Friday January 10, 2014. A settlement about 24km away from the city centre FCT, Abuja.
A cloud of thick dust billows from beneath the very low Honda, so low it reminds you of the Hondas of your school days- driven by spoilt kids of small-time corrupt politicians packed full with friends and friends of friends so that the car groans as it finds its way to the venue of a party. You are standing for a commercial motorcycle- the last privilege of this backwater Abuja settlement. You need to quickly buy one of the cheap clippers they sell in the local market. The clipper you have developed a sentimental attachment to over the past year and half just broke, half way through your haircut. And if there is anything you cannot stand, it is letting another person cut your hair. It is the touching you do not like. Especially when accompanied by comments like, ‘bros, your head dey soft well well o.’
Putting both your palms over your face, you curse under your breath as the dust envelopes you- there is no point running. You wonder why anyone is moving at such speed in a residential area. The car has over five commercial motorcycles most of them carrying two passengers each, in tow. You hear the screaming of the riders and their swearing.
‘Wallahi we must catch him. Wallahi we must deal with him!’
As you raise your head you see the passengers on the motorcycles all holding clubs and sticks. You stop a motorcycle and ask him to take you to the market. He does not know what is going on when you ask. The distance between you and the motorcycles chasing after the car is widening and you wish you could see. At the junction the car turns left and they follow. The road on the right leads to the market. By the time you are at the junction you see the small crowd of motorcyclist gather, dragging someone from a car, delivering blows to his head and body.
‘Go left, go left,’ you shout, tapping your motorcyclist on the back.
‘I say just go left!’
By the time you are there, the driver of the car has succeeded in running into a nearby house. Sticks and stones and pieces of firewood are being waved in the air. And their chants have changed.
‘Wallahi we must kill him.’
‘What is the matter?’ you ask the one who seems like the oldest who is wearing the photo of Sheikh Inyass around his neck.
‘He killed someone with his car. And we must kill him.’
‘But why do you have to kill him. Why don’t we report the matter?’
‘Ina! Ai, if he had stopped all this would not have happened. We have been chasing him a long time. We have to kill him.’
Behind you people are trying to pull down the gate of the house where the driver is hiding. You are speaking to them asking them to calm down. The woman who owns the house is also pleading reminding them that no one knocks someone down on purpose. More motorcycles are arriving the scene with their sticks and stones. No one is listening. They want blood. They want him. They want him now.
The woman becomes exasperated and tries an old emotional blackmail trick.
‘Oya, you want to kill him abi? Enter! It is to kill abi? Enter and kill him and be happy! Enter ooo, Enter!’
She is screaming and opening the gate. You are holding the gate, realizing that these people are not moved by her stunt. They will walk in and kill him if the gate swings open. More motorcycles. More angry men, veins on their necks threatening to burst. More pushing. More we-must-kill-him.
The gate gives in. You run into the house. And the mob follows. Someone recognizes the driver and drags him from the chair he is sitting on. He swings his fist, landing a clean punch on the drivers face. You grab the motorcyclist punching him.
‘Because of Allah!’ you scream in Hausa. ‘Stop this if you have any regard for Allah!’
‘He killed our brother.’
‘How will killing him help your brother? Let us take him to the authorities please!’
Other motorcyclists are rushing in. The motorcyclist you are speaking to calms down. You feel the amulets on his left arm as you hold him. Behind you they have resumed punching the driver, hitting him with sticks. A motorcyclist who has just arrived lifts a huge rock high and aims for the drivers head. You pull the rock from behind him and it falls to the ground in front of you. You dive in and cover the driver.
‘In the name of Allah stop this!’ you are screaming at the boys, most of whom are wearing either chasbis or amulets around their arms. They are trying to drag him away from your body so that they can punch without hitting you. You feel the driver falling behind you. You feel him arms grip your torso. You feel his head lean against your back. His weight is like a drowning man dragging you down.
Alhaji Sale, the very respected neighbourhood alcoholic arrives. Together you are able to drag the driver outside and tuck him into the car. He locks the car from inside. The mob is looking for fuel to set the car ablaze but they cannot find any.
The driver is reeling in pain in the back seat of his locked car. His head is swollen from all the punching. At some point during all the shouting and attempts to burn down the car with him in it, the driver opens the door and stumbles out. The mob inches toward him. He is tired, weak. His eyes say: this is too much, I give up, just kill me, just fucking kill me already.
‘Go back inside,’ you shout in English. ‘They will just kill you here.’
Alhaji Sale who is tipsy, as he always is at this time of the afternoon, pushes the driver back into car with both hands and tells him to lock it. Someone tries to pry the door open.
You find a few older members of the mob and drag them away. You beg them. You tell them you will make sure he takes the person he knocked down to the hospital.
‘Then we want you to take the car and drive him to the hospital.’
You agree. But you want them to stop trying to kill him first. Slowly and reluctantly, the mob calms down when the older men speak to them. But only because they cannot pry the car door open or find fuel to set it ablaze.
Someone else volunteers to drive the car. Then you see the person the driver knocked down being brought into the car. The only injuries he has are a bruised left arm and feet. Fucking bruises! You say to yourself.
Eventually you are able to get the police to follow you from their station to where the mob now is, outside the hospital. They randomly arrest those who have gathered and you head to the market to get your clipper and finish your haircut.
As you head home, you realize how foolish it all was, your jumping in to shield him. How you could very easily have become a headline: Writer Accidentally Killed In Mob Lynching. You think of the driver’s bloodshot eyes, his swollen, bloodied head. You still feel all the hands trying to tear you away from him. You still feel his desperate hands gripping, clinging. And you know you will remember this feeling for a long time.