Jungle Justice: Public Injustice?

By: Emmanuel Utibe

The sight of lynching or mob beating is not uncommon in Nigeria. Growing up at a point, it was like “The Mob Court” was the surest court in the land in delivering popular justice. It was not uncommon to hear people talking about how there was no need to hand over criminals to the police.

To them the police, could not be trusted too; “Why hand over a criminal to his brother?” They would say. True to this, most of the people who got handed over to the police always seem to be getting out and back to where they started.

The police got need to get their palms “scratched” and that would be the end of it. It is also a fact that the police were either charging to court for weak charges- like the case of the police charging the killers of Deborah to a magistrate court for criminal conspiracy and not for murder and extra-judicial killing- or not charging them at all.

Therefore, in the face of the seemly not so optimal Judicial service in Nigeria, jungle justice has its strong appeal and justification to the Nigerian populace even among the educated ones. But then is jungle justice a true child of justice?

The modern justice system is based on principles that have developed over the years among human beings to ensure effective justice delivery. The most important of those principles are further enshrined in the highest rulebook of the land- the constitution. They are included as fundamental rights of each member of the state. The right to a fair hearing under which is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of competent jurisdiction.

This in itself is where jungle justice errs, while jungle justice seems to satisfy the principle that justice must be delivered with delivery, it does that at the cost of being an injustice by trumping other necessary principles of justice.
A case of why the right of free hearing is the principle of justice is that of a boy and of a girl who was killed despite their innocence because they were never allowed to defend that innocence in the “court of the mob”.

Also, growing up, it was not uncommon to hear and see people being lynched and then finding out afterward that the person in question who may well be dead, was innocent and had been wrongly accused.

William Blackstone once said: “it is better than 10 guilty people escape than that one person suffers”. We all want justice but justice cannot be fuelled by just raging emotions. A system that substitutes evidence-based trials for urgent beat-out sessions would always find its way to deliver injustice.

Furthermore, given that Jungle justice violates the rule of law from which Justice ultimately has her bases, it can not in itself be a just cause. If you kill the pregnant mother, surely the child in her would not be able to survive. How does jungle justice violate rule of law?

For one the rule of law has everybody being equal before the law and are thus treated as equals by the law and from this, the principle of consistency as a principle of justice is derived.

If nothing, jungle justice is not consistent, there are no equal outcomes for the same case. While one thief could be beaten today, the other could be killed the very next moment. Even in beating, the degree of punishment in beating is never consistent. Even in the treatment of persons, the mob court is not consistent, cause while the powerless truck pusher could be mobbed for so little a crime and even sent to his grave, the big man with a mansion at the end of the street who makes way with the contribution his tenants make for the light bill would seldom meet the same fate.

True, justice delayed could be justice denied but a justice that doesn’t respect the rule of law, is not consistent, is not evidence-based and of utmost doesn’t respect the fundamental right of a person is nothing but an INJUSTICE MASQUERADING.

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