Curbing ‘jungle justice’ and excesses of uniformed personnel
When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty – Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd U.S. President
In any human setting, abuse of power or position would obviously be inevitable if no system is put in place to act as checks and balances. Man is by nature, easily prone to being intoxicated by power when in possession of it. With power, man tends to intimidate and oppress anyone that is opposed to his interest. The holder of power, if not careful, can be driven by it to the extent that it is used as a tool for punishment and vendetta. It takes concerted effort with good conscience to hold a public office without allowing the position to overrule one’s sense of fairness and balance.
The police, the military and paramilitary arms (including Customs, Immigration officers, Correctional Officers at the prison), men and officers who maintain traffic and environmental laws, food and drug enforcement officials and many other security operatives all make up the class of public workers who wear uniforms. Some of these officers who bear arms do so for effective and optimal operations in their duty lines. It is however disheartening to see that the weapon-carrying uniformed personnel abuse the arms they carry by using them in a wrong manner.
In the past, there had been cases of power-drunk personnel who shot innocent civilians extra-judicially. We have had instances where killings (intentional or unintentional) by some arms-carrying uniformed officers were attributed to accidental discharge. Not too long ago, in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, a police officer was accidentally shot by his colleague who was said to be servicing his gun when bullets went off to hit his colleague. It was, according to the police report, that the injured were responding to treatment at the hospital after the incident. Another case was reported at Badagry-Seme expressway months ago where a soldier committed suicide after accidentally killing a Customs officer. Many other cases of such ‘accidental discharge’ occurrences abound where victims were not lucky to have escaped death.
It is not only the arms-carrying uniformed personnel that are guilty of misusing power; those who do not bear arms among them are also culpable of this same action, and some of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officers are guilty of this allegation. Beyond any doubt, the yellow-and-maroon-coloured uniformed officers have contributed their part to easing traffic congestion in Lagos since its inception two decades ago. Between then (before the establishment of LASTMA) and now, there have been some remarkable achievements by the agency in controlling and managing traffic situations in Lagos but some residents have argued that the impact of LASTMA is being overhyped as they primarily extort and misuse their powers. This isn’t true in its entirety as there are many other good LASTMA personnel.
Recent happenings that involved burning of some police stations and killings around the country hinted that people now take the law into their own hands. Arson and jungle justice are heinous crimes in our society and such must not be allowed in Nigeria if true justice must reign.
The other day in Lagos, it was reported that a mentally-ill woman was lynched and set ablaze by a mob who alleged that she was in possession of a stolen baby and AK 47 rifles. The police later debunked the untrue claims by the hoodlums who murdered the insane woman as investigation revealed that no baby and AK 47 rifles were found in her possession, neither were they recovered by those who killed the mad woman. Mentally challenged, but she was lost to extra-judicial killing: innocently for an offence she never committed.
A survey in 2014 revealed that 43 % of Nigerians had personally witnessed a mob action where lynching took place. Mob action is a violation of a suspected victim’s right to life and dignity according to a section of the Nigerian constitution. People take laws into their hands by lynching suspects for alleged offences that range from petty theft, witchcraft, rape, kidnapping, murder to armed robbery. Many have been innocently killed on alleged grounds of jungle justice.
Truth is, if everyone keeps carrying out judgment on barbaric actions done by another man, then vendetta and retaliation may never end. Secondly the laws would be useless as there would be no need for the enforcement agents or even the courts out there. Injustice thrives where there is power abuse and unlawful execution. No matter how long it takes, justice will always bring relief to the contentious parties when delivered eventually as disputes are laid to rest without unlawful killings.
Loss of confidence in law enforcement agencies is the main cause of jungle justice. However, anyone that is dissatisfied with enforcement agents’ way of handling a case can always seek redress at the law court to get justice. An individual who may, from a general point of view, be justified by his innocence in an issue might turn out to be declared guilty by the court if he takes the law into his hands and the accused may be acquitted if he is law-abiding. An individual cannot be justified if he is the accused and at the same time the judge. Unlawful killings, whether by armed uniformed personnel or by civilians, are actions that are capable of degenerating into long years of conflicts and civil unrest.
There is an urgent need for a change of attitude among Nigerian uniformed officers. The act of misusing power or position to intimidate the civilian population must be unlearnt if it appears to be in the DNA formation of these uniformed personnel. Enforcement agents win the trust of the general public when they act in accordance with the law with all fairness.
It is also important to state that members of the public must be law-abiding and must never, at any point in time, support Jungle Justice. Nigerians must do away with every act of taking the law into their hands and allow enforcement agents to do the needful to an offender. The judiciary must also not compromise in handling cases.
A Yoruba adage goes thus: “Egunti o ba pa idanmonni won, ni pa idanpe”. This is translated as: it is only a masquerade that performs magic moderately or cautiously that does it for long. So uniformed personnel and the general public are urged to tread with caution in their dealings for peace to reign.
Human beings by nature have the tendency to misuse power when in control because it sometimes intoxicates. So the holder or user of that power must tread with caution always. The ruled will not forever remain docile and as such they will revolt when they are pushed to the wall someday. It is therefore highly imperative that power holders in public and private positions use their powers with an end in view; it is either power outlives them or they leave power. When the ruled trusts the judgment of their rulers through law enforcement agents, extra-judicial killings and other criminal activities across the country will, if not totally eradicated, be drastically reduced.
Ojewale is of the Public Affairs and Enlightenment Department of LASTMA