Social media is very powerful. If you read through the personal experiences I outlined in Laziness, Jobsickness & Some and Of Bets & Public Places you will understand why I say so. In recent days, the global media has been awash with the brutal murder of four university students by the indigenes of a local community in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The humiliation, torture and execution of these bright young lads was conducted in the most primal manner imaginable and a friend noted that even animals get better treatment as they are slaughtered for food.
I have discussed this cruel act with many others and received an education in the process. I learnt that this form of jungle justice is common across Nigeria but this one has become a burning issue because of the way it has spread through social media. I am sure that before this incident, many people have never seen a mob batter and burn a human being to death. Back in the 90’s as a student at King’s College, Lagos, I regularly heard stories of petty thieves being burnt alive for their crime. And although I never witnessed one, in my naivety I felt it was a just reward for their alleged crimes. Having seen the video of those boys murder, I tell you there is nothing novel about burning a human being to death.
The outcome of a deeper probe I have made is that many people are outraged at this event because the boys were students and supposedly innocent. This is quite clear because no one seems to be upset at the destruction of that village by students of the University of Port Harcourt in retaliation for the deaths of their colleagues. This in itself is another manifestation of jungle justice. Virtually any Nigerian you ask would say it was a fair action to take. Again, you can be certain that a good proportion of us would say that it is just for an armed robber to get burnt to death. So the real source of outrage for most people is not the actions of the villagers, but the age of the boys and their innocence. If they were truly thieves, it would have been justified.
So now I ask, is jungle justice justified? Certainly not, it is nothing but barbaric. The unfortunate death of these boys reminds me of a similar treatment meted years ago to an eight year old boy at Ojuelegba in Lagos for allegedly stealing a baby. I also saw a story on Facebook about a 19 year old girl who was stripped naked and beaten at Shoprite in Surulere for stealing. And a friend told me he witnessed an okada rider being burnt to death in Owerri for stealing a phone. Nobody blinked as he was converted into a bonfire with his bike, car tyres and petrol. Jungle justice, as I have realized is acceptable to the average Nigerian, as long as the victim is guilty.
As investigations into the happenings at Aluu unveil many parts of the story, one question I have pondered is why Nigerians believe so strongly in jungle justice. My conclusion is that the belief in jungle justice over our legal system made those villagers act with such fury when those boys were accused of robbery. There is no reason that will ever justify their actions but some insight on what led to it would help prevent future occurrences. In some accounts, I heard that the village has been terrorized by robbers on a consistent basis with no help from the police. Is it possible that previous culprits who were caught and handed over to the police were set free after a short detention? Our police are allegedly popular for releasing accused criminals without prosecution.
In general our justice system has a big problem. I have personally witnessed the merciless whipping of a lady at a police station into submission to sign a forced confession to a crime she claimed to be innocent of. Even if she did commit the crime, does our justice system prescribe whipping as a means to get a confession? How about allowing her to state her own account and proving her wrong with appropriate evidence before a court of competent jurisdiction? Our police set a wrong precedent by battering accused criminals in detention. When they are invited to settle a case between parties, the expectation of the accuser is usually that the accused would be beaten up very well. Last month, I saw an accused person on a TV crime watch program whose legs were broken by the police. The people our police parades on such programs always look well beaten and there are claims that some of the criminals are actually innocent but forced to sign confessions prepared by the police. All this encourages the common man to beat up anyone they catch.
But the problem is not just with the police. Even our courts battle with the dispensation of justice as desired. The most recent example of such cases is that of James Ibori, who was cleared of all money laundering charges in Nigeria but declared guilty by a UK court. Even those found guilty here do not get any serious punishment. Jail terms are light and served concurrently, the high and mighty always protect their own. Certainly, the incentive to commit crime will remain high if justice always goes to the highest bidder.
That heinous crime against humanity at Aluu must not go unpunished. But then again, Nigerians must desist from all forms of jungle justice. One big step towards achieving this is for the relevant authorities to rebuild the confidence of Nigerian in our criminal justice system, beginning with the police.
Those boys were not simply victims of an aggrieved village; they were victims of the Nigerian justice system. They never stood a chance…
Rest in Peace Lloyd, Ugonna, Tekena & Chidiaka
A petition to sign a bill for the prohibition of mob justice into law is now in circulation. Please add your voice to ensure that justice is served for Aluu4 and future occurrences of mob action is averted. You can sign it and share by clicking here.