who is a parent.

Imagine sitting in your house, and your child goes out, then you hear that he has been killed because of ₦100 ($0.17)? That is what happened to David Imoh’s parents.

Sadly, too low-income Nigerians have been socialised by the random violence in the country to see mob justice as normal. When you include the fact that most of us have no trust in the legal system in any event, too many Nigerians will likely to resort to mob justice at the drop of a hat, and thus the cycle continues. We will see more lynchings in future. No one is safe, because even the child of a top banker who lives in Banana Island could one day want to cross the road at Admiralty Way in Lekki, and could very easily be accused of failing to pay a random ₦100 toll. Then that’s it…

If we are honest, it is what Nigeria has always been. Lynching is not a new thing in Nigeria, so the Deborah Yakubu and David Imoh tragedies should surprise no one.

What were the Aluu 4 killed for 10 years ago?

What was that young boy lynched for at Stadium Bus Stop in Surulere back in 2004 (does anyone still remember that?).

Speaking of Hobbesian states, we cannot deny the ethnic element to these tragedies as seen by the attacks on Igbo-owned businesses in Sokoto two weekends ago, for an incident in which no Igbo person was involved. It is true that other ethnicities (especially Southern minorities) have also been victims of repeated religious violence in Northern Nigeria, but it is also true that Igbos are the biggest victims.

In general terms, the difference between the nature of violence in Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria is that in the North of the country, the violence is typically nihilist; while in the South, it is typically for economic reasons. The murder of David Imoh brings these two threads together, the rapid violence of the North, with the commercial violence of the South.

We have been used to it for a very long time in all parts of the country, but I think what has now changed is the ubiquity through which the mobile phone brings these things to people’s doorsteps now, and, like the way a mobile phone live-streamed the Lekki Massacre into our living rooms, it makes us confront the stark reality of what our country is – a Hobbesian state.

Speaking of Hobbesian states, we cannot deny the ethnic element to these tragedies as seen by the attacks on Igbo-owned businesses in Sokoto two weekends ago, for an incident in which no Igbo person was involved. It is true that other ethnicities (especially Southern minorities) have also been victims of repeated religious violence in Northern Nigeria, but it is also true that Igbos are the biggest victims.

This ethnic dimension has also shown up in the fact that many commentators have seized on the apparent identity of Daniel’s killers as Hausa-speaking motorcycle riders to call for the deportation of (lower-class) Hausas from Lagos. It is true that Daniel Imoh’s killers were Hausa speakers, but it is also true that other perpetrators of mob violence in Southern Nigeria have been locals.

For example, the day after Deborah Yakubu was killed in Sokoto, in Auchi, Edo State, 847 kilometres away, a mob set a robbery suspect on fire. He died on the spot. The killers were local Etsako speakers. Essentially, all of these things can be true at the same time, in much the same way as we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

What we need, at least those of us who know where our next meal is coming from, is to ask ourselves why. For me, the answers are economic.

Many people from Southern Nigeria move for better opportunities outside the country. Much the same, when we move, for the most part, like the Hausas in Nigeria, we start at the bottom of the rung in the new places, and face discrimination. Where the difference comes is in the ease of resort to violence.

The Igbos have always been the go-to victims of Nigeria’s ethnic violence for the simple fact that we are everywhere. I always tell how I have been to every State in Nigeria (except Taraba), and I have always spoken the Igbo language with someone who is resident in every place I visit. Historically, the Igbos moved because of geographical reasons. The same is happening to Arewa people now, but also they are moving largely because of economic reasons, and as a result, they will take roles that are at the lower rungs of society. That ubiquity will stand them out and make them targets.

The flow of Hausa speakers into Southern Nigeria is not an invasion, as I have seen many Southerners claim; it is simple economics. Nigeria has failed them, so they are doing what people do in order to put food on the tables of their families; they are moving to areas of more opportunity.

Many people from Southern Nigeria move for better opportunities outside the country. Much the same, when we move, for the most part, like the Hausas in Nigeria, we start at the bottom of the rung in the new places, and face discrimination. Where the difference comes is in the ease of resort to violence.

Of course, the other thing (which is dark) that people do will haunt them, as it has haunted Igbos, which is that when things go wrong, they become easy to point the finger at. It is the sad nature of humanity (think of the historical pogroms against the Jews, they always happened during times of economic downturn), and the mitigating factors are economic.

If Nigeria’s economy was creating enough jobs to get people busy, we’d see less crisis. It is not an accident that Nigeria is becoming more hateful as the economic outcomes are deteriorating. It’s the economy.

Cheta Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence.

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