Ole! Ole! The familiar bloodthirsty cry of a deranged mob bellowed through the air, piercing the early morning peace of Jakande estate, Oke-afa, Lagos and its neighbourhoods. It was sixteen years ago, but I remember vividly that I was waiting to board a bus to the popular Siemens Nigeria bus stop close to my workplace in Victoria Island. As I was waiting, the disturbing cries of “Ole! Ole!” grew louder, and it did not take long before a young man zoomed past me, his heels literally touching his buttocks and his ears standing up like those of a rabbit running away from a starving cobra. He knew what was coming after him, it was a matter of life and death, and one mistake such as a trip over a stone or a misstep into a pothole would automatically condemn him to death. It was not a time to stop and rest, nor a time to watch out for reckless and drunk drivers. He knew it was better for a car to hit and kill him than for the murderous mob to catch up with him. If that happened, he would be up in flames in minutes. It would not take the mob much time to find their favourite lethal weapons of damaged tire and petrol to set him ablaze! Before I could think straight, the mob also zoomed past me in hot pursuit, with even greater determination to catch their prey and roast him alive. Few minutes later, I hopped into a bus for my usual one hour ride to Siemens bus stop. The combination of high traffic and bad roads gave me ample time to think about the possible outcome of the impromptu Olympic race-for-life between the young man and his head hunters. He appeared to be of the same age and build as me. So, what if some lunatic from the crowd had mistakenly pointed at me since it was still a bit dark? Your guess is as good as mine.
Several years ago, I was only a little boy when a man and his son from my birthplace were paraded naked round the market and burnt alive. What was their crime? Those who killed them said they found juju in their house and so they concluded without any scientific evidence or proof that they were responsible for some deaths in the village. You can imagine the trauma on their families and children that witnessed such violence. Even if the two men actually engaged in some fetish worship or other satanic activities, that was in no way a proof that they killed someone. If in the past, our forefathers killed twins believing that it was an abomination for a woman to give birth to more than one baby, what made us think that we are better? We still have not learnt anything from our past mistakes, superstition, and erroneous judgements.
Recently, the social media went agog because of images and video of a supposedly 7-year old boy being set ablaze by a heartless mob at an unidentified street in Lagos for stealing garri. But thank God that police and some eye-witnesses have punched a serious hole into that story by proving that the social media account was factually inaccurate.
However, there is no gainsaying that someone was actually killed. Whether it was a 7-year old or 20-year old does not make much difference. It is still a jungle justice!
The practice of jungle justice is now so rampant in Nigeria, and it is high time we put a stop to it. There is a reason we have the police and judicial system in place in our country. Human life is very precious and is of such a high value that we cannot let some stupid and criminal mob pass judgement on anybody, let alone condemn someone to such gruesome execution. It is also uncivilized and wicked that people suspected to have committed a crime are not given opportunity to defend themselves or make amend with their maker before they die. It is important to know that even if someone is guilty of a crime, there is much we can learn about what happened, if we allow justice to take its course. Taking laws into our own hands prevents authorities and society to study and learn the root cause of a crime in order to figure out a way to stop further occurrence. The goal should be to stop or minimize crime and not to kill someone.
In developed countries, we see some prisoners, even those on death row being set free, because DNA evidence that was not available during their trial has been used to prove they are not guilty. So, if the West with their advanced legal system, technology, and forensic prowess can still get some judgements wrong, how much more a brainless, bloodthirsty, and booze-laden mob with no shred of evidence, except for word of mouth and perhaps some unverified eye-witnesses accounts? How can we justify killing a teenager just for stealing a telephone handset or snatching a lady’s handbag, while a politician can steal billions of dollars from our national coffer and walk free or at worst get a few years in prison? So, where is justice in the jungle if our justice system can be so lenient to more sophisticated criminals?
I am calling on our lawmakers as a matter of urgency to look at our existing laws and see how to strengthen them or plug the loopholes that allow this to happen. If we already have strong laws to prosecute people who perpetuate this holier-than-thou, mob-inspired crime of jungle justice, then the appropriate law enforcement agencies must be held accountable. These days, with all the technology gadgets around us and social media, it is easy to track and arrest those who engage in this crime and make a good example of them. We see their faces on social media all the time and they don’t do this in secret. It is alarming how a mere cry of “Ole!” can immediately condemn someone to death in Nigeria. If the suspect is a woman, the crude mob usually strip her naked and sexually assault her. This is a clear indication that they are more interested in satisfying their libido than punishing the criminal.It is unacceptable, no, not in this age.
The argument I hear often is that without jungle justice, crime will spiral out of control. Or that police will take bribe and release criminals handed over to them. Two wrongs do not make a right. And we cannot replace one defective system with another defective system. That is a lazy man’s way of solving a problem. There are better ways to control crime, and some of those engaging in jungle justice are criminals themselves. If you ask those who witnessed or took part in jungle justice about what happened, the most disturbing observation is that you will get disparate and conflicting accounts depending on whom you ask. So, if those who carried out jungle justice cannot unanimously agree on what happened, how can we be sure there was crime in the first place? If there was a crime, how can we know if the crime deserved death? This is pure madness. Jungle justice cannot minimize or stop crime. If it works in any society, then there must be fundamentally a bigger problem in that society. The past activities of Bakasi in Anambra and Abia states are two important case studies. If you are a relative of a popular lawyer and his wife that were allegedly murdered by Bakasi in Anambra state, then I wonder if you will ever support jungle justice. The blood of one innocent person killed is more than one thousand criminals put together. Please say NO to jungle justice, it is evil, it is uncivilized, and it is an aberration.