Policing emphasis has to shift from law enforcement to crime prevention to stem the tide of crime and mob justice

They called him Think Twice. He was a young man who made a living from making other people laugh. He was a comedian. But a couple of weeks ago, he would have wished he thought twice before leaving his house. For moments after he stepped out of his residence, he ran into a mob that lynched him along with two others. And Chinedu Paul died in a gruesome manner – another victim of jungle justice.

With Nigeria gradually descending to the Hobbesian state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”, it is little surprise that we now witness almost on a daily basis extra-judicial killings and senseless public lynching of crime suspects. Yet the rule of law, as opposed to that of the jungle, presupposes that anybody accused of a crime, however heinous, is entitled to a fair trial before punishment could be meted if found guilty. But it is also understandable that more and more Nigerians are shunning the instrumentality of the law in the settlement of disputes.

For instance, frustrated by the failure of the Police and other security agencies to rein in cultists called Badoo, who for years have terrorised the sleepy town of Ikorodu in Lagos State, the youths of the town recently decided to take their destiny into their own hands. In the last few weeks, they had constituted themselves into vigilance groups with a mission to rid their community of the undesirable elements who kidnap their wards for money rituals. Media reports say that six people have been killed by the mob for allegedly belonging to the kidnap cult ring.

The rule of the mob is definitely condemnable as nobody is entitled to take the law into his own hands. Anyone who has a grievance must bring it before the law for resolution. But the reaction of the youths arose because of the incompetent handling of the dire situation the people of Ikorodu have found themselves. No fewer than 26 people are said to have been killed by the murderers who kidnap for money rituals. The people complain that they have become helpless in the face of the onslaught of the ritual killers, who appear to have overpowered the police.

Unfortunately, cultism is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to Ikorodu as it is known to be heavily present in several towns in other states, including Cross River, Edo, Delta and Rivers, where cultists not only reign but also seek to dominate the crime business. This has resulted in rising cult wars, leading to the untimely death of not only rival cult members, but also many innocent citizens, who are caught up in the cross-fire.

While each incidence has attracted promises and assurances from the police that the culprits would be found and brought to justice, the reality is that the law enforcement agency has underperformed with the people left to their own devices. This is what has bred the recent mob actions in Ikorodu and other places. Yet the situation is unacceptable and government has a responsibility to act decisively to stem the drift into anarchy.

As we have said in the past, there is an urgent need to review the police operational strategy with a view to enhancing its intelligence gathering capacity. Most crimes of this nature could be nipped in the bud if police operatives have their ears to the ground. But how can they when their conducts make them repugnant to public confidence? Complaints are rife that information given to the police in confidence sometimes finds their way to the ears of criminals, who in turn hunt down the informants. Yet public confidence is crucial if the police are to obtain vital information that would lead to the detection of crime.

Emphasis, therefore, needs to shift from law enforcement to crime prevention with reforms targeted at ridding the police of its bad elements and enhancing the investigative skills of its operatives. Through regular intelligence training and massive deployment of modern technology, it is possible to make policing duties more effective. This recommendation is not new and it is high time government implemented it with vigour.

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While each incidence has attracted promises and assurances from the police that the culprits would be found and brought to justice, the reality is that the law enforcement agency has underperformed with the people left to their own devices. This is what has bred the recent mob actions in Ikorodu and other places