BN Hot Topic: Why Do People Look Away When Strangers are in Trouble?

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With the spike of insecurity in the country, Nigerians are paying better attention to their security and finding ways to keep themselves safe and secure. From getting local vigilantes to patrol your estate, to making enquiries about that job invite before honouring it, telling family and friends about one’s location, and so on, we are beginning to take our safety into our own hands, looking out for one another and ensuring that our loved ones are out of harm’s way.

But that is not enough. Sometimes, situations beyond our control occur and there are times our friends and family will not be present to come to our aid. Like being stuck in traffic in volatile areas and two armed robbers walking up to you, tapping your car window, asking you to wind down and give them all you’ve got or pay with your life. In times like this, we turn to strangers who are present at that moment to rescue us or simply offer assistance in any way they can.

We all know that more than ever before, we – the citizens – are all we’ve got, so it is important we come together and be our brother’s keepers. But at the fore of conversations about insecurity in Nigeria is the question of why many Nigerians look away when others are in trouble or need urgent intervention.

The guy that robbed my friend at gunpoint on Ikeja Bridge told him, “You see, if I shoot you here, nothing is going to happen. The people in the cars behind & in front of you will leave their cars & run, give me what I want”. Collected money, said, “God bless you” & walked away.

— Oluyomi Ojo (@OluyomiOjo) May 9, 2021

This, above, is a very common occurrence.

“If I shoot you here, nothing is going to happen” is a common phrase used by robbers and ‘men in uniform’. During the #EndSARS protests, many victims recounted how SARS officers told them “nothing will happen if I waste you here.” We can say they have such confidence because they are meant to be punished by the laws of the land and the upholders of these laws have no balls to prosecute them.

But when an armed robber says this, it is different. It is the realisation of how fearful people are and, perhaps, the inexistent of the bond – patriotism, empathy – that’s meant to bring us together. It is also a sad reality – that truly, nothing will happen if he shoots; people will simply leave you to your fate as they scamper for safety and he’ll go scot-free.

In many parts of Nigeria, it is very common to see someone being robbed, mobbed, beaten, or dragged by SARS officers while other people look away. Many times, it comes from a place of fear; once one person is caught, we all run in different directions so we wouldn’t be next. Sometimes it is borne from a lack of concern, a what-is-my-own-there, let-me-mind-my-business thought process that makes us look away and go about our normal duties. Other times, it is because we don’t want wahala – like a badly injured person dying in your car as you drive to the hospital and the police (very commonly) concluding that you killed the person without carrying out proper investigations, or taking a bullet and losing a body part because you were trying to save someone.

We cannot pretend not to understand why people look away in situations like this, but just imagine living in a country where an armed robber accosts someone in traffic and tens of people get down from their cars to face the robber. Or people immediately stopping whatever they’re doing to help accident victims. Or hundreds of people stopping a SARS officer from bundling a young man away because of dreadlocks or MacBook. Imagine the kind of world we would build if miscreants know they cannot attack people in the full glare of the public and get away with it.

Sometimes, these things can be tricky – like rescuing a robbery victim and then the robbers pounce on you. You never can tell where your good intentions will lead you, but should we all because of that turn our faces when others are in trouble? Should we refuse to do good today because we never know what will happen tomorrow? If we were being robbed, wouldn’t we want other people to come to our rescue? There’s a difference between minding your business and being nonchalant about other people’s woes, right? So if you are stuck in traffic or walking down a street and you find someone being robbed, lynched, or badly injured by the roadside, what will you do?

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