“It’s barbaric, but Nigerians are frustrated with the system”
By Job Osazuwa
Wherever you go in Nigeria, jungle justice abounds. All it takes is for somebody to scream, “thief!” And anyone seen running away is apprehended by a surging crowd and beaten to stupor immediately. In many instances, such a suspect is bludgeoned to death or burnt alive, with excited youths taking photographs and filming the act.
Many have expressed worry that the rule of law has been jettisoned in Nigeria, while the rule of man is the guiding principle. Many dreams have been brutally cut short with no opportunity for a fair trial. In these unpalatable situations, the mob plays the jury and the executioner.
Reign of mobs
On Thursday, December 15, 2016, suspected commercial motorbike operators and touts battered to death the Zonal Head of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) in Apapa, Lagos, Mr. Bakare Olatunji. He was stabbed and stoned by the angry mob following the death of a motor boy allegedly knocked down by the agency’s van that was chasing some violators of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law.
The Lagos State government has vowed to apprehend the perpetrators and make them face justice.
Last month, a mob burnt a robbery suspect to death in the Orile Iganmu area of Lagos State. Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, said the suspect was believed to be between 20 and 25 years, noting that the lynching occurred around 4am on the fateful day in November.
The boy was lynched for allegedly stealing a wallet and a mobile phone. A tyre was swiftly hung around his neck and he was burnt to death.
In 2012, four University of Port-Harcourt (UNIPORT) undergraduates, Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Lloyd, Chiadika Biringa, and Tekena Elkanah, were lynched by a mob in Aluu, a town in Rivers State. They were falsely accused of stealing, then they were clubbed and roasted by the blood-thirsty mob that chanted “Die! Die! Die!” as some recorded the execution with smartphones. The case has been on since then.
In May this year, a suspected thief called Emma-B in Warri, Delta State, was beaten and burnt to death by local vigilantes.
Akinnifesi Olubunmi was burnt to death after he was ‘convicted’ by a mob in Ondo State in February this year for being a homosexual. Also, two men were apprehended in Mushin area of Lagos in June, for alleged armed robbery. They were beaten up and tied to an electric pole. They escaped death by the whiskers after they were rescued by policemen.
A 300 level student of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Ezekiel Magnus, told the reporter: “One of the reasons for this is because many citizens have found it hard to be law-abiding. Too many of us have disregard for the cardinal principles of the rule of law.
“When they see a real thief, like a politician who has stolen millions or billions of naira from the public coffers, they prostrate before them. They reverence big thieves but lynch the small ones.”
Mr. Elvis Chukwunonso lamented the height of lawlessness in the country. According to him, when the laws that differentiate human beings from animals are ignored, anarchy sets in and animals and human beings could be hardly differentiated in their doings.
“It is only in Nigeria and Africa that one can still hear of this absurdity. Simply on suspicion, people raise the alarm and somebody gets killed in the process. Only God knows how many innocent persons might have been killed or severely injured.
“The fact is that all victims of jungle justice are still presumed to be innocent under the law until proven otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. No matter the perception people have about the judicial process, it must be emphasised that two wrongs cannot make a right,” he told the reporter.
Chukwunonso called on Nigerians to make it a point of duty to report all suspects to the nearest police station. He also charged law enforcement agents to be up and doing in their duties.
Lack of trust
Some observers have argued that lack of absolute trust in law enforcement agencies and the judiciary might be partly responsible for the prevalence of jungle justice in Nigeria.
A teacher in Lagos, Mr. Egbeneride Julius, told Daily Sun that he believed in meting out instant punishment to offenders because justice usually took so long in Nigeria. He expressed the fear that anything untoward could happen along the line in the course of a prolonged trial.
“When you catch a thief red-handed, deal with him or her immediately, because we have learnt from past experience. There are some known armed robbers in many areas in Lagos but, when they are caught and taken to the police station, they get bail even before the complainant leaves there. At times, the policemen you meet there will demand money from you. In most cases, the police don’t charge these suspects to court. They get bail and are released to the society to continue their evil deeds.
“The judiciary is my greatest fear in this country. There have been cases where, after lingering for years or decades, the complainant dies and the case is forgotten. How many Nigerians can pay a lawyer to defend them when the need arises? My only concern about jungle justice is that innocent lives could be lost at times. Apart from that, it is the best and fastest way to get justice as far as Nigeria is concerned,” he said.
For Mr. Olomu Peter Felix, the reduction of crime rate in Lagos was as a result of instant judgement passed on suspected robbers in the past. He maintained that the trend was in the interest of the state and its residents, and it has continued to serve as a deterrent to criminally-minded people.
“I cannot totally kick against jungle justice because it has its advantages. Many of us can still remember how dangerous Lagos was some 15 or 20 years ago. Crime rate was so high in the state, but the people tackled it by burning the thieves with tyres. And, gradually, crime began to reduce in the state, though other factors might have also helped out,” he said.
Why jungle justice thrives
A legal practitioner and human rights activist, Festus Keyamo, said jungle justice is barbaric and a crime against humanity and the society.
He said those that perpetrate jungle justice actually commit greater crimes than the suspects themselves, and those that engage in taking the law into their hands are expressing anger and frustration at the system.
Keyamo warned that resorting to jungle justice was not permissible, no matter the rot in the system or how woefully the leadership might have failed the people: “It is barbarism and a crime under Nigerian law,” he explained. “And when the so-called jungle justice leads to somebody being lynched, those who perpetrate the crime have done worse than whatever the person they have killed is accused of. It is a very simple logic, even if the accused commits murder, those who killed him also commit the same offence.
“No matter what, let’s us not package it as a kind of payback time to the person who is suspected to have committed a crime.
“Another fact is that Nigerians are angry and frustrated. By so doing, the people believe that they are venting their anger against the system, but the excuse is not acceptable.”
Another lawyer, Desmond Odion Eguavoen, said when talking of jungle justice, one must first put into perspective what justice is all about. According to him, for something to amount to justice, it must be just to all reasonable human beings.
“But the question with the interpretation of justice is, how does an act amount to justice? The answer is when justice is done, both the offender and the offended must be pleased with the result.
“Why is the word described as jungle justice? Because we no longer live in a state of nature, which Thomas Hobbes described. According to Nigeria’s Constitution, section 36 (5), which is the supreme law of the land, every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty.
“This brings us to the question of who has the authority to declare a man guilty. Is it the person who saw him committing the offence or the police? The authority is only vested in a court of competent jurisdiction,” he said.
Eguavoen lamented that so many innocent persons have lost their lives to jungle justice. He asked for justice to be removed from the phrase ‘jungle justice,’ submitting that it has no relationship with dispensing justice.
“Sometimes, it happens that when you ask some of the persons dishing out this ‘justice’ to their victims, they find it difficult to tell you the fact of the matter. In some instances, they tell you that ‘they said the victim wanted to kidnap a little child’, yet, they are the ones bringing petrol and fuel to set the victim ablaze.
“Please, our people need to be enlightened. The church and our schools have a role to play in this. Love and law need to be taught. You can’t separate the two. Also, the police and all other law enforcement officers are not left out. They need re-orientation.
“If we don’t take urgent steps to stop this evil act, no one can tell who the next victim might be,” Eguavoen said.
Also kicking against the trend was the Assistant Commissioner of Police in Ekiti State, Monday Agbonika.
Hear him: “There is the high possibility that the person being accused of a certain crime under that circumstance might not have actually committed the offence. Evidence in the past has proved that many people were wrongly accused.
“Jungle justice is very unfair to anyone and an infringement on the fundamental rights of the individual. Even if the person really commits the offence, he or she must not be molested or killed. Citizens can do the society a lot of good by handing over the accused to the police for further interrogation and investigation.”