According to a survey conducted in 2014 by NOI Polls, 43% of Nigerians had personally witnessed a mob attack. According to SB Morgen’s report, 279 mob justice incidents happened, leading to the death of at least 391 individuals between 2019 and May 2022, of which 223 of the cases happened in the South while the remaining 168 occurred in the Northern part of the country. This in fact is to say that the menace of jungle justice is not ending any time soon, we are still counting numbers.
Jungle justice is a form of self-help, the justice of the people by the people and for the people and of course, an extrajudicial form of justice — championed by a group of bystanders, ‘street guys’, ‘garage boys’, etc., who serve as the witness, accuser, judge and executor at the same time — where an alleged criminal/suspect is humiliated, beaten or killed. In short, it is a form of illegal and unconstitutional form of justice which regards not the involvement of the police or other law enforcement agencies.
In this essay, I inquire into the illegality of jungle justice by enunciating various statutory and judicial instruments that stands against it by giving a detailed account of the nexus between this vile practice and human rights and subsequently enunciate the causes and possible recommendations to this menace.
Jungle justice and human rights: An overview
Learned Oputa, JSC, in Josiah v The State said: “Justice is not a one-way traffic. It is really a three-way traffic: justice for the appellant/accused of a heinous crime of murder; justice for the victim, the murdered man, the deceased – whose blood is crying to heaven for vengeance; and, finally justice for the society at large – the society whose social norms and values had been desecrated and broken by the criminal act complained of…”.
In R v SUSSEX Justices, Exparte Mcarthy, Lord Denning said, “justice should not only be done but must be manifestly be seen to have been done”. These dictums and authorities however postulates that justice is cardinal and the procedures for the administration of justice has been spelt out in our laws. The singular question now is that, does the administration of justice extends to the people? I.e. can any person, other than the court administer justice on anyone?
The results are everywhere. Recently, a mob have gruesomely lynched a 35-year-old man, Olorunfemi Tope, after he reportedly crushed four persons to death in an accident at ljoka area of Akure, the Ondo state capital, on April 11. The victim was alleged to be an internet fraudster by the mob. Going down memory lane, one of the most popular of reported previous cases was the lynching of four University of Portharcourt students “Aluu 4″ on October 12, 2012, over alleged theft of laptop devices.
Last year, a mob of Islamist Fundamentalists lynched Deborah Samuel, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, on the school campus on religious grounds. Also, in 2022, a mob of Hausa okada riders lynched a young man, simply identified as David, burning him to death over a misunderstanding that ensued because of an N100 balance with a commercial motorcyclist.
From all these cases, I have more than enough questions to ask. Questions like: What if the court will hold otherwise in these cases? Does the law approve the killing of a person without a fair trial? Or does our law approves one sidedness in the administration of justice? But how do we answer these questions?
Since no due process of law is followed in the administration of instant justice by the people; then it becomes an unarguable fact that, jungle justice is illegal and therefore, breaches many provisions of the constitution (as amended), Administration of Criminal and Justice Act (2015), Criminal Procedure Act (2004) and some other statutory provisions.
Section 33 (1) of the 1999 constitution provides for the right to life of every citizen but however specifically gives that sole right (to carry out such proceedings and conviction of the person) to a court of law. Similarly, Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1986 states that the life and integrity of every individual shall be sacrosanct, and no one shall be unlawfully denied of it.
This is to say that the mob’s brutality and use of violence erode the essence of legal clauses by condemning and killing other persons, thus contrary to the legal provisions which upholds the right to human life and specifically exempt it to different grounds including the sentence of a court in regard of a criminal offence. And to do otherwise will be unlawful, barbaric, capricious, unconstitutional and in all respect condemnable.
Jungle justice is also against the right to inhumane and degrading treatment. This right is provided for under Section 34(1 & 2) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 7 of the ICCPR, and Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In essence, all these legal sources clearly emphasize that any torture or severe physical and mental pain shall not be inflicted upon any person (crime suspect) to punish extrajudicially or obtain a confession from them during a criminal investigation. Mob justice infringes this right as it involves alleged suspects being subjected to physical violence, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, which consequently results in mental and physical health complications.
In the same vein, section 36 (4, 5 and 6) of the Constitution also makes an emphasis on the procedures and due process to take regarding conviction of a suspect. In the apple eye of the law, every person charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty with the offence by a competent court of law — even if the person is caught doing the act. In essence, anything outside the provisions of the said section of the constitution is tantamount to infringement upon freedom to fair hearing as enshrined in the constitution and jungle justice will not stand otherwise.
Similarly, section 8 (1 and 3) of Administration of Criminals and Justice Act (2015) gives jungle justice no room, and thus, prohibits jungle justice. And by implication, any person caught or arrested participating or engaging in mob justice may face relevant criminal charges.
And in affirmation and support to the above statutory provision, the Supreme Court, Anthony Ikechukwu Iguh, JSC in Kalu v. State held the dictum that:
“…for a valid and proper arraignment of an accused person, the following three conditions must be satisfied namely:-
(i) The accused person must be placed before the court unfettered unless the court shall see cause otherwise to order;
(ii) The charge of information shall be read over and explained to him to the satisfaction of the court by the Registrar or other officer of the court; And
(iii) The accused shall then be called upon to plead instantly thereto (unless, of course, there exists any valid reason to do otherwise such as objection to want of service where the accused is entitled by law to service of a copy of the information and the court is satisfied that he has in fact not been duly served therewith)…”
But, despite the warning signs of the law, Nigerians who perpetrates jungle justice have failed to yield these signs and regrettably, the story is not changing anytime soon.
Causes and possible recommendations
Despite the explicit provisions of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria and the state’s embrace of international human rights treaties, the condition of human rights is in shambles, occasioned by mob action and the age-long state’s institutional inefficiencies. While the mob violates the rights by disregarding the conventional justice system, the police and court complicate the justice process with corrupt practices. Citizens in Nigeria are at the mercy of police personnel in their unprofessional and illegal conduct.
First to consider is the dysfunctional judicial system. The court is the last resort of a common man but now, even the common never find solace in that abode. Justice delayed is justice denied. In actuality, the administration of justice is slowed down by our legal system. A quicker delivery of justice is one of the crucial tools usable in the fight against jungle justice. Criminal trials and proceedings shouldn’t be delayed excessively. Additionally, anyone caught should be made to face the consequences set forth by the law.
Also, the law enforcement agencies has lost their credibility and as such, the people no longer have trust in them. Section 4 of the Police Act (2004) empowers the police as the only agency recognized and certified by law to apprehend and prosecute a suspect. Unfortunately, the Nigeria Police Force, which is charged with such a duty, has a poor reputation and is equally weak. Police are perceived as aiding and abetting criminality. In essence, the NPF needs to be reorganized—rehabilitated even. There is a paramount need to end jungle justice by building an effective and efficient police that would be capable of enforcing the law and preventing people from taking the law into their hands.
Moreover, ignorance and illiteracy is one of the major causes of jungle justice. Over the years Nigeria has breed thousand of citizens who are not aware of their rights, duties and obligations as citizens. They are not aware whatsoever of the constitution of the land and as such they tend to act in the contrary to the stipulated laws of the law. Therefore, the public’s reorientation and education about respect for the rule of law and fundamental human rights (right to life and freedom from fear of hearing) should be the mission of both governmental and non-governmental groups.
In conclusion, this article has reflected in its introduction the prevalence of Jungle justice in the Nigeria society. It also evaluated the illegality of jungle justice as it relates to human rights of an aggrieved person and thereafter concludes by enunciating the various causes and possible solutions to ameliorate this menace. But back to the big question; Is jungle justice ending anytime soon?