That Bill On Jungle Justice

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About two weeks ago, the Senate roundly condemned the rising cases of jungle justice in Nigeria. The Senators’ anger was triggered by a mob action against a teenage boy, who was lynched to death for allegedly stealing a mobile phone at Alafia bus stop in Orile, along Badagry Expressway in Lagos. The video and pictures of the mob action went viral immediately, and attracted attention of most Nigerians, including rights groups, politicians, among others.

The Red Chamber unequivocally poured vituperations on those who, without hesitation, took the laws into their own hands by lynching any person or persons suspected of committing criminal acts. The lawmakers insisted that such act of hooliganism was not only barbaric but also inhuman and unacceptable. The Upper Legislative Chamber advised that the spontaneous reaction to suspected criminal acts must stop, if Nigeria is to be counted as a civilized society that respects the rule of law.

In a motion sponsored by Gbenga Ashafa (APC-Lagos East), and supported by Senate Leader, Ali Ndume (APC–Borno South), the Senate urged the police to immediately confirm or deny the November 16, 2016, shameful incident in Lagos, including other recent mob actions in other states of the federation, and what it has done to check the ugly trend. The Red Chamber particularly charged the police to fish out the perpetrators of the gruesome murder of the young boy, and also ensure that they are brought to book as quickly as possible. The Senate also asked the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, state Attorneys General, and the police across the country to take Steps to apprehend and prosecute those involved in such a case and similar incidents that are crude reminders of the state of nature where might was right and brutish. It should not be so in the 21st century. The Upper Chamber also urged its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to expedite action on the passage of the Anti-Jungle Justice Bill before it. Regretting that the nasty behaviour has led the international community to tag Nigeria as one of the worst places where the primitive resort to jungle justice as a way of redressing grievances still persists in the world.

The Tide feels particularly troubled by this mad rush to obtain justice by crude and fast means without any recourse to the rule of law and due constitutional process. We say so because this tendency has continued to reoccur in most cities, communities, and indeed, neighbourhoods, despite condemnations by well-meaning individuals and rights groups.

In 2011, four University of Port Harcourt students were lynched to death in broad-day light in Omokri-Aluu in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State by an irate mob following a mere suspicion of wrongdoing. In September, this year, in Uyo, a man’s right hand was chopped off for allegedly stealing a television set from a viewing centre. In October, irate youth in Tudun Wada, in Kaduna South Local Government Area of Kaduna State, attacked and killed about four persons suspected to be members of the Shitite sect. In March, a man was murdered by an angry mob in Benin City, Edo State after he was allegedly caught in a gay act with his partner, who only narrowly escaped lynching. In the same month in Ondo State, another man accused of gay practice died a day after he was beaten to pulp by a mob. On June 2 in Kano, a 74-year-old trader, Mrs. Bridget Agbahime, was lynched at Kofar Wambai Market by Muslim youth over allegations of blasphemy. Barely one week later, a similar incident occurred in Kaduna, where a carpenter, Mr. Francis Emmanuel, was attacked and killed in the Kakuri area of the metropolis by some Muslim youth for allegedly failing to observe the Ramadan fast. These are just a few of the ugly examples of jungle justice and self-help across the country in recent times.

The Tide is disturbed that despite the rising orgy of extra-judicial killings and mob lynching of persons suspected, rightly or wrongly of committing a crime, there are hardly effective efforts by the police and other law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute those who resort to jungle justice to mitigate any suspected wrongdoing. Even when suspects are arrested, they largely go scot-free due to lack of diligent prosecution.

Yet, we reckon, and painfully too, that mob action, which often leads to death, is a crime under Nigerian laws. In fact, Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution clearly states, “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.” And in a democratic society guided by laws, the quick resort to barbarism and cannibalistic behaviours speak volumes of a deep-seated culture of lack of respect for human lives, which necessarily betrays the confidence of the international community on Nigeria, and indeed, Nigerians as a civilised people.

This is why we boldly join the Senate and other Nigerians who loath this shameful act of barbarism to condemn the rising cases of jungle justice in the land. Even though we agree with the Senate that this trend may have been influenced by the growing lack of confidence by the people on the ability and capacity of government and the law enforcement agencies to provide needed protection and security to all irrespective of their social status, we disagree that this tendency justifies people taking the laws into their own hands by resorting to jungle justice at the slightest provocation. We insist that Nigerians must appreciate the fact that every suspect is presumed innocent until he or she is proven otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. And anything contrary to the rule of law in that regard is an affront on the state, and must be punished accordingly to serve as a deterrent to others.

The Tide, therefore, calls on the Senate to, as a matter of urgency, conclude legislative work on the Anti-Jungle Justice Bill before it, and pass same for presidential assent and execution by the law enforcement agencies. This way, the enabling legal framework would have been provided, to help obliterate the often brandied excuses by state Attorneys-General and the police of lack of diligent prosecution, when offenders who actually undermined the state, and deserved to have been punished by the state. We also insist that the police must wake up to its responsibilities to the citizenry by arresting those involved in acts of barbarism and jungle justice, and prosecute such felons according to law, because we do not need any special law to try those who clearly commit acts of murder and homicide.