One would think that with the way and rate at which jungle justice happens in Nigeria that it is indigenous to the Nigerian people, however this is not the case. Like in other communities, societies and countries all over the world, there are times when mob-justice or jungle justice occurs. And this occurrence is not just because there are no adequate or available legal justice system in place, it’s just that when there are a group of people or where people form an agitated group it becomes harder for an individual to act or make decision as one but easier as a group.
Like I said, jungle justice occurs all over the world and the United States of America is not excluded on these list of countries, but the form it takes here and the rationale with which this type of justice is carried out is a little peculiar in Nigeria and I will narrate an instance of jungle justice I witnessed to support my opinion as well as what I have seen and heard.
In the mid to late 90s, while I was still a teenager, I have been fortunate not to see one or two but numerous version of jungle justice, and these things put life in a different perspective for one as a young person. There as a particular day, I was home and there was no electricity, of course when this is the case the only form of entertainment is usually looking out the window and watching people move up and down the street as they carry on with their business. Suddenly, I heard noises and yelling from lots of people saying “THIEF! THIEF!!!” I looked out the window and almost the whole street was pursuing a young man who was sprinting for his life, but he was not fast enough as he was caught.
As soon as this young man was caught, the full mob armed with sticks, iron rods, and other weapons that could inflict serious bodily injury started hitting him and beating him etc. but it should be noted that the mob didn’t just stop at beating him, the mob went on to strip him naked and told him to walk down the street to wherever they wanted him to. So basically the alleged thief is not allowed to at least defend himself or even plead for mercy. The mob just hears “THIEF” and it springs into action. As the young man was stripped of his human dignity and told to walk around naked looking bloody and pitiful, the mob then decided that instead of handing him over to the police they would rather just give the young man a full drink of wet cement. I admit I do not know the full effect of what drinking cement would have on the human system, but what I do know is it not advisable to do so in any circumstances because it obviously kills. After the young man drank the cement the mob left him naked and passed on by the road side, and so he died 2 days later. It should be noted that this young man alleged to have committed a crime of theft was said to have stolen a pair of jeans.
Another mob justice occurrence I saw also involved stealing, but excluding the gory details, the alleged thief was burnt alive, and this is not a fictional story, this is a true story. And just like that for various offences and crimes you are caught in the act of committing or attempting to commit, a society in Nigeria has a higher chance of enforcing jungle justice than turning the suspect to police custody.
Saying I do not understand why many Nigerians engage in this type of justice will be incorrect on my part, because in Nigeria when armed robbers are arrested and/or reported to the police, in most cases, you will see the armed robbers back on the streets robbing and hurting people instead of being charged to court to answer for the crimes committed. So people naturally resort to self-help when the law enforcement system does not work or when the legal system is negligent in its handling of a case and a publicly labelled guilty suspect is discharged and acquitted.
Nevertheless all of this, it does not make jungle justice or mob justice the right choice. Even in the traditional Nigerian communities, individuals caught stealing or accused of stealing are not just burnt at the stake or killed by a mob, there is always a chance afforded the accused to defend himself in front of the King, Oba, Eze or Emir, then the traditional ruler will adjudicate.
Of course, there is a lot of hypocrisy here, I mean, Nigerians even in this 21st century will burn a person accused of stealing or kidnapping etc. just by the word of an individual screamer yelling “THIEF!” in the middle of a huge crowd, however when politicians are accused of stealing millions from the common wealth, the same mob ready to burn and kill another based on an unsubstantiated claim will defend these politicians, which says a lot about the society we live in.
It is not a wrong to seek justice, but jungle/mob justice is not the way to get such and this self-help in a lot of cases does not aid matters. In the long run it makes a society lose its humanity and empathy.
I know this may be hard but the legal system needs to start holding everyone to the same standard of justice, and law enforcement agents and institutions need to start aggressively and diligently investigate and prosecute cases and individuals who engage in this form of justice, because the life or death of the citizen of a state is not in the hands of other citizens or even the state (safe in some legal exceptions).