Kill now, think later; Why mob killings still prevail in Africa

At the far end of the road, a crowd of people are gathered. Loud noise can be heard but you can’t seem to make out the words; so, you walk closer. Some cheering, some wailing, some with their smart phones, raised above other heads to capture the scene, others simply watching. There and then you realize; this is a public display of crime and injustice, a suspected victim being lynched to death by an angry mob.

These gruesome killings seem to be a norm in Africa as more than 500 people die annually in the hands of angry mob. Kenya alone recorded 543 victims of lynching in 2011 while Uganda recorded 582 in 2014. That is about 10 cases weekly in Kenya and Uganda. As at July 2017, Nigeria has already witnessed over 30 cases, with victims of jungle justice.

According to a poll by NOI one of Nigeria’s leading poll and survey companies, about 94% of Nigerians agreed that there is high prevalence of jungle justice in the country. 51% of the respondents attributed the prevalence of jungle justice in the country to lack of trust in the law enforcement agencies. According to the report, 43% had personally witnessed these acts of jungle justice in their localities while 16% knew victims of jungle justice.

Last month alone, the Ikorodu community in Lagos state, Nigeria witnessed gruesome killings and violence in the area by the notorious Badoo gang, and in response to these attacks, community members resulted to lynching anyone suspected to be a member of the said gang or anyone with affiliations to it. Among those innocently killed was a Lagos based comedian Chinedu Paul, who was mistaken as one of the suspected cult members.

Another striking incident, was the lynching of the University of Port Harcourt students in 2012, popularly known as the ALUU 4. This act of barbarism went viral across the country, videos, were posted on the web for the world to see, attracting both local and International media outfits like CNN, which aired it on their stations.

The four students Chiadika Biringa, Ugonna Obuzor, Lloyd Toku, and Tekena Elkanah left campus for the village of Aluu, the host community of the University of Port Harcourt. Unfortunately, they will never return. According to Biringa’s mother Chinwe, Obuzor was owed some money and he asked his three classmates to accompany him to the village to collect the debt. A misunderstanding ensued between them, the debtor devised a way out by claiming that the men were there to steal laptops and mobile phones and began to scream. The vigilante group was alerted with the impression that the students were the criminals disturbing the community. The four men were chased through the streets by the stick and stone-wielding vigilantes, stripped naked, beaten and tortured until they were almost unconscious. Afterwards, in the presence of a crowd, they were dragged through mud, had concrete slabs dropped on their heads and car tyres filled with petrol wrapped around their necks.

Tekena’s sister heard her brother was being lynched, she tried to intervene, reiterating their innocence but her screaming, plea and identification fell on deaf ears as she was overpowered by the mob who later burnt the innocent boys to death.

A mere accusation is all it takes for a helpless person to become a victim of jungle justice in Africa. It is evident that Africans do not understand the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”. It is appreciated that in an environment of heightened security challenge like Nigeria, security agents need the cooperation of citizenry to apprehend criminals. However, such apprehension should be handed over to appropriate authorities for further investigations.

What fuels jungle justice?

One major reason for lynching is the lack of confidence people have towards institutions charged with dealing with such crimes. In an interview by DW, Gail Super, a criminologist at the University of Cape Town, said that social problems and the gap between the rich and the poor is to blame for lynching. “The problem comes in especially with rapid urbanization and the migration of people,”. The criminologist pointed out that lynchings occurs more frequently in poor and informal settlements because these areas face a major existential threat. Prevalent among the lower social class are poverty, lack of education, unemployment, extreme deprivation and lack of opportunity.

In a country like Nigeria, with high rates of corruption, the people are skeptical that cases regarding suspects, would be swept under the carpet and justice would not be served.

The citizens question the need to trust the security agencies, when in some cases, the very institutions and organizations set up to protect lives and property are involved in lynching or “necklacing” as South Africans call it.

Another reason being that most reported cases go un-investigated and those investigated takes as long as 5-10 years for justice to be served.

After five years of court trials, uncertainty and tension, justice finally came for the Aluu four. The court found a police sergeant and two others guilty of murder. The joy that comes with justice can be seen as the Messiah Obuzor, father of one of the four University of Port Harcourt students murdered, hails the court for sentencing the three killers to death. Mr. Obuzor said in an interview with journalists in Nigeria’s Southern city of Port Harcourt on Tuesday that the court’s judgment had removed the tag of criminality on the late students. It may have taken 5 long years, but it is better late than never.

Where is the law on lynching?

The Nigerian Constitution states explicitly, that every Nigerian citizen is entitled to fundamental rights, one of which is stipulated in the fourth chapter of the National Constitution, it reads in part,

“Every person has the right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offense of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria (section 33(1)”. Also section 34 speaks on the right to dignity of a person “No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment”

The Nigerian lawmakers have seen the need to act against extra judicial killings. The Bill sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) titled “Prohibition and Protection of Persons from Lynching, Mob Action and Extra-judicial Executions”. The bill, as at December 2016 had scaled through its second reading.

Jungle justice does not account for the complexity of justice given by the court and should be taken seriously as it matters a lot and it affects us in different ways. Besides lives being lost, witnesses to these killings are often traumatized and psychologically affected.