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Jungle justice: A disregard for the rule of law?

By Abdulwahab Abdulah

Recent events seem to  suggest that a session of the Nigerian society no longer places value on human life. Apart from the senseless killings and gang wars across the country, the return of jungle justice is the latest disturbing trend, which should make any reasonable human being to ask questions. Lives of many people have been taken on the slightest provocation and it is becoming more alarming by the day.

Mob lynch suspect
Mob lynch suspect

It is like a return to the stone age. The development is a reflection of lost of confidence in the administration of justice system and the rule of law.  Worred by the situation , a group of lawyers and human rights activists led by Mr Evans Ufeli staged a protest last week in Lagos against jungle justice and domestic violence in Nigeria. The Vanguard Law and Human Rights was in town to seek opinions of lawyers on the ranging issue.    

In his remarks on the protest, Mr Evans Ufeli said : “We have begun the journey to rescue Nigeria from social malady, internal and external conflicts and moral degeneration.  Nigeria is in dare need of re-orientation of her citizens. There is a looming danger hovering around the future of this nation and we can’t afford to go to bed and watch our society degenerates   into abuse of human lives, disrespect to the rule of law, intolerance to one another and the unwholesome practice of incivility and socio-economic decadence.

“So, our walk  is to address amongst other things, mob killings and jungle justice in Nigeria. The rules of jungle are meant for jungle. Nigeria is not a jungle and so killing people extra-judicially is unacceptable. We find the latest killing of the  boy in Orile, Lagos and other killings across Nigeria intolerably repulsive and we have stepped out to address the issue thereby calling on Nigerians to first desist from mob lynching as many innocent souls have been killed on account of this.

“Then we call on the various state governments and the federal government to enact laws that curb mob killings in Nigeria. The heavens weep for the souls of the victims   who are set ablaze on account of jungle justice which is no justice really. We must redefine our values as a people. There are ways defined by law on how a suspect should be treated. We must at all times explore the option of the rule of law in all circumstances because some victims may be innocent. We must insist therefore on the rule of law,” he added.

In his own contribution, executive director of the Access to Justice, AJ, Mr Joseph Otteh, said: “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. Which is why we have repeated incidents of “jungle justice” in these parts. 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. So we need to confront the need for reforming our institutions of law and order headlong, and not run away  from it as we have done for so long; Nigeria must not continue to cut corners on this,  because ultimately, these are the very  institutions that will hold up our society, our democracy –  not an incumbent government.

If we don’t fix the pathologies afflicting the  main institutions for enforcing law and order – the courts and the police –  or if we only  concentrate on finding easier proxies for implementing what may be only  temporal priorities of an incumbent government, we will ultimately find that we can win the battle but lose the war.

“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.”

Second vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr Monday Ubani, noted: “Anything you describe as jungle is not a proper justice. This is because the elementary principle of justice is that, anybody that is accused of an offence must be given opportunity to give his own side of the story for fair hearing.  It is a constitutional right and one of the fundamental principles of fundamental rights.

You have the right to defend yourself through legal representation of yourself. Now if someone is accused of a crime and is not given that opportunity to defend himself and the next thing is an attack by the mob to decide his fate without any fair hearing, clearly that is unlawful and constitutional and that can only be applied in the jungle and not where human being cohabit.

“That tells you that the name, jungle justice can only happen in the jungle. We have several references, the Alu Five in Port-harcourt, the Apo killings and several others like that in Nigeria. The recent was the video of a boy set ablaze by the mob for stealing in Lagos. In such a situation, an innocent person may fall victim and be killed.

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. Government and security agencies must be alive to their responsibility, because it does give us a right signal.

“The reason for such attack is the lack of confidence by the people in the institutions charged with responsibility of dealing with such crimes that led to jungle justice. But we should not allow that to happen, rather we should insist that our security agencies and the courts should be alive to their constitutional responsibilities. We must insist that they should do it efficiently.

“We cannot because of the deficiency of the agencies now resulting into criminality, we cannot use criminality to cure criminality, doing that we make us create more problems for the society, Rather we should insist  that things should be done properly.”


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.