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Jungle Justice: No endgame in sight for social Malady 

By  Eno-Abasi Sunday, Deputy Editor
27 March 2022   |   4:37 am
“Saved by the bell,” best describes how Williams Tadule, a dispatch rider escaped untimely death in the hands of a Lagos mob over allegations of child theft.

“Saved by the bell,” best describes how Williams Tadule, a dispatch rider escaped untimely death in the hands of a Lagos mob over allegations of child theft.

Apprehended with a 10-month-old baby by a suspicious passerby, an irate mob wasted no time in descending on Tadule alleging that he had trafficked the infant. He was saved from the jaws of untimely death by the chairman of a residential estate, in the Sangotedo area of the state, who arrived at the scene just in time to avert another mob-induced death.
  
Barely 48 hours after the incident, the Lagos State Police spokesman, Adekunle Ajisebutu, who cleared the air on the matter said that the child was not found in the courier box as was earlier alleged. 
  
He explained further that after the child’s mother, Lovina Biturs was contacted, “it was then revealed that the child was taken away and put on the dispatch motorbike by the rider with the consent of his mother.
  
“According to the mother, the 10-month-old baby is fond of the rider who is a relative, and a neighbour. He was crying uncontrollably when the rider wanted to go pick up something in the neighbourhood. To pacify the baby, I allowed him to go with the rider.”

 
The police spokesman said passersby who saw the child with the rider along Sangotedo area, Ajah on the said day, became suspicious and concluded that the child might have been stolen. So, they raised the alarm, which attracted a mob that descended on the rider beating him blue-black.
  
A day after the police explained how the rider was pummeled without being given a chance to explain how the child came to be with him, another mob action was recorded at the second Lekki tollgate, Lekki-Epe Expressway area of the state. 
  
After one person was killed and another injured in an accident involving a truck and a commercial motorcycle (who was allegedly driving against the traffic) the incident triggered a protest, in which the resultant mob set the truck ablaze.
   
On March 3, two persons, suspected to have stolen a mobile phone and other valuables from a woman were set ablaze by an angry mob at Upper Iweka Motor Park in Onitsha, Anambra State.

After the three-man gang operating with a tricycle attacked and dispossessed the woman of her cell phone and other valuables, their attempt to flee was thwarted when the tricycle engine failed to start. 
  
As they were being beaten by a mob, some of the mobsters made available used tyres and petrol, with which two of the suspects were set ablaze while the third escaped.

Last month, two men were set ablaze after they were caught with a fresh human head at Oja-Odan, Yewa North Local Council of Ogun State.

The suspects, Idowu Afolabi and Johnson Adebiyi, who were detained at Oja Odan police station, paid the ultimate price after some irate youths forcefully broke into the police cell, dragged them away to an open space in front of the police station, and set them on fire.
 
To date, the grotesque spectacle, which the burning of Tekena Erikena, Lloyd Toku Mike, Chiadika Biringa, and Ugonna Obuzor, all students of the University of Port Harcourt, until their untimely death, still conjure images of horror in the minds of those that watched the macabre show. 

  
The undergraduates, all first sons of their parents were also occasional roommates, with Ugonna specifically spending the night with Tekena who lived outside the campus since his (Ugonna’s) on-campus residence had been burgled multiple times. 
  
While Ugonna was still there, he tracked the residence of his debtor known as Bright. He enlisted the help of Lloyd, his cousin, and that of a childhood friend, Tekena, as well as roommate Chiadika. 
  
All four then set out on a perilous journey, which saw them arriving at Bright’s residence at about midnight, allegedly armed with a penknife, cutlass, and axe, which they intended to “scare the debtor.”
  
As one of Bright’s neighbours heard the ensuing noise, he raised the alarm alleging that the undergraduates were there to steal mobile phones, laptops, and sundry appliances. Consequently, the Aluu community vigilante group was alerted and the students were painted as criminals disturbing the community. 
  
Before the arrival of the vigilante group, an angry mob had chased the students through the streets, grabbed, stripped them naked, and beaten them blue-black. Almost unconscious, and in the presence of men of the Nigerian Police Force, they were bludgeoned, festooned with old car tyres laced with petrol, and burnt to death. 
 
All pleas by Tekena’s sister, who arrived at the scene and intervened before her brother and his friends were murdered fell on deaf ears. Before family members and friends, which she rallied from there arrived the scene, jungle justice had been meted to the foursome on October 5, 2012, in Ikwerre Local Council of Rivers State.
  
In 2017, a Police sergeant and two others were convicted for the murder of the four young men. Over the years, it is not only less-privileged or unfortunate members of the public that have been victims of mob action. The political class has not been spared the excesses of mobsters.
  
In September 2021, protesters in Isa Local Council of Sokoto State set the personal residence of the state Commissioner for Career and Security Matters, Col. Garba Moyi (rtd.) ablaze.
  
The mob, mostly youths, also stormed the residence of the district head (Sarkin Gobir) of Isa, Alhaji Nasiru Ahmed, and destroyed vehicles and other property worth millions of naira.
  
Both the commissioner and district head had been accused by people in the area of not making serious efforts towards ending the activities of bandits and other criminal gangs in the area.
  
Earlier on in 2018, irate youths who cited alleged poor representation pelted the member representing Bali/ Gassol Federal Constituency of Taraba State in the House of Representatives, Garba Hamman Chede, with stones.  
  
During the incident at Bali Local Council, the youths who were in the locality to witness the distribution of motorcycles and a vehicle to constituents, brought the event to an abrupt end, as they rained insults and hauled stones at the lawmaker. 
  
They vowed to stop his re-election and that of others whom they considered “non-performing.” But for the timely intervention of security operatives, the lawmaker could have been lynched.

Gradual Descent Into Hobbesian State 
THE widespread cases of mob action/jungle justice in the country is a reminiscence of what Thomas Hobbes referred to as the state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
  
In different parts of the country, the distance between life and death is increasingly becoming shorter with the manner, in which mobs mete out jungle justice to their victims.
    
Jungle justice refers to a situation where the public or a mob visits vengeance or angst against a person or persons accused of having committed an offence. This state of affairs, an aberration and a contradiction of Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution, which presupposes the innocence of everyone charged with a criminal offence until proven guilty, by a court of competent jurisdiction, has become commonplace in the country, stridently calling for prompt reviews and interventions that are largely administrative in nature.

Failed Institutions, Loss Of Conscience, Lack Of Accountability As Trigger 
ACCORDING to experts, the multiplicity of these incidents is precipitated by a wide range of factors, chief among them being the lack of public trust in the entire judicial system to properly investigate, prosecute and sanction criminal behaviours. 
  
With the judiciary constitutionally empowered to administer justice and maintain law and order in the society, its inability to discharge this constitutional responsibility has led to members of the public losing confidence in the system to provide protection or recompence where their rights are threatened or violated. 
  
This widespread resort to self-help, legal practitioners maintain reflects the weakness in the law to protect the weak, and also partly explains why they bound together to protect themselves in the way they best can.
  
According to the Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Abuja Branch, Bulus Y. Atsen: “The harassment and brutalisation of suspects by security agencies have also encouraged the public to resort to jungle justice. Where security agents arrest suspects and torture them either to elicit a confession or to punish them, it emboldens the public to do the same. This has given birth to the acts of torture being perpetrated by various vigilante groups across the country. On Wednesday, March 24, 2022, the NBA Abuja Branch got information that a suspect that was brought to the police station was beaten to a pulp, with his penis cut off. The police in the affected station had to use their resources to treat the man in the hospital.

  
The multiplicity of these ugly incidents across the country has led many to conclude that the malaise stems from the fact that Nigerians have lost their minds, common sense, and collective conscience. 
  
George Uwaifo, a computer scientist, who witnessed the burning of the vehicle at Lekki said it was a clear example that Nigerians have lost their minds, common sense and collective conscience hence the need for an urgent national reorientation.
  
He explained: “When you see a situation like that where angry mobs take laws into their hands and cause a high level of damage while seemingly losing focus on why they were doing what they were doing, and the fact that the victims lying down there in their pool of blood were dying, I concluded that Nigerians have clearly lost their minds, common sense, and collective conscience. So, there is a need for education, especially on the ills of lawlessness, the act of jungle justice, and the consequences thereof. The people mostly involved in these acts are those with the lowest forms of education and the unemployed. The economic downturn has created a high unemployment rate amongst the youths, especially those with very low educational levels. So, any such situation like the accident that killed the bike man and his passenger is oftentimes a trigger for chaos and violence.” 
  
Asked to what extent he thinks the rising cases of jungle justice represent a loss of confidence between the people, the government, and the security agencies, Uwaifo said: “Of course, to a very high degree. Since many of these people feel that the police, which is supposed to enforce the laws would not be present, or even do something about a situation like the Chevron incident, they would resort to doing it themselves, which is the definition of jungle justice.” 
  
But Edem Andah, the Lead Consultant at Centurion Law Group said he was unsure if establishing such a nexus “is statistically proven. The majority of the citizenry still frowns against it. But all hands and institutions must be on deck to ensure confidence in the justice system is not eroded. Proper enforcement and accountability for actions must be systemic and strong institutions be equipped to play their vital roles in justice administration. Churches, mosques, religious and educational institutions must constantly reinforce the idea and value of life and human rights. Political parties must shun thuggery etc. Agberos must be eliminated from the system.” 
  
Andah added that “failed institutions and delayed justice, corrupt and inefficient police systems and lack of accountability on the part of leadership, and absence of enforcement contribute to the menace. Also, a sense of desperation arising from failed moral values and sense of anonymity in the urban areas, which our traditional systems and customary or social systems provided a type of insurance against.”
  
Weak, Non-existent Regulation Not Helping Matters
When the member representing Ahiazu-Ezinihitte Mbaise Federal Constituency of Imo State in the House of Representatives, Emeka Martins Chinedu, introduced a bill seeking to punish those who engage in mob action, he never envisaged that the intent of the bill would be grossly misrepresented. But it indeed was, with many alleging that the bill was aimed at jailing protesters.
  
Because of the wrong interpretation, the bill entitled, “An Act to amend the Criminal Code Act, CAP 38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to further preserve the sanctity of human life and property, and to provide specifically for mob action, prescribe punishment and other matters,” drew the angst of civil society groups culminating into his withdrawing the bill.  

Consequently, the objective of the bill, which was summarised to stop the killing of innocent people through mob action fell flat.

The 8th Senate also condemned the rising cases of jungle justice across the country and challenged the Nigerian Police to stop the act. But the situation has got worse, and Uwaifo opined that matters are the way they are largely due to the “failure to properly enforce the directive from the Senate. “There isn’t enough police presence and more importantly, the police are ill-prepared for situations like that. Because these lawbreakers are aware of the critical condition of the police, they are further emboldened. There are hardly consequences for bad behaviours like that. 
  
“Also, the very fact that the government has not kept up with her end of the bargain of public awareness is enough to give life to these incidents. Governments at all levels need to constantly send out clear messages through television advertorials, radio jingles, community leaders, schools, and even public campaigns on the ills of jungle justice, as well as the consequences when caught in the act. They have not done so,” Uwaifo, a fintech entrepreneur stressed. 
   
Halting The Slide Into Anomie, Chaos
BOTH Andah and Uwaifo are united in their submissions that halting the nation’s slide into anomie and chaos requires respect for the rule of law, re-orientating, and re-educating the people.

“Leadership needs to ensure that the justice system and rule of law are given their rightful place. So, non-governmental organisations and civil society groups should carry out advocacy programmes against this. Educational institutions and the curriculum should teach and emphasise rule of law. The press has a role also to play, while the Police should be efficient and have a rapid response mechanism to frustrate perpetrators etc,”Andah said.

He added: “Mob action and jungle justice has cost the country massively leading to a breakdown of law and order. Financially, we’ve also lost a lot as a result of business disruptions. Everything must be done to reinforce the social contract as the bedrock of relationships and governance, or else we may have a Hobbesian state. You would recall that the botched #EndSARS movement was more or less a revolt against authority and the Police for lack of accountability etc.,” Andah concluded. 
  
For Uwaifo, re-orientating and re-educating the people is key. “So, people have to be made aware of the ills of this terrible act. There has to be an aggressive campaign through television adverts, radio jingles, community and religious leaders, schools, etc. Unemployed youths that are hanging around bus stops and motor parks must be taken off the streets and put through a process of re-education and skills acquisition. They need to be re-equipped with new skills that can remove them permanently from that cycle of idleness and criminality. These measures would certainly go a long way in reducing the acts of jungle justice and improving our global standing on this issue.” 
  
“Socially, the people continue to slide into the abyss of incivility and chaos where anything goes. No one will be safe given the fact that an angry mob can be the judge, the jury, and the executioner at the same time,” he said adding 

“politically, we have failed. Whenever jungle justice is prevalent in any society, then the political structures have not held up and have failed to work for the people that they were supposed to govern. It means they have failed to provide good governance, basic amenities, and employment.” 
  
Uwaifo, an author of four books continued: “Economically, we lose the confidence of potential investors to invest either locally or internationally. This results in the loss of opportunities to create more jobs for the many idle youths of this country. No business would be comfortable operating under any form of chaos.”

  
Also dwelling on the way out of the conundrum, Atsen, the NBA Abuja chapter chief said: “In 2015, the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration enacted the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015 as one of the ways of addressing violence against persons generally. The question is, to what extent has the VAPP Act, as it is commonly called, addressed the challenges posed by jungle justice. It would appear that not much has been achieved in terms of education and implementation. However, a consistent review of the law and its application will go a long way in stemming the tides of jungle justice. I do not agree that enacting new law is the solution to the menace. It is commonly said that Nigeria does not lack laws to address its problems, but implementation. 
  
“The solution to jungle justice in Nigeria is as diverse as the problem. There is a critical need for the judicial system to live up to its constitutional and societal obligations and expectations. Until the public develops concrete-hard confidence in the judiciary, it will be a difficult task to have it surrender its fate to be determined by the judiciary. This also raises the need for the public to be educated on how the judicial process runs. Sometimes, the lack of understanding of the process often leads to misinterpretation of the judicial outcomes. The fact that an accused person or a defendant is released on bail by the police or the court, pending investigation or trial respectively, does not mean that any of these institutions have been compromised, it is just part of the judicial process.”
  
The legal practitioner continued: “The security agencies must also be educated on the rights of citizens to be treated humanely, with dignity regardless of the allegations against them. The security agencies must also be equipped to properly investigate crimes, martial out credible and objective evidence, and prosecute offenders conclusively. The security agents are trying their best to deal with widespread crimes with little or no resources. Take the Nigerian Police, for example, where the officers have threatened to go on strike due to poor welfare service. The conditions of Police officers, their stations, their barracks, and the equipment that they use are highly deplorable and unfit to address the current regenerated crimes prevalent in our society. The salaries and welfare packages of security agents, particularly the police, must be drastically improved upon. The above suggestions, which of course have been canvassed by many other commentators and scholars, are not a magic wand that can just be waved on the problems, however, they will go a long way in presenting opportunities for arresting the culture of the jungle justice.”