I remember it like yesterday; pictures and videos being shared of Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Lloyd, Chiadika Biringa, and Tekena Elkanah as they were murdered by a mob on October 5, 2012 in Aluu, a village in Rivers State, Nigeria. The young men, all friends, first sons of their parents and students at the University of Port Harcourt, were accused of theft.
Those images of the incident still haunt me. Women and men and children on the side cheering, and some helplessly looking on, to the merciless jamming of hard wood into the skulls and bones of a defenseless group of young men who were never given the chance to speak for themselves or the option of an arrest.
It is appalling how unbothered we all are despite the countless mob lynchings that occur in our country. The seeming lack of political will to address this grave issue which has taken the life of so many of our loved ones and our collective silence is, in my view, an endorsement of widespread vigilantism.
Chidiaka, Toku, Tekena and Ugonna were, like you and I, young people with dreams of living life to its fullest potential and contributing greatly to Nigeria’s development. I am most certain that they and their families and loved ones did not envisage that their young lives would be snuffed out by stick and stone-wielding vigilantes. Never for a second would they have imagined being stripped naked, beaten, dragged through mud and have concrete slabs dropped on their heads as a spectacle of people’s idea of justice in a community whose name in Igbo, loosely translates to “abomination”.
Just this morning, I saw another grotesque post on Facebook about a young man who was lynched in Ondo State, in the South Western part of Nigeria. The author of the post called it the “End of a Gay” as if to justify the senseless and savage killing of his fellow compatriot because he is or perceived to be non-heterosexual. It seemed to me that his post was a warning to other gay, lesbian and bisexual people in Nigeria who should know that homosexuality is criminalized up to 14 years jail and, he will therefore exact his own form of justice.
These stories expose the crisis of jungle justice that is prevalent in many communities across Nigeria. They, in part, point to a situation of people taking justice into their hands because of, inter alia, the lack of trust in the law enforcement and justice systems.
As a child growing up in Lagos, the sight of people being wounded/harmed without hesitation at a mere scream of the word OLE (thief) is not new to me. This has traumatized me and brings back those frightening experiences every time I see pictures and videos of someone being lynched. At the time, you were only left with the gory images in your mind as you try to recollect and narrate the incident to your friends. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the psychological harm witnessing these incidents can cause.
The level of impunity that the perpetrators of these mob violence enjoy is worrying. You would think there would be more arrests and charges being handed down given that evidence of these incidents is so readily accessible. Why has justice not been served on the perpetrators of the Aluu lynching and many others? I worry that this might be the case of Akinifessi in Ondo State as well. Sadly, these incidents have not had much impact on us. Consequently, rather than cause empathy and sympathy the perpetrators are often feted with endorsements such as the attracted vitriolic comments suggesting that Akinifessi deserved to die for presumably being gay.
It is high time we accept that jungle justice on any ground affects all of us. Anyone can be the next victim. You might be caught in a situation like Tekena’s sister who watched her brother being murdered right in front of her while her scream and pleas for mercy yielded no effect on the angry mob that killed him.
It is time for president Buhari to address this issue. He must deal with the challenges of the law enforcement and justice systems. We cannot continue to watch families and communities being torn apart. Buhari, as a champion of change, needs to lead an effort to improve the necessary systems and protect the sanctity of life.