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JUDGE, JURY, EXECUTIONER? … DISTURBING TREND OF MOB JUSTICE IN SIERRA LEONE

By:   J. ALUSINE KAMARA     E-mail:  jalusinekamara@yahoo.com

 “Oley! … Oley! … Oley!” (Sic) With shrill and hysterical voices ringing out an angry and blood-thirsty mob relentlessly and from every angle rained kicks, sticks and slaps on a hapless, innocence-protesting gentleman as I walked by some years ago in Apapa, Lagos State, Nigeria. His protestations were muffled by the maddening crowd hell-bent on delivering jungle justice which unfolding events will eventually show would have been a travesty.

Peeling away from the crowd while the agitation was going on, some people sought for and secured old vehicle tires, ropes, petrol and matches as they were wont to do in Nigeria then, so that the alleged suspect would be ‘neck laced’ and set on fire without recourse to constitutionally-set up courts of law.

AUTHOR

It will not surprise those who know me well that my well-grounded and natural instincts to intercede and pacify disputes found me stepping in to arrest the impending ugly situation. The assertive and determined manner I went about calming the state of affairs seemed at least on the surface, officious. This might have been my saving grace as sanity soon prevailed enough for people to get a baby-carrying lady who raised the alarm and the arrested gentleman to explain what transpired.

Both it turned out had been passengers on board a ‘danfoe’ – a locally-manufactured bus plying the roads of mostly western Nigeria – when the lady stepped on the man’s feet. Apprised of the fact, she was nonplussed and sarcastic which resulted in him giving her a slap. When the bus got bogged down in traffic, according to the fellow, he thought the best way to avoid the lady grappling with him was to jump off at the first opportunity and move away quickly. The lady however, knowing the sure-fire means to apprehend someone in Nigeria is to shout, “Oley!”, did just that and got the intended result.

Upon confirmation of this fact by the aggrieved baby-toting lady, a few slaps were instinctively ‘donated’ to her from the gathered crowd as people voiced disgust at her callousness in subjecting an innocent man to what could have been instant death.  As threatening moves were being contemplated by others to visit their anger and ‘teach her a lesson’, I found myself once again interceding as I implored, “Leave her be! For, just as she now carries a baby on her back so too did the mother of this man! It is hoped the future will not see a false alarm raised to subject her child to what she has caused this man!”  

This incident is recalled not as a praise-song but to alert relevant authorities here in Sierra Leone to put mechanisms in place that will stem what I believe is a burgeoning breakdown of law and order as jungle justice in its most cruel, diabolical and inhumane form seems to be taking root in the Sierra Leonean psyche. The above-mentioned occurrence succinctly and lucidly illustrates how wrong presiding over and partaking of instant and arbitrary justice could be.

Law courts are legal arbiters set up to adjudicate guilt or innocence of an accused, so due process should be followed regardless of one’s station in life. The arrest of a suspect even when caught breaking the law should not justify the irrationality of high-handedness which meting out summary justice portends. Two wrongs cannot a right make, and thus in as much as it is incumbent upon law-abiding citizens to safeguard their properties, this should not be done at the expense of snuffing out someone’s life – man’s God-given gift! Such an act is a capital crime which stands covered by capital punishment.

It galls me no end when I hear people who profess religious faith ghoulishly explain instances where they had either witnessed, or partook of the termination of a suspect’s life, then gloat about it. I came across quite a few such folks during my stay in Nigeria and it makes me quiver when I watch this trend rearing its fiendish head here in Sierra Leone. It is ‘early days’ yet, but the sooner ‘modi operandi’ are put in place to nick this ugly spectre in its bud the better it would be for all concerned.

On countless occasions I have gone to great lengths to counsel people that justice must not only be seen to be done, but to actually be done. The police and other law enforcement agencies should be pro-active enough to advise people not to take the law into their own hands. Hosting of a weekly radio programme to be dubbed either, ‘THE LAW AND YOU!’ or, ’U EN DE LAW!’ will inform citizens of their legal rights and obligations. Hope the government through the Inspector-General of Police will look into this suggestion.

In my view such forum for a discourse can be used to enlighten people about matters like citizens’ arrest, amongst other teachings, which will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the police force as it solicits and benefits from citizens’ participation. With a ratio of one policeman to ten thousand people, if called upon citizens will volunteer to be the eyes and watchdog for an overstretched police force.

I do not want to be seen or adjudged as defending the rights of criminals, but my experience in Lagos illustrates the potential for fatalistic errors of judgment, fraught with incalculable and irreversible dangers for anyone unlucky to be accused. I can recall numerous such instances – inclusive of one very recently which saw some family members yelling, “Thief! Thief!” as they chased after a fleet-footed lad – of mischief-making. When ultimately accosted however, it turned out the ‘crime’ the youth stood accused of was that of impregnating one of the chasing pack’s daughter/sister/cousin/what-have-you!

Those of us who braved the odds to stay around until the liberating ECOMOG forces entered Freetown are ‘au fait’ with instances when neighbours turned against neighbours as sacrilegious finger-pointing to settle old scores became the order of the day, occasioning arbitrary and mass executions of innocent people accused of being rebels or rebel collaborators.

It will be left to trained and qualified psychiatrists and psycho-analysts to determine whether the just-concluded rebel war has negatively-impacted minds of the generality of Sierra Leoneans to the extent that gory spectacles of cold-blooded murdering of crime suspects seem to find acceptance by a not-too-insignificant cross-section of the population. The infantile justification adduced generally revolves around the contention that a “Kill, or be killed’ mentality resonates with robbers, or perceived robbers, which brings to mind the question, “The chicken or the egg, which comes first?”

This government is urged to without let or favour optimize the full force of the law so it descends heavily on perpetrators of jungle justice, sending a clear and unequivocal message that criminals also do have fundamental rights that prize their lives as sacrosanct. The public should know they open themselves to both criminal and civil litigation and the range and severity of penalties capricious justice presupposes and carries. Whether caught red-handed, or suspected, an accused must be handed over to the police who upon finding reasonable cause for prosecution will commit him to a court of law.

There, if thought expedient, a JUDGE will empanel a JURY to weigh up the guilt or innocence of the accused after deliberations. If adjudged guilty the convict will be handed over to an ‘EXECUTIONER’ in the form of prison officers who are mandated by law to carry out defined and determined punishments. No one person therefore is vested with the duties of, JUDGE, JURY AND EXECUTIONER!

The powers-that-be must promote awareness militating against the propensity for the public to take the law into their hands which this syndrome of arbitrary and criminal bloodletting perpetrated against suspects or perceived suspects symbolizes. Failure to address and arrest this ugly trend would not only be a disservice to the nation and people but also trigger a breakdown of law and order, if nothing else!

Posted by on 10:14 am. Filed under One Thing & Another, OPINION, OTHER NEWS, POLITICS, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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