Police responsible for Nigeria’s jungle justice culture
Last week as the weeks before it and possibly the ones to come, a silent problem raged with less attention. Hoodlums were said to have invaded a filling station around Delabo Junction, Ilisan-Remo, in the Ikenne Local Government Area of Ogun State, killing two night guards. It would be recalled that the Hausa residents in the town had on Friday clashed with the police for refusing to hand over the two armed robbery suspects who attempted to steal a motorcycle belonging to one of them. The Hausas had demanded that the two suspects be handed over to them so that they could deal with them despite the police assurance that the robbery suspects would get the deserved treatment under the law.The police had, however, rebuffed this primitive attempt but the Hausas had reportedly insisted to have their ways, hurling stones and sticks at the police officers.
This is just one example of several related mob justices that permeate the daily lives of Nigerians, which has been accepted as normal. Nigerians have been accustomed to obscene amounts of violence which physically exposes man’s inhumanity to man, a hangover from decades of military rule. During military rule, Lagosians living around Bar Beach were entertained regularly with sightings of people shot at stakes, with victims ranging from armed robbers to soldiers accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Such sights helped to internalize streams of consciousness of violence that has become a language used for easy communication.
The end of military rule did not bring about a change in orientation. Rather, democracy which promised better institutions and better respect for rights turned out to be the victim of its own incompetence. This is not a case against democracy, but an acknowledgement of the fact that the pseudodemocracy Nigeria’s ruling class have entrenched has provided even worse outcomes than was foreseen during military rule. Trust in public institutions and in government fleets every second and the nonchalance of public officials does not help. As a result, they have been at the receiving end of it. On February 13, it was reported that some youths stormed the Oja-Odan Police Station in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State and set ablaze a couple found with fresh human parts, who were arrested and detained in the facility. The youths asked the police to release the suspects but the officers on duty refused. The restive youths consequently forced themselves into the police cell, brought out the couple and set them ablaze. While we must commend the actions of the police in respecting the law, we must also point out that the police are a victim of their own doing. The attack on the station and the lynching of the suspects is a big indication that people do not trust the law to take its course, and have thus become a law unto themselves, and sadly the police has been a huge influence in this mistrust as a result of allegations that criminals handed over to the police are being released after bribes are paid, or bailed even when the offences for which they were arrested are not bailable offences. It might have taken one action in the past, but the consequences rub off on the entire force and thus puts a target on the backs of police officers sent to quell public disturbances.
Repairing relations between the government and the people is an enormous amount of work that needs to be done. For people to respect the law and its officers, officers who are instruments of the law must begin to respect the people to earn their trust. Governing a people without a mutual amount of trust is a recipe for bad policy implementation, a reality which Nigeria is never out of. Hence, no amount of appeals by the police for people to stop mob violence and jungle justice will stop this malaise, but it is far easier to appeal to people to stop evil than to find out why people evil and take important steps to reduce the outbreaks of evil.