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Analysis: Impunity, law enforcement inadequacies blamed for rising cases of jungle justice

Esther Demshak, the girlfriend of an upcoming comedian, Chinedu Paul (also known as MC Think2ce), who was lynched by members of a vigilante group in Ikorodu in July, tried unsuccessfully to stop the tears as she spoke to a reporter recently.

“He was not a cult member. I didn’t even know what Badoo meant until he was killed. I was even asking people who Badoo is,” she said between sobs.

Esther explained that Chinedu had gone with two mechanics from Festac to fix his Honda car at Ikorodu because the mechanic they used regularly was doing a shoddy job.

“About the time Chinedu was lynched, I called his number to know his whereabouts. His phone was ringing as of that time but someone kept cutting the call. It meant the phone had been collected.”

She later rushed to the area where her boyfriend was killed and claimed she saw a member of the vigilante group holding a blood-stained cutlass who told her they just killed three suspected members of Badoo cult because they found a chain and engine oil in the car.

It would be recalled that a cult known as Badoo has been terrorising residents of Ikorodu, a suburb of Lagos, for months, killing whole families at night while they slept.

Tired of the inability of law enforcement authorities to apprehend the suspected criminals, residents set up vigilante groups to secure their lives and properties. In one instance, a suspect was snatched from the police and lynched in broad daylight. In most of those cases, all the mob needed to start an orgy of immolation of the suspects was the faintest suspicion.

In the case of the brutal killings of Chinedu and the two mechanics – Sunday Owolabi and Ishola Afolashade, they were apparently killed for the most ridiculous reason – the mob was angry enough.

Though the public-lynching of suspected thieves has remained an intractable problem for a very long time in the country, there has been a spike in reported cases of mob-lynching commonly referred to as “jungle justice”. In the past weeks, no fewer than six people suspected to be criminals have been beaten and then murdered by a mob in broad daylight! Others have barely escaped with their lives.

In the Ojokoro-Ijaiye area of Lagos, after a street sweeper allegedly claimed she heard the voice of a woman calling for help from a tunnel, a mob swung into action. Two people found in the tunnel were snatched and lynched publicly. One of those killed was snatched from the police before he was roasted alive.

The other victim didn’t even stand a chance. He was lynched because the mob thought he wasn’t answering questions thrown at him fast enough.

Two days later, another mob went on a rampage at Ile-Zik, near the Oshodi area, burning a suspected hideout of alleged kidnappers. A nearby warehouse and a church were not spared the anger of the mob which vandalised property, including a Range Rover SUV owned by the pastor of the church.

At end of the day, two persons suspected to be kidnappers were burnt alive.

Weak Criminal Justice System

Lagos-based lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said mob-lynching is extrajudicial murder and those caught perpetrating in it should be prosecuted. He, however, said mob killing will continue if the government does not improve the criminal justice system.

Ogunye frowned at the reluctance of state governors to sign the death warrants of condemned criminals. He suggested that people indulge in mob-lynching because they do not trust the criminal justice system to mete out appropriate punishment for criminals.

According to Mr. Ogunye, even the police do not trust the criminal justice system, and have been known to carry out extrajudicial killings themselves.

“I’m not an abolitionist. I’m a rule-of-law person. Of all the armed robbery suspects that arrested so far, how many armed robbery cases do you think are going on in our courts?

“The police also indulge in extra-judicial killings because they believe if they go to court the suspects will be set free. All the people that are paraded as armed robbery suspects, how many of them do you see are taken to court to face armed robbery charges and are prosecuted? So once police found guns with such people they kill them on their own behind their police station. So it is the people now that are uncivilised,” he added.

Similarly, Oluyinka Oyeniji of Human Rights Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, said people participate in jungle justice because they know suspects can get away with murder.

“First of all, people don’t have the courage to lynch except they are sure they have government backing. No one can take any action except they are sure they will get away with it; that’s as a result of a lot of unresolved murders that we have in the country today. Many high profile and everyday murders went unresolved. You can get away with killing in Nigeria. So people know when they kill, they can get away with it,” Oyeniji said.

Law enforcement inadequacy

Oyeniji said mob-killings are on the increase because the perpetrators hide under the anonymity of their actions. He said more should be done, so perpetrators of jungle justice and other crimes can be easily identified.

“No community goes to hire Area Boys from outside to come and do jungle justice in a community. It is those who reside there. They are not faceless, so law enforcement agencies should wake up,” he said.

Community Policing

Proposing community policing as the way out, Barrister Jiti Ogunye said “Part of what we need to do is to break up the police force and restructure it. Let every town and every city have its own police force. That way, things like that will not even occur to warrant people massing up to mete jungle justice on anybody.

“If police are localised, it is likely that those who are going to lynch are known by the police working in that area and they will go and arrest them in their homes.” The lawyer suggested that police capacity to fight crime should be improved with gadgets such as CCTVs in communities to help identify criminals.

Arrests have been made – Police

When asked what the police is doing to stem the rising wave of mob-lynching in the country, spokesperson of the Lagos Police Command, Olarinde Famous-Cole, said the police arrested 33 people involved in the Ile-Zik and other recent lynching incidents and have charged them to court.

“We will continue to charge culpable suspects to court.

“The law is the law. The law says that anybody that killed another person has committed murder and the person is to be charged to court and be prosecuted.”

He denied that the police allows suspected criminals to go free soon after they are handed over to them.

“The police force is one of the executive arms of government. After suspects are charged to court, it is left with the judicial system. If there is enough evidence against someone that is found culpable, then the person will be charged to court. But if you say this man has committed murder and you don’t have any evidence there is not enough to get a conviction. So after a couple of months, you see them back to the community. That is why we always tell people to come forward to give us information to testify.

“There are some other crimes that are being committed that according to the law the punishment for such crimes is three months, six months, some of them are even sanctioned and sent to do community service. So you can’t blame the police when such things happen,” he said.

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