Reflections on jungle justice and the practice of taking the law into one’s hand
On October 5, 2012, four young men met their untimely death at the hands of an irate mob in Aluu, a small community in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Rivers State. The four young men had been falsely accused of theft and lynched by the members of the community. Their names were Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Lloyd, Chiadika Biringa, and Tekena Elkanah, and they were all students of the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
According to media reports, the four guys had gone to Aluu to accost a guy who had been owing one of them, Ugonna, some money. Ugonna had found out the guy lived in Aluu, and he conscripted the three other guys into his debt retrieval mission. They arrived at the debtor’s house around midnight, allegedly wielding a knife and a cutlass to scare him. Things escalated quickly as a fight ensued. A neighbor who heard the noise started screaming and shouting that the boys had come to steal laptops and mobile phones.
A mob quickly formed and chased the young men through the streets until they were all captured. They were stripped naked and beaten up badly, and then car tyres were placed around their necks as petrol was poured all over them. They were set on fire, and people watched as they burnt to death. Barely anyone did anything to stop this from happening, not even members of the Nigerian Police Force who were allegedly present while all of this was going on. Some onlookers filmed the murders with their mobile phones, and the video eventually made its way online.
The video quickly went viral to the shock of the nation and the world. Watching the gruesome sight online was very disturbing. Even though many Nigerians knew that such things happened, they had most likely never witnessed it or seen recorded evidence. Various groups condemned the act, and students of the University of Port Harcourt protested and rioted within the Aluu community, destroying properties.
I remember hearing about the incident at the time and watching the video. Linda Ikeji reported extensively on the incident and provided constant updates on subsequent events through her blog. She dedicated posts to the #Aluu4, as they became known for many months and years, on the anniversary of their murder. Some people were subsequently arrested by the Police, and almost five years later, a Rivers State High Court sentenced some of the active participants to death.
That incident took place almost 10 years ago, but jungle justice is still prevalent in our society. Only recently, the case of Deborah Samuels in Sokoto shocked people in different parts of the nation. A student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, she was lynched and burnt to death by a mob that included students of her school. Her offense? She had allegedly committed blasphemy, so they had decided to dispense what they considered to be justice.
Not many days after, the case of David also made the news. He was beaten, lynched, and set ablaze by okada (commercial motorcycle) riders over a misunderstanding about N100 change with an okada rider. His two friends who were with him at the time were lucky not to have suffered the same fate. They were beaten to the point of unconsciousness and had to be rushed to the hospital to save their lives. The surprising thing was that this event happened on Admiralty Way in Lekki, a highbrow part of urban Lagos where no one would ever have assumed such primitive actions would take place.
Whether dispensed by angry mobs or vengeful people, religious extremists or law enforcement officials, many people have used jungle justice to settle scores, fight other people’s battles, or even fight God’s battles. There are no logical reasons for anyone to take the law into their hands when law enforcement officials and established courts of law exist, but a lack of trust in these institutions could be one reason jungle justice is still practiced. There is also the official and unofficial stress involved in seeking redress through law enforcement and the legal system, which could lead to impatience in waiting for justice to be served. There are other reasons bordering on fanaticism and ignorance, but none could ever justify jungle justice. I wonder how people who have participated in a lynching go to bed at night?
Many of us may feel we are incapable of jungle justice, but we need to check ourselves to know our true thoughts. If you have ever supported any unlawful killing or harassment, no matter the offence committed by the victim, then you could also do the same to someone else. Who is to say that many people will not take matters into their hands if presented with a trigger and an opportunity? How often have you come across an issue that so incensed you that you considered dealing with the perpetrator through unofficial means?
We may face situations where someone has taken advantage of us or wronged us. We end up feeling helpless because we suspect that going the official route may either take some time or result in a waste of resources. In such situations, we may be tempted but jungle justice is never right under any circumstance. What is the guarantee that you would not also suffer equal or worse repercussions for becoming judge, jury, and executioner?
In reflecting on jungle justice, I have realised that many people are emboldened to seek justice by themselves because they have seen people who have done the same and nothing happened to them. Jungle justice does not have to be an elaborate act as people also sow seeds that knowingly or unknowingly encourage such acts. Someone is owed money and he hires a policeman to harass the debtor, perhaps even throw them in a cell for a few days. Someone gets area boys to roughen up a competitor on his behalf for whatever reason. Every time we do not seek the legally established means of seeking redress for wrongs and choose to take matters into our hands, we are simply sowing the seeds of jungle justice.
Because we all have different beliefs and opinions, because we may not always live in harmony, and because we may wrong one another once in a while, we need to forever resist the urge to take laws into our hands as it never ends well.
Whilst jungle justice may provide the instant justice that many people seek, we need to consider that on another day, the supporter of this evil practice could end up being the victim. One does not even need to support it as one could also happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, without an opportunity to protest one’s innocence. And that would be an extremely unfortunate situation. Let us strive to respect the laws of our land so that everyone can have their day in court; this is the way I see things today.