NIGERIA is fast receding into Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature, where life is short, nasty and brutish. This deviancy rose to the fore again last month when a mob burnt a suspected thief alive at a Lagos bus stop. Although the gruesome video of the lynching trended on the social media, the police added to the macabre narrative by their denial that nobody was burnt to death. It is good that the police have recanted after the storm generated by their initial rebuttal.
In many ways, the social media, often vilified for its slack professionalism, merits fresh attention for exposing the lie that there was no such mob execution. Why the police dismissed a report that had gone viral online is disturbing, but the initial story was that the victim was a seven-year-old boy that was lynched in Badagry – for stealing garri. After their hasty denial, the police were forced to reverse themselves in the face of pressure. Their investigation unearthed an uncomfortable truth: an unidentified young man was indeed caught in Orile Iganmu by a mob for attacking a lady.
The mob did not hand him over to the police as the law demands, but burnt him alive. This is cruel; an uncivilised deed that cannot be justified. It is a throwback to the Dark Ages, where barbarism conflated with the exercise of state power. Across the country, it keeps on repeating itself. On Tuesday, New Owerri, in the Imo State capital, was seized with mob action when commercial motorcyclists burnt alive two suspects who snatched a lady’s bag.
Yet, in law, no citizen has a right to punish a fellow citizen. Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution vests exclusive powers in the courts to try alleged offenders, without which there can be no punishment. Ignorance of the law or the negligence of the police, who probably botch the cases of suspects, is not an excuse for citizens to take the law into their own hands. Therefore, all those involved in the mob action in Orile Iganmu should be found and tried for murder.
We should stop advertising Nigeria as primeval, an antithesis of a progressive society governed by the rule of law. But the police are complicit. They allow hoodlums to freely perpetrate criminal acts at the Orile Iganmu bus stop – and other locations – without acting. Fighting crime includes taking preventive measures, mapping out black spots, profiling criminals, mounting patrols and using modern technology. Really, all this was absent. This negligence emboldens criminals and the lynch mob. This case should change all this.
We demand that the state Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, should identify the culprits in the video and bring them to justice. Their brief stopped at arresting a suspect. The rest is in the hands of the authorities. Modern societies detest ordinary citizens taking the law into their own hands; it leads to anarchy. Honestly, too many people have died in their prime through mob injustice.
Indeed, our landscape brims with such cases of summary trials, shedding of innocent blood and bestial executions. In a bone-chilling case in 2012, four undergraduates of the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, were beaten to a pulp and burnt alive for alleged theft. A uniformed security agent appeared in the gory video, egging on the crowd. The case has not yet reached a conclusion despite the outrage it elicited. Is it that those who carried out the executions do not have children?
But the case of one “Mopol” in Agege, Lagos, is slightly different. Accused of being a notorious robber, a mob was about to set him ablaze when he was rescued by police. Things changed dramatically when he threatened to return and deal with all those who beat him up. This incensed the crowd. They dragged him out of the police vehicle and burnt him alive with used tyres. The same ugly fate befell a notorious thief called “Emma-B” who met his death in Warri, Delta State in May. He was arrested by vigilantes, beaten and burnt to death. This is horrible.
The list is lengthy, and it is a real cause for action by the police. Take the case of Akinnifesi Olubunmi, who was “tried and convicted” by a mob in Ondo State in February for allegedly being a homosexual. His punishment was instant death by burning. He could not defend himself as is legally proper. Similarly, in June, two men were apprehended in Mushin, Lagos, for alleged armed robbery. They were beaten up and tied to an electric pole. The police saved the day. We have to stop this nasty edge to our collective humanity.
When, in November, a mob lynched a paedophile suspected of raping a four-year-old girl to death in Reyes, Bolivia, the police tracked down some of the culprits by questioning locals and examining social media videos. The police here should do the same, by employing forensics to identify those culpable in the Orile Iganmu video. A swift trial is likely to be salutary to bloodthirsty mobs to kill no more.