So many ills afflict our society and some of those ills have come to be identified as wide-spreading evils of our time. Among these wide-spreading evils of our time is the scourge of jungle justice [otherwise known as and called mob justice]. It is one crime that diminishes our common humanity and shocks the conscience of every civilised society. While it is true that before now this evil has received inadequate attention but with the advent of technology, the menace of this scourge is now increasingly gaining the attention that it deserves. It is one that is currently troubling stakeholders in criminal justice administration given its pervasive spread. There is no argument that mob justice is a significant social and legal issue with many different perspectives.
For every discussion to be intelligible there must be definition of terms [apologies to Aristotle]. Understanding the word “mob justice” or “jungle justice” is key and central to the appreciation of this write-up. The violent phenomenon of mob justice can explained as when a group of people, sometimes several hundred, take the law into their own hands, act as accusers, jury and judge and punish an alleged wrongdoer on the spot. The person accused of a crime has no chance to defend himself /herself or claim innocence. This procedure often ends up with the victim being beaten to death or seriously injured. The victim of a mob is denied a fair trial and the right to life. [Adapted from MOB JUSTICE: A qualitative research regarding vigilante justice in modern Uganda].
According to wikpedia, Jungle justice or mob justice is a form of public extrajudicial killings in Sub-Saharan Africa, most notably Nigeria and Cameroon, where an alleged criminal is humiliated, beaten or summarily executed by a crowd or vigilantes. Treatments can vary from a "muddy treatment", where the perceived perpetrator is made to roll in mud for hours to severe beatings followed by necklacing. This form of street justice occurs where a dysfunctional and corrupt judiciary system and law enforcement have "lost all credibility. European principles of justice have likewise become discredited. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungle_justice]. Suffice it to note that the phrase “mob justice” would be used interchangeably with “jungle justice” in this discuss.
This is an enquiry into the possible underlying factors that fuel the social malady of mob justice in our present day society, the position of the law on the issue [as espoused by our Courts] and the possible solutions to end the plague.
A colleague of mine [identity withheld] who practices law in the Federal Capital Territory [F.C.T. for short], Abuja, narrated to me his ordeal in the hands of a mob operating along the Karu axis of the F.C.T. where he had gone to visit a friend. The incidence took place in the first week of May, 2017. The grisly account is rather gut-wrenching and would be recounted as graphically recounted to me by my friend. Owing to power outage in the area where he visited, he decided to take his phone to a nearby barbing salon to charge around 7:00pm. Thereat, many other residents of the neighbourhood equally come to take advantage of the generator set used by the barbing salon to power their phones and other electrical gadgets. It so happened that when the owner of the barbing salon wanted to close for the day, people naturally came for their phones. As the owner of the salon went to turn of the generator, my learned friend equally took his phone and made for his friend’s house.
Midway to his friend’s house, my learned friend was accosted by a group of young men numbering around 10 [between ages 18 to 24] who asked him to go back to the barbing salon as one of them was looking for his phone. On getting to the salon, the owner recognised him and informed the young boys that it was not my learned friend who could have made away with the phone they were looking for. Before my learned friend could say ‘Jack Robinson’, he saw himself on the ground. Next, the young boys started landing all manner of hard objects on my friend; blocks, planks and what have you. Having pummeled him into stupor, my friend realized that if he did not act fast, his life would be ended by the mob with no one to tell his story. He managed to motion to them to stop so he could talk to them. Falsely thinking that my friend was about to tell them the “truth” finally, the mob relented a little and my friend used the short reprieve to pick race at a speed akin to that of the famous Usain Bolt. On reaching his friend’s house, he hit himself on the gate with a very loud shout that caused the residents of the compound to rush out to know what was happening. Sighting my friend, one man in the compound who had known my friend as a Lawyer beckoned on the rampaging mob to halt their brutality. The old man told the mob that he was sure my friend could not have committed the theft they were accusing him of. He suggested that the matter be quickly taken to a native doctor who was located nearby so that he [the native doctor] could consult the spirits to find out the culpability or innocence of my friend. The spiritual processes adopted by the native doctor was long [they should not detain us here] and seem to command the fullest confidence of the mob. The Chief Priest finally announced to them that my friend was/is innocent of the accusation they leveled against him. Of course, the mob instantly became penitent and they have been begging my friend for forgiveness. After a marathon medical tests/scan and treatments, how to make the mob answerable to the law for their attempted murder of my friend has been engaging my time and that of my friend up to the point of writing this article.
Concededly, mob justice is a complex phenomenon. However, our intimate reading of relevant research materials on the issue sufficiently informs us that the menace of jungle justice is largely fueled by structural issues encompassing poverty, lack of education, unemployment, extreme deprivation and lack of opportunity which are all attached to a lower social class. Research outcome suggests that citizens from lower social classes are less likely to have recourse to the judicial system. Weak, inaccessible and compromised judicial system is also identified as a factor fueling the menace of mob justice. The dominant perception among the deprived class is that the judicial system is fragile and untrustworthy leading them to take the laws into their own hands.
In November, 2016, a group of lawyers and human rights activists staged a walk against mob justice which played out in the same month of November and in the Orile area of the same city of Lagos. In his contribution during the walk, the Executive Director of the Access to Justice, AJ, Mr Joseph Otteh, gave a very insightful contribution on the causes of jungle justice ravaging our society. Hear him:
"Jungle justice is a metaphor for the failure of justice, the failure of society to apply uniform and equal standards and processes to everyone, the failure of society to protect its people from the whims of base and irrational human instincts and impulses. A society that allows a few people to take laws into their own hands, and sometimes take human life under that influence of that power, is a broken, lawless state. The entire concept of "State", "government" and "Rule of Law" is lost where people are allowed to act, or not prevented from acting as though society were, as Hobbes said, in a state of nature, unregulated, unbridled, or life was "brutish, nasty and short. When people take laws into their own hands in a society, they basically express the idea that state institutions of law and order are dysfunctional and lack trust or confidence. If people trusted those institutions, it is a lot easier to engage those institutions when crimes occur... Our Police Force is broken, and has been so for as long as I can remember. Our judiciary too, is a largely inefficiently administered institution, and the idea of being stuck in courts once cases get in there they foster a loss of confidence in courts and a lot of people are not prepared to "let the law run its loss" in our law courts.”
The Votes and Proceedings of the Nigerian Senate of Tuesday, 22nd November, 2016 confirms that the Senate considered and approved a motion [standing in the name of Senator Bareehu O. Ashafa, Lagos East] condemning the rising cases of jungle justice in the country. For its defining impact on this write-up, I will quote the motion of Senator Ashafa is extenso:
Motion made: That the Senate is disgusted by the rising cases of jungle justice by mobs that have arrogated to themselves the power to condemn others to death and execute judgment without recourse to the law courts in different parts of Nigeria;
Worried about this trend, especially the case of a young boy recently lynched in the Orile area of Lagos State for stealing;
Horrified that these rising barbaric acts are in most cases, perpetrated with a crowd of people watching unperturbed is most disheartening and frightening as each act dehumanises us as a race;
Disgusted that this is not the first time that in the country that the mobs have engaged in jungle justice. Some of the instances of jungle justice still fresh in our memories are as follows;
i.                   We can never forget when four young boys, Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Llyod, Chiadika Biringa, and Tekena Elkanah, all students of the University of Port Harcourt were lynched in 2012 after they were falsely accused of being thieves in Aluu, a community in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
ii.                 Sometime in October, 2016, it was reported that a young man trying to steal a flat screen TV from a football viewing center in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State had his arm chopped off by an irate mob on suspicion of stealing.
iii.              On October 19th, photos of a suspected burglar tied up like bush meat surfaced online. He was said to have been caught red-handed after breaking into a house and trying to steal some valuables in Sokponba in Benin City, Edo State. He was beaten blue and black, tied up like bush meat and later handed over to the police.
iv.               In February, 2016, one Akinifessi was reported to have been beaten to death by a mob in Ondo State for engaging in homosexuality.
Further disgusted at the growing culture of extreme hate and disregard to human life, coupled with institutional lethargy against prosecution by some State Attorney-Generals, with the recent case of Mrs. Bridget Agbahime, who was killed in July, 2016 by an angry mob in Kano for having a different opinion from those of her attackers;
Observes that the current social disinterestedness to move against this behaviour that has led to Nigeria being tagged as one of the countries with the worst rate of jungle justice in the world, yet a religious country;
Reiterates that the growing culture of citizens or anyone in particular taking the law into their own hands and meting out justice as they deem fit is most reprehensible;
Observes that Section 33 of the Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to life and that no Nigerian life should be taken except in accordance with the rule of law;
Restates the need for all citizens not to submit to this evil act because in doing so, we‘ll lose our humanity;
Acknowledges that mob justice is the trait of a people with long deprivation of justice; it shows a fault in our legal/justice system.”
It is to the credit of the Nigerian Senate that after the above robust and comprehensive lead debate by the sponsor of the Motion, it [the Senate] resolved to, among others;
i.                   Condemn in totality these abhorrent acts of barbarism;
ii.                 Urge the Nigerian Police to immediately ensure that all the perpetrators of this barbarism and make sure they are brought to book;
iii.              Urge the Attorney-General of the Federation, the States Attorney-Generals and the Police to show greater sense of duty in diligent apprehension and prosecution of this kind of offenders.
Earlier on Wednesday, 5th October, 2016, the Senate considered a Bill titled “Prohibition and Protection of Persons from Lynching, Mob Action and Extra-judicial Execution Bill, 2016(SB. 109)”. This Bill [standing in the name of Senator Dino Melaye] is aimed at forming the legislative sledgehammer to shatter the menace of jungle justice in Nigeria. No wonder the Senate [on the 22nd November, 2017] equally resolved to “urge the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to urgently accelerate the passage of Anti Jungle-Justice Bill before it”.
Our [Nigerian] Courts have remained consistent in condemning the tendency of the citizens to relapse into the disavowed practice of mob action. Both the Nigerian Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have taken the advantage of their rare judicial altitude to hand down the warning to the perpetrators of mob justice that our system of justice ahbours their practice. In the case of Olabode v. State (2007) ALL FWLR (Pt 389) 1301 at 1323 - 1324, paras H - B, 1325, paras. D - F, their Lordships of the Court of Appeal have this to say of mob justice;
…let me state once again that no matter how one feels about the acts of another, it is wrong to try to redress an unlawful or seemingly unlawful act with another unlawful act. This will amount to jungle justice. We cannot afford that now, I believe that we had since passed that stage. Nobody, and the appellant inclusive, should reverse the hand of the clock in this regard. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, recognizes the sanctity of human life and no one will be allowed to take the life of another without due process no matter how brave he thinks he is. If he does, the full weight of the law will be brought to bear on hhim. This should serve as a clear message to those who, at the slightest provocation, on hearing that person is either a witch or has stolen something, decide to set such person ablaze. The law frowns at and will certainly punish such criminal and irresponsible act when proven as in this case." Per. Okoro and Fabiyi JJCA.
In his characteristic manner, Justice Muhammad of the Nigerian Supreme Court, in the case of SPIES v. Oni (2016) LPELR-40502 (SC) has this to say;
"My noble lords Law is meant to provide peace, security, protection concord and purposeful co-existence amongst citizens. No reasonable society will encourage resort to self-help for whatever reason and not certainly on mere suspicion."
In the celebrated case of Kaza v. State (2008) 7 NWLR (Pt.1085) 125 S.C. 2, the Supreme Court frowned at the lynching of a Muslim by his Muslim brothers who accused him of insulting Prophet Mohammed and slaughtered him on the outskirts of the city as a result. In dismissing their appeal and upholding the sentence of death by hanging imposed on them by the High Court of Kebbi State for Culpable homicide, the Supreme Court condemned the evil of mob justice in these punchy words;
“The appellant in this appeal did not show to any of the courts that he had the requisite authority to take away the life of the deceased. He thus unlawfully deprived the deceased the opportunity to defend the allegations levelled against him before any court of law or authority. The village head of Kardi who was contacted by the appellant and others, for authority to execute the deceased, flatly refused authority as he fully well knew that he was not the right authority to grant such a leave. A learned person known as Ustaz Mamman drew attention of the appellant and his co-accused persons that they had no authority to take away the life of the deceased, yet they kept deaf ears and even described the Ustaz as an infidel. I cannot see how these kind of people shall have any respite by the law. What is good for the goose is good for the gender. Life is precious to all and sundry. He who kills by the sword shall die by the sword. I have no sympathy for the banishment of such busy bodies who respect no human, life due to their high degree of misapprehension of the law or, should I say, complete ignorance of the law. The appellant failed to convince me through his explanations. But he is free to make further and better explanations to the hang man, though belatedly.”
What emerges from the array of facts and galaxy of judicial authorities surveyed above crystalises to the inescapable conclusion that the evil of mob justice is a reflection of the weak law enforcement regime in the country and largely ineffective judicial system. Jungle justice, being a complex phenomenon, manifests itself in various colours; the common thread being the dethronement of the rule of law and resort to self-help. Arguments have been advanced in some informed quarters that by the constant refusal of government to obey court orders the government is as culpable of jungle justice as the uniformed miscreants who pile tyres on accused persons to set them ablaze on the street. For instance, in the wake of the Orile incidence in Lagos, Mr. Joseph Otteh of Access to Justice robustly argued that;
"Government needs also respect the rule of law, for where it persists in flouting court orders, it is setting a pernicious example to the rest of society, and telling Nigerians that it is just fine to behave in the style of the jungle. So, in a manner of speaking, government is as guilty of jungle justice as the people who pile tyres around the neck of victims and light them up."
Indeed, there is considerable force in this submission and I endorse it! One of the dangers inherent in this scary evil was very adroitly exposed by Mr. Monday Ubani, Esq. Listen to this;
Somewhere and someday, a person who does not like your face will allege you have done something and the mob will believe his own side of the story without hearing from you and set you on fire. That is the end, because the person will not be alive to say what happened. It should be disallowed.”
In signing off this discussion on how to end this fast-spreading evil, we note that there is a consensus among stakeholders that instead of allowing this evil to take root on our soil, we should rather work in concert to insist and ensure that the institutions established to combat crime and punish offenders wake up to their Constitutional responsibilities since we cannot use criminality to cure criminality. The time to demand this institutional efficiency from the Police and our judiciary is now. I choose to stop here.


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