MY DISAGREEMENT WITH THE “Mob Justice” BILL

In the wake of the gruesome extrajudicial murder of the four young men who have since come to be known as the “Aluu4”, author Okechukwu Ofili drafted a bill against mob justice and began an online campaign to support the passage of the bill into law. As the act of a concerned citizen not merely contented with wringing his hands and lamenting the abyss that Nigeria is inching towards, it is an act that must be commended. However, if we put the good intentions of Mr Ofili and his supporters aside and examine the substance of the petition and the bill itself, we will find that it actually isn’t as punchy as its enthusiasts believe.

The petition begins with the misconception that mob justice is not a crime in Nigeria. Several tweets were sent out along the lines of “[Counterfeiting stamps] is an offence in Nigeria but mob justice isn’t. Sign the petition and say ‘Never Again’ to mob justice!” I say ‘misconception’ because there is absolutely nothing about “mob justice” (or ochlocracy, as Teju Cole explains) that is legal, even in the international backwater that we frequently agree is Nigeria. After all, mob justice is the colloquial term given to the actions of a group of people taking laws into their own hands and assuming the positions of judge, jury and executioner over persons suspected of committing a crime.

What are the acts that constitute “mob justice”? Typically, the Nigerian “mob” sets on the suspects, strips them naked, beats them senseless and very often murders them by setting them on fire. To say that mob justice is not a crime is to suggest that each of these heinous acts is perfectly legal. Clearly, this position is absolutely untenable.

Before we even venture into the Criminal Code, let us examine the supreme legal document in the land – the 1999 Constitution. Chapter IV of the constitution states the fundamental rights of each and every Nigerian citizen.

Section 33(1) tells us that “[E]very person has a right to life and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.” Section 34(1)(a) says “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman and degrading treatment.” Section 36 guarantees the right to “a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.”

It is clear that nothing that happened in Aluu is “not a crime in Nigeria”, going by the Constitution.

But what about the Criminal Code? Section 315 provides that “[A]ny person who unlawfully kills another is guilty of an offence which is called murder or manslaughter, according to the circumstances of the case.” Sections 351-356 clearly state what constitutes assault. Chapter 54 tells us that it is a criminal offence to conspire with other persons to commit a crime. Grievous harm (i.e. “ bodily hurt which seriously or permanently injures health, or which is likely so to injure health, or which extends to permanent disfigurement or to any permanent or serious injury to any external or internal organ, member, or sense)is also an offence under the criminal code. On the parties to an offence, Section 7 of the Criminal Code is very clear and I reproduce the pertinent part below:

“When an offence is committed, each of the following persons is deemed to have taken part in committing the offence and to be guilty of the offence, and may be charged with actually committing it, that is to say-

(a) every person who actually does the act or makes the omission which constitutes the offence;

(b) every person who does or omits to do any act for the purpose of enabling or aiding another person to commit the offence;

(c) every person who aids another person in committing the offence;

(d) any person who counsels or procures any other person to commit the offence.”

It is therefore also clear that nothing that happened in Aluu is “not a crime in Nigeria”, going by the Criminal Code. Not even standing by or cheering on the murderers.

For me, therefore, the entire campaign was based on an entirely false premise. I was unable to bring myself to retweet or advocate for support for it. The truth is that the so-called “Mob Justice Bill” does not and will not change the law. Mob justice is already illegal. If it wasn’t, there would be no basis for charging the persons who have now been arraigned for the crime that was committed in Aluu.

Is there a bigger implication for social media advocacy? Yes. We cannot sit on our technological high horses and accuse the government of profligacy or inefficiency and engage in conduct that encourages the very same things. If we intend to be taken seriously at the very highest levels, we need to ensure that our actions are not only sentimentally sound but that they are also valid under the rule of law.

There is even a more potentially dangerous side of which we must all be aware. In law school, we are taught that criminal law is the easiest aspect of law for newly qualified lawyers to get into. This is because offences are broken down into separate components and once a lawyer can show that even one component of, say, a five component offence is absent, his client walks. Laws that would create crimes must be mindful of this “flip side”.

Again, we must separate the intentions of the “Mob Justice Bill” advocates from the obviously unintended outcome of their actions. We cannot deny that the Bill was borne out of the desire to make a change and the intention of the promoters of the Bill should be acknowledged.

Finally, does this piece mean that we should all sit down in our comfort zones and do nothing about unlawful killings and extrajudicial justice? By no means. Like most things that are fundamentally wrong with Nigeria, strengthening [democratic and judicial] institutions is the key to progress. The faith of the common man in the justice system must be restored. To achieve this, there must be police and judicial reform. Extensive work has already been done on a framework for the reform of the Nigerian police and can be found here. Turnaround time must be reduced in the judiciary and advocacy that would achieve an end to mob justice would be better channelled, in my opinion, along these lines.

RF (@TexTheLaw)

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16 thoughts on “MY DISAGREEMENT WITH THE “Mob Justice” BILL

  1. Uncle tex!!!
    Great read.
    I feel that in nigeria, we sometimes have collective amnesia, especially when we are emotionally motivated. This Mob justice bill Is just another example. I’ve seen it come to fore mostly during or just before elections when a candidates horrid and corrupt past is totally ignored for sentimental reasons.
    Now with the reawakening of our citizenry as an aftermath of the #occupy nigeria protests, I feel these citizens must be guided aright. Everyone should be diligent and concerned enough to make consultations before attempting to gather public outcry/smpathy or whatever against any perceived injustice. ALUU4 is a tragedy, but its not a governmental one, its a societal one. Nigerians have no faith in a govt they elected. From my basic Govt for secondary schools knowledge, I believe what they should do is chastise their leaders and pressurize them, not do the national assembly’s Job for it. Ofili had good intentions, but that has resulted in misguiding others.

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  2. Tex,

    You articulated my thots perfectly. I had an all-day argument wit some ppl on twitter on dis on Friday. In addition to points u already raised, the Criminal Code is sufficient to cover every aspect of d mob justice.

    E.g s 7 makes a person who aids, enables, counsels or procures any person to commit an offence equally liable as d main actor. Also, s 515 makes it a crime for one to neglect to prevent a felony.

    First question to ask den is: can d Auu mob can be tried successfully under extant laws? Yes. Secondly, wat is lackin in d Code? “Mob Justice”. But so also is “acid bath”, “ritual killin”, etc. Laws r couched in generals terms to apply to varyin circumstances.

    Anoda tangential issue yet to be addresed is d legislative competence of d NASS on crimes generally which, I believe, is a matter for d States’ legislature.

    Our problem has hardly ever been inadequacy of criminal law, it’s almost always been unenforcement or shabby prosecution of existin ones. Wat many dnt knw is dat d effectiveness of a criminal justice sys is not measured by d multiplicity of laws or severity of punishment, it is by d certainty of sanctions for evry established violation.

    In d final analysis, u’ll realise dat d efforts regardin d Mob Justice Bill altho altruistic is ironically driven by d mob mentality of many Nigerians and, sadly, no one can legislate against dat.

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  3. Furthermore, a look at d proposed law raises some concerns.

    The punishmnt for d “person(s) who actually performs d act” is prescribed with reference to murder which makes one wonder why duplicate efforts. Paradoxically, a person who counsels or procures d commission is liable to 10-15 yrs imprisonmnt for manslaughter. Such a person would have been equally liable for murder which attracts d death penalty under d Code.

    Then there’s d part imposing fines on d community where mob justice takes place. While it is hard to see d logic knwin dat some members may be against d mob justice, “community” is not a juristic person dat can be subjected to criminal sanctions.

    Be dat as it may, dis is not to discourage citizens’ interest in criminal justice but we must demonstrate dis in a way dat does not detract from our credibility or shows us off as ignorant.

    Let us channel our efforts in the right direction to ensure dat thorough investigations are conducted, proper charges are filed, d case is diligently prosecuted and competently handled to a logical conclusion. Then and only then would we have discharged our duties as citizens, not by shopping for a “new” law where existing ones are more than adequate.

    @GbemiOduntan

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  4. I disagree. Despite murder as a general concept being illegal in the states for instance, lynching is designated as a hate crime and has a unique penalty. This was borne out of the fact that the rights of minorities were disproportionately assaulted. The uniqueness of the mob justice bill is that it also incriminates those who willfully stand by in a mob and watch as someone buoyed by the strength of a crowd, crushes someone’s head with a stick and sets him ablaze. The purpose of the law is to reduce the chances of this happening in the first place by ensuring that even those who simply identify with the mob in person are complicit.

    Furthermore, the law as proposed allows for either a uniformed member of the armed forces or a public official to disperse a mob about to commit mob justice, failure to comply also comes with a certain penalty.

    In short, what this law aims to do is to solve this specific problem with specific solutions rather than relying on the enforcement of existing laws which heretofore have failed to address this issue. In the case of Aluu for instance, only those who could be seen assaulting the boys were arrested. But what about the crowd that bayed for his blood? What about the village head under whose aegis, this gruesome act was carried out? By letting these people go Scot free, we are doing nothing to remove the notion that justice by a mob is illegal. They bear some complicity as well.

    Now Tex is right when he says that the justice system is broken and must be restored. But he contradicts himself by opposing this movement. This to my knowledge is the first time that a law will originate from the vox populi and not from the plenipotentiary in Abuja. Should this law actually pass, it is the same movement that originated it that will canvass for the enforcement of it should it apply to any future case. It is the people that uphold a sense of justice. Those in uniforms and robes are simply a representation of that will of the people that justice under law be enforced. Let the law pass and let the people be its guardians. You will see it work and perhaps it may be the genesis of citizen action to correct many of our other national woes.

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  5. Lynching was designated a hate crime (as far I know, I may be wrong) because of its racial undertones. It was white people that predominantly lynched black folk, so I’m not sure there’s actually a parallel here.

    I will look up the Police Act and revert with specifics but I’m pretty sure the police already have the power to disperse crowds to prevent the commission of a crime.

    Please also take a second look at section 7 of the criminal code as well as the elucidation by Mr. Gbenga Oduntan (2nd or 3rd comment) on parties to an offence.

    Again, the intention of the draftsman is noble but it is simply not the case that mob justice exists because there is no specific legal framework against it.

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  6. Locksley,

    Your passion is to be commended. However, as Tex stated which position I fully endorse, none of the points u raised in support of the proposed Law is new.

    Unlike in d States, there’s no need to designate lynchin as a separate crime bcos Nigeria imposes d death penalty for murder n there can be no greater punishment for a crime dan d death penalty. Mind u, to lynch, mob or kill are synonymous, we don’t have to be hung up on semantics.

    As I said in d previous post, onlookers who bayed for blood are treated similarly as d persons who dealt d fatal blow. If they do not endorse d lynchin but fail to prevent it, they would still be liable under d existin laws. Take a look at sections 7 & 515 of d Criminal Code.

    The foregoin applies to a policeman with equal force. In addition, the police have a general duty to prevent the commission of a crime under sec. 4 of the Police Act. And by sec. 24, a police officer can arrest without a warrant any person whom he reasonably suspects of having committed or about to commit an offence.

    The place of other members of d community and d village head would be dependent on d roles they played. If they took part in d aforementioned manners, they are equally liable. But if they did not participate in d lynchin, endorse d mob action or shield d perpetrators from prosecution, it would be absurd to punish them simply for sharin the same community with the offenders.

    Finally, while your excitement about d seeming popularity of d proposal is understandable, your expectation dat dis law, if ever made, would enjoy a different fate from its predecessors is unfounded. Since u concede dat enforcement would still be an issue to tackle, why not concentrate on dat certain fate rather than chasing shadows which dis venture is patently all about?

    @GbemiOduntan

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  7. I am quite glad for this opportunity to follow very convincing arguments from well meaning Nigerians on a burning issue. One thing that is clear is that everyone who has spoken, including the individuals who disagree with the proposed bill has good intentions and would like to see mob justice come to an end. If anything, the variance is in the approach and not the principle.
    I signed the bill because I agree with and believe in it. Mob justice seems to be the default action to any situation where an individual is deemed to have committed a crime in Nigeria. Even something as simple as an accident would prompt mob action on the offender while the victim is ignored, sometimes to the point of death. Only very few people would make a conscious effort to give the victim first aid, or ensure they get to a hospital.
    We seem to derive a joy from knowing that a ‘criminal’ has met his fate. The funny thing is that many do not think mob justice is bad, as long as the people who suffer it are guilty. Up till now, nobody is talking about the destruction wreaked upon the Aluu community by rampaging Uniport students, who wanted justice for their slain colleagues. Is that not mob action as well? In some of the commentaries I have read, as well as discussions with people, the default desire is for a similar fate to befall the people who have been arrested for the acts at Aluu. You can find more on my opinion about mob action here. Again, some people have told me they would do the same to any thief they catch. I doubt that these people are unaware of the price they will pay for murder, rather there is a confidence that mob action is justified is the victim is guilty.
    I agree that our justice system is in need of a comprehensive overhaul with particular emphasis on the police and our courts, but the introduction of laws to stop specific behaviour that has been identified as a problem will also help. Very much like the introduction of the EFCC to strengthen the fight against corruption. Before that agency came into being, we had the Special Anti Fraud unit of the police, ICPC, as well as laws against fraud and corrupt practices. I am aware that a previous head of the EFCC called for the creation of specific courts to try financial crimes especially so that justice can be expedited.
    So in furtherance of my legal education I would like to ask, does having a specific law against certain actions (despite having a general one) constitute a waste of time?
    I also think that it is unfair for anyone to brand the effort of well-meaning Nigerians to build a society in which we can all live safely as a ‘chasing of shadows.’ Even if the bill is misguided as claimed, who is to say that this effort cannot result in the strengthening of our justice system? Who will benefit if our society becomes better? Everyone!
    Allow me to suggest that we would do better by collaboration as against confrontation. Our rallying point should be the spirit of the bill, not the letter of the law.

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    • Hi Nnamdi,

      Many thanks for your thoughts on this.

      I would disagree with your EFCC comments, to the extent that my understanding of what the EFCC Act did was to give the police special powers to enable them investigate financial crimes more easily. Same with the US Patriot Act, which is more about lifting constitutional restrictions on the power of law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence.

      Action is good. But of how much good is a law that simply does not add to the body of police powers or offences? What about the mere fact that there are over 3 thousand people who now think that mob justice isn’t already a crime?

      Finally, I think there’s a tendency amongst us younger folk to want to avoid a confrontation of ideas. We should not be afraid to have robust intellectual discussions. We should not be sucked into doing something merely because it appears nice. If a nice idea is also valid, it will withstand whatever scrutiny is thrown at it.

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      • Rotimi,

        I appreciate the way you have outlined the issues and explained some of the existing laws that you believe are sufficient to prevent mob action. I believe that the system, as it has developed itself in Nigeria does not allow for the effective implementation of laws, and even creates room for the misinterpretation, misapplication and outright abuse by everyone.

        The case of mob justice is a classic example. Nobody seems to mind if someone is lynched to death as long as the person is deemed guilty. In such instances, we all forget that murder is murder. Which means that even though the law is clear on the consequences of murder, the perpetrators of act of murder through mob action go free. A law prohibiting mob action would help to prevent this.

        About the 3000+ people mentioned, the fact remains that many Nigerians still do not believe that mob justice is a crime, and those who do, believe they can get away by hiding in a crowd. This does not mean that our justice system does not need to be rebuilt, I discussed it in a blog post recently. Click http://nnamdinnake.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/they-never-stood-a-chance/ to see.

        My final note is in disagreement with your position that our youth are afraid to engage in intellectual discussions. On the contrary, it is the desire to make change happen that drives them to take steps like the signing of the bill. In previous times, such a clamour would have been unlikely for a million reasons. Thank God for social media, information technology and democracy.

        Let me close by commending your efforts to shed more light on this issue. In the end, all I see here is an effort from all sides to stop mob justice and more importantly, strengthen our justice system.

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  8. I am 100 percent in suppor oft the mob bill and similar unjustified killings of nigerians by Mobs and other security personnel without trial in a court of law . Such similar incidence lead us to the present situation of Boko Haram sagre. May God help us and Peace reign in this Country . Ameen.

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  9. Pingback: Opinion: My disagreement with the ‘Mob Justice’ bill | YNaija

  10. Pingback: More lynchings reported in Nigeria « sebaspace

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