The law enforcement agencies must be proactive in tackling the growing rate of mob action and bringing culprits to justice, writes Vincent Obia
In mid-November, a gory video appeared on the internet showing a child, allegedly, beaten and set ablaze by a mob in Lagos. The lad of about seven years old was said to have stolen. Footage of that savage killing went viral within hours. Never mind that the Lagos State Police Command denied the incident. The short video of the boy’s bruised and bloodied body and the public outrage it caused captured the general concern about a menace that is becoming notoriously widespread.
Worried by the growing threat of mob rule, the Senate on Tuesday adopted a motion condemning the act and asking the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, state attorneys general, and the Nigeria Police to take steps to apprehend and prosecute those involved. The upper chamber also urged its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to expedite action on the passage of the Anti-Jungle Justice Bill before it.
Mob action, which often leads to death, is a crime under Nigerian laws. Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution says, “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
But the media abounds with stories of extrajudicial killings and maiming by mobs that go largely unpunished.
In September, there were reports about a man in Uyo whose right hand was chopped off for, allegedly, stealing a television set from a viewing centre. Last month, irate youths in Tudun Wada, in Kaduna South Local Government Area of Kaduna State, attacked and killed about four persons suspected to be members of the Shi’a sect. Witnesses said the mob torched the residence of the group’s leader and demolished the Shiite’s Islamic school in the area.
A man was, reportedly, murdered in March by an angry mob in Benin City after he was caught in a gay act with his partner, who only narrowly escaped lynching. In the same month in Ondo State, a man accused of being gay died a day after he was beaten by a mob. Gay practice is illegal in Nigeria, but no one has the right to indulge in the extrajudicial killing of an offender.
On June 2 in Kano, a 74-year-old trader, Mrs. Bridget Agbahime, was lynched at Kofar Wambai Market by Muslim youths over allegations of blasphemy. Barely one week later, a similar incident occurred in Kaduna, where a carpenter, Mr. Francis Emmanuel, was attacked in the Kakuri area of the metropolis by some Muslim youths for allegedly failing to observe the Ramadan fast.
Despite the rising incidence of mob killings and assaults, there are hardly effective efforts by the Nigeria Police and the other law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute perpetrators of the crime. And even when suspects are arrested, they largely get off scot-free due to lack of diligent prosecution.
A Kano Magistrates’ Court on November 3 discharged all five suspects in the killing of Agbahime based on the advice of the Kano State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. The suspects had faced a four-count charge of allegedly inciting disturbance, culpable homicide, joint act, and mischief.
But when the matter came up, Principal State Counsel, Rabiu Yusuf, who represented the attorney-general, told the court that after going through the case diary, the state’s chief law officer had given the legal advice “that there is no case to answer as the suspects are all innocent and orders the court to discharge all the suspects.”
The Chief Magistrate, Muhammad Jibril, discharged the five suspects and dismissed the case, as advised by the attorney-general of Kano State.
Many Nigerians have condemned the action of the Kano State government.
That condemnation applies with equal force to all acts of negligence or connivance that have tended to shield perpetrators of mob violence and murders from punishment. Unfortunately, many criminals in the country become brazen in their nefarious acts because they do not get punished for what they have done. A dangerous repercussion of this lack of punishment for crime is the resort to self-help and the rise of gangsterism, as individuals and groups seek to protect themselves. This is bound to worsen the security situation in the country.
The avoid those ugly repercussions, government at all levels must take deliberate, determined, and sincere steps to tackle the increasing incidence of mob assault. The resolution by the Senate last week, which condemned “mob action under any circumstances” and urged the police and other security agencies to brace up and tackle the problem, is commendable.
Interestingly, every inch of the Nigerian territory is under the supervision and protection of a police command. Heads of the police commands should be made to account for mob actions and other security breaches that occur in their areas of jurisdiction. This is more so when some of the mob activities that have resulted in deaths are known to have occurred within the vicinities of police stations whose officers turn a deaf ear to the crimes even when they are alerted by members of the public.
Government must be alive to its primary responsibility of guaranteeing the security and welfare of the citizens in any circumstance.