March 28, 2016

Port Hacourt killings: Have we accepted Jungle Justice?

Port Hacourt killings: Have we accepted Jungle Justice?

*Ugonna, Lloyd, Tekena, Chidiaka; victims of Uniport killings.

By Tochi Okafor

What happened on the 5th of October 2012 was a tragedy beyond imagination. The lives of Chidiaka, Ugonna, Tekana and Lloyd were snatched by fellow human beings and more importantly fellow country men and women. Four young men had dreams and great plans for the future. These dreams led to their enrollment in the University of Port Harcourt. The four were loved brothers, cherished sons, wonderful friends, ordinary citizens, leaders of tomorrow. They had no criminal background.

*Ugonna, Lloyd, Tekena, Chidiaka; victims of Uniport killings.

*Ugonna, Lloyd, Tekena, Chidiaka; victims of Uniport killings.

This terrible act of “jungle justice” was recorded on several devices and immediately went viral. The shame of our nation was displayed for the world to see. It was a heinous crime against humanity. It was a spit in the face of our justice system. And justice must be served for the lives of the innocent snatched by those who felt that they were above the law and became the Judge and Jury.

The Nigerian constitution states:

The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice. (2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that: (a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority; (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.

This is a right for every Nigerian, that there should be absolute guarantee of our security and welfare. So, if this is the constitution which must be adhered to and which protects every citizen, why has the justice system dragged, for too long, the prosecution of the suspected perpetrators of this barbaric crime?  It is obscene and doesn’t speak well of Nigeria to delay prosecuting the suspects of a crime witnessed by the world via internet, phones, blogs. Are we to assume the police didn’t see these videos?

These young men were paraded like animals in their own country for crimes they never committed or had any intentions to commit. Isn’t this the highest form of injustice?

This terrible tragedy happened in Rivers State. What measures have been taken by the Police in that state to ensure quick and effective prosecution? The police have been tardy. Rivers state Judiciary has been crippled by commotion and strikes. The case has remained stagnated.  Our value system has totally collapsed.   A video footage showed a police man hitting the victims with the butt of a rifle. Investigations identified the police officer and implicated the traditional ruler. They and 11 other suspects were first arraigned in a magistrate court in October 2012, charged with murder.  The Director of public prosecution has preferred murder charges against eight of the accused persons and the other four are being prosecuted for neglect to prevent a felony. The case has lasted four years and has barely begun.

The bereaved families and general public have every cause to worry. The longer criminal cases last in Nigeria the more feeble their prosecution.  Time causes erosions. The longer it lasts the more disinterested witnesses become, the weaker their evidences. Long interruptions and adjournments in cases make it easier for corruption to undermine justice.

The affected families deserve justice and a speedy closure of this traumatic ordeal. If such an unspeakable horror cannot attract accelerated hearings, then we are doomed. If rampant indiscriminate violence and jungle justice must be checked in our society then people must know that the criminal justice structures and processes are effective. If we seek to banish nightmares like ALUU 4 then we must show that justice can be obtained speedily and freely through the police and the courts. And there is no better way to show it and deter criminals than make the ALUU 4 trial an example in efficiency.

This case must not be forgotten, this case cannot be delayed any longer.  The families have endured too much devastation and heart break already. First, their innocent children were brutally killed and now the police are failing to uphold their duty as declared by the Nigerian constitution to deliver justice and apprehend the perpetrators. It is sad to imagine that our nation has deteriorated to this degenerate state where human life doesn’t matter. We cannot accept “jungle justice” as part of our Nigerian experience. It should only exist as the name suggests in the jungle.

Tochi Okafor writes from Lagos