It is no longer news that a section of the Nigerian society no longer places value on human lives. The return of jungle justice is the latest disturbing trend. CHRISTIANA NWAOGU AND OKOSUN NANCY writes that disturbed by this evil, legal experts have moved to put an end to incessant killings at the slightest provocation.
Almost every week, you must hear at least a story of how people were lynched for stealing or committing one crime or the other and this excludes the ones that go unreported.
Suspected criminals are often subjected to a lot of pain before life is finally gone out of them. They are sometimes attacked with sticks, stones, bottles or anything that inflict serious pain on them. After which most of them are burnt alive.
You would recall that two suspected one-chance operators were two Saturdays ago caught and set ablaze by angry mob in Dei-Dei, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC).
The suspects were said to have picked up a woman from Zuba heading to Kubwa and in the cause of trying to collect her belongings, she opened the door of the vehicle and raised the alarm.
Luck was said to have ran out on the suspects as they were stuck in traffic, hence unable to escape. They were nabbed by youths in the area, tied up and set ablaze.This is just one out of a thousand others that die unreported.
When LEADERSHIP Sunday went to town to seek the opinion of Nigerians on whether or not Jungle justice should be halted , it got a mixed reaction.
To some perpetrators of this crime, such punishment meted out to their victims are well deserved, it is justice served. They feel they have a right to decide whether a criminal lived or died. But for those with a conscience, it is the height of wickedness. It is just barbaric.
Mrs Aniekem Isiborun who believes that the execution of jungle justice is not a sight to behold, said, I have never witnessed it and pray never to.
According to her, ‘I almost ran into it when one Ideke Oru was caught red-handed after breaking into a house trying to steal some valuables in Sokponba in Benin city, Edo state. He was beaten black and blue, tied up like bush meat and later handed over to the police. He was lucky his assailants did not decide to send him to an early grave.
Another respondent, Ademola Adelani said, ‘”I almost experienced it on Wednesday, June 15 In Mushin , Lagos state where some guys were arrested for armed robbery. They were beaten mercilessly and tied to an electric pole. But for the intervention of officers from Olosan police station, they would have been lynched by an irate mob.
Speaking on the reality of agonising death , Mrs Ikemini Effiong who could not hold back her tears told LEADERSHIP Sunday that she was opportuned to watch a gory sight where her elder sister (names withheld) was being ferociously bombarded by rains of stones after being accused of witchcraft.
“’Though she made an attempt to crawl away as she was now deeply drenched in the pool of her own blood but exhausted and worn out, her strength failed her and she simply surrendered to the brutal reality of an agonizing death.she narrated.
“It was such a gory scene that one is not likely to forget in a hurry. As my sister was , since her assailants couldn’t certify her medically dead, they moved to the next phase of their mob action. A set of abandoned motor tires were hurriedly assembled and drenched with some petrol to set her lifeless body ablaze like a goat being made ready for barbeque
Her offence? She was a ‘witch’!”
Such is the extremism of exponents of jungle justice. They are sometimes extremely irrational and overtly emotional. Those who engage in the ugly act readily justify their action on the premise of complications involved in getting criminals punished through the legal process. They often express gross disdain for the justice sector which they tag as ‘corrupt’ and ‘inept’.
It is sad and disgusting that a society could really slide into such extreme acts of barbarism in the 21st century. We must respect the sanctity of human life which is anchored on the sacred nature of life and the fact that no one has the right to take it away, except God.
The human life is by far too invaluable to be subjected to such gory experience as the one earlier illustrated above. Irrespective of any grouse against the nation’s justice sector, strict adherence to law and order remains the only sane way through which our society could operate. Any contrary method would only lead to anarchy which eventually portends a great danger to everyone.
For Mr. Elemi Tom, he said, ‘ I saw a Man whose hand was chopped off for trying to steal a flat screen TV from a football viewing centre. Some people who thought they had a right to punish him decided to chop off his hand.
LEADERSHIP Sunday learned also that in Agwan Affi area of Akwanga in Nasarawa State, a soldier Lance Cpl. Ayuba Ali was killed in a mob action. Ali, who was in mufti, was said to be passing through the town on a motorbike from Maiduguri when he hit a hawker unknowingly.
He stopped to pacify the hawker. It was while doing so that altercation ensued between him and some irate youths in the area, who pounced on him and beat him into coma. He was later confirmed dead in the hospital.
The Nasarawa and Lagos incidents are among the many under-reported mob killings that happen across the country unhindered and unresolved. While some victims of mob killings survive to tell their own side of the story, many of them have been mindlessly and extra-judicially killed even when they were innocent of the crimes they were accused of committing.
The brutal murder of the Aluu four, a reckless lynching of four students of the University of Port Harcourt can also not be forgotten so soon, almost six years after.
Barrister Edward Esebonu explained that, “Legally, even if it has been proven that the suspect committed the crime, it is not within the right or power of the mob to kill a suspect, without giving the person a fair hearing. Despite knowing the consequences of engaging in mob action, many Nigerians, especially the street urchins and touts have not been deterred from engaging in the illegal act at any slightest opportunity.’’
LEADERSHIP Sunday learned that having not helped matters in this direction are the security agents, who do not respond promptly to such situations, thereby giving room for perpetrators to go scot-free in most cases. But the questions that are begging for answers are; why do people engage in mob action and go scot-free? Why has it become a preferable option among Nigerians?
What are the government, security agencies and judiciary doing to halt it? Will Nigerians ever stop engaging in it, considering the fact that they seem to have lost absolute confidence in the security and judiciary system? There have been reported cases of mob action across Edo State, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Ebonyi, Anambra, Rivers, Delta and in fact, almost all the states in the Country.
In fact, even security operatives have in most cases been accused severally of killing suspected criminals without passing them through the judicial process.
Barrister Mr Utum Ofem, ‘many believe that some of the victims are usually hardened criminals or those found to have been involved in very heinous crimes particularly as it pertains to taking of a life. There is also the belief that some of these criminals always find their way back into the society and some buy their freedom.’’
He expressed disappointment in the society’s perceived tolerance of such act, but insisted that it was wrong. “Any society that tolerates such barbaric conduct shows clearly the level of its judicial development and that is a very clear evidence of a failed state.’
According to him, ’If you have somebody who is a suspect and alleged to have been involved in a criminal act, the proper thing is to ensure that the police arrest such person and ensure that the police carry out diligent investigation and ensure that they are charged to court and ensure that they have their day in court.’’
He pointed out that , “People are increasingly losing faith in the police investigative system and processes. They think that when these suspects are arrested, they might be freed by the police or released by the courts so the right thing to do is to take the law into their hands, but two wrongs do not make a right.’
Barrister Ofem stated, “No amount of loss of faith in the judicial process should encourage and tolerate or empower any person to take the laws into his hands. Anybody who does that can be charged for act of conspiracy, murder or attempted murder as the case may be.”
Another lawyer, Barrister Chukwuemerie Nwadike stated ,“Our criminal justice system has been a very topical issue everywhere in this country. But the slow pace of obtaining justice is not an excuse to delve into the arena of violence and crime. “
He said, whoever is opposed to the process and decides to indulge in criminal acts will find himself on the wrong side of the law. The era of taking suspected criminals into private custody and killing them has gone. Anybody found doing so is playing with fire.
He said, ‘Look at the Lagos example, some people were accused of being ritualists or human part dealers. They were subjected to horrendous, barbaric trial by ordeal. They were made to start confessing what they did no do and you know torture is often governed by fear.’
According to him, “ It is ruled by the arbitrary means of the investigator, so there is nothing useful that can come out from the use of torture. That is why those who are assigned the responsibility and power to check guilt and determine guilt are trained in the art of law.’
“That is why for you to become a judge, you must have been called to bar as a lawyer or you must have had some legal training for a reasonable period. You cannot just become a lawyer last year and the next year you become a judge. So if the system is rigorously created, it is meant to determine the guilt of a person is not something in the streets, you need he stated.
Another lawyer, Abdul Hassan traced the jungle justice in the country to its history of impunity. He said that the judiciary is rooted in injustice, adding that because of the red tape bureaucracy it takes to get justice, people have lost confidence in the judiciary and people therefore resort to jungle justice.
According to him, people who always engage in jungle justice as the last resort complained of the high cost of filing cases at the police stations, where they will be asked to bring this and that, pointing out that people who are not patient enough are quick to resort to jungle justice.
He stressed that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man, but people have lost hope in it because government does not obey judgments. He added that unless government obeys judgments, the act of jungle justice against suspects will continue.
“Everybody is equal before the law, whether it favours you or not.” He added that some people do that because of uncontrollable anger, advising that they should always report any suspected act of criminality to the police instead of taking the law into their hands.
Surprisingly, an okada rider Dominic Lapam at Dei- Dei junction argued strongly that jungle justice is the best way to get justice, adding that it is quick and not costly. “If you do it you forget about it. It will not cost money and you are happy that it has been done.
“But when you report to the police, they just collect money from the criminals and let them go free, while they continue telling lies. They can even say that what the criminals have done is not true. As a poor man, you know, there will be no justice for you. This is very bad. This is even when you have evidence to prove your case. If the other man is rich, he gets police justice and you will be left lamenting.
Another respondent at Masaka, in Nasarawa state, Abdullahi Nafiz had this to say, as far as I am concerned. He insisted that there is no better way to reduce the alarming rate of corruption and crime in the society other than through mob action.
He said, sincerely speaking, “I will not only break the eggs of the hen that throws off my concoction, but will also kill the hen so that it will not repeat that again or lay another generation of wicked chicks.”
Speaking also , a legal practitioner, Akor Paulina, described it is a spontaneous reaction from a person or a group of people to redress pain, afflictions, inflictions, harm and wrongs done to them, other persons or their property whether directly related to them or not.
“It is more often than not done in a fit of anger. People see jungle justice as a sure, quick, direct and satisfactory recompense for the crime committed by suspects.”
Paulina pointed out that the administration of justice system is not wholly on the judiciary, submitting that the flagrant failure of security agencies with investigative and prosecutorial powers have hampered the effectiveness and efficiency of administration of criminal justice system in the nation.
“The people have, therefore, before become disillusioned and harbour deep-seated suspicion on the ability of the state (government) to execute justice. Delay in execution of justice is also a bane of our justice system and one of the consequences is resort to jungle justice.”
It is, nevertheless, important to stress that the justice sector in the country must be completely overhauled for the law to really take its due course. Those who deliberately put a clog in the wheel of justice for selfish reasons are not in any way different from those who engage in jungle justice.
Therefore, we need to do a total overhaul of the nation’s legal institution. Justice cannot be said to be served in a system that allows ‘small’ thieves to rot in prison while ‘big’ ones walk in absolute freedom. Equally important is the need for accelerated hearing of all manners of cases at all tiers of Courts.
The law is meant to trounce evil and evil doers. In any society where the reverse is the case, injustice would reign supreme. If we are to move forward and be taken serious as a people, we must change our ways.
LEADERSHIP Sunday calls on the various state governments and the federal government to enact laws that curb mob killings in Nigeria. The heavens weep for the souls of the victims who are set ablaze on account of jungle justice, which is no justice really.
We must redefine our values as a people. There are ways defined by law on how a suspect should be treated. We must at all times explore the option of the rule of law in all circumstances.
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