IN OCTOBER, it was reported that a bill
to protect people against jungle justice had
scaled second reading in the Senate and might
soon become a law. Considering that there are
already laws against wanton killings in place,
such a bill is superfluous. Nigerians practise
jungle justice, not for a lack of laws but because
our institutions are too tepid to enforce existing
ones.
Lately, in the cosmopolitan city of Lagos,
a young man was lynched by a mob for the
alleged crime of stealing a mobile phone. There
are conflicting accounts of the incident and up
till now, nobody has sorted through the murky
details to produce the identity of the victim.
His killers depersonalised and dehumanised
him to justify his gruesome murder. Even
if he truly stole a mobile phone, his death
was unwarranted. There are reasons human
societies institute laws commensurate to a crime
and we need to find the language to explain that
to a mob; people who have already consigned
themselves to the status of animals so they
could legitimately rip another one of their kind
at the jugular.
In Nigeria, it does not take much more than a
mere accusation to be a victim of jungle justice.
Most people who participate do not even stop
to ask questions before rushing to mob a victim.
In the wake of the Lagos’ unfortunate incident,
the Senate is hastening the passage of the bill
into law. While it is almost gratifying that the
lawmakers are demonstrating responsiveness,
a law is a reductionist solution to a complex
problem.
How many more laws would have protected
the four undergraduates of University of Port
Harcourt who were lynched after being falsely
accused of theft in Aluu community? What gave
their killers gumption if not a conviction that the
law is largely impotent? A couple of years ago, an
older woman probably suffering from dementia
was lynched in the same Lagos by retarded folks
who were convinced she fell from the sky when she
transfigured from bird to human. Her killers do not
need more laws to stop their Inquisition crusade.
Likewise, the 74-year-old Mrs. Bridget Agbahime
of Kano State mobbed by those who believed she
had blasphemed against an indifferent god. I read
her husband’s interview where he described the
incident in vivid details and I could not help but
weep. Imagine how devastating it must be for
him to have witnessed the death of his wife, lost
his livelihood, and on top of all the trauma he has
suffered, learnt that those apprehended by the police
had been set free. What good would have been
more laws for the National Youth Service Corps
members who perished in the heated aftermath of
the 2011 elections? It has been 21 years since Gideon
Akaluka’s decapitation; today, the guilty parties
swagger around and about the metropolis, their
freedom a middle finger to the law.
I will concede though, that due to socio-cultural
changes, and the upgrade in the tools we use to
navigate daily existence, existing laws need to be
tweaked. These days, it is not uncommon for folks
to gather around lynching sites to take selfies, posing
against a scene of gross inhumanity and using the
dead as a backdrop for their narcissism. There are
those who are quick to whip out their phones to
record mobbing so they can share it on social media
and generate traffic for their pages and blogs. There
are those whose presence at such scenes engineer the
expectation of perverse entertainment; they wilfully
egg on the perpetrators, hyping a lynching so they
can derive some catharsis from ritualised violence.
At varying levels, these people share culpability
with those who carry out the actual lynching. What psychologists have previously described as
bystander apathy has a fresh traction in the age of
social media. People are no longer content to simply
stand around expecting others to take responsibility
and stop the crime. No, they want to see the lynching
carried through so they can record a spectacular
footage and share later. By processing such grievous
acts into fodder for bored eyes, they might also be
establishing the evidence of their own involvement
in the crime. We can argue that people who record
such scenes provide key evidence of human
depravity but analyses of such eyewitness activities
have revealed that people also create the news they
eventually report. Combating mob justice should
involve interrogating the role the hand behind the
camera played; whether by divesting themselves
of responsibility and watching the crime happen
through their camera lenses, they are accessories to
murder.
If the Senate will carry on with the bill, they will do
well to remember that jungle justice in Nigeria does
not happen only on the streets, it is in fact a staple
of our judicial system. Fighting jungle justice should
therefore start from understanding the processes of
its social and psychological formation; the cultural
undercurrents that make it possible for people on
the streets to abjure legal processes and proceed to
administer justice as it suits them.
We cannot talk about the jungle justice that takes
place on the streets without talking about President
Muhammdu Buhari who, on live TV, displayed his
lack of regard for court orders on the leader of the
Independent People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu and
former NSA, Sambo Dasuki. We should also talk
about Buhari’s tacit endorsement of the death of the
Shiites who stood in the way of the Chief of Army
Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai. About 350 of them
were buried in a mass grave. What about the death
of the pro-Biafra protesters who were cut down by
police bullets as they ran for their lives? Like Pontius Pilate, the rest of us – including voices in the civil
society who used to be active right up until the
last administration – simply wash the blood
from our conscience.
From Buhari, we should move on to the
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
whose idea of justice now is largely hunting
down people, subjecting them to public ridicule,
and quietly letting them go afterwards. Right
from the time Buhari became President, the
EFCC has spent more time entertaining us
with confession narratives coming out of their
gulag and little else in the actual fight against
corruption. We are expected to simply lap it all
up like those who use their phones to record
lynching. Afterwards, they send us on our way,
tense with our aborted pleasure of witnessing
justice done. With such level of erosion of public
confidence in judicial institutions, making more
laws to combat jungle justice is disingenuous.
These days, being tried in the “court of public
opinion” is the closest we get to see justice
done in the anti-corruption fight. We can take
it for granted that much of the hoopla about
arresting people, detaining them, and granting
them bail is a cycle that is meant to merely
make us dizzy. Yet, there are people out there
who hail this ugly development; they further
beg for the constitution to be suspended so the
President can “properly” fight crime. If the socalled
educated people consider the law as an
encumbrance to their idea of justice, why would
those on the streets who are quick to lynch feel
any differently?
Tackling jungle justice or any of its variants
will do well to catch those in government who
use extrajudicial means to overcome what they
consider the shortcomings of the legal systems.
Adelakun is a public affairs analyst

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