THE senseless, brutal killings of four students of the University of Port Harcourt by mobsters, last October, sadly warns the practice of “Jungle Justice” is so flourished in Nigeria that an evasive shout of “thief, thief” has become a combustible alarm sounded by insolvent debtors to consume their creditors.
This being so, the four students who reportedly went to their debtor to recover their money were beaten to pulp, laced with motor tyres and burnt to death, in Omuokiri, Aluu, Rivers State, following a mischievous alarm by their debtor.
Over the years, similar incidents of judging and putting to death without a lawful trial are recorded daily nationwide. On a single day in July, 1999, a suspected robber was laced with a motor tyre and set ablaze and four hotels suspected to be the robbers’ hide-outs burnt by mobsters in Onitsha.
On November 10, in Lagos, where robberies are counted in minutes, four suspected robbers were similarly burnt to death. In addition, variants of lynching, otherwise called jungle justice, abound.
Barely a week ago, the police in Delta State rescued from a lynch mob a woman alleged to have transformed into a cat. Even so, the police have their own brand of jungle justice – extra – judicial killing. The APO killings are ever-green, the killings of motor drivers for N20 bribe and the killings of suspects in police custody.
If Nigeria still claims to be a decent society, which places a high premium on human life and abides by the rule of law, why do her citizens resort to jungle justice? Several factors are responsible for this.
In the country’s cities and commercial centres where residents are being terrorised, wantonly killed and robbed without let or hindrance, as if policemen never existed, the people are compelled to fight with their backs to the wall and to dispense jungle justice.
In their desperate attempts to check the ever-rapidly rising rate of crimes, particularly violent crimes, in the areas, mobsters and vigilance groups are daily taking it upon themselves to arrest and kill suspected robbers, thieves and burglars, and destroy property of their suspected collaborators.
With the crime so pervasive, Nigerians have lost confidence in the country’s security and criminal justice system. Ill-equipped in materials, manpower and logistics, the police cannot successfully discharge its cardinal functions of detecting, preventing crimes and arresting offenders.
Sometimes, even when it is not hamstrung in this way, the police has often failed to perform its constitutional functions due to its lack of devotion to its job. Often when members of the public raise distress calls or report crimes at the police stations, the police claim these handicaps as excuse for failing to respond. Sometimes, even when it is not hamstrung in this way, the police has often failed to perform its constitutional functions due to its lack of devotion to their job.
Besides, the police’s corrupt and mean tendencies do not inspire confidence in the public. The police is known, in some cases, to have collected bribes and released suspects who returned to the society to take revenge on those who reported them to the police.
The police is also known, in some instances, too, to have betrayed its informers or turned round to treat as suspects or offenders patriotic citizens who reported crimes, including murder, and burglary, and even motor accidents. For these reasons, many Nigerians, even when they are victims of crimes, feel reluctant to report to the police.
The slow dispensation of justice in this country is the other major reason why Nigerians have decided to take laws into their hands. Annual statistics of cases pending in law courts nationwide show that only a neglible number of cases are disposed of each year. Several factors are responsible for this. Judicial officers, particularly judges in state high courts, are in short supply.
Moreover, most of the country’s law courts are not adequately equipped with modern recording gadgets, law books and law reports and even stationery. Again, justice is often delayed by the sluggish procedure of law application, accentuated by abuse of bail requirements and frequent adjournments of cases, sometimes sine die on frivolous excuses and lack of motor vehicles to convey the accused to court.
When dispensation of justice is delayed or postponed by these factors, witnesses, including those who have interest in the pending cases may stop coming to the courts, and may resort to jungle justice to settle similar matters in future.
If people are allowed to take laws into their hands, the consequences are incalculable. innocent people may be killed in the process, and mobsters may even use the occasion to settle personal scores.
The sight of streets littered with charred bodies of suspects draws a chill and portrays the society as indecent and brutal. It is wrong notion of a demilitarised society that any offence merits death, even without trial.
This is why the whole mechanism for protection of lives and property and dispensation of criminal justice should be overhauled urgently. When this is done, with the result that criminals are speedly apprehended and tried, people’s confidence in the system’s capacity to protect them will be restored.
*Mr. IFEANYI UBABUKOH, a social critic, wrote from Lagos.