Jungle Justice, the Most Salient Sign of a Dysfunctional System: A Comparative Analysis of the Bakassi Boys and Aluu Community

by Chinyere Ugomma Eze-Nliam

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”: William Butler Yeats: “The Second Coming” (1921)

When Chinua Achebe borrowed the above words from the original author to buttress the theme of his book “Things Fall Apart”, he was merely referring to the pre colonial era around the 1860s, at the arrival of white missionaries and the ruinous social and cultural consequences that characterized their coming. Centuries later, those haunting words have become prescient with the anomaly called Nigeria.

Shocking that in this 21st century when other nations are sending people to the moon, jungle justice is still rife in Nigeria, appalling that in these days of jaw dropping technological advancements, people are still burned with tires on the streets, unbelievable that a mammoth crowd can gather round to enjoy the gory scene, mind boggling that someone would have enough presence of mind to record this harrowing dispensation of justice, deplorable that among this crowd are not only mothers but also professed born again Christians who’ll undoubtedly gather in church the next morning to bind and cast, shameful that I am considered Nigerian with such ilk and unpardonable that the government’s ineptitude has reduced its citizens to beasts.

Jungle justice has been defined as when a population, precisely an irate mob, takes it into their hands to execute punishment on alleged offenders of a heinous crime. The alleged culprit is hardly ever given the right to a fair hearing and the opportunity to defend himself before the sentence of death by burning and torture is handed down and summarily carried out. In so doing, the executioners take on the tripartite role of judge, jury and prosecutor (At this rate, the judicial sector will soon run out of jobs). That being said, the sole reason for jungle justice is simply and squarely the failure of leadership (Apologies to Achebe). The average Nigerian is a local government on to himself. In addition to fending for himself, he provides the most basic amenities for his own comfort and protects himself from undesirable elements. Security of its persons and property which is considered the priority of any decent government has since met its waterloo in Nigeria. As long as I can remember, Nigerians have had the unenviable task of saving their own necks.

That was how the Bakassi Boys entered the scene in the late 90s. After a successful vigilante business in Aba, they were hired by the Mbadinuju Administration to rid Anambra state of hoodlums. In those days, staying out in Onitsha after dark was a death wish, carrying Ghana must go bags was a provocation to either death or amputation of whichever limb closest to the bag, the most notorious crime lords, Derico and Chiejina (legend has it that they were immersed in the power of “odeshi” )were untouchable. They did as they pleased. The arrival of Bakassi Boys (who were christened with a more befitting name Anambra state vigilante services or AVS) into the murky waters of the underworld however put paid to their heroics.

The modus operandi of the AVS was deemed diabolical to most but acceptable to all. According to urban legend, the AVS rounded people (either at random or if they’ve been accused of any crime) and placed a machete beside their heads. If the machete turned red beside a person’s head, that meant he had blood on his hands and that further meant there was only one cause of action; “off with his own head”. If the machete remained the same colour, then the relieved person was free to go. Whether true or false, it was not uncommon to see corpses lying around in various stages of decomposition, sometimes limbless, other times decapitated , at all times putrefying. The government was not in a hurry to take them away as if leaving them out there in the public glare will serve as a lesson to aspiring hoodlums. It was also quite common to see people at the scene of these killings shouting words of encouragement to the AVS to do away with these low lives. Anyway, the end result was quite satisfying. Peace and security was restored in Onitsha, people could move around at all hours sans fear and Mbadinuju prided himself as the one who brought sleep to Anambrarians (that was actually a billboard ad , no exaggerations)

Lately I have been asking myself the difference in the activities of AVS and that which took place in Aluu community on October 5 2012 where four undergraduates from Uniport were tortured for several hours and burnt to death for an alleged theft of blackberry phones and laptops. Both scenes are similar in their goriness, replete with a gigantic encouraging crowd and couched under the name of vigilante services. It is immaterial that the AVS activities were legally recognized by the government and the Aluu community’s actions were unauthorized. What matters is that both came about as a result of the ineffectual symbolism represented by our own law enforcement agencies which is further predicated upon an incompetent administration.

After the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in which more than 800 million Tutsis were murdered, the International Community came out with a slogan “Never Again”. After September 11 2001, the United States followed with “Never Forget”. Rwanda has rebounded from that tragedy to become one of Africa’s leading champions of human rights and the United States have successfully waded off terrorism on its own soil. My fear is that after the Mubi 40 and the Aluu 4, that after the signing of justice petition for victims of this barbaric act, that after all said and done, more will be said than done. That after all the hooplas, the grimacing of teeth, the cursing and the social media theatrics, the show goes on in Nigeria, life goes on until the next person is lynched and the cycle starts all over again.

That being said, we cannot blame the government squarely for all the atrocities perpetrated by our mental indolence. Enlightenment of the mind is the key and it is our shared and collective responsibility to make this happen.

Alu melu n’Aluu!

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