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Jungle Justice In Nigeria

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Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, Chief Justice of Nigeria

By Ambrose Sandra

Jungle justice is a punishment meted out by individuals without any legal authority to a suspected criminal whose life is often snuffed out by a stick and stone wielding mob. It is no longer news that many Nigerians no longer place value on human lives. The return of jungle justice is the latest disturbing trend. Legal experts have moved to put an end to incessant killings at the slightest provocation. 

Almost every week, you must hear at least a story of how people were lynched for stealing or committing one crime or the other and this excludes the ones that go unreported. 

Suspected criminals are often subjected to a lot of pain before life is finally snuffed out of them. They are sometimes attacked with sticks, stones, bottles or anything that inflict serious pain on them. In most cases, some of them are burnt alive.

You cannot say with certainty when jungle justice began. Jungle justice has been happening for years in Nigeria, but the act became very popular after the creation of a non-governmental armed group named “Bakassi Boys”.

This group was established in 1999 on the basis of several ethnic associations of the Igbo people, such as the Onitsha Traders Association. It consists of people from the state who are engaged in business. The purpose of creating Bakassi Boys was to confront gangster groups because of the inability of the police to establish law and order in commercial centers in the state. This group managed to reduce significantly the level of crimes in Aba, Abia state. To achieve this goal, the Bakassi Boys burnt the severed limbs of convicted bandits and criminals to frighten the populace and stop criminality in the area. 

Between 1999 and 2001, the group was legalized in the states of Abia (during the Governor Orji Uzo Kalu). The group was banned in 2001 and thereafter, the leader of Bakassi Boys, Gilbert Okoyoye was arrested. 

Another interesting story connected with a brutal execution of four innocent students in Rivers State also known as ‘Allu Four Lynching’. 

‘Allu Four Lynching’ happened in October 2012, when four students of the University of Port Harcourt were horribly killed with a necklace method. 

The reason why these poor students were killed was a false accusation from their debtor who did not want to pay. While the boys paid a visit to the debtor in order to get their money back, the debtor screamed that the boys were armed robbers. Upon hearing the word robbers the crowd gathered very fast and attacked the boys. The innocent students were killed after hours of torture. 

All these horrible things happened in the front of the local people with their full support. The sister of one of the students was nearby and tried to stop this madness, but she was pushed away by the force of the crowd and threatened, the only thing she could do was to film the execution by phone. 

This story clearly sent a message to Nigerian society that jungle justice is not dead. A couple of years ago, in Lagos, a 7-year-old boy was beaten and burnt to death for allegedly stealing garri. While this was happening, people preferred to stay in their places and watch. Don’t forget these events had taken place not in the last century. They are happening right now in today’s Nigeria. If we are talking about the causes of jungle justice, in each case they are similar. People don’t trust the current system of order and justice, and we can’t say that we don’t understand this position. 

They say two wrongs do not make a right, but in the case of a suspected criminal this dictum is rarely applied, and all too often jungle justice has been allowed to prevail hence instant judgment. But should such inhumane and barbaric treatment be given a fellow human being in this era of civilization? Also, has it reduced the crime rate in the country? These are vital questions that need answers. 

It was also reported that some robbers were set ablaze, although police patrol team came before they were set ablaze, but angry mobs chased them away. This shouldn’t be the case when the people trust the police to do the needful with apprehended criminals. So let the courts and the police work very hard to regain the confidence of the people in dealing with criminal issues. They need to take urgent steps to work out a system where criminals are not only appropriately punished, but expeditiously put away than the present state where they escape barely after being apprehended to continue tormenting the people. That way, they would save not only those who are wrong targets of mob actions but also ensure that proper the thing is done always. The country’s criminal justice system needs quick and urgent strengthening to arm the justice system and tame the rising cases of jungle justice all over the country, because jungle justice will only take the country two steps forward and six steps backwards. 

Ambrose Sandra wrote in from the Department of Mass Communication, Delta State University, Abraka

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