“It takes 10 seconds, more or less, for the mob to decide whether to administer their brand of justice,” Ipadeola said, in recounting the incident to me. “The diabolical compression of time was the most frightening part.” Everyone looked at him menacingly. Especially dangerous was the assembled brotherhood of motorcyclists, who are always to be found defending their own in such situations. There were only two possible outcomes once guilt was established: They either burned the car, or they burned the car and its driver. But on this night, another voice spoke out of the crowd claiming that, no, it was the man bleeding on the road who had hit another motorcycle. Some section of the crowd seemed to believe this, and Ipadeola walked back to his car, shaking, hoping that the tide which had suddenly turned in his favor wouldn’t suddenly turn again. He made it home alive that night. He lived to tell the tale.
One of the chief characteristics of a mob is its quickness. It is sudden. It pounces. In Ikeja, Lagos, in 2011, two men, Alaba and Samuel were severely beaten and very nearly killed for eating human flesh. Closer investigation showed that what they’d been chewing on was, in fact, beef. By this time, their punishers had long dispersed into the city. In Nigeria, we sometimes call these mob actions “jungle justice.” Most people are not opposed to them on principle. As a sweet-natured aunt of mine said a few years ago, referring to my question about thieves who had been killed by vigilantes, “Why do we need such people in the society anyway? It’s better to just get rid of them.” She was expressing the pain that many feel about the violent crimes, and their desire for instant restitution.