Jungle justice is the practice whereby a criminal suspect is summarily subjected to the mercy of an angry mob and without regard to the rule of law.
The practice is now widespread and is in fact gradually becoming a daily occurrence across the city of Calabar. Hardly does any day passes without a criminal suspect being lynched and roasted like a log of wood in one part of the city or the other.
Many people tend to justify the practice by casting aspersions on the law enforcement agencies and pleading the increasing lack of confidence and trust in the system of administration of justice. It is generally believed that police authorities, prosecutors and sometimes judicial officers, are easily compromised and that even notorious criminal suspects handed over to the authorities are most often released without being punished.
Indeed, there is really no fathomable reason why anybody should take to crime. However, while one is neither holding brief for the law enforcement agents nor encouraging or supporting those who take delight in living a life of crime; it is about time we echo it clearly that there are saner ways of addressing the matter and jungle justice is definitely not one of such ways. Little wonder that despite the many incidents of jungle justice, there is no corresponding reduction in crime rate.
It is not open to argument that the act of lynching and burning human beings alive is barbaric, gruesome, despicable and an outright violation of human rights. In fact, jungle justice is a travesty of justice! It reduces human life and dignity to zero and it is no doubt a greater evil than whatever crime the criminal suspect may have allegedly committed.
One evident danger in the practice of jungle justice is that an impatient and angry mob rashly arrogate to itself the absolute power of being the accuser, the prosecutor, the judge and the executioner, all at the same time.
Another obvious danger of resorting to jungle justice is the easy possibility that people can take advantage of the practice to set an angry mob on their perceived enemies, rivals and or adversaries, albeit innocent.
A case in point is the famous “ALUU 4” incident of 2012 in which four young innocent undergraduates from the University of Port Harcourt were battered and burnt alive.
It is important to note that under our current legal regime, the right to life and the dignity of the human person are not only guaranteed but also jealously guarded and protected. Thus, every person has a right to life and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in the execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
Also, every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment. Again, in the determination of any civil or criminal matter affecting any person, fair hearing is indispensable and every person is presumed innocent unless and until the contrary is proved. (See generally sections 33(1), 34(1), 36(1) & (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
The implication of the foregoing is that, no matter the gravity of the alleged offence or the notoriety and criminal propensity of the suspect, such a person still has an inalienable and fundamental right to be subjected to the only acceptable standard of justice applicable to all i.e. the formal criminal justice system. The argument that the system has now degenerated and prone to compromise is a different ball game altogether and is no justification for jungle justice.
Recourse to any informal method in the nature of jungle justice, is tantamount to a brute deviation from the norm and an egregious violation of the fundamental rights of the criminal suspect. Recall that even God who is all knowing and mighty did not summarily pronounce judgment on Adam and Eve but He afforded them a fair hearing (See Gen. 3:9-19).
The constitutional right to life is so preeminent such that even a convicted murderer cannot be summarily executed without due process of law. Thus, in the celebrated case of Aliu Bello & 13 Ors. V Attorney-General of Oyo State (1986) LPELR – 764 (S.C) in which the Plaintiffs sought to enforce the constitutional right to life of their breadwinner who was convicted for murder but summarily executed while his appeal against conviction was pending, the apex court speaking through Oputa, JSC stated thus:
“A cursory glance through the provisions of our 1979 Constitution, our supreme and fundamental law, eloquently argues against the contention that a convicted criminal is, as it were, an outlaw, bereft of all rights, who can thus be executed at the whims and caprices of the Oyo State Ministry of Justice and the Governor. …. Nasiru Bello was not only disturbed in the enjoyment of his constitutional right of appeal but also his right to life pending the outcome of his appeal was completely and totally destroyed by his premature execution.”
It is consoling that there is presently a Bill before the Senate of the National Assembly titled “Prohibition and Protection of Persons from Lynching, Mob Action and Extra-judicial Executions” which has recently passed the second reading stage. The Cross River State House of Assembly must borrow a leaf from this and urgently initiate a legislation to curb the menace of mob action in Calabar.
Additionally, it is suggested that there is the urgent need for government at all levels to positively engage relevant institutions and stakeholders with a view to restoring general societal confidence and trust in the system of justice administration.
On their part, law enforcement agents must learn to be above board in the discharge of their lawful duties. Again, the mass media and indeed all agents of information dissemination in the state now have a solemn duty much more than ever before to conscientise the public against the madness called jungle justice.
Jungle justice is not only criminal but also evil, inhuman and gruesome. We must all rise to condemn it in the strongest terms possible. We must not wait until that unfortunate but surely inevitable time when an innocent one dear to us shall become a sacrificial victim.
Eno Iyamba, Esq. is a Legal Practitioner/Law Officer in the Ministry of Justice, Calabar. He writes via [email protected]