Growing up in Aba, I witnessed firsthand the mechanism of jungle justice at work. I remember seeing a dead body sprawled in front of the Abia State Polytechnic early one morning when I was about twelve years old. My mother and I had been on a bus heading somewhere and the sight of those charred remains had spurred her into praying for her children, that we do not end up that way. Her reaction – a wishing away of such fate for her kin – was the general reaction of most passengers on the bus with us that morning. And, I daresay, was the general reaction of most Nigerians to that phenomenon made popular by the notorious Anini and the Bakassi boys.
However, with the passing of the years, it did appear as though our reactions changed from sheer bewilderment and muttered prayers to actually riling against it. This was perhaps spurred on by the global acknowledgement that jungle justice was no way for sane individuals to dole out justice. We came to the general consensus that no individual or group should have the power to be judge, jury and executioner. There is the criminal justice system established exactly for that purpose. Furthermore, most of us came to the realization that there was always the possibility that individuals who are accused of stealing could actually be innocent. In fact, on social media, there was a time a young man came to the rescue of a girl who was almost lynched by a mob for an accusation that turned out to be false. All of these contributed to a more active response to the menace of jungle justice. (Active response mostly on social media, anyway.)
When a few days ago, news made the rounds that two young men were brutally murdered in Aba, I expected the usual social media outrage. The story had it that they had accosted a man as he was leaving an ATM booth after having withdrawn some money. They grabbed the money and made to disappear before luck ran out on them. They were subsequently caught and set ablaze. Social media was awash with righteous anger. One rhetoric I found recurrent was the expression of shock that anyone still engaged in jungle justice in Nigeria. It was made to seem as though Aba was a lone case because of the city’s penchant for violence. That simply is not true. I mean, we have come a long way from the days of Anini, but we are not completely rid of jungle justice anywhere in Nigeria, be it Lagos or Aba. The questions I did find relevant, the questions I found myself asking, were: why we are not doing more than just the arm wringing and helpless shrugging? Why are we not doing something beyond keypad advocacy, something like holding the perpetrators of the crime accountable? By this, I mean the apprehension and possible prosecution of individuals engaged in the dastardly act.
Several times in the past, during the aftermath of such incidences, the police have come out to denounce the perpetrators of such acts, threatening them with prosecution. However, no good has ever been made of this threat. In my opinion, there are two reasons for this.
First, it might appear to be near-impossible holding any one person, or persons, responsible, considering the number of people who are usually congregated at the scene of such crimes. The crowd usually comprises of the active participants, and then innocent bystanders who somehow derive some sort of sick pleasure from viewing such acts. Thus, it may be near impossible sieving through the people to apprehend the actual culprits.
In this regard, I believe – however idealistic this belief is – that if we set our minds to it, the criminal justice system could overcome this obstacle. There are usually videos of such happenings, and the police could make use of such videos to locate the perpetrators in order to bring them to book. And I know this is possible, you only need to have seen the reaction of the police whenever one of theirs is murdered to know that they can put their machinery at work to find a needle in a haystack. They could if they wanted to.
And this, I think, is the main problem: the unwillingness to prosecute. Deep down, I doubt if the average Nigerian would support the prosecution of any individual caught in the act of meting out jungle justice. We are fine with riling and raving at the act, but we do not believe they should be prosecuted or sentenced. This is because, somehow, we still subscribe to this sort of Robin Hood kind of law enforcement. We believe that the thieves deserve what they get, we believe that the police are incapable of handling the crimes, that it is possible that the culprits could even get away with their crimes given the corrupt nature of our criminal justice system. We believe all these even if we do not say it out loud. Even if we refuse to acknowledge it. And for this problem, I cannot proffer even a solution.
We aren’t doing more because it would mean us ‘fessing up to this hypocrisy. Thus, in making passive, half-hearted efforts behind our keypads, we convince ourselves that we are actually moving mountains. So we can express shock the next time an incident occurs, ask: has it not been eradicated? This is sad, because the truth is that words can only do so much with words. We can achieve so much more if we actually took some concrete steps into ensuring that perpetrators of such acts are punished.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime