With the ugly episodes of Aluu four and the Ejigbo pepper sodomy still very fresh in our memories, it is clear that cases of lynching, mob action and jungle justice are in no way strange to the Nigerian clime. However, what seems more worrisome and a serious cause of concern is the rampancy with which the vice is being perpetrated in recent times.
In 2016 alone, the cases of the Ondo gay, the Akwa Ibom motor bike thief, the Imo, Benue and Kaduna Kidnappers among the several others which could not attract public attention, have been recorded. To all of these cases, one thing is common. That one thing is not the fact of their commission of crimes or the fact of their ultimate waterloo. It is the fact that they were all made to pay for their misdeeds by an angry society madly in thirst of justice and in much distrust of the established system.
In the past week, social media got awashed with the story of the ‘seven year old garri thief’ who got lynched by an irate mob at Orile Iganmu in Lagos. Some have countered that the unfortunate lad was not a seven years old and that contrary to reports, he was a pone robber, who had stabbed his victim repeatedly in the chest and stomach in an attempt to dispossess her of her phone. However, it has never been disputed that a human being (irrespective of his age) allegedly caught in the act of crime (no matter the gravity) had been extrajudicially deprived of his life in the cruelest and most condemnable manner imaginable.
The development has provoked the humanity in most social media users who have condemned the incident in the strongest terms, especially with the ‘seven years old’ and the ‘just garri’ sensations that came with it. It is however rather unfortunate that amidst the deafening hue and cry, only a few have cared to sit back to consider the remote causes of prevailing criminality in Nigeria in recent times, and the attendant barbarism.
Saying Nigerians are disenchanted with the criminal justice administration system which comprise of the police and the courts is an understatement. People would these days when convenient, either take laws into their hands or leave God to judge than resort to the Police when aggrieved. The reason is not farfetched. Is it the bribery which has permeated the rank and file of the police force where proceeding to prosecution depends largely on the pocket of the complainant or the shabby and unprofessional way of handling investigations, which in most cases lead to the acquittal of the suspect. As sad as this may sound, it is the truth that in most cases, only poor suspects get charged to court for trial.
Very many people get confused when the suspect who was caught in the act could be seen walking freely on the street the following day. Most times the Police, if at all were able to get reliable pieces of evidence, would not submit the file to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) for his advise to prosecute. Where the file manages to get to the DPP’s table, he too may refuse to proffer the appropriate advise for want of adequate gratification, personal interest or due to negligence in the studying the case file. Unfortunately, the man on the street who understands very little or nothing about the intricacies of criminal justice administration would readily blame the courts for complicity when he sees ‘his thief’ walking a freeman.
This is however not to exonerate the courts where sometimes the technicalities of litigations tend to sway in favour of the suspect who must not only be proved guilty, but must be so proved beyond a reasonable doubt. We must equally not forget the hundreds of criminal cases that get struck out by the court for want of diligent prosecution.
On the other hand, the current economic situation which has led to massive retrenchment and seen many been put out of business has occasioned a monumental poverty in the land. This in turn has not only increased the rate of criminality but has also added to the ire and bitterness with which people react to issues. In fact, the average Nigerian man has become more fretful than he ever has been in history.
While one still wonders how true the incredible story of the man who stole a pot of amala may be, there is no gainsaying the fact that the heat of hardship in the land is seriously scorching. Therefore, just as the unfortunate man caught in the act would effortlessly attribute his woes to the devil and the lingering economic hardship, those who take laws into their hands would claim to have been frustrated by similar factors.
It was in the news in October that the Nigerian Senate was in the process of passing a bill on prohibition and protection of persons from lynching, mob actions and extrajudicial executions, into law. The bill which was sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye was reported to have scaled through second reading. As laudable as this may seem, it must be respectfully argued that the problem is rather sociological than legislative. The malady has gone way beyond what mere enactment of new laws could remedy. Laws without more, do not create a sane society. Restoration of sanity in the system through a collective positive will of all that matter is more efficacious than the continuous churning out of laws without end. One would naturally ask whether our existing laws had ever at any point been permissive of the act which is now sought to be prohibited. This is in view of the clear provisions of the criminal code and the constitution criminalizing murder as well as guaranteeing the right to life and the sanctity thereof.
Essentially, the police must come to terms with the fact that the populace, whom it claims to be their friends have totally lost confidence in it. Rather than the force Public Relations Officer (PRO) always confirming the shameful occurrences to the media, then making some meaningless arrests, the police must face its shame and realize how foisted it is, with the enormous task of reclaiming the trust and confidence of the Nigerian people through the assumption of a positive attitude and impeccable professionalism by the rank and file.
On the part of the government, it may be understandable that the current economic mess is not one that can be wriggled off overnight. It would however not be out of place, to urge the current government to double its efforts in repositioning the fortunes of the country- and it must be seen to be genuinely doing so. It must understand that the ordinary man knows nothing about the drop in the crude oil prices or the paucity in foreign reserve. All he wants, like the proverbial corpse, which knows not the cost of shroud, are not exotic cars or exquisite wardrobes. He only needs food on his table, a place to lay his head and a bearable life in all. It would only be fair if the government creates an enabling environment towards the actualization of these.
The issues have reached a stage where the government must respect the sensibilities of the Nigerian masses by a show of concern, through actions like cutting down on their extravagance and introduction of mass oriented policies.
At the risk of prophesying doom, if steps are not taken and urgently so, Nigeria may just be witnessing a sharp drift into the state of nature where life becomes meaningless and a head worth nothing more than a tuber of yam.
Akintola Makinde is a social analyst and he writes from Abuja.