Jungle justice occurs when a suspected criminal is beaten or tortured by a group of people. Such offenders are lynched on the allegation of wrongdoing without an opportunity for them to either defend themselves or allow someone else to do that. These suspects are instantly declared guilty and punished. In most cases, not all victims of jungle justice live to tell their stories as they are usually killed in disturbing circumstances. Daily Trust Saturday reports that in 18 months, at least 158 Nigerians died as a result of this act.
Taiwo Adeniyi, Haruna Ibrahim and Idowu Isamotu
In the Alasalatu area of Mushin, Lagos State, a 53-year-old woman was stripped naked while people threw different dangerous objects at her in an attempt to kill her. It was alleged that she touched a baby and it disappeared. This was reported to have happened on June 16, 2022. Her fate was determined by a mob that was ready to lynch her before she was rescued by policemen from Olasan Division. The police said that while the mob had alleged that the woman stole a baby, no one came forward to complain of a missing child in that locality as at when a statement was released after the incident.
While the woman was fortunate as the police contacted her husband and kept her in the station, a suspected armed robber who was caught over an allegation of phone theft at Customs Road junction at the Biogbolo-Epie suburb, along the Isaac Boro expressway, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, was not lucky as he was set ablaze by a mob before security agents could intervene. So was the case of a suspected motorcycle thief that was set ablaze at the Irete market in Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State last month. It was reported that the deceased’s accomplice had snatched a new motorcycle along the Owerri-Onitsha road when they were apprehended by a mob. While the accomplice escaped, the deceased was beaten to stupor before being set ablaze.
Also in Lagos, such summary dispensation and execution of justice was averted when a motorcyclist was alleged to have knocked down a pedestrian at Jakande Estate. While no motorcyclist was killed in the ensuing menace, several motorcycles were burnt.
The nation’s capital is not also spared from this act as a vigilante was beaten and burnt for an alleged blasphemous utterance. The killing of the local security guard brought to 158, the people reported to have died from jungle justice in Nigeria in 18 months.
From the data independently collated by Daily Trust Saturday from cases reported between January 2021 and June 2022, jungle justice occurred 99 times. The victims were either beaten or set ablaze as was the case involving a suspected motorcycle thief that was burnt beyond recognition by some angry youths in the North Bank suburb of Makurdi, Benue State in April 2022. The suspect and an accomplice had attempted to rob a commercial motorcyclist of his bike. While the accomplice escaped, the suspect did not live to tell the story.
Also, three people were set ablaze in Ofuoma community, Delta State, for allegedly stealing musical equipment in March 2022, while two suspected phone thieves were also set ablaze in Onitsha within the same month.
Out of the 99 reported cases, victims were set ablazed in 46 cases, the suspected criminals were killed in 37 cases while others were beaten and stripped naked in the remaining reported cases.
Angry mob on rampage
While there seems not to be an end to these continued killings, an Abuja resident, Tejumola Babayemi, said some people might have been instinctively buoyed to respond by the action of the suspected offenders. He shared his experience with a suspected burglar.
“My vehicle was burgled on my wedding day some years back in Nyanya. I packed by the roadside and went into the hotel as I was rushing to get something. I came out and found that one tattered-looking man had already opened the car and was running through the cloth at the rear seat. My saving grace was that no valuable items were there. I saw him and shouted, then he fled. I ran after him but could not catch up with him. Imagine that I was able to get him; do you think I would have taken him to the police station? Even if I was reporting him, I would have expressed my anger in a way,” he said.
He, however, agreed that jungle justice is bad but said there were times people could not help it due to the nature of most Nigerians.
He said, “Imagine someone trying to pick your pocket and you caught him; won’t you slap the person before listening to anything? Note that most Nigerians are already aggressive and angry, so anything could increase the anger. Someone was going home with just enough money to take care of his family and you attempted to take that money from him and you don’t expect him to fight you?”
He said people that got beaten when caught deserved what they got, but however added, “I do not support jungle justice fuelled by religious belief because it is dangerous due to the tendency for reprisal attacks.”
Babayemi urged residents to be more tolerant so as not to heighten a tense polity.
“I wish people would be cautious with their utterances because no one can save anybody accused of blasphemy when 20 or more people start pelting the person. I can assure you that anyone who tries to save the victim will be mobbed as well,” he said.
A public affairs analyst, Ben Suoware, said killing anybody in a land governed by law and order was quite outrageous. “There is nothing to justify jungle justice. Regardless of the allegations, there are clear ways to handle the situation and seek justice, not by taking the law into our hands. How are those among the mob different from those accused of wrongdoing? Can two wrongs make a right? This is what people are not saying,” he said.
He also said the rate of jungle justice in the country showed how the value of human lives was reducing. “There are chances that some of these suspected people are innocent because I remember a case in a state where some people were called bandits and were about to be lynched before they got to know that they were innocent.
“I can assure you that many innocent people have been killed in the name of jungle justice. Even if they were caught in the act of any wrongdoing, who made us judges? I am a Christian and the Bible teaches me not to kill and not to also judge people as vengeance belongs to God. I can assure you that the Quaran also does not support this act,” he said.
He said security agencies should be more decisive in matters relating to jungle justice.
Another Abuja resident, Kikelomo Michael, said the government needed to do more in stopping jungle justice. She said, “Random arrests by police officers have not helped. You have a video of many people stoning and burning someone and you cannot use it to trace and arrest at least one person and prosecute him to a logical conclusion?”
She said for cases of jungle justice to be reduced or eradicated, perpetrators have to be brought to book.
“Why should people take justice into their hands? Government and law enforcement agencies should look into it because many innocent lives have been lost,” she said.
A legal practitioner, Abubakar Sani, said there was no yardstick for Nigerians to take laws into their hands except they are defending their lives when there is a clear danger to them or their families or property.
“We have clear laws against jungle justice in the constitution, criminal and penal codes, violence against persons act and so many laws. I don’t know what is going on now as everything seems to be going wrong. You don’t take laws into your hands; if somebody offends you, report to the law enforcement agencies unless somebody is threatening your life with a weapon. That is the only time you have the right to self-defence,” Sani said.
He added that the rise in jungle justice could be because “things are going wrong in the country.”
He said there were cases where you would hear that arrested perpetrators were let off the hook, which makes the public to lose confidence in the ability of the police to persecute.
“They are expected to prosecute the suspects. The culprits are either jailed or released. Even if they are appealing, let us know that punishment was meted out, but when we do not hear the outcome of such prosecutions and the cases die a natural death, it affects public perception,” he said.
Sani said security agencies, especially the police, could do little because they were overstretched since they were grossly understaffed.
While referring to the man that was beaten and set ablaze over a blasphemous statement at Lugbe, Abuja said, “You would have expected a swifter reaction by the police when they got that information. The police are not expected to be too far from a crime scene, particularly high-density areas. They should have reacted before the thing got out of hand.”
He said the Lugbe incident could lead to tension, especially looking at what happened in Sokoto, if the deceased had been from another religion, “It is unfortunate. I am a Muslim but I am also a lawyer,” he said.
He said that aside from security agencies, Nigerians needed attitudinal change, adding, “Sometimes we are our own worst problems through our attitudes. Why are we so quick to react to certain things? Why don’t we consider reporting to relevant authorities, like the one that happened in Lugbe? Why must we take the law into our hands? Why are we judges, prosecutors and executioners in our own case?
“This man had done something, but there are provisions in the penal code dealing with issues like this. Why should you take law into their hands? Everything is not the government. Is it the government that made them kill that man? We are our own problem through our attitudes. We want to settle things on the spot.
“You know the attitude of Nigerians. Why would you kill somebody in cold blood like that? We should resist the temptation to knee-jerk reactions.
“Most Nigerians, including the rich, have problems. They love to throw their weights around. We need to imbibe the civic education we were taught in school and be our brothers’ keepers.”
In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, the spokesman of the force, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, blamed jungle justice on lack of trust in the police and security agencies handling Criminal Justice system.
Adejobi, a Chief Superintendent of Police, who stated that they have intensified campaigns and advocacy against jungle justice, appealed to Nigerians to stop the act, saying jungle justice is a crime itself.
He said, “The issue of jungle justice as the name implies is condemned. Anything jungle is not proper and it is not advisable. Anything that doesn’t follow due process is called jungle. It is condemned in totality.
“You know that in most cases, the end result of jungle justice is always criminal in nature. When you embark on jungle justice, in such a way that you jeopardize normal and legitimate process of carrying out something or an action which is condemned in totality.
‘’And the end products or end results of jungle justice is always criminal because it is either somebody is lynched, set ablaze or wounded. It is criminal in nature.
‘’To us in the police, we try as much as possible to talk to Nigerians to shun jungle justice but we have been able to link this act to what we call ‘’trust deficit’’, that people don’t have trust in our formal security system, criminal justice system in actualising or driving home their demands for justice. That’s why they venture into jungle justice.
‘’As a responsible institution, we have been going out to talk to people on advocacy and enlightenment for them to understand that most of these blames they heap on the police, are not the problems or faults of the police.
“They don’t understand the legal provisions or legal framework of our country. That’s why they think the police is going out of their bounds to kill justice. There are so many laws – Criminal laws in the South, penal code in the North, Criminal Procedure acts and criminal procedure codes.
“Nigerians need to understand the legal framework, the system, the procedures and everything instead of castigating the police. It is not our fault in most cases.
“In as much as we know, that we have trust deficit that leads to jungle justice, we still need to tell the people that our system is not that bad. We still have a good system. We have a functional system, we have a productive system that can give us good service delivery and good justice we want.
“We still need to believe in the police, believe in the security agencies, believe in the formal system of administering justice system to cases. So, we urge Nigerians to stop jungle justice henceforth.”