TYRE, gallon of fuel or kerosene, match box, heavy stick, iron rod, among others appear in a jiffy whenever an angry crowd catches a suspect who has been accused of a crime, especially in cases of murder, kidnapping, ritual, stealing and other heinous crimes.
In the news media, social media and streets are news and stories of societal ills which are alarming and people no longer take it lightly any time such cases occur. Once there is an accusing finger pointing at any suspect, especially in market places, a crowd with angry and bitter faces gather with all sorts of weapons, take laws into their hands by mercilessly beating up the person which in most cases, results to death. It is seeing more as an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Most times, these violent scenarios are exposed to juvenile eyes and negatively affect underage children and people who are allergic to violent scenes.
Jungle justice, which is also known as extrajudicial killing is killing of a person by individual(s) or governmental authority (ies) without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process to declare the victim guilty.
Any killing or punishment that bypasses the due process of legal jurisdiction in which they occur is seeing by humanity as unethical and a practice that needs to be stopped, especially when it involves taking the precious life of an innocent person without knowing the ‘a-z’ of what transpired.
Some people will just hear a scream of “thief! Thief!” and join hands to kill their fellow human beings without hearing from both sides and verifying the truth or getting to the root of the matter before taking laws into their hands.
They forget that anyone can be a victim one day and might not be given an opportunity to prove if he or she is guilty or not of the alleged crime.
There was a story of a man who was accused and killed for stealing in the market. It happened that the man of about 40 years went to pick an item in the market. After bargaining in a shop, he dropped the item and left.
Few minutes later, the seller ran hastily towards the direction the man took, shouting and calling him thief. Before the man could say jack; he has been dragged to an open air and burnt into ashes. The shop keeper on getting back to his shop with some other traders saw the missing item under the table in his shop.
It happened that the item fell off from the table and that the shop keeper did not search very well before declaring and labeling the dead man a thief. Earlier in July, there was news of a young man who was innocently killed and thrown into Lagos lagoon for phone theft.
The woman, who made this false accusation later found her phone with her son and by that time, the unfortunate young man has been mercilessly beaten by hoodlums to death and thrown in the lagoon. Related stories abound.
The 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chapter four stipulates the fundamental human rights of its citizens, which entails that there are basic rights and freedom which every Nigerian has and are contained in the constitution.
One of these rights according to section 33 and 34 is the right to life and respect to dignity of a person respectively. These are there to make sure that citizens are protected under the law. Also in section 214(1) of the same constitution, it falls on the onus of the Nigeria Police Force to maintain law and order, ensure public safety and dictate mode of arrest, detention and prosecution of offenders and section 6(1) saddles the court with the powers of administering justice and equity for all.
Sadly, these rights and responsibilities are in most cases, overlooked. Rather, the citizens, who are to be protected by law, pass judgments and execute justice by themselves either due to illiteracy, anger and bitterness as shaped by the economic situation, evil intention, lack of trust on the police, prolonged court jurisdiction, lack of understanding and no respect for law and order.
It is believed in many quarters that some people act immediately on the suspect to curb vices in the society as the punishment will serve as a warning to others. According to some people, in most cases of jungle justice, the mob see legal process as a long way of meting punishment on victims who they believe, have a way of maneuvering things and go scot-free after perpetrating crime.
They therefore act on callous impulse of stripping suspects naked in public, beating them with sticks and iron rods and finally setting them ablaze with tyres and fuel and in some cases, throw them into the nearest water body.
However, it is inexplicable and incomprehensible that some people think that lynching of suspects before the police or any relevant authorities come to the scene to take up the matter can be a way to stop crime.
To a great extent, it is an obvious fact that jungle justice has not stopped or reduced crime; rather, it has endangered some innocent lives when not properly handled. Most times, the victims are not given fair hearing before meeting their end. Some are half-dead before being vindicated; although most of them are actually guilty of the crime leveled against them.
Speaking on the issue, a legal practitioner at the Chief Magistrate Court, Awka, Anambra State, Ejike Jerry Okafor stated that the Nigerian law doesn’t allow any form of unlawful killing or killing which doesn’t follow the due process of law.
He emphatically stressed that there is no justification for anybody to take laws into his or her hands as far as taking another person’s life except if it was a clear case of defense or inadvertence; that is where the law might look at considering it somehow.
He also added that laws are made to keep the society in order and peaceful in the affairs of men within a particular society; that even if the laws grind slowly in scrutinizing the truth of the case, that doesn’t still give anyone justification of taking law into their hands.
He further noted that those who because of one reason or the other engage or support jungle justice rather than reporting people to relevant authorities might be out of ignorance, impatience for law to take its course and out of crucial hooliganism; one not submitting to the law, adding that all these are possibilities that within the range of possible actions of human being, some people suffer some level of psychosis and it might lead them to take laws into their hands which the law frown at.
According to him, the society should totally frown at jungle justice and also submit to the ambits of the municipal law of that society including those matters or situations that may lead to killing or bloodshed.
“A reasonable person ought to report because there are law enforcement agencies that come to immediate rescue of the person, to arrest whoever is the suspect and then, after carrying out proper investigation, bring the person before a court of competent jurisdiction.
During trial, every fact or circumstance surrounding whatever the allegation will be led, and the accused or defendant will have opportunity to defend. If it is clearly proved beyond reasonable doubt that he committed the offence that will warrant his life (capital punishment), that is the only situation when it could be justified under the law that such a person should be killed, but anything aside from that is unjustifiable.
When people complain of Nigeria’s Judicial System and Nigeria Police, they tend to forget that there is modus operandi or code of conduct of carrying out their investigations to make sure that innocent people are not brought before the court or are not convicted of the offences that they do not commit.
The work of the police is such an important one that one shouldn’t coarse them into trying to please whoever that is the compliant, so the police should be allowed to do their work well, carry out their investigation very well.
In the same vein, the court is there to adjudicate and once a matter is before the court, everybody has to follow the due process of law to arrive at a conviction or an acquittal and when somebody is convicted in such a way that he has to pay with his life, there is no other way the person can say that he wasn’t given a fair hearing because he will have the opportunity of being defended by a legal practitioner or by himself but normally ,when it is a capital offence, the law requires that he or she has to be defended by a legal practitioner.
Where the person is not capable of procuring one, the state makes available a defense counsel for him, so as to make sure that no stone is left unturned in his defense. So, these are the safeguards that the state provides in order to make sure that people are given the opportunity of defending themselves before they are either convicted of murder or related which require them paying supreme sacrifice.”
He further maintained that there is no way jungle justice has helped in curbing crimes. “Instead, it is endangering and engendering continuation and aggravation of crime in the society, making the society not conducive of human habitat and existence because a lot of people could be killed before their innocence is proven.
There is no way any extra judicial killing can help in curbing crime. Unjustified killing is crime itself and you can’t use crime to curb or correct crime. Instances are abounding where somebody will be accused of stealing and we know stealing doesn’t attract capital punishment.
But before you know it, the person will be burnt and at the end, it will be discovered that the person was not the person that actually stole what was alleged. You see, two wrongs can never make it right, no way.”
A retired civil servant, Chigbo Okafor, opined that nothing about jungle justice should be encouraged because we are in a democratic dispensation and the rule of law must prevail, adding that any organisation, society or country that doesn’t embed the rule of law must be a very dangerous one.
“Jungle justice should be stopped in this country, Nigeria. Crimes should be properly investigated and dealt with according to the rule of law. I think why people engage in such act, is that some of them out of irate anger and frustration felt that the crime is so bad and need immediate punishment and that if they allow the matter to go to the police, they might be set free.
Some people have lost confidence in police doing their job. They feel that there is no point allowing the person to go or to be given opportunity to be judged and out of excessive anger’ they take laws into their own hands. But that is not the best way of handling such matters.
If anybody is accused of committing a crime, the person should be handed over to the police for proper investigation. That is the best way. There must be acceptance of rule of law, not jungle rule. We are practicing democracy not military regime. We pursue democracy with rule of law.”
Meanwhile, a man who pleaded anonymity has a divergent view. He said that in his area in Abakaliki, once a person is caught stealing, he or she will be burnt immediately. “I think anyone that has the heart to steal what doesn’t belong to him or she can also have the heart to kill somebody in order to collect the person’s property.
That is how it starts. Before you know it, the person has turned into a deadly armed robber. In my area, people don’t condone stealing or take it lightly or give them chance to beg for life. There is no need even handing the person to police because the police will just put the person in prison and one day, somebody from nowhere might ask for bail or release of the person and the person will come back to you that put him or her in prison or accused him and deal with you.
Do you know that if you steal from an old man or pregnant woman of maybe his last saving, he or she might have high blood pressure and die? Some people steal things that are equivalent to people’s lives without knowing that. I don’t blame people that don’t take it lightly whenever a person, especially in the market is accused of a crime; they have experienced one bitter crime story or another”.
A shop keeper who lives within Awka metropolis, Chinyere Chukwu emphatically expressed her sad feeling over how some people, without taking crime matters to security agencies that are saddled with the responsibilities of handling crime related issues or finding out actually what happened, pounce on the victim. In her words, “whenever I see or hear about a case of jungle justice, I feel bitter especially in a case where the victim was later found innocent. It pierces my heart. It has been happening and by the time they find out the person is not guilty; they must have killed or left the person almost dead.
Before you accuse somebody over anything, you should make your research very well and be very sure of it because you might end up accusing the person wrongly. In a situation where you are suspecting somebody, don’t take laws into your hands before it leads to the killing of the person.
Automatically, you will face the law and there is no ignorance in law because you have joined to commit murder. Also, there are things that will happen sometimes, it will be a spiritual something, not something that you will beat or kill the person immediately.
When such things happen, you have to think twice. You might see a girl who you know that is capable of affording what she stole. Sometimes, it is a spiritual problem and you don’t have to kill the person at a stretch. You can hand the person to security agents to torture and beat the person, but not to the extent of killing the victim, because the person might be doing all those things without his or her senses intact”. She concluded.
Innocent lives shouldn’t be put at stake. Jungle justice should be discouraged because anyone can be a victim; we never can tell who is next. A person that looks like a suspected armed robber can be accused of crime that he or she doesn’t know about. A father, with his child crying or wailing beside him can be accused of kidnapping.
A young boy carrying black polythene bag can be wrongly accused of carrying human parts whereas it might be meat. A lady or girl that has same type of stolen phone in same location can be killed for a crime she doesn’t know about. Anyone can be a victim of circumstance and others might lack the ability to clearly explain themselves before the angry mob.
Whatever makes people to engage in nefarious acts of brutally lynching suspects can never be justified in a civilized society or applauded in the eyes of a right thinking person. Society should have regard for rule of law and human rights.
The law still exists and there are law enforcement bodies and security agencies mapped out to handle crime cases. They know the best way of handling crimes. Government also, should address and tackle the problem of insecurity of lives and lack of confidence in Nigeria’s judicial system so as to curtail or stop people from taking laws into their hands.
Any right thinking man will begin to wonder when human migrated to such extent of mishandling crime cases and manner in which the death sentence is handled and how speedily human lives is placed with no value.
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