The culture of jungle justice is fast threatening the nation’s social fabric, writes Funke Aboyade, SAN
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t” – Alice in Wonderland
Aprovocative question: do we sometimes heave a sigh of relief, perhaps even feel a tinge of satisfaction, when a hardened criminal meets his waterloo in the hands of a mob?
But. Wait a minute. What if? What if he weren’t “guilty”? What if, like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland,nothing is as it seems? Or. So what if he’s “guilty”?
Last week, a baying mob in Lawanson, Lagos almost lynched a man and his brother in the mistaken belief that they were kidnappers. The alleged victim was his mentally challenged wife, who had raised a false alarm as they sought medical intervention. But for the timely intervention of the police they would have become just another statistic.
Who can forget the Aluu 4? Young men, students of the University of Port Harcourt, slain in a most gruesome manner in Aluu, Rivers State by a baying mob, when a debtor falsely raised an alarm of theft.
Or the popular comedian going about his lawful business with his mechanics when they were mistaken for Badoo cultists and sent to an untimely grave by local vigilantes in Ikorodu, Lagos?
Children are not exempt; a few days ago, a 62-year old man in Okokomaiko, Lagos chopped off an 11-year old boy’s wrist for fishing on his turf without permission. Remorse-free, he declared he’d actually been aiming for his victim’s neck.
How many times have we heard of a cry of someone’s “manhood” disappearing and in the twinkle of an eye a mob descends on the purported villain?
The list is endless but these examples epitomise our sad reality and are a direct consequence of the breakdown of law and order in our society.
This happens if citizens a) do not have confidence in and/or access to our justice delivery system and so take the law into their hands; or b) are not made through the strict, unbiased and even application of the law to suffer the consequences of taking the law into their hands; and perhaps to some extent c) are not enlightened about why a parallel extra-judicial system, which brutalises and/or summarily executes people and in which the presumption of innocence and precepts of not being the accuser and judge as guaranteed by our Constitution and our laws is jettisoned willy-nilly should never be an option in a civilised society.
Is the problem an insufficiency of laws or an overwhelmed, ineffective and underperforming criminal justice delivery system?
If the former would throw more laws at this phenomenon make it go away?
For instance, the Prohibition and Protection of Persons from Lynching, Mob Action and Extrajudicial Executions and Other Related Offences in Nigeria Bill was passed by the Senate in 2017. It seeks to discourage jungle justice and punish perpetrators, criminalise any act depriving an individual of his right to life through mob action and any act of security agents, who fail to protect persons from extra-judicial killings. It has however yet to be enacted into law.
What are the extant laws and are they really inadequate to quell this alarming trend? The raison d’être of government, to ensure the security and welfare of the people, is stated in S.14 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution.
Sections 33 and 34 of our Constitution also guarantee the right to life which one cannot be intentionally deprived of save in accordance with due process of law and the right not to be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.
Ss. 319 and 253 of the Criminal Code Act stipulate the death penalty for murder, as well as criminalise assault. The perpetrators (including a Police Sergeant) of the Aluu 4 lynching, who were charged for murder, felony, conspiracy, lynching and burning were convicted under S. 319(1) of the Criminal Code Laws of Rivers State and sentenced to death.
Nyordee J. expressed the hope that it would serve as a deterrent to others. It took five years (investigation, custodial, arraignment, trial, conviction) for justice to be served; admittedly trial commenced before the advent of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
The existing laws were clearly sufficient to sustain a charge and conviction against the active participants. They were also sufficient in serving as deterrence. They do not however appear to have considered onlookers, who may or may not have actively jeered or passively encouraged the heinous crime or perhaps have done nothing at all to save the situation.
In that wise, nine of the Defendants were at various stages of the trial acquitted and discharged. It does not also appear that the instigator of the false alarm was tried or convicted.
Other laws, for example S.335 Criminal Code Law Lagos State, make inflicting grievous bodily harm a felony punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.
The Child Rights Act and various Child Rights Laws also guarantee the dignity of every child and provide that no child shall be subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, etc. Further, a child shall be subjected only to the child justice system and processes
Our laws (for instance S.23 (1) Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015)permit citizens’ arrest. However, persons so arrested must be immediately handed over to the police. Those are just a few of our extant laws.
Again and again we hear of those accused of heinous crimes initially arrested by the police only to be set free under a cloud. Or the victim of a crime inexplicably becoming the accused or extorted in order to “facilitate” police investigation. Or perhaps the case finally after twists and turns makes it to court, where it may then remain on the docket for years to come leaving victims and their loved ones demoralised and hopeless – admittedly the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, a significant and progressive legislation, addresses in large part the challenges bedeviling the system of administration of criminal justice, including issues of speedy dispensation of justice.
The first port of call in reporting a crime under our criminal justice delivery system is the police. What if they also are complicit? Nyordee J. for instance, in an extraordinary rebuke of security agencies stated that no explanation would suffice for their failure to act to save the Aluu 4.
It is ironic that as often as we hear of the police saving one hapless citizen or the other from mob action we also hear of them perpetrating jungle justice.
Extra-judicial killings must surely be a part of this discussion. Accused persons are routinely executed by the police at their stations or by MOPOL or SARS. It was not for nothing after all that the #EndSARS movement came into being. As I write, my attention is drawn to yet another report of the extrajudicial killing of a 16-year old wheel barrow boy at the Mile 3 Nkpolu Police Station in Port Harcourt. His alleged offence, stealing a generator, turned out to be false but even if true, what was the justification?
If those who are meant to ensure consequences according to the law for engaging in jungle justice are also the proponents, there’s a problem.
The Anti-Torture Act 2017 prohibits, criminalises and punishes with up to 25 years imprisonment on conviction, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in the main by state agents as well as protects victims and witnesses of such acts.
Significantly, it brooks no exceptions at all – not war, nor instability, nor public emergency. Significantly too, both participant and onlooker are liable, as are both superior officer, who issues an order and the lower ranking officer who carries it out. If death occurs as a result of the torture, the person involved will be charged with murder.
For other acts committed outside the confines of that law, the police have a system of bringing offending officers to brook by way of orderly room trial but that system is at best haphazard and sometimes only ignited when public outcry is strident. Often, outside a dismissal from the Force or a demotion nothing further is done about prosecuting the offending officer in the criminal justice system.
One final thought. Jungle justice is essentially a resort to self-help outside of or irrespective of the law. Does government itself set a good example, when it persistently and willfully refuses to obey lawful court orders?