BY Mark Babatunde, 7:21am June 16, 2016,

What’s Behind Nigeria’s Love Affair with Tragedies on Video?

Some eyewitnesses of gruesome accidents and emergencies compete among themselves for the most shocking photos and videos.

In Nigeria and many other parts of the world, it has become common to find amateur videos of tragedies captured by witnesses or bystanders with their mobile phone cameras. In some cases, these videos may be the only helpful clues authorities have to explain the events surrounding a particular tragedy. They can also supply the needed closure for the families and relations of the victims.

Such eyewitness footage has itself evolved into a kind of standalone news reportage known as citizen journalism. Using a simple handheld device, everyday Nigerians can now capture candid images of natural disasters, police brutality, accidents and other emergencies they have personally witnessed. All of these have served to decentralize the source of daily news and provide alternative narratives to events, to the shame of tyrants and dictators everywhere.

There is, however, a thin line between citizen journalism and perversely seeking out grisly content. Today, anyone with a mobile phone can whip it out almost wherever and whenever, apparently with no discretion whatsoever about what should or should not be captured with a mobile phone.

Lending a Hand Takes a Backseat

On the 5th of October 2012, millions of Nigerians woke up to viral videos online of the brutal lynching in broad day light of 4 university undergraduates in Port Harcourt, a city in southern Nigeria. The action of the bloodthirsty mob was sickening alright, but the fact that so many people calmly stood by and captured the butchery on video was totally revolting.

There is of course something about human carnage that is attention grabbing, it is the reason why we all can’t look away from a train wreck, and the reason why movie goers have a never ending obsession with horror movies, and it is the logic behind the tragic headline stories in the daily newspapers. Sadly, in Nigeria there is no shortage of macabre contents to record, from armed robberies and attacks by Boko Haram and other terror groups to traffic accidents.

In the case of the latter, casualty figures in road traffic accidents and related emergencies in Nigeria are typically quite high due to the delay or absence of first responders or emergency services at the scene of the accident. Add to this, the reluctance of bystanders to render any help.

While few people would expect a bystander to confront armed robbers or terrorists, there is in all fairness a logical reason for the public’s reluctance to alert the authorities about motor accident or to help move the injured to the hospitals.

In Nigeria, Good Samaritans can become tied up quickly with an emergency case at the hospitals when the poorly motivated staff members refuse to commence treatment until some financial commitment is made. In the case of gunshot victims, the infamous “police report” is required before treatment can commence. In the event of death, well-meaning citizens can become implicated or entangled to lengthy legal proceedings.

Such caution does not explain increasing accounts of Nigerians rushing to an accident scene only to stand aloof, unresponsive to the cries of the victims while mechanically taking their pictures.

What Can the Law Do?

Rather, this results from the lurid, almost inhuman desire of the eyewitnesses present to capture the most sensational picture or video image of a human tragedy. The rise of 24-hour news stations, the “breaking news” culture and social media have no doubt fuelled the phenomenon, as there is clearly an intention to upload these gory images and share the content on social media feeds.

We can only imagine the pain and devastation suffered by the relatives and families of victims of fatal accidents or similar tragedies who come face-to-face with such raw images of their loved ones in the most vulnerable of conditions while watching the news or scrolling on Facebook.

The tragic events in Port Harcourt led Nigerian lawmakers to enact laws to stop future acts of public lynching around Nigeria. They didn’t however propose laws to check the indiscriminate recording and distribution of such gruesome content. Enacting laws to criminalize such recordings would be difficult, unpopular and inevitably challenged on the basis of press freedom.

Many who record such incidents quickly claim that they are citizen journalists, while others contend that since Nigeria has a low closed-circuit TV penetration, they are simply taking up the role of security cameras.

Appetite for Carnage?

The demand for such morbid content appears to cut across all sections of the Nigerian society and people; young and old, male and female, refined and crass, have been known to actively seek out and view such content.

Ironically some moralists who would ordinarily find pornography material offensive have no problems consuming such morbid materials. It is this apparent demand for ghoulish material that has seen to the rise of niche websites, blogs and forums offering and sharing such morbid content. The lines of perversion have also broadened to include videos of public lynching, gang rapes, murders and suicide recordings.

Christopher, a Lagos resident and an avid collector of such horrific material, explains quite honestly that his ability to watch and stomach all those gory images, in his words; “makes me a man.”

He is hardly reluctant to show off his impressive gallery of morbid images, which he says he has been gathering since he bought his first multimedia-enabled phone in 2007. He says quite a lot of his friends who know about his collection like to go through his phone to view the images.

Christopher admits that he used to be squeamish about watching such videos in the early days, but over time he has grown accustomed to it and nothing ever gets to shock or revolt him anymore.

And therein lies the problem with viewing such content. Christopher is one of many who have become so desensitized to it all, they are probably on the slippery slope to losing some or all of their humanity.

Thus, lawmakers and other community leaders would do well to appeal to the moral conscience of the larger society to desist from trivializing the tragic loss of human lives.

Last Edited by:Deidre Gantt Updated: June 16, 2016


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates