Lukman Olabiyi, [email protected]
Where there is no law, there is no punishment but in Nigeria, there are laws and consequences yet people take the law into their own hands.
Specifically, in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Section 33 (1) clearly states: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
Section 33 (2) further states: “A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary – (a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property; (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or (c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.”
And again, in the Constitution, the presumption of innocence is the legal principle in criminal cases that one is considered innocent until proven guilty.
This basically means that, until a judicial pronouncement on the guilt or otherwise of the accused person is made, he/she is to be treated the same as a regular person; any suggestion to the opposite would be a breach of their fundamental human rights. The 1999 Constitution, in Section 36(5), guarantees this right.
Besides, in many countries, presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.
Despite all these provisions, the occurrence and frequency of lynching suspects, known as jungle justice, has been a major source of concern for human rights communities, state and non-state actors.
It takes away people’s right to life and is a strong indication of lawlessness and lack of respect for rule of law, which is common in across the states of Nigeria.
According to Wikipedia, jungle justice or mob justice is a form of public extrajudicial killing in sub-Saharan Africa, notably in Nigeria and Cameroon, where an alleged criminal is humiliated, beaten or summarily executed by a crowd or vigilantes.
It is often said that two wrongs don’t make a right; this is in relation to the scenario of jungle justice that has become a norm, so to say. It been researched that the main reason people choose jungle justice is because of the injustice displayed by law enforcement agencies or the judiciary, where criminals are favoured as far as they are close to the elite or could bribe their way out.
In Nigeria, many instances of jungle justice go unnoticed and underreported because it seems to blend with the national narrative as one of the ways ‘justice’ is dispensed.
This practice has advanced to the point where even urban communities have become theatres for perpetrating this act.
In recent times, there have been cases of people being lynched and set ablaze on mere suspicion of being thieves, kidnappers and sundry criminals. This reflects the idea that state institutions of law and enforcement are dysfunctional and lack the trust or confidence of citizens.
Recently, two young men were allegedly beaten to stupor and set ablaze on suspicion that they planned to attack a cash point. Perhaps, the most memorable case of mob justice in these clime was the murder of four undergraduates of the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The incident, which attracted public outcry and condemnation, happened in October 2012.
The victims, Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Lloyd, Tekena Elkannah and Chiadika Biringa, were stripped naked, stoned and burnt to death by a mob in Aluu, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, after they were accused of being robbers.
However, after four years of tension, anxiety and trial, justice finally came for the four students on July 31, 2017, as Justice Letam Nyordee of the Rivers State High Court, Port Harcourt, sentenced three persons, including a police sergeant, to death for the murder of the students.
The court found Sergeant Lucky Orji, David Ogbada and Ikechukwu Amadi (aka Kapoon) guilty of the murder of the students. The court held that the prosecution counsel was able to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the three persons were involved in the murder.
In the judgment, Justice Nyordee said the video evidence provided by the prosecution was overwhelming proof that the three were actively involved in the murder of the students. The judgment, according to the judge, would serve as a deterrent to others who don’t have respect for human life.
However, since the judgment was delivered, not much has changed. Cases of mobs taking the law into their hands have resonated across the country. Rather than apprehend suspects and hand them over to the law, people take immediate, practical measure in dealing with matters.
Due to the trend, Senator Dino Melaye sponsored the Anti-Jungle Justice Bill (SB. 109), which was meant to help to curtail, protect and prohibit Nigerians across the country from meting out extrajudicial justice to perceived offenders without recourse to statutory legal channels. However, the bill has not gained much attention to make it scale through the National Assembly.
Based on media reports, between January 2019 and April 2019, 24 people were killed, and seven were assaulted and tortured in 17 states across Nigeria. Katsina, Lagos and Bayelsa have three cases each, Nasarawa and Gombe have two cases each, while Anambra, Ondo, Delta, Ekiti, Edo, Enugu, Benue, Abia, the Federal Capital Territory, Kwara, Cross River and Oyo have a case each. In Edo, a lady was beaten and pepper inserted in her private part.
Again in 2019, a sound/music operator was killed in Umuoji, Anambra State, after he was mistakenly tagged a kidnapper. Two men were killed in Jibia LGA, Katsina State, on suspicion of being informants to bandits.
In Lagos, miscreants killed 26-year-old Temitope Adeoye in Odo-Olowu, along the Oshodi-Apapa expressway over false allegation of robbery; it was the same for an unidentified man in Eziama, Abia State. In Karu, Abuja, a motorcycle thief was killed on February 19, while a man was mobbed in Okota, Lagos, on February 23 for attempting to disrupt elections. In Effurun, Uvwie LGA of Delta State, a man was stabbed to death along PTI Road for attempting to snatch a phone from a lady. Another man was killed on March 18 at Mile 12, Lagos, for trying to steal a bike. On March 20, in Oro, Kwara State, a mob dragged Femi Tete out of a police station and lynched him, even as another man in Akenpai, Yenogoa, Bayelsa State, was burnt to death on March 21 after being caught while butchering a woman he allegedly killed. In Ugep Yakurr LGA, Cross River State, a man was set ablaze for stealing a motorcycle. In another mob action, a woman was beaten to stupor in Oleh, Isoko South LGA, for confessing to being a witch. The list is very long, and the circumstances are gory.
Lawyers, rights activists, psychologists’ perspectives
Speaking on the matter, a legal practitioner, Kunle Adegoke, noted that, to prevent jungle justice, government must ensure sanity in the judiciary and let the rule of law prevail at all times.
He said: “Jungle justice is still quite common in our society today. It is a process by which a mob inflicts punishment on a supposedly guilty accused person without any form of legal trial. It is a clear manifestation of anarchy and self-help, which often may be punishing the innocent as there is no machinery to establish the guilt of the victim of jungle Justice. It is a descent into the past, where no formal and acceptable machinery of justice was in existence.
“Jungle justice is not desirable, as an aphorism says, ‘of all heads condemned to death, many are innocent.’ It is on this basis that human society has established an acceptable process of dispensing justice that can guarantee peace and order.
“However, in many cases, when there is such descent into darkness among supposedly civilised people, it may be a reflection of loss of confidence in the judicial system existing in a community.
“Where a judicial system is believed to be corrupt and easily influenced, the tendency is for people to take law into their hands without recourse to the judicial system. It is the duty of government to ensure sanity in the judicial system and let the rule of law prevail at all times. That is the way to prevent the ugly beast called jungle justice.”
Executive director of Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma, said jungle justice was a result of loss of confidence in the criminal justice system.
“People resort to jungle justice, that is, dispensing justice their own way, rather than resorting to the law, because they have no confidence in the criminal justice system. They fear that, if they hand over arrested criminal suspects to the police, as the law requires them to do, the criminal suspects find their way out of the system because the system is flawed by many factors, including corruption. They are either released by the police after corrupting the investigation process or the court frees them due to poor investigation that can’t secure conviction and they return to the society to continue their criminal enterprise. Citizens, therefore, decide to dispense justice in a way that makes the society appear like a jungle,” he said.
Former general secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Yisa Muhammed Buhari, said jungle justice was not something that people should support or appreciate.
He said God who created human beings has clearly stated that there is a Judgment Day and, therefore, whatever man does, he must account for it. With this position, God himself does not believe in jungle justice.
“In every society, there are rules and regulations. Apart from rules and regulations, there are people saddled with the responsibility of maintaining law and order, and also to make law and interpret it. Laws are made for human beings, not animals. Every citizen has the obligation of respecting the constitution. The state of a society being without authorities or an authoritative governing body amounts to anarchy.
“The are so many ways you can be involved in jungle justice – intentionally or not intentionally – acting contrary to what the Constitution says is jungle justice. The moment you take the law into your own hands, it is jungle justice. Many things cause this but there is no excuse in the eyes of the law. Therefore, it is illegal and must be condemned, no matter what. Jungle justice is a monstrous crime. We do not have the right to brutalise another person or destroy properties, either on mere suspicion or in the face of concrete evidence,” he said.
Chief Aigg Giwa-Amu, rights activist and founder of Stephen and Solomon Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that renders free legal services to prison inmates, said that jungle justice was unlawful and criminal in nature. He added that the act and nature of mob action was brutal, barbaric, primitive and defied the principles of justice
“The moment people lose confidence in both the police and the judicial system, what will be the next popular option is jungle justice. Due to corruption, people believe that police compromise or, sometimes, they believe that the court is too slow in dispensing justice. Impatience of human beings and the desire to get justice at all costs also makes them to opt for jungle justice.
“Besides, desire to hide facts can also influence human beings to opt for jungle justice in order to have a one-sided narrative. No matter what might warrant it, jungle justice is illegal, unlawful and it should be condemned in any form.
“There is need for reorientation, public enlightenment, strengthening institutions of law and order, and sensitising those who have the propensity to lynch suspects, and also introducing anti-jungle justice policies.
“There is urgent need for human rights defenders, civil society organisations, law enforcement agencies, and relevant government bodies to collaboratively tackle jungle justice,” he said.
Why they do it
A clinical psychologist, the public relations officer of the Nigeria Association of Clinical Psychologists, Lagos State chapter, Mr. Ayodeji Nathaniel, said the trend was as result of what people were exposed to.
Nathaniel stated that what influenced and shaped behavioral patterns of a human being depended on what he or she learned on a daily basis and his/her experience of society.
He said: “Psychologically, the way we reason, act and react to issues have something to do with our exposure, experience and what we learn. A society where a criminal was caught and handed over to the lawful authority but in a short period found his or her way back to the same society to continue with criminality, the way he or she would be treated when caught again would be different because people would have formed an opinion on how things work.
“Experiences trigger opinions and actions. If people lose confidence in the judicial system and the police, what kind of behavioral patterns would you expect from them? Certainly, they would be aggressive on issues bordering on criminality.”
Another clinical psychologist who is also a lecturer, Richard Appiah, in an article titled “Psychology of Mob Injustice,” dissected what could make an individual to join in a mob action.
He explained that, when in a group, people lose their individual identity, become overwhelmed with excitement or anger and are socially disinhibited. He stated that people were more likely to participate in mob action when they feel that their behaviour could not be traced back to them and this sense of anonymity blunts their social inhibition and awakens their animalistic nature to participate in ruthless behaviours, with a sense that they could not be traced or identified to account for their behaviour.
Stakeholders and concerned citizens have opined that the police and the judiciary must take responsibility and do something urgent, not only to put away criminals speedily but re-assure the populace that criminals apprehended would be dealt with in a manner that would deter them from continuing in crime.
People have lost confidence in the police and the courts to deal with criminals, which has made self-help very attractive.
The judiciary and the police should work hard to regain the confidence of the people in dealing with criminal issues. The two need to take urgent steps to work out a system where criminals are not only appropriately punished but expeditiously put away than the present state where they escape barely after being apprehended to continue tormenting law-abiding people.
Nigeria’s criminal justice system needs quick and urgent strengthening to arm the judiciary and tame the rising cases of jungle justice all over the country.