Resort to jungle justice which results, most often, in the lynching of suspected criminals in a mob-like fashion, has become a worrisome trend in many Nigerian towns and cities
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Jul. 21, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
JUNGLE justice has become the order of the day in Ibadan, Oyo State, south-west Nigeria, ever since the shocking discovery in Soka forest, an enclave of dead bodies, skulls detached from the human bodies and skeletons of already decomposed bodies on March 22. Life in that part of the country is becoming increasingly short, nasty and brutish. No day passes without reports of one person being lynched by jungle justice.
The rate at which ordinary citizens, under the guise of one spurious allegation or the other, take the law into their hands and kill innocent citizens in broad daylight has become worrisome. For instance, in Akure and Ondo, in Ondo State, suspected kidnappers, including a woman, were set ablaze recently. In Ikere-Ekiti, in Ekiti State, a middle-aged man was set ablaze for allegedly being in possession of the corpse of a child at Odo Oja area. In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, a number of mentally challenged persons were reported to have been lynched in the wake of the Soka forest incident on the suspicion that they were pretending to be mad and working with kidnappers to abduct persons in the town. In Ogun State, three suspected kidnappers were set ablaze in Gas Line Area, Ado Odo Otal Local Government Area, for alleged kidnap of a woman. In Apomu, Ikire and Osogbo in Osun State, Oyo, in Oyo State, and Ekoro area of Abule Egba in Lagos State, there have been reported cases of the killing of kidnap suspects by irate mobs.
According to reports, most of the killings were fuelled by video CDs of the Soka forest horror that are being sold openly in the south-western part of the country. There was also a report of a pathetic case of a man who strolled into his late father’s house in Lagos upon returning to the country after living abroad for many years, only to be labelled a kidnapper by angry tenants and killed by a raging mob.
All these incidents are happening just few years after four students of the University of Port Harcourt were lynched in broad daylight, not too far from the university, over allegations that they were involved in the theft of a laptop. That killing was particularly gruesome as pictures were taken of the unfortunate students as they were stripped naked, beaten and paraded around the community before they were set ablaze. What a horrible and most undignified way to die! Surely, the agony of such a gruesome death will continue to torment their loved ones and all well meaning Nigerians to this day.
It is this same scenario of extra-judicial killings that is once again blossoming in the country. What Nigerians witness today is a situation whereby some self-styled defenders of public morality take upon themselves to unleash violence on anyone who is unlucky to be accused of any crime. Instead of such persons being given the benefit of doubt and taken to the police for proper investigation and prosecution if found necessary, angry mobs simply reach for tyres and petrol and set the accused persons ablaze.
Early in May, a woman accused of abducting three school children was set ablaze by an irate mob in Lagos. The yet-to-be-identified victim, who had reportedly driven to Abule Egba area in a SUV but tried to escape in a tricycle before an alarm was raised, had reportedly attempted to kidnap three children who were on their way to school. The alleged nefarious bid was said to have been foiled by a bread seller.
This has prompted the Lagos State government to warn residents in the state against taking the laws into their hands by imposing instant punishment on suspected criminals. Ade Ipaye, state attorney-general and commissioner for justice, gave the warning following a spate of reported cases of jungle justice in Lagos State in recent times. “The full weight of the law would be brought to bear on anyone henceforth caught engaging in jungle justice, no matter what the alleged criminal could have done,” Ipaye warned.
He noted that anybody caught beating, burning or killing any suspect, whether alone or in a mob, was himself engaging in a serious criminal act and was liable to prosecution and punishment. “The mob may well be wrong and the helpless victim may be anyone’s child or relative. Even if they did commit the alleged offence, there is a process for prosecuting and showing the evidence in court so that proven criminals can be properly punished according to law.”
Jungle justice is not restricted to the south-west of Nigeria. In 2013, about 25 corpses were discovered at Ezu River in Amansea, Awka-North Local Government Area of Anambra State. An autopsy was conducted on the corpses but the result and position of the government have not been made public. Reports have it that the state’s former commissioner for health had submitted a report to the federal government. However, rumours circulated in the social media indicate that the dead bodies were victims of extra-judicial killings.
Section 34 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very clear on the issue of sanctity of human life. It provides that “no person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.” The same constitution, in section 33(1), guarantees the right to life thus: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in the execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty.”
The only permissible limitations on the right to life are contained in section 33(2), which provides that “a person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary; for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or property; in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.”
But the Convention of the European Commission on Human Rights, stipulates that if disproportionate force is used and death results, the convention have been violated, even if death was unintentional. While the use of force may sometimes be necessary, if it results in death, whether intentional, negligent or accidental, it has to be justified.
The United Nations also frowns at extra-judicial killings and torture. According to the UN General Assembly, these constitute an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. For the European Commission on Human Rights, the word ‘torture’ is often used to describe inhuman treatment with a purpose, such as obtaining information or confessions.
Meting out jungle justice to suspects is dangerous. And the troubling aspect of this development is the increasing propensity for dispensing this brand of justice in our cities by people who have no respect for laws. The way things stand today, the government has to do more. It must adequately fund the police and expand its capacity to carry out its constitutionally stipulated responsibility of protecting lives and property while the courts must be alive to their responsibilities.