Since the gruesome murder of Deborah Samuel Yakubu, the rising spate of jungle justice in the country has taken an alarming dimension suggestive of imminent anarchy if not urgently addressed.
Emboldened by weak and ineffective prosecution as well as perceived non-existent dispensation of justice by law enforcement agencies, some Nigerians have now begun to take laws into their hands in the most brazen manner.
First was the unfortunate incident of a sex worker in a Lagos suburb, who was lynched and burnt by her customer and his friends because she had the Quran in the room she used for her service.
Another case was that of a suspected motorcycle thief who was set ablaze by a mob in Chinade town in Katagum Local Government Area of Bauchi State. At about the same time, in Imo State, a suspected 22-year-old fraudster had his newly built house razed down by rampaging youths when it was discovered that he had raped a 14-year-old girl to death.
Still in the southeast, another 22-year-old man was tortured to death in Anambra State by vigilantes over allegations of theft, the Oyo State police confirmed the murder of an on-duty traffic warden by commercial taxi drivers, who had pounced on him and pushed him to be knocked down on the road by an oncoming vehicle. The list goes on as more cases get reported.
Indeed Nigerians are sad, angry, hungry and socio-psychologically dehumanised by the existential conditions that have befallen them. The civility and humaneness required for proper social interaction seemed to have been eroded by years of violence arising from institutional impunity, rampant terrorism, marginalisation, and extra-judicial killings that have become routine events in the country. People are in a state of fear and tension amidst the absence of institutional protection. It seems to be a case of every man, every group for themselves. No one seems to trust law enforcement agencies, most especially the police and the judiciary, for proper dispensation of justice.
Notwithstanding, in this state of fear and tension, should people, however, aggrieved with the system, be allowed to take laws into their hands? Should they have free reins to discipline or punish others for crimes? We do not think so. Apart from the issue of the infringement of the rights of alleged offenders, the potent danger of jungle justice lies in the inability of its carriers to determine if indeed a crime has been committed; and the appropriate punishment for that crime. Moreover, carriers of jungle justice have no locus standi in law to dispense justice in the manner they have so appropriated.
Furthermore, it should be emphasized that no one, apart from the state in a war situation and except in established cases of self-defence, can take the life of another by virtue of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life. As in the incidents cited earlier, both the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life are violated by lynching, rape, torture, mob action, extra-judicial killings and other forms of jungle justice.
Owing to the complexity of urban sub-culture, Nigerian law enforcement authorities need to ensure the presence of both the law and its accompanying force in the lives of citizens. One of the tragedies of the dispensation of justice in the country is the thinking that certain personalities, institutions and symbols are greater than the law; and that is the reason law enforcement officers and agencies are dubiously used to serve persons and made subservient to them. This must stop, and speak to the need for proper community enlightenment in all ramifications. Besides the perceptible weakness in prosecution, the resurgence in jungle justice attests to the failure of civic education. Nigerians need to be educated, and forcefully so, to know and understand that there cannot be laws, mores and cultural practices working at cross purposes for the society.
It is for this reason that the courts of competent jurisdiction should remain the dispenser of justice in civil temporal affairs. This is so because such agencies of the just order are supposed to follow the due process of diligent prosecution and dispassionate and critical examination of breaches of the moral order before the dispensation of justice. That is the system of justice that the law upholds.
Although jungle justice is often difficult to curtail in certain situations because of its mob characteristic, culprits apprehended and diligently prosecuted should be made to face the consequences of their actions. This not only serves as a deterrence to future offenders but also affords the state and community the opportunity to enlighten the populace. It is totally illegal for citizens to take the laws into their hands; citizens could help the state in the promotion of justice by effecting beneficial police-community relations in their locality. This will ensure the active participation of the police in the life of the community.
It needs to be stressed too that relevant organs in the state and local government should continuously educate citizens about the law and the implication of jungle justice. Since mob action and jungle justice are often carried out in poorly organised settings in the community, ethnic associations, trade associations, market bodies, and local faith-based communities should sensitise their members and congregations as the case may be the responsibility of citizens to report crimes and misdemeanors rather than resort to taking laws into their hands.
To forestall future cases of jungle justice, residents’ associations and community development associations should be encouraged by their local government or on their own should set up law enforcement, enlightenment and security committees under the guidance of law enforcement officers to check the excesses of misguided elements who are prone to carry out jungle justice.