IN a most barbaric fashion reminiscent of Thomas Hobbes’ original state of nature, a young man was reportedly burnt to death recently by a mob that later dumped his charred remains in a canal at Orile Agege area of Lagos State. The alleged sin of the victim was that he stole a wallet and a phone at Alafia bus stop, Orile, and while two other members of his gang escaped, he was not that lucky. The police have confirmed the incident and claimed that the young man was between 20 and 25 years old and not a boy of seven as widely reported in the social media. Though the police have yet to disclose the identity of the deceased, it would appear that the Lagos command is familiar with the robbery gang as the state’s Commissioner of Police reportedly claimed that some members of the gang had been previously arrested and arraigned in court but released on bail.
Curiously, many days after this unfortunate incident, there has been no word from the person whose belongings were allegedly stolen. Could it be that the police have yet to, or did not, consider it imperative to contact the alleged robbery victim to ascertain the veracity of the information they reportedly obtained from ‘eye witnesses’? Have the bystanders/eyewitnesses, some of whom might have participated in the heinous crime, been interrogated? Is the veritable possibility being considered, at all, that the victim could have been innocent, especially in a clime where a mere accusation is all it takes for a hapless person to become a victim of jungle justice?
And assuming the young man actually stole the items mentioned, could that have justified his dehumanisation and gruesome murder? Is it the position of a mob to mete out justice to a criminal even if caught in the act? Any justice, other than one that follows the rule of law, is jungle justice, which any civilised society should abhor. Civilised societies institute laws to regulate human activities so that they remain within the precincts of decency and decorum.
Also, specialised and different institutions of the state are deliberately set up and charged with the responsibilities of enforcing the laws and interpreting them. The significance of adhering strictly to this simple procedure is that it helps to obviate the likelihood of an innocent person being made to pay for a crime not committed or an overzealous but uninformed person killing a fly with a sledge hammer. A mob cannot and should not effect justice.
Of course, it is appreciated that in an environment of heightened security challenges like Nigeria, state security agencies need the cooperation of the citizenry to apprehend criminals. However, after such apprehension, suspects should be handed over to the police for further investigation and subsequent prosecution in court. Anything done by anyone to short-circuit this procedure, as was the case in the Lagos mob lynching, is unlawful, criminal and condemnable. Some people have posited that because many Nigerians are angry and touchy as a result of the economic situation in the country, they easily vent their spleen on real and imaginary enemies of the society. But the challenged socio-economic situation in the country cannot be a good enough reason to explain away the high profile criminality which jungle justice represents.
We are deeply outraged by the Lagos incident and we enjoin the police to take pragmatic steps to prevent a recurrence of such awful acts. One way to do this is to apprehend perpetrators of jungle justice so that they can face the full wrath of the law. It is a sense of impunity that encourages a mob, most of whom are criminals, to take the law into their own hands under the guise of meting out justice. Perhaps if a participant in a mob action is apprehended, charged and convicted for murder, it would serve as a deterrent to people of his ilk with animalistic instincts.
Again, the legal and justice systems require tweaking in a manner that makes it difficult for criminals to escape punishment so that citizens are discouraged from mob action. There is the apprehension among many Nigerians that some notorious criminals after arrest often go scot-free or are at best treated with kid gloves by the police or in the law courts. While this seeming frustration cannot justify jungle justice, there is a sense in which it encourages it, especially among uninformed persons who lack the capacity to appreciate the far reaching implications of their deplorable actions.
Clearly, reports of gory spectacles of public lynching are a very sad commentary on Nigeria’s claim to civilisation and respect for the rule of law. It is, therefore, imperative that re-orientation of the citizenry about the evil of mob justice is intensified while the law enforcement agencies and the courts should deploy the tool of deterrence to rein in the dastardly act.