The price of mob mentality

Sunday March 4 2018

The students waited for the cover of night. On cue, the lights went off. A blackout! Students jostled out of the hostels in crowds. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG

The students waited for the cover of night. On cue, the lights went off. A blackout! Students jostled out of the hostels in crowds. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

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There were three uniformed guards: one on his right, one on his left and one behind him…

“It has come to the knowledge of this office that on February 3, 2015, you organised an unlawful demonstration and incited other students to picket and to riot.”

The memo was addressed to 10 students. Their names and university registration numbers were listed above the memo’s subject. His name was first on the list.

“That on the same day, you destroyed university property. You also broke into shops and stalls in Cheboiywo Market and proceeded to loot food and other items,” the memo continued.


Two weeks earlier, the university students had decided that they had had enough. The administration did not take their concerns seriously. Promises of reinforcing security within the campus were vague. In the past week alone, a female student had been raped and murdered; a male student was found in a pool of blood with stab wounds all over his body, and another strangled and dumped at the entrance of one of the hostels.

All the university administration did was pledge investigations into the murders and promises to beef up security. No additional lights were installed, and no trained security personnel were recruited. The university premises remained “guarded” by men too weak and old to tackle any attackers. The situation was unbearable.

What irked him most was that the administration was using the student leadership to rein in outraged comrades while it did nothing about the cause of the fury.

“The leaders are selling us,” some students had whispered.

No, this could not go on. It was time for action.

He was very active in planning the demonstration. The students waited for the cover of night. On cue, the lights went off. A blackout! Students jostled out of the hostels in crowds. Blowing vuvuzelas and whistles they shouted “Comrades power!” “Missing marks!” “Insecurity!” “Blackout!”

He seized the moment. Clambering onto a hurriedly put together platform, he urged the students to march out and claim their rights.

“Comrades! We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”

The applause was deafening. Suddenly, window panes were being smashed, stones were whizzing past, chants and pained cries mingled, and numerous feet rushed towards Cheboiywo.


The memo demanded that the addressees report to the chief security officer. Failure to report by noon would lead to the handing over of the case to the police.
“What have I done?” he moaned.

He started for the security office in wobbly steps.

Two fellow student leaders were coming out of the office when he got there. They were carrying A4 envelopes. It dawned on him that the case had already been determined. He was going home.

What would his parents say? Had they invested their hopes and meagre income in someone who thought he was cleverer than the professors? What about his father’s reputation? His family’s for that matter?

The villagers? Everybody in Atina knew him. He was the hero, the only person from the village who had set foot in an institution of higher learning. Very few from there had gone to secondary school, and most dropped out before Form Two.
“We believe in you. You are the one who will save this village from destitution. Go well my son.” The words from villagers he had met while sauntering around the village after high school echoed in his mind.
What about his former teachers? They would hear about it once he got back to Atina. Information spread like a bush fire in the village despite the fact that it was somewhat backward and modern technology had not arrived. Few people owned mobile phones. At primary school, he had been the school captain. He was the student teachers made reference to; the one to be emulated.
He had worked hard to remain in school. His parents kept in close touch with his teachers for updates on any changes in his behaviour. He was an example to the others; raised on the firm foundations of discipline and religion.
As the son of the village preacher, he refrained from the deeds of the secular world. His mother was a strict disciplinarian and would have skinned him alive were he to be seen flirting with the village girls. And so he succeeded in his studies, and made it to a public university.
The villagers had taken a keen interest in his education. Was he now going to have to hide, avoid even the market centre with its dull and uninteresting streets?


The chief security officer’s door was open. He was seated behind his desk.

“You! Somebody!” he called out upon seeing him at the door.

A guard in uniform walked over, saw him and dashed back to where he had come from. He was back presently, with two other guards in tow.

The officer pushed an envelope across the table. One of the guards picked it up and handed it to the young man who was still standing at the door.

The envelope was not sealed. He removed the letter and quietly read it.

“You have therefore been suspended indefinitely from the university pending appearance before the senate disciplinary committee.”


Back in his room, his suitcase was just as he had left it. He picked it up.

As for his books, the guards divided them among themselves.

A bunch of students were gathered outside his hostel. He raised his left hand in a “comrades power” salute. They dispersed.

He sighed and started the long, lonely march towards the bus stop.

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