Jim Rohn is credited to have stated that “If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn’t need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around”.
In this piece this writer adopt will follow the footprints of what the aforementioned wise aphorism means by constructively reflecting on the menacing threat posed to the enforcement of the principle of Rule of law and the entire process of democratisation by the widening spectre of jungle justice or mob action by Nigerians from across board to settle matters that are even as mundane as the theft of a pot of soup with lynching the suspect to death.
Throughout the period that the immediate past administration was in office, there were several reported cases of such mob attacks on suspected petty criminals which have so far not received any judicial pronouncements regarding the sanctions to be administered on persons who took the law into their hands by unleashing violence on suspects. To be fair to former President Goodluck Jonathan, mob or jungle justice predates his ascension to political power because as far as I can recall, in my early Secondary school days I have witnessed incidences of jungle justice in uncountable number of times but I have also not seen one of these mobsters prosecuted for resorting to the use of self-help measures to settle scores.
Evidently, the media records are replete with instances of mob and/or jungle justice that took place over three Years back that up until now no suspected offender has been interdicted, indicted and successfully prosecuted for these range of crime against humanity.
A landmark case of unattended matter of lynch mob justice remains the killing of four University of Port Harcourt students by a significant population who are residents of a community known as Aluu near Port Harcourt in Rivers State and for over three Years those arrested are yet to face the full weight of the law because of bureaucratic bottlenecks and the snail’s speed of prosecution by law enforcement operatives. T
he government of the then governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi did not help the fast-tracking of dispensation of Justice when for nearly two years the entire justice system in Rivers State grounded to a halt because he failed to act on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council to nominate the most senior High Court judge to be confirmed the Chief Judge of Rivers State because of political differences between the governor and the older brother of the judge Chief Okocha (SAN).
The gruesome killings of these four students was captured on video and it became a sensation on social media which elicited widespread national outrage that shockingly lastly for just some few days. Even the Nigerian Media has gone to bed on its gate keeper role because of lack of commitment to the constitutional duties imposed on journalists as consciences of the nation as enshrined on section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution.
Fast forward it to few days back when a mob in Calabar, Cross River State capital, reportedly butchered a young man and set the remains on fire beside Atu Secondary School fence along Goldie Street, for allegedly robbing a woman of a pot of soup. His two accomplices escaped.
The hoodlum, in the company of two others, was alleged to have attacked the woman at Mayne Avenue Extension in Calabar South. These narratives were captured by a local online medium.
According to the news report, the ruinous and murderous unruly crowd were allegedly attracted by the scream of the woman whose pot of soup was allegedly snatched forcefully when three young suspects were attracted by the aroma of the soup the woman was warming for her family’s breakfast before heading for early morning mass at nearby St. Bernard’s Catholic Church.
Recounting what transpired to the online medium that broke the story earlier today(www.nigeriacamera.com ), a young man, who lives in the same premises with the lady, said as the suspected thieves were about to get out of the compound with the pot of soup, the woman raised the alarm, prompting neighbors to go after them. They caught up reportedly with the one carrying the pot of soup and dealt him several machete cuts before setting him ablaze.
An eyewitness who spoke with the reporter that filed the story for the online newspaper aforementioned said: “It was almost dawn when the boys attacked the woman and carried away her pot of soup. When they were about getting out of the compound, she raised alarm and people came out, pursued and caught up with one.”
Conversely, three Years back, four young male students of University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State were lynched to their gruesome and violent death by villagers from Aluu Village when they were reportedly set up as alleged cultists but in actual fact one of the assassinated students Mr Ugonna went to a house of his debtor to demand for his money and was accompanied by his three schoolmates but the debtor set them up as cultists and screamed aloud which attracted the villagers who pounced on the innocent boys and lynched them to death.
Sadly, a police operational vehicle was sighted and the armed police occupants stood by and did nothing but watched as the four students were slaughtered to their death which attracted widespread national outrage but the momentary national outrage lasted only few days and the nation returned to the business- as – usual notoriety of the widespread use of jungle justice.
In Lagos alone in the last half a year, over two dozen suspected criminals have been lynched to their deaths and operatives of the Nigeria Police Force set up under section 214 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended) as the law enforcement authority are so weak and institutionally compromised to effectively and efficiently stop this primitive practice.
To realise that amongst the perpetrators of jungle justice are persons supposedly educated up to university levels but yet when their moments of insanity arrives at the sighting of any suspected thieves, an average Nigerian would pounced on the suspects with ferocity and would deploy every weapon of mass destruction available to the crowd especially disused tyres and fuel to set the suspects ablaze. A lot of innocent persons have been put to their death through human error just because someone shouted ‘thief, thief’ and the next thing is for the crowd to go for the kill.
Crime statisticians and psychologists have adduced the lack of efficient and effective policing in Nigeria as the clearest reason for the spread in the practice and acceptance of mob justice or what has come to be known as jungle justice. People affected by crime and their relations are mostly in favour of the use of self-help measures such as lynching to death of criminals caught committing crime no matter how petty or minor the alleged offence is because there’s a widespread perception amongst a majority of Nigerians that there is a high likelihood that a crime suspect can bribe his way out of police custody and would even become more vicious and daring therefore it is better to end the life of such a criminal once and for all to save the society from the harmful effects of harboring a vicious robber.
Such is the shocking acceptability of jungle justice amongst Nigerians that one is left to wonder whether we can truly regard ourselves as enlightened and civilised when we will rather than stick to the prescribed rules on law enforcement, we would go for primitive lynching, mob injustice of killing alleged criminal suspects.
Another supporting reason why this type of street justice has become widespread is because of the institutionalisation of the use of torture as a mechanism of extracting confessional statements from suspected criminals in police custody. Extrajudicial executions of crime suspects in police custody by police operatives has a role to play in motivating most members of the public to opt for jungle justice to be inflicted on suspected criminal. Sadly, in many instances the indicted police operatives are left to roam freely without trial for these unlawful killings.
Before the Administration of Justice Act of 2015 came into effect with the enactment, some people had argued that because torture isn’t explicitly criminalised, it is enough excuse for police operatives to rely upon it to force confession out of suspected crime detainees using methods of interrogation that is simply defined as torture in all ramifications.
But Section 8 (1) of the Administration of Justice Act of 2015 provides as follows: ” a Suspect SHALL (a) be accorded humane treatment, having regard to his right to dignity of his person; (b) a suspect must not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. And subsection (3) of Section 8 of the same Act applicable all over Nigeria provides thus: “A suspect SHALL be brought before the court as prescribed by this Act or any other written law or otherwise released unconditionally or conditionally “.
These statutory laws provides better explanation for Section 36 (5) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and more ways than one explicitly ensured prescription of a binding law that states unambiguously that accused persons brought for trial are innocent in the eye of the law until proven guilty by the competent courts of law.
These statutory provisions in both the Administration of Justice Act of 2015 and the relevant rights-based sections of the Nigerian Constitution go to show that Nigeria as a constitutional democracy must allow the law enforcement mechanisms to comply with global best practices and to be in compliance with all lawful international humanitarian laws.
These provisions that operate as bulwark against the infliction of physical and psychological torture on suspected criminals by police are meant to truly position Nigeria as a country that operates as a constitutional democracy.
As a major step going forward and as the surest way to put to a stop the expansion of the frontiers of the implementation by unruly Nigerian mobs of jungle injustice ( jungle justice), the current administration must reform the Nigeria Police Force. Nigeria must set up a people and law friendly and compliant law enforcement and policing institutions made up of competent and professionally trained Nigerians of unimpeachable integrity.
The current Nigeria Police Force as constituted is fundamentally faulty and is in need of comprehensive surgical overhaul. Indiscipline and roguery are rife in the current Nigeria Police Force.
All bad eggs must be weeded out and the nation must set up a functional crime data base to store finger prints of convicted criminals so criminals don’t find their ways into the Nigeria Police Force. Nigeria should set up State and Local police through permanent constitutional reforms that can strengthen the law enforcement professional competences of the men and officers of the policing institutions.
Discipline must be restored and in the enforcement of law and order no one should be treated as a sacred cow. Let the judiciary be reformed and the practice directions made more 21ST CENTURY compliant so accused persons facing criminal indictments are expeditiously prosecuted and the process made to run its full logical course without let or hindrance. The police prosecutors must be dropped so only competently trained and professionalised criminal prosecution lawyers from the office of the Prosecutor General of the Federation and the respective States are despatched to handle prosecution of criminal cases.
Judges must be supervised by the National Judicial Council to dispense justice swiftly and any trace of laziness or compromise on the part of the judges must be investigated and if indicted the judges should not only be sacked but prosecuted for dereliction of duty and if the case is that of bribery, then the relevant anti-graft legislations should be invoked in the determination of the matter to be instituted against such offending judge. If all these institutional reforms are achieved and made to have a life of their own then public confidence in the law enforcement authority of the National institutions for crime prevention would be restored. Those who perpetrate acts of jungle justice should be prosecuted and punished.
President Muhammadu Buhari stands at a historical threshold to achieve the eradication of the use of jungle justice if all the laws against this primitive practice are enforced but first and foremost the operatives and institutional frameworks for the enforcement of Rule of Law must be made to live above board. Nigerians should begin and sustain a campaign against the use of jungle justice as that would indeed promote Nigeria’s democratic profiles.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com; www.rightsassociationngr.com, www.huriwa.org.