“Beasts in the Land”… The unfortunate tale of what Nigeria is becoming.

I read the book “Lord of the Flies” years ago. It came across as a quite unusual book. Lord of the Flies was published in 1954 by Nobel prize- winning Englishman William Golding. The story was about how some British boys, marooned on an Island, and left without parental or societal care, soon descended the natural slope of animalism. Golding painted a gory picture of how humans can quickly lose any sense of reason whenever there is no law or consequence for iniquity. Worse still, he described how the basest of all, often end up destroying the noblest of all, in the bid to hold on selfishly to power and control. It talks of how lawless societies suppress and oppress those with noble ideas and commonsense, just because they rebel against their idiosyncracies and crass irresponsibilities; while at the same time celebrating and eulogizing criminals and crooks, as long as they support their brute regime. It most tellingly, speaks of the gradual normalization of bestiality. Young boys soon found no problem in slaughtering fellow age mates who opposed them.

Reading “Lord of The Flies” often remind me of the danger we face as a nation. In fact, I drew parallels with Nigeria in every chapter of that classic novel. Browsing through the social and conventional media would show how dangerously close we are to being a failed state. For one strange reason, every time we decide to wrest Nigeria out of the hands of those running her ship adrift, and we succeed, we often end up handing her over to those who will successfully wreck her! We’ve been hearing about how Nigeria was failing, for years now. But to be fair, at least, no President ever disappeared without trace for over a hundred days in a year! Kidnapping and ritual killing didn’t become so commonplace that residents had to take full laws into their hands. And, people weren’t classifying garri as luxury! Nigerians often want change, for the better. But change, for the worse, they often got. But there’s one aspect that’s changing rapidly. And I think we should be afraid its so.

Insecurity has been a major problem in Nigeria for years. Armed robbery has blossomed due to the very porous nature of our security network. The Police in most cases have been unable to cope with relentless attacks of daredevil attackers. Distress call by citizens are often unattended to. Kidnappers often have a field day with victims. Its only on rare occasions that victims are rescued by the state, and that, often when such is related to a big man in the society. Secondary school students are kidnapped at will, leaving distraught and broken parents with little or no confidence in the state. In a country where citizens provide their own water, healthcare, education, and food; securing their lives and property should not be too much to ask, especially when power supply is more likely unavailable at nights, providing a perfect cover for the nefarious activities of criminals.

Government has failed Nigerians. Our ruling class only care about themselves. They don’t ever take responsibility for the growing spate of crime. Tucked away in their bulletproof convoys, they only know the way to our doors when elections are close, during their campaigns of deceit. Oh that we would someday call their bluff! Would to God that we would grow balls and finally say a collective “enough” to their wickedness and callousness!

Lagos, being probably the poster state of Nigeria, hides its failures in its blossoming economy, and boisterous traffic. Ikorodu has been under the siege of a notorious criminal gang for over a year. “Badoo” cult has killed young and old, male and female, and in some horrible cases, husband and wife. The government simply looked away. The victims were ordinary Nigerians anyway! So, who cares. Badoo operated with reckless abandon. They operated almost casually. Residents were living in fear. Help wasn’t coming from anywhere. So, Ikorodu residents dorned the uniform of soldiers, grabbed their own weapons, and went on a killing spree. They didn’t stop at killing, since criminals don’t deserve any burial at all, but proceeded in roasting them. Sometimes, alive. But, who would blame them?

Jungle justice occurs all over the world. But its always rare, and once in a while. Except Nigeria. Where jungle justice is not only common, has become normal. On early Sunday morning, during one of the night watches Ikorodu residents undertook, three persons were killed. The residents tried them, found them guilty, sentenced them to death and executed them, all under an hour, in the harshest way possible. Two days later, two other suspects were killed. And one more a day later. It was only at that time that the Police eventually found time to address Ikorodu’s violence. Arresting persons almost at random. I have been trying to gauge public opinion on the resort to jungle justice in Ikorodu. Its obviously a quite popular approach, but absolutely a very dangerous one.

There’s hardly a day I don’t visit Nigeria’s most popular online forum, Nairaland. It provides a quick, soft coverage of Nigeria’s trending stories. It gives a rough picture of Nigeria’s mood per time. These days, on Nairaland, I’m accostumed to seeing ridiculous videos and images of public lynching. From suspected kidnappers to ritualists and robbers, people are burnt alive almost daily in Lagos. So much for being Nigeria’s centre of excellence! I read through the comments on most of the lynching posts on Nairaland.com, and I recently came to the sad conclusion that my country has normalized jungle justice, bestiality and public lynching. Nigeria has been reduced to a jungle where anything goes, and no one gets reprimanded.

The quickest defence for the quick resort to public lynching of criminals is that it is the best way to warn other criminals. However statistics immediately counter that argument. Others believe they are left with no choice than administering justice by themselves. They believe the state justice system is not only slow and unpredictable, but also could end up even setting the criminals free! Those are valid points. However, resort to jungle justice is nothing but resort to reasoning with our emotions, rather than our intellect, and gradually destroying the remnants of civility that remain in our society. The argument that one does not support jungle justice only because one hasn’t been a victim is also mere blackmail. And the passion that drives us to gruesomely take the lives of criminals in the full glare of the public is not only animalistic, but a symptom of a greater problem; a failed state.

Our government’s neglect of basic responsibilities has often left citizens with no choice. Like in unwalled jungles, we are left to roam and struggle for survival. The ruling class struggles too. But for the biggest loot. We, the citizens are left to struggle for the crumbs. And we know only the fittest will survive, so we do everything to hang on. Criminals are created by the state. By deliberately withholding basic necessities from people, criminals are born. It is our hypocrisy that allow us classify criminality based on how we are affected. Civil servants, bank workers, market women, even clerics, often engage in crime, often, from the very comfort of their places of work, in the excuse to make ends meet. We often do not collectively think of the able bodied graduate, who has done everything humanly possible to get a decent job, but is never given a chance. Many have acquired more degrees, professional and academic, in their bid to become marketable, all to no avail. We do not know that there is no easier soul attracted to crime than a young, agile and idle one. It is tragic that politicians, rather than addressing this crisis, only pay lip service to job creation, through plastic empowerment schemes. In a society where we are allowed to struggle for everything, it is not unlikely that many would resort to crime. Finding a lasting solution to such attitudes cannot be by merely cutting of the leaves of the monster tree – the leaves will certainly grow again-, but addressing it from the root: making society and government work FOR the people, not people working for government.

When everyone knows that the society is at least fair, and that you can stand a good chance of having a good life if you can work hard, then crime will reduce. Justice is about punishing the guilty, and acquitting the innocent. Jungle justice turns that logic on its head. Often, innocents are lynched, being victims of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. A jogging soldier was once mistaken for a robber in Ghana. Because a pistol was found on him, he was promptly lynched, burnt to death, before he could even explain himself! The loss of faith in our Justice system should not be a reason for resorting to our own justice- jungle justice, because ours is inherently worse, degrades our society, and often does not lead to desired results, which is reduction in crime. The real criminals are those who hold our collective wealth in trust, but openly spend same on their own appetites and lusts. The irony is that we hail them, when their long and armoured convoy pass our way, even when their tyres splash dirty water on our faces. We admire and commend their courage to loot, raising them as models. We then turn on thieves in anger because they take from us directly, unleashing all our frustrations on them. They are frustrated as well, except that they chose a horrible means of making ends meet.

We shouldn’t pity criminals. They deserve harsh punishment. But we should refrain from giving the punishment. We should let the courts do that. If we keep encouraging such behavior, we may be victims one day. A society where jungle justice is normarlized is a jungle. In a jungle, there are only two classes: predators, and preys. So, our government prey on us, and we prey on armed robbers. Do you think politicians have a problem with that?

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