Imagine yourself standing half-naked in front of a mob of screaming people, bleeding, stumbling as you dodge tackles, five tall and fit young men are asking you millions of questions as they rain combinations of slaps and blows to your head. Even your lower body is not spared, some people attempt to strip you naked as if they are trying to take away your last means of protecting yourself: your dignity.
You hear chuckles and ask yourself what could be funny about the situation? The joke is on you though, some of these guys are having the time of their lives. Mixed with the blood gushing out of your head, no one can see your tears, even your cry for help is drowned in a sea of accusing voices and slaps. All this happened to me!
A spectacle to some, an annoying distraction to others while some people take it way too serious, like, to the extreme. Those are the guys that come with the car tires and fuel.
On the 17th of July, 2016, I was coming back from my then workplace, a multimedia studio in Lekki around 9:30 PM. At the Ajah roundabout, in the direction of Lakowe. As I waited to hail a cab back home, a red saloon car pulled up in front of me and a tall, dark-skinned, bald-headed man dropped from it, he walked over to where I was standing and suddenly grabbed hold of my shirt. Shocked, I tried to pull free but he held on tight, looked me dead in the eye and asked me the question that changed my life; “Oh boy, why you hold my leg that time?”.
As I started to process where I knew him from and how impossible it was for me to hold someone’s leg without my own knowledge, the first wave of slaps came in, hot ones.
According to his story, he was at the bus-stop earlier and had his phone stolen by a young male wearing a white t-shirt, he mobilized a mob from the bus-stop he discovered the theft: Abraham Adesanya bus-stop and moved them back to Ajah roundabout to catch the phone thief. So there I was, at Ajah bus-stop, in a white t-shirt, pacing about as I tried to catch a ride home. The mob concluded that I had to be the phone thief. Judgment was swift and the punishment, ruthless.
I survived the incident, unlike the huge number of young Nigerian men, women and even children who have lost their lives to the menace called Jungle Justice.
Here are 5 things you need to know about Extra judicial torture/killings popularly called Jungle Justice:
IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYBODY, EVEN IN DAYTIME.
I am sure that as you read my opener, you made a mental decision to try as much as possible to cut down on your nocturnal movements or maybe give out some of your white t-shirts. I am sorry to burst your bubble but A LOT of jungle justice incidents happen in broad daylight. Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Lloyd, Chiadika Biringa and Tekena Elkanah also known as the Aluu Four were paraded, tortured and killed in the morning of the 5th of October 2012 in the full glare of the Aluu community people, leaders, and even security officers.
You would think that children are safe from jungle justice, but sadly, that is not the case. Some years ago, an amateur video of a jungle justice incident emerged online, it was also shown on Channels TV. Viewers watched in horror as a young boy was beaten and burnt to death, he was accused of attempting to kidnap a baby. In a very disturbing video, the boy can be seen begging for his life.
Jungle justice shows no respect for any gender. Flimsy allegations of witchcraft have resulted in the deaths of many innocent women. It is a wildfire that consumes helpless victims and everything in its path, in most cases, it only takes an accuser and a mob like this incident in Abia State for things to go south, no real effort is usually made to establish a case or investigate claims.
PEOPLE TAKE THE LAWS INTO THEIR HANDS BECAUSE THEY DO NOT TRUST THE POLICE TO DO THEIR JOBS PROPERLY.
In my own case, I was saved from certain death by a police patrol team that was in the vicinity at the time of the incident. An area boy that was partaking in the beating crossed over to the other side of the road to call the police team. Before then, some people in the crowd suggested that they call the police but others refused, arguing that the police would set me free before the break of day and allow me to come back to seek revenge.
The general public finds it hard to have confidence in the Nigerian Police Force always in the news for cases of citizens’ harassment and intimidation, the Nigerian Police is also understaffed, its operations spread thin resulting in slow response times. When they eventually show up at the scene, lots of evidence go missing and witnesses refuse to cooperate because their safety cannot be guaranteed, most of the time the policemen are left with only the suspects and forced to release them because of the absence of a case (Which is what happened in my case).
The local vigilante squads are worse, most of them are uneducated and paranoid, sometimes consulting charms to determine a suspect’s innocence or guilt. The majority of the mob justice incidents that happened in the wake of the Baddo killings in Ikorodu were initiated by the local vigilante groups. In a lot of cases, jungle justice survivors are saved because a good samaritan took a stand before the police intervene.
NOT REPORTING A JUNGLE JUSTICE INCIDENT MAKES YOU AN ACCOMPLICE TO MURDER. CALL FOR HELP.
The appropriate thing to do with your phone at a jungle justice scene is to call the Police, not fill up your phone’s gallery with videos and pictures of the victim’s ordeal. While the beating was going on, I broke free from the mob and stood on the highway, screaming and trying my best to make cars stop and save me, all to no avail, everyone drove past me. I know that the sight of a beaten, blood-drenched, tattered looking man on the road is a scary sight but emergency call services are toll-free, yes…free of charge, you get to save a life and keep your precious airtime intact, a win-win.
Many people stand by and watch jungle justice happen, some justify it, citing previous experience in the hands of criminals. A couple of months ago, on a bike ride around the Sabo, Yaba area of Lagos, I came across a group of people beating a young male. I asked the bike man to park and proceeded to question the mob, they said that he was caught while trying to steal a phone, I asked about the phone and they said it had been retrieved from him. “Why are you still beating him then? I asked. They replied that it was to teach him a lesson, a lesson he would never forget. I told them that it was wrong to assault him and that they should report him to a police station if they wanted to teach him a lesson. This particular incident happened in front of a place of worship, you would think that as worshippers of God, people would try to stop killing but numerous jungle justice stories like this one prove the contrary.
Emergency Services Number for Lagos is 112 by the way.
JUNGLE JUSTICE IS A GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION.
According to this United Nations Report, human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion and any other status. Human rights include the right to life, liberty, freedom from slavery and torture and many more.
Jungle justice, also known as ‘extrajudicial killings and torture’ is when a mob of people assumes the role of the judge, jury, and executioner in a criminal case. Most of the time, the suspected criminals are interrogated under duress and executed on the spot with the help of car tires and petrol. Among laws that stand against the act of jungle justice is Section 33(1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which states that: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offense which he/she has been found guilty” this means that even if you catch a suspect red-handed and can prove a case, you still don’t have any right to harm him/her. In fact, Section 33 to 46 of the Nigerian constitution is all about the protection of human rights.
Is awareness the problem or an unwillingness of security agencies to enforce?
THE SCARS NEVER FADE
I still suffer from panic attacks, PTSD, anxiety, and depression till date, all after-effects of my experience that night. The physical and emotional trauma I suffered that night cannot be put to words. After my wounds were healed, I spent an extra two weeks indoors, trying to get my composure realigned.
After an experience like that, you tend to look at human beings differently. You become hyper-sensitive to movements and noise, having seen the worst of humanity, it takes a special grace and care from loved ones to see the good in people again. Mental health plays a huge role in this discussion, most of the perpetrators of jungle justice are angry and bitter from either past happenings or factors of their present environment. Violence is usually an outlet for this pent-up anger and frustration, and when a suspected thief is caught, the situation presents an opportunity to lash out.
In 2017, I and some friends started a group that uses football to pass the anti-jungle justice message to different communities in Lagos. Jungle justice is a nation-wide problem and there’s still a lot to be done. We need to educate ourselves on human rights matters, this is a task that cannot be left to advocates alone.
Human rights ought to be discussed in schools, places of worship, the market place, the workplace, and our communities. Laws must be passed to criminalize jungle justice and protect the citizens from the scourge. In 2016 an anti-jungle justice bill was sponsored by Sen Dino Melaye on the floor of the Nigerian Senate, since then, the bill is yet to see the light of day, it needs to become law and you can help.
You can sign this petition to help bring our lawmakers to pass the anti-jungle justice to the law.
No one deserves to go through what I went through that night, we owe it to humanity to do whatever we can to put an end to extra-judicial killings. #StandAgainstJungleJustice