Jungle Justice: When accused are denied opportunity of self-defence

The menace of mob action, otherwise known as jungle justice, has assumed a dangerous dimension in Nigeria. This unlawful form of judgement which disallows fair hearing, judicious arbitration and hinders the cause of extant laws, is not exclusive to street roughnecks and hoodlums. ADEYINKA ADENIJI writes

The menace of Mob Action otherwise known as Jungle Justice cuts across social placing, religion or ethnicity and usually starts as a form of protest or riot. Religious people, protesting students/ youths, hoodlums, Trade Unions, and other members of the populace, angered by disappointment in their leaders and representatives are among groups of people to have at one time or the other engaged in the dastardly act.

What constitutes a mob action? Who can commit the offence?

Instructively, a proper appraisal of what constitutes a mob action would be of great help in arriving at the much-needed level of awareness and reasonable profiling of the crime; without which only a little, or no progress may be earned from the quantum of resources committed to curbing it.

The Nigerian Constitution, and/ or its corpus juris civilis – the body of laws – like every other national law the world over, repudiates all forms and manifestations of Street Justice. And in acknowledgement and recognition of the inevitability of offences and infractions, therefore, prescribes wellspelt- out consequences for all appearances of contraventions of statutes.

Agreeably, there are obvious reasons for periodic re-evaluation of extant laws, viz a viz the unfailing dynamism of the collection of behaviour exhibited by human beings and influenced by various factors, such as culture, society/environment, values, morals, ideals and genetics, which ultimately informs their relationship with the law. Of immeasurable necessity is the periodic re-appraisal of the laws to keep her abreast of changes in time and tide, identify the recurring pattern of infractions, and position the law for the emerging scope and dimension of crimes to ensure prudent arbitration and adjudication.

Nonetheless, the Nigerian ‘Corpus Juris Civilis cannot be dismissed for wanting attention to the street murder and arson. Sections 33(1), of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), Section 315 of the Criminal code Act, Section 220 of the Penal Code, Section 8(1) of the Administration of Criminal and Justice Act (2015), Section 2(1) of the Violence Against Persons Act; all bothers on the crime of infliction of bodily injury and killings, in addition to stipulating the ingredients of mob action and other forms of extra-judicial killings.

Section 33(1) of the Constitution says, “Every person has a right to life and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.” Section 315 of the Criminal code Act “Any person who unlawfully kills another is guilty of an offence called murder or manslaughter, according to the circumstances of the case.” Section 220 of the Penal Code, says “Whoever causes death:-(a) by doing an act to cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death… commits the offence of culpable homicide. Section 8(1) of the Administration of Criminal and Justice Act (2015); “A suspect shall: (a) be accorded huand mane treatment, having regard to his right to dignity of his person; (b) not be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”. Section 8(1) of the Administration of Criminal and Justice Act (2015); Section 2(1) of the Violence Against Persons Act.

“A person who willfully causes or inflicts physical injury on another person using any weapon, substance or object, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both.”

Given the foregone provisions contained in the country’s Statutes, Acts and Codes; homicide, murder, and manslaughter, which are all identified eventual outcomes of street judgements are offences and crimes that must not only be shunned by all and sundry, but also intentionally forestalled through concerted efforts by governments and public cooperation. Instructively, errors, commissions and omissions of breach of extant rules are criminal and consequences are adequately outlined in the laws. The law also recognises the inevitability of offences among the populace under the purview of its jurisdiction and adequately provides means through which aggrieved members of the public may express their grievances and seek redress.

Deborah Yakubu , other examples

Viral videos of street judgements abound in their terrifying volumes in Nigeria, but more prominent are those of the twin cases of Deborah Yakubu, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto and David Imoh, a Sound Engineer, in Lekki, Lagos, by okada riders.

There have equally been cases of mob attacks on politicians and government functionaries. A case of a certain politician who was attacked and later restricted from pasting campaign posters in the Oke Aro neighbourhood of Ifo Local Government Area, Ogun State comes to mind.

The politicians were said to have cleverly avoided being lynched by the youths. An eye witness said the youths were angry over the dilapidated state of the roads in their community, and so vowed never to allow political campaigns in the environment. A motor park warden who chose to speak under condition of anonymity said this is the reason why there are no campaign posters in Oke Aro.

Though no reason was advanced as the cause of their annoyance, an enraged group of youths were recently seen in a video, pelting a bus conveying journalists in the convoy of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the All Progressives Party’s (APC) presidential candidate in the forthcoming 2023 elections in the Lagos Island part of Lagos State. In most cases of jungle justice, the on looking public never gets to see the evidence of the offences being alleged.

The accusation of blasphemy is never proven and obviously, Deborah the accused in Sokoto was never allowed to defend herself. Commercial motorcyclists in protest of the ban on their operations along highways in Lagos State had on several occasions staged mob attacks on law enforcers, against the cause of law. The 2021 case of mob attack on the residence of the Bishop of Enugu Diocese of the Catholic Church, by followers of Rev Fr Ejike Mbaka, is another competent example through which the crime may be subjected to proper, clearer steps at curbing it.

Deborah Yakubu was gruesomely murdered in daylight by her classmates on the school premises after they alleged she insulted the prophet Mohammed in a class Whatsapp group. Efforts at bringing her killers to book and serving as a deterrent to future occurrences has so far failed, as over 30 lawyers in obvious ethnic inclination rose to their defence. Little has since been heard of the case. Jungle justice is neither limited to those involved directly, nor exclusive to the streets.

All that is needed for jungle justice is an angry mob, to execute a self-conceived retaliation or punishment, for an offence that has not been established in any court, contrary to Section 33(1), of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) Therefore, a mob may be formed by any gathering of people whether in the church, at the park, a school or market; whether as students, trade unionists of dissatisfied constituents against their representatives and even members of any religious group.

Before the reappearance of the Spiritual Director of Adoration Ministries Enugu, Rev Father Mbaka, amidst a retinue of security men, at his Adoration Campground, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, his followers had mobilised and descended on the episcopal residence of the Enugu Catholic Diocese Bishop, Most Rev. Callistus Onaga, destroying properties including three buildings and the perimeter fence, after suspecting him to have a hand in the disappearance of the Reverend Father.

Sadly, they acted in contravention of the law, for assuming the tripartite role of an accuser, prosecutor and hangman, and in the process, negating an important principle of natural justice – Nemo judex in sua causa – no man can be a judge in his case. The Mbaka-Onaga imbroglio of 2021 aptly revealed undeniable characteristics of jungle justice or a mob action: a group of people laying siege on (a property) the episcopal residence and (persons) occupants were only rescued by the police, who were quickly mobilised for safety. The group had no evidence that the cause of their anger (Mbaka’s disappearance) had anything to do with either Onaga or the buildings/structures and other properties destroyed in the process; they deprived the Bishop of his right to fair hearing as guaranteed in the laws, as they failed to channel their grievances through recognised lawful means, like the police or the Department of State Services (DSS) Common to other manifestations of street justice; defenceless victims, like Bishop Onaga and the church properties were easily overpowered because the perpetrators of street justice usually out-number their victims. When viewed under the lens of the law, street justice reveals a prejudiced irate mob, visiting the anger of an unestablished case on an individual or asset, accusing him baselessly and visiting their choice of mayhem on the latter’s residence as judgement for an unproven allegation. Other than the much talked about religious indoctrination and extremism, as particularly noticed in the case of followers of Rev Ejike in Enugu, another factor which motivates individuals to violently take laws into their hands, attacking another individual (s) as their preferred way of seeking justice is because perpetrators are rarely apprehended and when arrested, have always found a way of escaping justice, thereby robbing Society of a vital agent of a deterrent to future occurrences. Efforts by the law to apprehend and punish the killers of Deborah Yakubu, a college undergraduate in Sokoto suffered a major battery as 34 senior Lawyers rose to the defence of an action alien to the Nigerian constitution – mob killing – because of alleged blasphemy. Deborah was killed by college classmates who pelted her with stones and clubs and set her ablaze after she was accused of blasphemy. Even in places where capital punishments are prevalent, Section 31 (1) of the Nigerian constitution criminalises anyone who participates in any mob action by setting a person ablaze or inflicting physical injury on them, hence, causing their death, except for the execution of the pronouncement of a court of competent jurisdiction. Regrettably, the menace of jungle justice manifests daily in society in various forms, manners and manifestations, while members of the public and officials pay minimal attention.

Like Deborah, Like David

Like the case of Deborah who was beaten and pelted with stones until she died and her body set ablaze by her religious extremist classmates, David was murdered by the characteristically irate commercial motorcyclist, popularly called okada riders, over an argument on a N100 change. Both murders, the one in Sokoto and that at Lekki, exactly like the destruction of the Enugu episcopal compound, commonly display identified ingredients of a mob action. Noteworthy is the verity that, not all mob actions lead to death and likewise, an attack by more than one person on others or properties does not necessarily have to end in the death of the victim before it pass for jungle justice – personalities and calibre of irrespective of perpetrators and sufferers. Peaceful rallies and protests have also been hijacked by hoodlums, thereby snowballing into full-blown fracas ending in jungle justice.

A perfect example was the ‘#End- SARS Protests’. As concerned youths peacefully protest a widespread extra judicial brutalisation by the Police, enraged roughnecks equally capitalised on the situation, to wreak havoc on public properties and those suspected to belong to some members of the ruling class. The scenario led to the destruction of the Lekki Toll gate complex and other public assets.

By the time the fracas subsided in November 2020, over 15 policemen had been killed and numerous private and commercial premises either destroyed or bugled, including the palace of the paramount ruler of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu. Loss of confidence in the country’s judicial systems had been another major cause of mob action. On many occasions in the metropolis, apprehended but neither tried nor convicted thieves are beaten, pelted and in some cases, roasted alive in the market square. A piece of used automobile tyres and some centilitres of Petrol is all that is needed as a recipe in any of the Lagos markets for any suspected offender to be roasted alive in an unlawful administration of illegality, in place of justice. It is no secret that the average man on the street has little or no confidence in the Nigerian Police.

Elders’ view

Speaking with New Telegraph, Pa Ogunbiyi Shogade, a retiree, said the most dangerous aspect of the menace of street justice is the one nursed by the public against law enforcers. According to him, hardened criminals, when reported and arrested by policemen, reappear in the neighbourhood after a short while, only to resume their criminal acts, turning their initial accusers into objects of their retaliation. In his words, “policemen who subject the members of the public to criminals’ attacks by releasing the identity of informants to them cannot retain their confidence.

“So, when they apprehend criminals through community efforts, they are always handing them over to security men. “Public confidence in security operatives is key to law enforcement. It is the basic principle of community policing. “Mutual distrust between law enforcers and the public is partly responsible for the surge in jungle justice.”

Pa Shogade’s illustration finds an apt illustration in the narration of a civil servant, who chose to speak to our correspondents on the condition of anonymity. He said every effort of security authorities to gain the confidence of the people is routinely rubbished by short jail terms served on convicts. He also told of a hoodlum who, on returning from detention after being convicted for joining others in attacking a police station during the #EndSARS protests, resulted in harassment of residents including the traditional ruler of the community, High Chief Omitola Jacob, Baale of Omitola – Pen Cinema, in Agege. The hoodlum had reportedly learnt of the tip-off that led to his arrest from security operatives.

“To him, (the roughneck), his arrest, arraignment in court, and conviction were instigated by a petition by the traditional ruler,” said the fiftysomething- year-old local government council staff. Asking; “Now, when someone such as this is arrested or overpowered by the people, do you think they would be handed over to the police again? No,” he retorted.

In conclusion, he said, “and I tell you something, numerous known hoodlums live in our societies and the people are angrily waiting for their day of reckoning.” Security operatives must by all undertakings spare no efforts at earning the psychological and mental confidence of the populace. Embarking on a show of physical strength is good for the Police, as it ultimately touches on confidence building, but, measures must be taken to ensure that the inherent gains are not eroded by the lack of trust.

If Fr Mbaka’s followers’ jungle justice in destroying Bishop Onaga’s residence was caused by the ‘suspected kidnapping’ of their leader, even when unproven, an affront nevertheless, against the law, because offences are determined by the law and are judged by the same laws – no part of which permits individuals to take the law into their hands – constituents who attacked politicians in botched visitations to their constituencies did so for disappointment in the widespread political representation. Regrettably, the ongoing Fourth Republic has witnessed the widest gulf of distrust between elected office holders and the electorate.

As seen through the kind of public attitude toward leaders. In a chat with journalists at the wake of the killing of Deborah in Sokoto, US-based Nigerian professor, Moses Ochonu, said the extremism that fuels the mob actions in the North is not only socio-economic, but they are also doctrinal. “There is a problem of extremism in the North.

The source of the extremism is partly doctrinal and partly socioeconomic. Some certain doctrines and ideologies have made their way historically into Northern Nigeria and have been left to fester and thrive,” Ochonu said. “In most of them, we never get to see the evidence. So the accusation of blasphemy is never proven, the accused is never allowed to defend themselves and so it could be that some of these people have been lynched and murdered in a gruesome fashion simply on a mere accusation of doing something.” He however warned against isolating any particular case of mob action, explaining that all cases are the same and come with similar features.




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