Our job is to “reduce crime by bringing more offences to justice, and to raise public confidence that the system is fair and will deliver for the law-abiding citizen.”
In the aftermath of the horrific killing of four young undergraduates by residents of the now smeared Omuokiri-Aluu community in Rivers, Nigerians have struggled to come to terms with the inhumanity.
Not surprisingly, we have reacted to it in different ways, seeking to retain our narrative as a nation of laws, and of order, and of basic humanity.
Has something gone terribly wrong with us as a people? Have we become so bruised and battered that we have turned to a loop of savagery for survival?
Tied somewhere in all of this is the fact that this one incident was not isolated, and Nigerians have long turned to jungle justice as an accepted form of law enforcement.
So, many have sought to go deeper, to understand by empathising, to speak to our hypocrisy in crying out on this one, when the truth is that jungle justice happens every day all over Nigeria – in rural areas and urban centres. They claim that we as a people have lost our way, and it is time to re-assess our values.
Probably. But let’s not miss the point.
Some times call for philosophy; this moment, however, calls for pragmatism.
On October 1, a 4-year-old schoolgirl named April Jones was (allegedly) kidnapped by a 46-year-old man, and is said to have been murdered. The people of the United Kingdom haven’t come together to rue the utter breakdown of their morals or their society’s humanity – instead, the police immediately began to hunt down the suspect, he was found, evidence has been amassed, and he is now in court for murder.
That’s what a society should do when faced with a heinous crime – you focus. You isolate the crime, you identify the culprit, and you punish him or her.
Even in Norway, where rehabilitation is preferred to punishment, Anders Brevbic who killed 77 people in Oslo and Utoya last year was tried, convicted, and sentenced to the maximum of 21 years in prison.
It has little to do with the character of a people – it has everything to do with crime and punishment; action and reaction.
The entire criminal justice architecture, as we have adopted from England, rests on the reality that, even if all our problems of morals and values are sorted, we will still have criminals amongst us.
Our job is to “reduce crime by bringing more offences to justice, and to raise public confidence that the system is fair and will deliver for the law-abiding citizen.” It serves primarily to balance the goals of crime control and prevention – by reducing crime and increasing security through a set of objective rules for maintaining society’s order.
Man needs laws to be good. The absence of laws leads to immediate disorder – and in the absence of sustained and consistent punishment for misdeeds, you find a rapid degeneration to the scene at Aluu. Those are the facts.
At some point, we will need to go beyond the particular yes; and we will need to ensure that we build a society where vigilantes are not needed in the first place; where people don’t believe their only recourse is self-help.
But there are long-term solutions and there are immediate-term solutions. The immediate and more important action we need now is to focus on finding the killers of the #Aluu4 and ensuring that they are punished to the law’s full extent. And if there is any reprisal from students of the University of Port Harcourt that leads to any broken laws, they too should be found and punished.
You want to know why it is imperative that Nigerians see people punished for crimes they have committed?
In November 2009, the newspapers reported that 12 female students of the University of Port-Harcourt had been raped by militants in their host community. The governor, Rotimi Amaechi promised, as usual, that the perpetrators would be brought to book, and that any militant or resident who decided to go rogue would be dealt with.
The name of that community was Aluu. No one was sent to jail; no one was punished.
So, in 2012, someone did it again.