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Ending the culture of jungle justice in Nigeria

Two weeks ago, a Rivers state High Court sentenced to death four persons, including a police Sergeant, for their active involvement in the gruesome murder of four students of the University of Port Harcourt over 4 years ago. The four students – Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Lloyd, Tekena Elkannah and Chiadika Biringa – were erroneously accused of robbery and gruesomely murdered in a mob action at Aluu community in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers state on October 5th 2012. The footage of the murder, which went viral on the internet, showed the students being tortured in a barbaric manner before they were soaked in petrol and set ablaze. The gruesome killing shocked many people both in Nigeria and around the world and generated a groundswell of clamour for the prosecution of those involved in the murder and an end to jungle justice in Nigeria.

Despite the fact that a video evidence of the crime exists, it took the court more than four years to convict only four (4) out of the Eighteen (18) persons charged for the murder. That says a lot about our justice system. Perhaps, had the footage of the killings not existed or available on the internet, the case would have died a natural death and the family of the murdered students would have been denied justice and left to mourn their dead in pain and agony for the rest of their lives.

Jungle justice, the act of handing over suspected criminals to an angry mob rather than law enforcement officers, has always been practiced in Nigeria but is gaining currency with the proliferation of crime and the inability of the police and law enforcement officers to tame criminals. A slow-grinding justice system, corruption and pervasion of justice could also act as trigger for an angry mob.

But two wrongs do not make a right. Every accused person is entitled to his/her day in court and all accused persons are considered innocent until proven guilty. No one or group of persons is/are empowered by the law to accuse, try, convict and execute any criminal in the land.  There are institutions set up to deal with deviants in the society and all citizens must act always to respect such institutions. That is what makes for a civilised nation and people. The very act of jungle justice itself – torturing, lynching and torching of suspects – is a greater evil; a violation of human right and a crime against humanity. It dehumanises the human person, reduces the value placed on human life and does incalculable damage to the perpetrators themselves, turning them into barbarians in every sense of the word.

What is more, jungle justice is no justice at all, but a travesty of justice, since it does not guarantee justice or fairness to anyone. In the case of the Aluu four, the students had allegedly gone to the community in search of a debtor to one of them when he (the debtor) allegedly raised an alarm and called them thieves. Without any investigation or question, the mob descended on them, tortured, lynched and ultimately set them ablaze. There can be nothing more barbaric and dehumanising!

Also recently, residents of Ikorodu in Lagos have been under the siege of an evil gang called “Badoo”, who have carried out horrible killings of residents. After waiting endlessly for the police to intervene and save them from these killers, the residents took the law into their hands and, within few days, lynched more than give persons, allegedly members of the gang. Sadly it emerged that at least three of those lynched were innocent people who had no connections with the Badoo gang. One was even a popular comedian who was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Much more importantly however, is the absolute failure of governance, law enforcement and justice in the country that encourages people to resort to self-help. We urge the government, law enforcement agencies and the courts to wake up to their responsibilities and prevent a descent to the state of nature that the nation seem to be heading to.

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