Government must discharge its responsibility of protecting lives and property

While President Muhammadu Buhari last week warned that a collapse of public confidence in the justice system would have disastrous consequences for the entire country, what he did not say is that many Nigerians are already paying the price for that state of affair. On the same day the president spoke, a suspected female kidnapper was lynched and set ablaze by a mob at Offa in Kwara State. The suspect was reportedly attempting to kidnap a set of twins from a school on the pretext that their mother had asked her to take custody of the babies.

Unfortunately, this recourse to savagery which is fast becoming a national pastime is bewildering as it does not matter the supposed crime being levelled against those caught in the web of this new wave of jungle justice. What is however worrisome is that a lot of times innocent citizens are often the victims of these mob justice whose dispensers cannot be held accountable. Just being on a street corner looking a little like someone accused of a crime the day before or even being a victim of witch-hunt could cost one his or her life. We have seen several examples of that across the country in the past few years. From the killing of four innocent undergraduates in Port Harcourt to that of an Ahmadu Bello University Professor, we must do everything to end mob justice.

There are pertinent questions as to what could be responsible for this ugly development: is it a failure of law enforcement? Or signs of a more dangerous national ailment? Or is it that human life is no longer sacrosanct in Nigeria? The answer of course is simple. It is a combination of the three. But beyond presidential preachments, the government must carry out its constitutionally stipulated responsibility of protecting lives and property while the courts must be alive to their own responsibilities.

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 as more and more Nigerians shun the instrumentality of the law in the settlement of disputes, many innocent people are getting maimed and killed.

We are not unmindful of the fact that due to its own contradictions, our judiciary does not seem capable of administering impartial justice and many people are gradually losing faith. However, under the rule of law it is the sacred duty of the judiciary to safeguard the rights and liberty of the citizens. Respecting such rights forms the bedrock upon which the society lays claim to civilisation.

In all civilised societies, mere suspicion does not constitute an offence or grounds for lynching. Persons accused of any crime are charged to court if not for anything, at least to avoid a miscarriage of justice. And the right to life is the ultimate measure of all rights. It is therefore important that Nigerians rein all impulses to self-help in the dispensation of justice.

We therefore believe that the government should crack down on the perpetrators of such heinous acts to ensure that only the courts can give a guilty verdict and stipulate the commensurate punishment. Having said this, we are also mindful that criminals get away unpunished and that, in most instances, provoke the mob. To redress the situation, the police and the courts must collaborate to ensure that crime suspects are given speedy trials at the end of which those found guilty must be punished according to law. That is the only way to end the barbaric regime of jungle justice in Nigeria.