By Victor Bajah
“We live in this jungle call Nigeria and we can only get justice when we do it our way.” These were the words of a man whose property was stolen during a burglary. It was one of my normal days to go to work, when I ran into a “lynching party” at Agan, North Bank, Makurdi, the Benue State capital. What got my attention first, were the oscillating clenched fists of a huge man, who pounced a boy less his size for more than ten seconds in a rapid manner. In the centre of the irate crowd was a young man in his twenties, stripped off his upper garments and forced to sit in the dust. His bloody body covered with dirt was evident he had had enough share of mob justice, yet all around him were chants of death, as the mob insisted, “burn him alive! Burn him alive!” and so on.
I was moved by curiosity, so engaged a bystander to elicit information. He informed me that the young man in question was a thief who had broken into a neighbour’s house to steal a laptop and DVD player. I quickly weighed the worth of the items he had allegedly stolen with his life. I began recruiting some people among the crowd, suggesting we hand him over to the police instead. An elderly man, overheard our discussion and quickly interrupted with the words, “We can’t give him over to the police because, they will set him free just like the others.” Eventually, the police were invited and managed to whisk the young man away to safety.
Jungle justice or mob justice according to Wikipedia is a “form of public extrajudicial killings in Sub-Saharan Africa, mostly notably Nigeria and Cameroon, where an alleged criminal is humiliated, beaten or summarily executed by a crowd or vigilantes”. This inhumane attitude of wickedness exhibited unscrupulously against fellow members of a community in Nigeria and a state like Benue varies from one group to another depending on the madness of the demon that possesses or incites the mob action at a time. Victims of this mob justice are most often not given an opportunity to breathe their human rights for self-defense in a competent court of law and assumed to be guilty. As a result, many good people in society have been maimed or even killed without a voice.
Each time the mob demon swiftly moves across the land, victims of its actions go through muddy treatments, where varying degrees of human coldness of heart is horrendously displayed at its zenith. While experts have attributed jungle justice to the plight of society where a dysfunctional and corrupt judiciary system and law enforcement have lost all credibility; it is an evil collectively adopted by society that should be rid of. There is no society that develops without peace, law and order.
This criminal act of mob insurrection against the society in Nigeria has done enough damage to command the attention of government at all levels to seek a redress of our justice system and operations of the Nigeria Police and other civil security agencies. Mob justice is not just a crime against humanity, it grossly violates the principles of God in creation which has enshrined the reverence for the sanctity of life.
Nigeria as a society has written codes of conduct that are expected to cover all forms of foreseeable human endeavours and equally contains appropriate sanctions that should be meted on violators of the provisions of the code. It is, therefore, the responsibility of any responsible government to educate its citizens on the stipulated codes of conduct and penalties that follow anyone who breaches these provisions.
The picture painted at the beginning of my discourse is just one example out of many cases of mob actions that go viral without the ability of respective authorities to bring to justice perpetrators of such crimes. Many times, members of a community take laws unto their hands and accord punishment, even death penalty, against a suspected offender and most times, out of protracted family feuds or individual/ethnical/religious sentiments or even mere envy. There are “justifiable” reasons by people who partake in mob justice like the man who told me, they were tired of handing over criminals to police, only to find them on the streets the following day without prosecution in any lawful court of the land. One thing stands out to me, the conduct of the public tend to show how humanely depraved our communities have turned out to be each passing day.
Unfortunately, when those who should frown, laugh complacently at acts executed during a mob action, justifying such acts and exonerating perpetrators, they are growing a future generation of lawlessness and disorder in the society they leave behind for their children. Jungle justice is clearly a demonstration of a failed society that has embrace lawlessness. My penchant interest in the topic goes a long way to show there is hope for our country, in terms of redeeming our moral obligations to humanity and God who cherishes the life of every one of us.
Some members of society feels jungle justice is the last resort of the common man because they argue that the Nigerian criminal justice system was established for the purpose of protecting and promoting the interests of the rich dominant class. They have failed to realize that those who suffer the fury of this mob demon are ordinary citizens who are most times accused wrongly. While it is true that our criminal justice system malfunctioning has greatly encouraged the frustration of oppressed masses to seek solutions to crime in their communities, their actions only deepen the wounds already oozing with the stench of a rotten morality.
There is every need we rise up against this form of depravity. As such, there is need to demand that institutions be strengthened, especially our criminal justice system. No one can deny the glaring fact that jungle justice or mob action in our communities is a direct result of weak and corrupt institutions of government like the judiciary and police. For instance, the Nigeria police lacks the basic knowledge and training to deal with complex crime situations that have overwhelmed them in the 21st century Nigeria.
My observation of the recent activities of the #EndSARS brutality, where the police and other constituted security forces openly disregard the human rights of citizens on a protest shows the incompetence I talk about. Before the Lekki bloodbath, the youth’s protest that had started in a peaceful manner was fast descending into a lawless adventure, where the protesters quickly subjected themselves to the mob demon. As they began executing jungle justice all over the country, not sparing even public property, the security operatives in their usual demeanor exhibited their incompetence under the shadowing inspection of our helplessness justice system and to the disgust of the entire world. Then, there was a judicial panel set up in place to fact-find the way, going forward.
Disgustingly, from experience, such projects have ended without any justified reason for the huge financial resources, time and energy that was invested. That, in my opinion, should be one reason the judicial panels on these cases of police (and by extension military) brutality must be taken very seriously by the government.
As noted by the man in my story, it is common sight to find many repeat offenders still walk the streets without prosecution. The surge of lack of transparency among the police in the discharge of their civil duties is alarming; unlike what we hear in the news of developed societies. The incompetence of our civil security forces is the only justifiable reason for the “Everest” nature of crime in our society that has inspired and often, incites jungle justice or mob justice every day.
As such, the clarion call on government at all levels to address the madness of jungle justice. The cry for a well-informed, equipped and funded police cannot be ignored. A police force that is proactive to crime occurrences and prosecute suspected criminals, irrespective of their social status, would go a long way to begin repairing its reputation enough to gain public trust and respect among members of the society. An efficient policing that enjoys the trust and respect of the public would bury the demon of jungle justice that controls a mindless crowd in society waving clubs and machetes against each other. An overhaul of the criminal justice system would aid the efforts of a credible policing as well.
Also, members of society must restrain their drive towards acts that violates human rights like clubbing untried suspects. There is a need to renew our belief that those who oversee incidents of crime will do the needful and where that fails they should seek legal means of addressing such anomalies.
Communities should consciously hold accountable the police and other security agencies to their constitutional duties and assist them with required and cross-checked information that will help them rid their neighbourhoods of criminal elements. We must address this clog in the wheel of our progress as a people known for our morality and love for community.