Ochlocracy: Government by a mob!

Jungle Justice is an ochlocracy where a mob decides to be the judge, jury, and executioner of an accused (whether legitimately or falsely). In May 2022 alone:

  • 2 May: Two suspected robbers were set ablaze in Makurdi, Benue State.
  • 3 May: One suspected robber was set ablaze along Owerri-Orlu road in Owerri North, Imo State.
  • 11 May: Two suspected phone thieves were set ablaze around Cele Bus stop in Lagos state when they were found with 18 phones.
  • 11 May: A female student of Shehu Shagari College of Education was killed and set ablaze after being accused of blasphemy in Sokoto State.
  • 12 May: A sound engineer was killed and set ablaze by commercial motorcycle riders (okada), over a minor cost dispute, in the Lekki area of Lagos State.

On the surface, it may seem satisfying to know that quick justice is being served especially in a country where minor disputes could take up to five years in a criminal court of law- if it gets resolved at all. However, jungle justice has been single-handedly responsible for the false accusation, injury, and death of many innocent Nigerians and few falsely accused victims are alive to recount their ordeal.

Take the story of Saminu Ibrahim who went to the bank to withdraw money, when one of the bank staff suddenly got hysterical and claimed his penis had vanished. Within a split second, the crowd had gathered, taking the accuser’s word as final and were ready to pounce on Saminu, when some policemen showed up and intervened.

A similar incident occurred when Olabiyi Olayemi was falsely accused of theft when he was trying to tow a vehicle which he thought was his boss’s. The vehicle was the same colour, make and model as the one he was looking for. Unbeknownst to him, the correct vehicle was parked on the next street.

Once the tow truck began the process of evacuating the vehicle, a crowd gathered around and accused him of theft. In a flash, he was beaten, a tire was thrown around his neck and had been doused with petrol. A man with the matchbox was about to strike it when the police shot in the air to disperse the crowd. Further investigation revealed it was a case of mistaken identity.

There are many more stories like these which help explain why jungle justice must never be supported or condoned. The fact that one false accusation can, in a split second, lead to a life being taken forever, should remain a stark reminder that everything about jungle justice is unjust.

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No Justice, No Peace

The lack of trust in the Nigerian judicial system is what has fuelled mob attacks and jungle justice. Much of the insecurity in Nigeria is a direct result of the inefficient and ineffective judicial system.

Banditry is a symptom of the same judicial system problems. Take for example the story of Turji Bello, one of the most feared bandits operating in North-West Nigeria, who in a recent interview explained his deep-rooted motivation for going into that line of business. Turji stated:

Over a thousand cattle were taken away from us. On that day, six of our little siblings were killed. Our parents went through all the courts, but they couldn’t get back their cattle. They also connived with Yan Sakai (local vigilante) and slaughtered my uncle.

Where does a commoner seek redress? … my father was involved in a court case for seven years over corn stalks. Just for corn stalks! And he went through all the courts including the one in Abuja… I swear to Allah that in our household we had over 100 cows, but we were left with just 20.

You can confirm all that I have told you from the traditional rulers. I can bring the defendant (in my father’s court case); the case dragged on for years, since I was small and lasted till my adulthood. There is also nowhere that our parents did not go to get justice over the confiscation of our lands.

All these are known to the Emir of Shinkafi. He knew our parents for years and they were not bandits. There was never a case of rustling reported to him. But they rustled our cows and killed our brothers and rendered us worthless. There is no authority to complain to, no one to seek redress from. Would you forever be crying? You will get tired of crying and seek for solution. And this is our problem in this country.

Little Turji saw his father patiently seek justice through the courts, to no avail.

As a young man, he directly witnessed discrimination, humiliation, attacks, and loss of loved ones, with no justice, meted out to perpetrators.

Finally, young adult Turji decided within himself, to hell with the courts, if we want justice, we have to get it for ourselves. He and his group sourced weapons through Nigeria’s practically non-existent borders, they armed themselves to ensure their jungle justice. They began attacking innocent civilians, kidnapping, torturing, raping, maiming, killing, and burning people and villages.

The banditry epidemic Nigeria is currently experiencing is what happens when justice is not served, and conflicts are not resolved. Citizens take the law into their own hands until they morph into terrorist groups.

Solutions

Nigeria’s constitution under sections 33, 34 and 36 has a lot to say about fundamental rights, including the right to life, the right to human dignity, and the right to a fair hearing. But when the constitution is not upheld, citizens will take matters into their own hands. The bandits ravaging the Northwest certainly did and exasperated citizens across the land from Lagos, to Sokoto, are equally doing the same.

If people could trust that when they have a dispute, they could easily and quickly lodge their complaints, get a fair hearing and a fair resolution, most would go that route. But the current justice model does not provide for this.

Justice sector reform 

One of the major challenges in the justice sector is the lack of coordination among the various justice institutions. Delays in the prosecution of court cases are legendary. In 2021, there was a nationwide strike by court workers which saw the courts closed for two months. That means no justice was administered in the country throughout that period.

The prisons are severely congested, no thanks to the large proportion of prisoners awaiting trials that sometimes never come. There is so much corruption in the system that wealthy criminals, or at least those who can afford their release, often go unpunished for their crimes.

In other words, many citizens never get justice when they go through the courts, and therefore jungle justice still has a big appeal for the average man on the streets.

Justice sector reform would bring about better coordination among the various justice institutions and tackle the funding structure which is another major challenge. Other effective traditional conflict resolution structures could also be adapted to complement the formal judicial infrastructure, for quicker responses.

Increase police and law enforcement presence  

Innocent victims of jungle justice have been known to narrowly escape when the police show up. Having increased police presence across local communities will not only assist in curbing insecurity, but also build trust among the public who know that when a criminal is caught, the citizens can take the person to a local law enforcement official, and justice will be served.

Albeit it will take years to reverse the deep-seated public distrust.