It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was about 8 and mum was making lunch in the kitchen while I watched T.V, the house was filled with aunts and uncles who had come to visit and dad was playing host. Suddenly we heard the shouts from a large crowd on the street and instinctively we all rushed out to find out what was going on. Initially, it was hard to figure out what was happening in the midst of all the people and their different excited voices until we were able to see ahead to where the crowd had gathered around a middle aged man who was stark naked, bleeding from different parts of his body and was seriously pleading for his life, his face covered in tears/blood/sand/.
Information quickly reaching me stated that the victim of this mob action had been accused of stealing hence the inhuman treatment. He was paraded from one end of my street to the other, accompanied by area boys wielding sticks, whips or whatever they could get their hands on and not in the least hesitating to use it on the victim’s bare skin. I wanted to follow the mob but my parents were having none of it, I was directed to go into the house and took position by the window trying to see what happened next. Eventually, the mob moved from the front of our house and half-beat/half – dragged the alleged thief with them. Later on I learnt the man was forced to drink a mixture of cement and he was left by the road to die while his insides solidified as the cement in his lungs and stomach choked him to death. That was my first experience of mob justice and I still remember it after over 20 years.
Mob justice is when a large angry mob takes justice into their own hands and it usually ends with someone getting beating to a pulp, paraded naked in public and even set on fire or killed. It refers to a situation in which a large disorganized crowd of people resort to violence and destruction in an attempt to ensure fairness and equity for themselves without recourse to the institutionalized public bodies entrusted with this responsibility. It’s a very barbaric way of dispensing justice and should have no place among common folk.
Mob justice is not however unique to Nigeria and it would be unfair to characterize it as such. One infamous lynching in particular that really shocked the world and helped to spark the civil rights movement in the United States was in August 1955, when 14-year-old Emmett Till was beaten, his eyes gouged and shot in the head. His body was then thrown in the Tallahatchie River with a 70-pound cotton gin tied around his neck with barbed wire. His crime? Allegedly whistling at a white woman.
Mob action can be attributed to ineffective prosecution, a weak judicial system and evidence of a culture of impunity. In addition, this judicial failure is prompting the security agencies to join mob action through the shoot and kill policy. Factors that contribute to the escalation of mob action include an under-resourced police personnel, growing crime rate, poor police-civilian relations as well as impatience on the part of people to wait for the law to take its course.
Most justice or mob lynching is a crime and must be castigated. Section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution tells us that “[E]very 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 offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
Every individual according to Section 34 of the Constitution is also entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and no person shall be subject to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment; neither shall any person be held in slavery or servitude; and no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour. Also, Section 36 of the Constitution provides that "every person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality. Mob justice is a violation of these rights, so also is torture by the Nigerian police or any other member of the armed forces/security agencies that use such ineffective tactics of investigation.
Furthermore, Section 315 of the Criminal code, Cap C38, LFN provides that “Any person who unlawfully kills another is guilty of an offence called murder or manslaughter, according to the circumstances of the case.” Setting a person on fire or beating a person to a pulp till they die in the name of mob justice is cold blooded murder and punishable by law. Other elements of crime involved in mob justice include: assault and battery as stated in Sections 351-356. Chapter 54 also tells us that it is a criminal offence to conspire with other persons to commit a crime. Grievous harm (i.e. “bodily hurt which seriously or permanently injures health, or which is likely so to injure health, or which extends to permanent disfigurement or to any permanent or serious injury to any external or internal organ, member, or sense)is an offence under the criminal code.
People who participate in mob actions either by jeering the crowd or participating in the actual acts of violence are not left off the hook as Section 7 of the Criminal Code is very clear that:
“When an offence is committed, each of the following persons is deemed to have taken part in committing the offence and to be guilty of the offence, and may be charged with actually committing it, that is to say-
(a) every person who actually does the act or makes the omission which constitutes the offence;
(b) every person who does or omits to do any act for the purpose of enabling or aiding another person to commit the offence;
(c) every person who aids another person in committing the offence;
(d) any person who counsels or procures any other person to commit the offence.”
Putting an end to mob justice will take a collective effort from all levels of government in sanitizing and informing the public about its ills and the punishment involved in participating in such acts. Also, effective public-police relations, strong police accountability and a swift administration of justice in criminal cases should be maintained. This means the government should undertake a broad popular education campaign aimed at improving public understanding of the criminal justice system and discouraging mob justice. The government should also address the failings in the police and judicial system.
Adedunmade Onibokun, Esq.
Adedunmade is a legal practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria. He holds a Masters degree in International Business Law from the University of Bradford and publishes the Legalnaija law blog