It is ‘normal’ in Nigeria, jungle justice. Normal. It happens too often to be seen as anything else. On Sunday, July 2nd, 2017, three men suspected to be members of a notorious cult terrorising Ikorodu – the Badoo cult – were captured at Odogunyan, Ikorodu, Lagos, and lynched to death by a mob comprising of community residents. The Cable reports that “The suspected cult members were said to have been apprehended in the early hours of Sunday and ‘they were caught and butchered’ along Shagamu Expressway.” The suspects’ SUV was also set ablaze with the people chanting and screaming “no more Badoo” and “Badoo must go”.
This is just another episode of the long-running show, ‘Jungle Justice in Nigeria’. On Friday, October 5, 2012, four undergraduates of the University of Port Harcourt, Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Lloyd, Chiadika Biringa, and Tekena Elkanah, popularly known as the Aluu 4, were clubbed and burnt to death by a mob in Aluu, Rivers State. The young men were falsely accused of stealing before they were accosted by the mob and killed in cold-blood, with some people recording the execution on their phones. On Tuesday, November 15, 2015, there were reports that a 7-year-old boy was burnt to death in Badagry for attempting to steal garri from a shop where foodstuff was kept. On Thursday, December 15, 2016, the Zonal Head of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) in Apapa, Lagos, Mr Bakare Olatunji, was stabbed and stoned to death by a mob after the death of a motor boy, who was allegedly hit by one of the agency’s vans that was pursuing traffic law violators.
Jungle justice is a sign of helplessness. In a functional system, when a crime occurs, the chances that the perpetrators will be caught and brought to justice are high, but in a system like Nigeria’s, the chances that a person will be caught and brought to justice after committing a crime are low. Armed robbers drive into banks and rob them clean, leaving bloodied bodies and shattered glass doors in their wake. Ritual cultists break into a family home and kill two parents and two of their three children, with no fear of punishment afterwards.
This happens often enough and the people living within that community start to grumble, they start to complain, they lash out and protest, screaming that the government doesn’t care about them. In some cases, the government comes out to make empty promises, they tell the people to keep calm, that they (the government) will soon make the state unbearable for criminals, sometimes the people believe because they don’t have any other choice. In some other cases, the government just keeps quiet, does nothing about the crimes, and they escalate.
Soon enough, in both cases, the people start to realise that things will not get better as long as they keep looking to the government for help, so they take matters into their own hands. They form local vigilante groups or just become vigilantes themselves, meting out justice as they see fit because they know that, still, the government will not act. In severe cases, government officials join the people in meting out this crude and simplistic form of justice; police officers and army men ignore the value of their badges, throw away the value they should place on human life, and join the angry mob to lynch a young boy who has just been accused of stealing bouillon cubes from Mama Basira’s shed in the market. As they lynch the nameless boy, people gather round. Some bring out their smartphones to make videos for Facebook and Twitter, some are just taking pictures, some are screaming and cheering the lynchers on, others are just quiet, looking on, not sure if the boy deserves this punishment or not, but sure that the government will still not do much about it.
Jungle justice is a symptom of many diseases: a flaccid justice system, a lack of trust in the government, disregard for the rule of law and human rights, and the chronic anger of the people towards an exploitative political system. It is bad, but it is also cathartic. For a people who have suffered for many years under the tyrants of crime and systematic inefficiency, it feels good that they can finally take matters into their own hands and confront the evil that has for so long oppressed them. The anger, the pain, the disappointment can all be let out, albeit momentarily, as they see the bodies of their oppressors burn up in flames. They do not see human beings, they see a failed system, they do not see flesh and blood, their emotions don’t let them.
However, as relieving as this might be, jungle justice is also simplistic and does not account for the complexity of justice. Justice is not often straightforward. It is hardly ever linear. Sometimes, people are not the criminals they are made out to be, and other times people are falsely accused of crimes they didn’t commit. The four boys burnt to death in Aluu, Rivers state were victims of time and chance, they were falsely accused and, without a fair trial, sentenced to death by the mob. It is not the first time innocent people were wrongly lynched and, sadly, it won’t be the last.