Lagos lynching, jungle justice and the law
Nigeria is a country blessed with virtually ‘everything’ needed for the upkeep of a fine and sane society – both human and natural resources. Equally, Nigeria is blessed with good laws too. We have multifarious statutes which cater for every need in human endeavours. But, even with all the laws that are aimed at ensuring orderliness in the society, the country is still faced with gross disorderliness.
One of the reasons for this is because many of the citizens have found it hard a task to be law abiding. Too many of us have arrogant disregard for both the law and the cardinal principles of rule of law. Rule of law has been thrown away and rule of men now seems to the trending attribute of our society. Both the lawmakers and the citizens appear to be all guilty of this sorry case of law breaking. It seems that as a people, we no longer see the law as an instrument to control societal wrongs and crimes. Rather, we seem to enjoy taking laws into our hands.
One of the cases of our disregard for the law is the very popular culture of jungle justice. Do I hope a day pass with a soul not being maltreated for an alleged crime? Despite the fact that there are several provisions in our laws that provide that no citizen should punish another, we see on daily basis that the people still breach these said provisions and the law appears not to be fulfilling.
Lynching, battering or beating of alleged or suspected criminals is getting too common in Nigeria. This country is not a zoo and we the people in it should not act like those living things in zoo. The reason why we moved away from the Hobbesian State of Nature is simply because of the many inadequacies and danger that comes with it; and the modern laws are enacted to replace those inadequacies. But, it appears to me that, we, the people of Nigeria are driving ourselves back to this Hobbesian State of Nature with the height of our lawlessness. Melting punishments, by a private person(s) on a mere suspect is a cruel, criminal, barbaric and uncivilised behaviour. Once you are in town and anyone accuses someone of stealing, armed robbery, murder, or other ‘common’ criminal offences, the next step taken by people around is to immediately ‘punish’ such a person. Truly, indication has shown that an average Nigerian is an advocate of jungle justice.
Some weeks ago, seven-year-old boy was reportedly beaten and burnt to death in Badagry Area of Lagos State for attempting to steal garri from a trader’s shop. Though, the story has not been confirmed or been denied by the Police but as a Nigerian, I may not doubt the veracity of the story. Lynching of suspected criminals is very common in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos. This story was trailed with mixed reaction. But, most of the comments read online show that a large number of Nigerians are either uneducated or ignorant of the law of the land – even though ignorance of the law is no excuse( See, Section 22, Criminal Code Act).
It is a trite law that no citizen should punish fellow citizen(s) for any reason whatsoever. The law has made wide provisions to punish anyone that’s found criminally liable. Yet, it is not for the common man to punish another citizen. It is our law that the judiciary is the only body vested with the power to try and punish offenders. Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (hereinafter referred to as “1999 Constitution”), vests the judicial powers in our courts and as such if the court hasn’t pronounced anyone guilty, such person cannot be punished for any reason whatsoever. Thus, lynching of that boy, in the first place and putting law into our hands is illegal.
This victim and all other victims of jungle justice are still presumed to be innocent under the law until proven otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. By virtue of 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution, “every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until he is proved guilty”. But, the mind may be bothered with question like: who is in the right position to pronounce whether (or not) a person charged with an offence is guilty? The answer to such question is: it is for the court to pronounce anyone guilty as the constitution has vested in them such power. When a common man then usurp the functions of the court by accusing, pronouncing and punishing those ‘victims’, such citizen(s) may be criminally liable for any damage or injury caused on the victim. In the case of this boy stripped in Lagos, those that carried out the lynching for any reason whatsoever, are all guilty of murder (sections 306, 316 & 319, Criminal Code Act). They have equally breached the provision of section 33 of the 1999 Constitution.
Jungle justice, as a matter of fact, violates the two cardinal principles of natural justice: audi alterem paten & nemo judex in causa sua. The former implies that no one must be judged or condemned without fair hearing or trial, while the latter means that you cannot be a judge in your own cause. The people in our society have been violating these principles too often. Many of the victims of jungle justice are usually not granted fair hearing. At least, section 36 of the 1999 Constitution provides that in determining any civil or criminal matter, fair hearing is indispensible. Now, like the case of this innocent boy, he is granted neither fair hearing nor fair trial. And those that persecuted him, in this case have assumed to be judges in their own cause, for if they had handed over the boy to the police, they might eventually be parties to the suit.
As citizens, putting law into our hands is not the best way to curb criminal activities in our society. Infact, as argued above, it is the height of citizenship lawlessness. The law has provided means by which we can bring suspected criminals to face wrought of the law. First, we need to call on the police if we are not capable of arresting them. However, the law has also empowered private persons to make arrest – without warrant – under sections 12 & 13 of Criminal Procedure Act. Pursuant to this, instead of lynching the suspected criminal, it is our duty to make the arrest and afterwards hand them over to a police or better still make such suspect available to the nearest police station.
However, many have argued that lack of trust in the law enforcement agents is the cause of the prevalence of jungle justice.
But, it must be made clear that two wrongs cannot make a right. There is a lot hope in the judiciary. Even, when the law enforcement agent fails, I am very sure that the judiciary will not fail. Little wonder, Section 17(e) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “the independence, impartiality and integrity of our courts of law, and easy accessibility thereto shall be secured and maintained.”
The point here is that the excuse of lack of trust in our law enforcement agent though, may be considered but shouldn’t just be a defence. For there are still many law enforcement agents that are both responsible and responsive in their duties. There are also bad eggs painting bad image to our law enforcement agencies and also obstructing the course of justice. We, as citizens should not even hesitate to report erring law enforcement agents too. In all, law enforcement agents are encouraged to be more up and doing in their respective duties.
Being law abiding is the highest contribution one can make in the development of his society. Let’s be law abiding and say a very resounding “NO” to jungle justice – it is a crime against humanity.
Festus Ogun is a 300 level Law undergraduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State.
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