By Pat Amobi Chukwuma
Few years ago, two bosom friends, Bobby and Sunny, went for an evening party somewhere. Their hostess was a lawmaker in the State House of Assembly. She was a beautiful, generous, honourable and first class lady. Her two guests ate and drank to their satisfaction. She greased their palms with fat envelops. They engaged in friendly conversation, punctuated with sporadic laughter. Suddenly, the honourable lawmaker received a distress call that armed robbers shot her fellow lawmaker as he was driving home that evening. He was seriously wounded and was rushed by his two escorts to the nearest hospital. At once, the lawmaker dropped her phone and was tensed up on whom next. Out of panic the two-friend guests excused themselves and looked for their way home.
Since darkness had descended, they were afraid of those men of the underworld. It was Sunny that brought Bobby on his car. Hence he ought to take him back to his residence. On approaching the gate leading to Bobby’s house, Sunny asked him to find his way in because the gate had been locked from behind. Bobby opened the car’s door and stepped out. Caught with extreme fear of the unknown, he beckoned on his friend to wait for him as he looked for a way to get in. Out of anxiety, Sunny shouted, “There is no brotherhood in the jungle!” He turned his car and quickly sped off. The stranded Bobby was on his English suit with extra large tie. He looked left and right and did not see anyone. He told himself, “There is no gentleman in the jungle.” He jumped up acrobatically and scaled over the wall. Unfortunately, he fell into an open tank filled with water on the other side. Luckily he swam his way out and was dripping with water as he was entering his house. His two houseboys opened the door when he knocked. Seeing him soaked with water, one of the boys asked, “Uncle, who watered you?” He replied, “My boy, don’t worry yourself. I am from the jungle.” Then he walked dejectedly into his room. The two boys made mockery of him at his back.
What is a jungle? Wikipedia defines jungle as “a large, underdeveloped, humid forest, especially in a tropical region, that is home to many wild plants and animals.” It is also “a place where people behave ruthlessly, unconstrained by law or morality.” It is a terrible experience to find oneself trapped in the jungle.
Justice on the other hand is defined by Merriam as “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments. It involves doing the right thing no matter the person involved. It can come in the form of reward or punishment. It is commonly said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.
Taken together, Wikipedia says: “Jungle justice or mob justice is a form of public extrajudicial killings in Sub-Saharan Africa, most notably Nigeria and Cameroon, where an alleged criminal is humiliated, beaten or summarily executed by a crowd or vigilantes.” This reminds us of the dreaded Bakassi Boys who used to cut criminals into pieces and set them on fire at the middle of the main road. They were invited to Anambra State during the reign of Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju to deal with armed robbers who had overtaken the state. They cut suspected criminals into pieces with sharp machetes and burned them. Their presence reduced the rate of armed robbery then. It was a merciless killing without giving the suspect any chance of hearing. As time went on, those dreaded boys were used by politicians to settle scores. As a result of the jungle justice and lack of fair hearing, some innocent people were also massacred like fowls in broad daylight. In Onitsha, an innocent couple was cut down at the prime of their marriage by the dreaded boys. Because of the awful killing of innocent persons, the dreaded boys were sent out of the state.
Jungle justice clearly manifests itself in Thomas Hobbes State of Nature, which is the natural condition of mankind. In this state, every person has a natural right to do anything one thinks necessary for the preservation of one’s own life. Life there is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. It is a life of the survival of the fittest. It is a lawless society. In his work titled ‘Leviathan’ Hobbes describes this natural condition in this Latin phrase: “bellum omnium contra omnes,” which means “war of all against all.” Through the institution of Law in human society, mankind came out of the State of Nature. Regrettably today, man seems to be drifting back to that State of Nature by taking laws into his hands.
Not long ago in Lagos, a lawyer married a lawyer. They gave birth to a prisoner. Things fell apart. The wife accused her husband of infidelity. The husband did neither deny nor accept the accusation. The wife lawyer could not wait going to court to prove her case. Anger and jealousy clouded her senses. She decided to take laws into her hands. An opportunity came one day at night. As her suspected unfaithful lawyer and husband was deep asleep with wrapper tied round his waist, the learned wife cunningly removed the wrapper and then cut his penis from its root with a very sharp knife as punishment for the infidelity. Blood started flowing like River Niger. The husband screamed, but it was too late. Within few minutes he died in the pool of his blood. That was an instance of jungle justice.
Somewhere else, a certain man accused his lawfully wedded wife of dating another man. The wife refuted the allegation by swearing with heaven and earth. The husband did not believe her, but decided to divorce her informally. The wife swore that she would not leave the house because she was innocent of the allegation. The estranged husband decided to take laws into his hands. He threw the wife’s property outside and pushed her away also. As the ejected woman was knocking heavily on the door, the angry husband cocked his pistol and shot her at the heart at close range. She fell down, screamed and died in her pool of blood. For fear of being arrested, the confused husband and murderer pointed the pistol at own himself and shattered his own head. His body dropped beside that of his lifeless wife. When their three little children came back from school, they couldn’t believe what they saw. They fainted instantly. Sympathizers rushed them to the hospital and from there to the orphanage. What a pity!
In the animal world, the vulture gave his mother some breadfruit to cook for him. Then he went out for an expedition and came back hungry. He asked his mother to serve him the cooked breadfruit. She lovely served it to him. The vulture felt that his mother tampered with the breadfruit because of its small quantity. Indeed a hungry man is an angry man. He locked his mother inside their house, set it on fire and flew angrily away. When the vulture’s anger subsided, he came back to look for his mother and to rescue her. But it was too late. She has been burnt into ashes. Because of the guilt of this jungle justice, the vulture hovers wherever there is fire and smoke looking endlessly for his mother till today.
The lynching of criminals at the least provocation is an act of jungle justice. In the past, many thieves, armed robbers and kidnappers have been killed by mob action. Often a motor tyre is hung around their necks and set on fire. They were reduced to ashes. In law an accused is presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proved in Law court. But if the criminal is armed and poses danger to the life of others, he can be shot at sight. Often due to high rate of theft, armed robbery or kidnapping, people around the scene of crime dispense jungle justice immediately. For them, arresting the criminal and charging him to court involves a long process. Sometimes the criminals are set free by law enforcement agents. Therefore the people take laws into their hands by administering jungle justice instantly.
Before the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections, President Buhari stipulated jungle justice by shooting at sight anyone found carting away the ballot box. His presidential campaign spokesman and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Festus Keyamo, supported the President’s directive as being lawful. Nigerians cried out. If a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) goes contrary to the Rule of Law, should he not be demoted to Junior Advocate of Nigeria (JAN)? On his own part Governor El-rufai of Kaduna State, threatened foreign election observers with jungle justice by being carried home in body bags, if they interfere in the elections. This raised a lot of dust in the polity and was condemned by lovers of the Rule of Law. Jungle justice is not a fashionable practice.
God himself condemns jungle justice. When Cain killed his brother in the bush and was running away, God accosted him by asking, “Where is your brother, Abel?” Cain replied, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). The God of justice spelt out punishment on Cain for taking laws into his hands in these words: “Now be cursed and driven from the ground that has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood that your hand has shed. When you till the soil, it will no longer yield you its produce. You will be a fugitive wandering on the earth” (Gen. 4:11 – 12). Also, during his earthly ministry, the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman caught in the very act of adultery. The Mosaic Law stipulated that such an adulterous woman must be stoned to death. This was a jungle justice. Jesus being merciful and following the Rule of Law asked the men who brought her, “Let anyone among you who has not sinned be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). They all dropped their stones and went away feeling guilty themselves. In essence, if we dispense jungle justice on such offenders, who will be spared?