Special: Don’t miss Phillip Asaya’s “Infractions”, an audio Spoken Word presentation at the end of this piece.
The Anti-mob Lynching Act has recently passed its second reading in the Senate, waiting to clear the third reading before being signed off and passed into law. The new Bill is aimed at curbing the menace of mob lynching and jungle justice.
The new Bill defines lynching as:
Three or more persons acting in concert for the purpose of depriving any person of his life, without authority of law as a punishment for, or to prevent the commission of some actual or supposed public offence.
Alongside lynching, the Bill covers mob action resulting in severe bodily harm, and riotous assembly causing the destruction of property. A person found guilty of instigating any of these three criminal offences will be punished by imprisonment for life or not less than 25 years.
The Bill also stipulates that a security officer, who fails to make reasonable efforts to prevent an attack, or to apprehend a perpetrator, will be punished with up to five years imprisonment, or face a fine of up to ₦500,000. A security officer who takes part in, or conspires to an extrajudicial attack, would be guilty of a capital offence. Those who have failed at prevention would be subject to dismissal and 15 years imprisonment.
Irrespective of the level of success attained by some Nigerian vigilante groups in tackling internal insecurity, the style of jungle justice clearly poses a threat to the rule of law and due process.
Often times the perpetrators are rarely arrested and prosecuted, and sometimes security officials are implicated in extrajudicial killings.
The range of alleged offences mobs have exerted punishment in Nigeria is wide. On one end of the spectrum are violent criminal offences such as murder, assault, armed robbery, rape, kidnapping, while on the other are offences against property- theft, fraud and misappropriation.
Other classes of offences for which mobs have punished suspects are accusations of witchcraft, magical theft of genitals, blasphemy and violating religious texts, violating local customs and taboos and non-observance of traditional and cult rites, among others.
A peculiar case that shocked the country involved the necklacing of four male students from the University of Port Harcourt – known as the Aluu four – in 2012. After being falsely accused of theft, the four young men had tyres doused in gasoline thrown around them and set on fire. The incident took place in Aluu, Rivers State in southern Nigeria.
The brutal attack was filmed and circulated on social media, drawing widespread condemnation from the public. This led to the arrest of 12 people, and three, including a Police Officer, was subsequently sentenced to death.
In 2015, a child said to be aged 7, was also necklaced, in Lagos, for attempting to steal garri (cassava flour) from a trader. Young children accused of witchcraft are also often targeted, sometimes by their own families.
In 2016, a homosexual was beaten to death in the South West of Ondo State A man was lynched in Ebonyi State, for motorcycle theft.
However, Mob lynching is not unique to Nigeria, or to Africa. Nigeria is also not the first country to make attempt in passing an anti-lynching bill.
Up until the mid-1900’s, African-Americans were commonly lynched in Southern USA. Attempts were made to pass the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, but were halted by Southern congressmen in the Senate. In 2005, the Senate formally apologized for this failure.
More recently, after a spate of vigilantism in India, the Country pushed for a new Protection from Lynching Act, referred to as MaSuKa. This would make lynching a specific, non-bail-able offence, punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment and a fine of 5 lakh (USD$7770).
The MaSuKa also compels security officers to pre-emptively identify attacks and to intervene without delay. Failure to do so would result in discharge and punishment for dereliction of duty. When a lynching does happen, a charge must be made within three months or a review committee will investigate, and the respective state must compensate the victim’s family.
Although the proposed law has support from 11 India political parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has complicated its passing in parliament.
The Nigerian constitution and other criminal legislation explicitly outlaw the instant longing for redress without recourse to the established channels. Section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution guarantees, in all instances, the right to fair hearing; Section 33(1) of the same constitution assures every citizen the right to life and punitively prohibits the deprivation of life except in execution of a court sentence or other approved circumstances; Sections 252 and 253 of the Criminal Code outlaw assault in all its manifestations. Thus there are enough laws in the Nigerian legal corpus prohibiting the act.
There is little doubt that Nigeria’s anti-mob lynching bill will be passed. With police and judicial support, it could provide an important precedent for countries struggling with mob lynching and indifference by security personnel.
Listen to Philip Asaya’s Infraction, to get a feel of the whole situation: