There is an epidemic of mob justice in Nigeria today, and the frequency at which they occur shocks our shared sensibilities. The ubiquitous nature of jungle justice across all parts of Nigeria leaves any discerning mind to wonder how low we are falling as a nation. Every week, we are served on social media with images and videos of an angry mob killing and desecrating the bodies of citizens who are victims of this madness sweeping through our society. It enrages any civilised mind that people will pull out their phones to record such atrocities and man’s inhumanity to man with glee and the effrontery of a witch in a horror movie scene.
Often, the images of the mob of young people excited and jubilant in the atrocity of lynching an innocent person hunts us and makes us wonder what the future of Nigeria will become with these types of young people in our midst. Life almost has little or no value on our streets, and it seems no one is exempt from the cold hands of jungle justice if you are at the wrong place and at the wrong time. A mere accusation of blasphemy or a shout of “ole, ole, ole” may mark the end of the life of a Nigerian. Recent examples will demonstrate the prevalence and spread of mob justice in Nigeria.
Commercial motorcyclists lynched a sound engineer identified as David Imoh in the Lekki axis of Lagos state a few days ago. David and his friends were attacked by a mob of okada riders over a misunderstanding concerning a N100 balance. Some motorcyclists present at the scene joined their colleague to beat up David and two of his friends resulting in David’s demise and his two friends in hospital fighting for their lives. The mob of motorcyclists who, at the slightest provocation or altercation with any of their colleagues, meting out jungle justice is becoming a common phenomenon in our big cities.
In a similar incident, at least eight persons were killed during a clash between traders and commercial motorcyclists in the Dei-Dei market area of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). A trailer killed the passenger of an “okada rider” due to reckless driving, and the traders in that area of Abuja set ablaze the motorcycle. The other okada riders formed a mob, killed and maimed many people, and burnt down houses and stores of many traders.
Nigerians recently woke up to the news of the gruesome killing and burning of a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Deborah, by a mob of her fellow students because they accused her of blasphemy. The whole scene was a wild orgy that negated any form of civilisation. The satisfaction derived from taking a life that was known to some of them could only come from psychopaths. The ensuing rioting and public disorder because of the arrest of the perpetrators of the act demonstrates the depth of the rot of acceptance of jungle justice in Sokoto and is worrisome because youths were the vanguards. The riots led to more killings, burning of houses and destruction of religious buildings.
Furthermore, a pastor was injured, and many houses were burnt by irate youths who went on the rampage over alleged blasphemy in the Katangan area of Warji Local Government Area of Bauchi State. Trouble started when some people circulated a message on social media that a Christian girl in the town allegedly engaged in the blasphemy of Islam.
Nigerians are disturbed about these incidents and are rightly so. The fundamental element of a democracy is to protect the life, property and liberty of the people, but today, in the most populous black nation of the world, the life and freedom of the people are almost worthless. Citizens take laws into their own hands, which results in the death of other citizens with no consequences. This resort to jungle justice by people is symptomatic of broader issues that plague our society. What are some of these issues?
First, there is a growing malaise of social angst, frustration and discontent with society and social systems in our country. People are losing faith in society and are easily provoked and resort to self- help even in criminal and social justice issues. The reason for this may be the constant and ongoing degradation of most Nigerians’ quality of life which leads to frustration , and they are ready to unleash their anger on anyone or anything that causes slight irritation to them. We have a huge youth population that is unemployed, or completely unproductive. These angry youths are the catalysts of such mob actions and enjoy the frenzy of destroying lives, property, and social institutions as if they have no stake in society. We have a generation of young people that we must be quick to make productive and help channel their energy to improving society rather than destroying it.
Second, our ethnic and religious fault lines are sharp and edgy. Increasingly, issues are dichotomised on ethnic or religious lines and based on the side of the divide one falls, one interprets and acts towards social and religious matters. Little wonder why when a case that demands complete condemnation of all Nigerians of various hues and cues arises, some shamelessly defend or even condone it based on their narrow ethnic or religious sentiments. No civilised society will allow, tolerate or accept jungle justice and mob action. Our “Nigerianness” needs to be worked on and improved. The Nigerian project since 1914 has seen a battle to create national cohesion and blur our ethnic and religious lines. Institutions like the National Orientation Agency, NYSC, and Federal Character Commission, among others, have been working hard to make us Nigerians, to no avail.
The real danger of rising incidents of lynch mob is in the proven power of spontaneity . When the sudden eruption of mob violence feeds into existing ethnic and political divisions , they could engulf a wider spectrum and become a national security concern .
Third, Nigerians increasingly are losing trust in our law enforcement and criminal justice system, and are resorting to self-help to deal with what they perceive as a crime against society. Our law enforcement system is almost in shambles, and many are not relying on it any more, to enforce law and order. The corruption in the system is palpable, and everyone knows that. Some Nigerians believe, albeit rightly or wrongly, that cases that go to the law enforcement agents may not receive proper prosecutorial attention or be bought or sold to the highest bidder. Until law enforcement officers pursue a zero-tolerance attitude in dealing with mob justice, this will continue to show an upward trend.
Our judicial system is slow, clumsy, and sometimes ineffective. Justice delayed is almost the same as justice denied. The time it takes to conclude cases is so long that sometimes the victims have forgotten about their ordeal before the court punishes offenders. Sometimes, the victims are unaware of when the offenders are punished.
Fourth, normalisation of violence in our society has become a cultural resort. There is a growing insensitivity to acts of violence because of too much exposure to violent acts in our society. Terrorism, banditry, secessionism, “unknown gunmenism”, riots and social unrests, and high- and low-level criminality abound and are bombarded to our senses through social media, digital images,and traditional media that we are “unshockable”. The number of videos of gruesome killings, burning and destructions I have seen lately leaves me traumatised. Some are so disturbing that they hunt me for days after watching them. Most Nigerians are the same.
The unintended consequence of exposure to such gruesome authentic images of an orgy of mutilation and death is that society becomes narcotised to them, which lowers our sense of decency, humanity, and value of life. As a society, we must shun all images that cheapen the value of life, regardless of the intention of recording or sharing such images. We must not allow ourselves to continue to be inured by these images.
It behoves us to improve the situation and reduce mob justice in our country. It is an anomaly that people provide tacit legitimacy to such “mob justice” under all sorts of excuses, and it reflects the larger malaise of loss of faith in law enforcement and the judicial systems. It is the truth that we have barely functional and fractured law enforcement and judicial system, where it takes years before one can hope to get justice. But does it mean we should encourage sidestepping of the system? We must realise the gravity of the danger it poses to us as individuals and society. In some cases, innocent people may be targeted based on rumour, misinformation, or suspicion. Mob justice may spark an ethnoreligious conflict capable of inflicting indelible damage on our society if we do not curb it now.
As a people, we must remove the inertia in our judicial process and make the system practical for delivering justice as quickly as possible to restore public trust in the criminal justice system. This will eradicate the excuse of people’s impatience that leads to extra-judicial killings, which are illegal and a violation of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians. We need a complete police reform to gain people’s trust in the law enforcement system in Nigeria. People who engage in mob justice must be arrested and prosecuted and punished by the law to serve as a deterrent to others. If people know that such actions may have no consequences and there are few records of perpetrators receiving due punishment for their actions, they are encouraged to carry on with impunity.
The rioting in Sokoto shows that some people do not see anything wrong in mob justice and do not see why any person should be punished for it. Our public enlightenment agencies must find ways of limiting the spread of gruesome images in all media, and our national orientation agency must educate the masses on the dangers of engaging in mob justice and the consequences of such actions. We must “save ourselves from ourselves” on this road to perdition.
Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.
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