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Mob mentality

By Debbie Ogunjobi
Nothing is as frightening or should be as feared as a mob; that gathering of people whose emotions have made them a mass of zombies! People no longer responsible for their actions as separate individuals but have become one entity without reason, consideration or caution.

Emotions can be fanned into explosive flames by ideas and persuasions that would otherwise be ridiculous and even nonsensical where a mob is formed. For the sake of this particular article I will define a mob as a gathering of people persuaded into ideas by passion; sometimes momentarily. During the nationwide strike I had declined to go out as I didn’t want to run into pockets of violence that normally erupts where mobs are found.

You find people behaving in a manner almost alien to their nature as they become gripped by whatever demon takes hold of the crowd. I have seen bankers in suits, get down from their cars, join a raging mob and bring tyres to burn suspected thieves, then drive off shell shocked as they realise they have just taken part in a murder.

There is something strangely compelling and exhilarating about a mob; like a magnet it attracts more pieces of iron till it grows out of control.

I have spent time contemplating the nature of mobs as against crowds and I have concluded that we all seem to connect emotionally and spiritually when a lot of us gather together. The strongest emotion that is projected then super imposes its thought patterns on everyone else and what you have is a mass of emotions, it only becomes “mobbish” when the emotion is anger which then manifests into violence.

There are many incidents I have seen that legitimises my caution and strict avoidance of crowded situations. The first was the death of my friend’s driver when we were in the university. We had gone to visit them in their home town and the driver had been given charge of us.

Those of us who had never been in the town before were being driven round and what happened not long after we got to the market was not only a tragedy it was like evil in motion. Being students we wanted to make our money stretch so we had bought quite a number of things and the driver decided to reverse the car and park it in a better position so we could put our things in the boot.

At that precise moment a young child decided to run into the path of the car and was knocked down immediately. The uproar was instant and for some reason the driver in shock got out of the car and after taking a look at the child covered in blood took to his heels!!  We had initially stayed to offer 1st aid to the child and it took us some time to locate the driver; what we found a few kilometres down the road was a story my grandchildren must hear.

Some people had given chase and others seeing a mob forming had joined. By the time they got closer to the fleeing driver, a passerby who did not know why the driver was being chased, yelled thief. If you live in any part of Nigeria, you would know that yelling thief is asking for a mob to deliver jungle justice and burn any individual in their path alive.

In no time at all, the poor man had been stripped naked and beaten senseless. By the time we got there, he was being doused in petrol and set ablaze with shouts of “Ole” (Yoruba for thief) renting the air. All entreaties from us to the mob to stop and help him got us pushed and shoved aside. That man never got a chance to defend himself and I am sad to say I have witnessed two similar occurrences.

The tragedy of the whole matter was that the child knocked down was not even badly hurt; he had a bad gash that bled a lot but it was a surface cut. We would have been attacked as well if we were not all girls and some of us had cuts and bruises to show for our intervention; a mob is that dangerous! Within five minutes of the driver’s death, they had dispersed and all that was left of were his charred remains and 3 traumatised and hysterical girls.

That’s the thing about a mob, after the violence, it disappears and the people melt away. Not one person was accountable for the death of someone’s husband, son and father!

I had been arguing with a friend of mine about the danger of mobs when I regaled my audience with the above story and everyone admitted to having been part of a mob at one time or the other. We all agreed that there seems to be an extra burst of adrenaline and a loss of reasoning that made people act a bit mad( for want of a better word).

I had felt like that once in the days of Aluta continua back in the university; we would get revved up by the student union and descend on the town to cause some mayhem.  Watching the students in England cause havoc to the Conservative party headquarters in London last week brought back memories. Thanks to technology, some of the enthusiasts that made up that particular mob will end up serving jail terms.

The funny part is, when the mob is dispersed 80% of those involved are always horrified at the havoc wrought. I still would enjoy a study, scientific, or spiritual about the mobs and their mentality; there must be some force at work somewhere!! Or it could be as simple as my friend suggested; the beast in all of us shows up when we are part of a mob!


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