THE PREVALENCE OF JUNGLE JUSTICE

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The authorities must do more to curb the rule of the mob

To curb the growing rate at which innocent Nigerians are killed by the mob who most often take the law into their own hands, a bill titled “Prohibition and Protection of Persons from Lynching, Mob Action and Extra-judicial Executions”, recently passed the second reading at the Senate. The sponsor, Senator Dino Melaye, cited as prime example the extra-judicial killings in 2012 – the ALUU FOUR – in which four young undergraduates from the University of Port Harcourt were battered and burnt alive.

According to Melaye, the Nigerian Constitution noted that every Nigerian citizen is entitled to fundamental rights, one of which is stipulated in Chapter Four, which reads in part: “Every person has the right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria (section 33(1)”. He fortified this with section 34 on the right to dignity of a person and then prescribed that “No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment….”

Jungle justice manifests in different forms. There is currently in circulation a video clip of a young boy who was set ablaze allegedly for stealing garri. While there are disputes as to the exact location of where the tragedy took place, what is not in doubt is that it happened on our shores. Such is the nature of our society that all it takes to be declared a thief is for someone to make the accusation in the public and the mob will instantly dispense “justice.”

It is even worse in the northern part of the country where a crime of “blasphemy,” not known to our law, has become the biggest threat. All it takes is for some street urchins to make the accusation that someone, most likely a Christian, blasphemed the Prophet of Islam and some people would take it upon themselves to kill. To worsen matters, there seems to be some sort of complicity by public officials as was recently demonstrated in Kano when those arrested for killing a 74-woman for “blasphemy” were freed for lack of diligent prosecution.
As more and more Nigerians shun the instrumentality of the law in the settlement of disputes, several innocent citizens are getting maimed and killed. But there is perhaps no better demonstration of how deep rooted the problem is than the 2014 episode where the then Minister in charge of Police Affairs, Mr Jelili Adesiyan, promised to beat up a former governor of his state, Mr Isiaka Adeleke, just because of a political disagreement.

In response to the allegation by Adeleke that he was beaten up by the minister at a political gathering, Adesiyan told the media: “My regret is that I did not beat him (Adeleke) up as he claimed. If I had not been a minister, I would have flogged him like a baby… It was Sogo Agboola that gave Adeleke a dirty slap when he tried to caution him from being violent and he gave Sogo an elbow jerk, which Sogo quickly returned with a resounding slap. I will one day leave office as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and anytime I leave office, I will fight Adeleke.”

It was indeed very telling that the man in charge of the most critical law enforcement arm of the state could threaten physical fight and violence against another citizen. While we do not know whether the promised “heavyweight bout” has been held, what is not in doubt is that jungle justice has become an acceptable practice in Nigeria today. And the authorities must summon the courage to deal with it.