Sunday, 3 March 2019

It is time to stop jungle justice and religious intolerance in Nigeria

You may or may not have seen the video clip. If you have watched it like I have you may have been perturbed like I was. I watched the video clip on Facebook. It was an incident that happened in Ogidi. For readers who may wonder where Ogidi is, Ogidi is a town located in the south-east of Nigeria. It is in Idemmili North Local Government Area of Anambra State. It is not clear when the incident happened. In the video clip was a man who was forced by what appeared to be his kinsmen to destroy his traditional religious artifacts. It was obvious from the video that the man practices traditional religion. It was not clear from the video clip which deity he identifies with. It was, also, obvious from the video clip that the man’s compound was invaded by his kinsmen, who for some unknown reasons did not reveal their faces. To attest to the invasion were their raging voices, which clearly suggest intolerance, anger, hatred, disappointment, and readiness to maim the man – the victim. From what transpired in the short video clip, I could deduce that the victim was accused of causing evil in the family and community, in general. This accusation, arguably, was based on the victim’s choice of religion. It was his choice to practice traditional religion. Towards the end of the video clip the victim was forced to sit on the floor where he was kicked, water was thrown at him, and machete was used to intimidate him, perhaps to confess to the crimes he may not have committed. The victim pleaded for an investigation to be conducted and affirmed that if it was found that he had in any way committed evil against anybody through his traditional religious practices that he should be punished in the ways he deserved. But all his pleas fell on deaf ears of his tormentors.

After I had watched the video clip, I decided to read through people’s reactions to the incident in the comment section. Though opinions were divided as to whether the actions of the kinsmen were justified or not, however, majority of the comments acclaimed the actions of the kinsmen - the perpetrators, and condemned the victim. Truthfully, I was neither shocked at the actions of the perpetrators nor that a lot of people acclaimed such a deplorable violation of someone’s fundamental human rights. I was not shocked because I understood the environment in which the incident happened. It is an environment where jungle justice has become rampant and people get away with it. It is an environment where people do not have regard for the rule of law anymore. It is an environment where religious intolerance has broken down the very foundation of our social cohesion. However, I was really perturbed and upset because of the reoccurring issues that the incident has raised. These issues are often neglected, which perhaps is why they keep reoccurring.

First, the incident raises the issue of jungle justice which has become rampant in Nigerian societies. On one hand, people assume the role God the Almighty, where they judge and condemn someone who has been accused of doing something wrong. On the other hand, people arrogate to themselves the role of the court, where they accuse and pronounce judgments. For many years, the law enforcement agencies have allowed people who dispense jungle justice to go unpunished. As a result, jungle justice has festered and now the pus it has created is glaringly clear, as the infections therefrom spread across many societies in the country. That incident as captured in the video clip was another demonstration of how jungle justice has eaten deep into the fabrics of many societies in Nigeria. If the victim had committed any crime as alleged with his traditional religious practices the onus is on the kinsmen to follow the rule of law and not to take law into their hands – by invading his home, torturing him and forcing him to destroy his religious artifacts. 

To be sure, rule of law is one of the fundamental principles of democracy. Since 1999 we have embraced democracy in Nigeria. Therefore, it is the civic duty of every citizen to ensure that rule of law is followed at all times. The law enforcement agencies are there to be called upon when someone is suspected to have committed a crime. The courts are there to ensure that whoever is accused of any crime is given a fair trial and sentenced if convicted of the crime. Therefore, by taking law into their hands the kinsmen and those who were involved in that act have undermined the rule of law, which is one of the fundamental principles of our democracy

Second, the incident raises the issue of religious intolerance. For decades, Nigeria has faced the challenges of religious intolerance. Often religious intolerance is misconstrued as inter religious – that is one religion against the other, for example, a Muslim being intolerant of a Christian or vice versa. However, intra religious violence – that is within the same religion, exists. This is evident in the squabbles and hates amongst various Christian denominations on one hand, and on the other hand between the Shiites and Sunnis in Islam. For lack of understanding inter religious intolerance has become more pronounced than intra religious intolerance.

Indeed, the incident in the video clip attests to how deep religious intolerance has eaten into the fabrics of our societies. That incident happened because of religious intolerance. The people who invaded the victim’s home and forced him to destroy his traditional religious artifacts viewed his traditional religious beliefs and practices as evil. Across many societies in Nigeria, idolatry or paganism is viewed as evil and as such those who identify with traditional religion are stereotyped. We hear those labels such as unbelievers used by Christians to describe, particularly, those who believe in traditional gods. Many Christians believe that the religion – the Christianity – that was sold to them many years ago by white missionaries is superior to the traditional religion that their forefathers had worshipped. That incident in Ogidi happened because of thisreligious superiority complex, which I think breeds religious intolerance. Thus, at the heart of religious intolerance is the disregard for the right to freedom of religion. If those people who tortured and humiliated that man had regards for the fundamental human rights of one another they would have restrained themselves and allowed the law to take its natural course. 

To be clear, Section 38 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, guarantees for the right to freedom of religion alongside the freedom of thought and conscience. These rights are fundamental human rights. It is unjustifiable to abuse someone’s right to freedom of religion just because you are intolerant of his religious practices. Towards the end of the video clip the victim stated aloud to his kinsmen that he would be happy to have an investigation conducted and if it was found that he had in any way committed any evil against anybody that they should do to him whatever he deserved. Yet, that plea was not convincing enough for his kinsmen to stop the abuses and violations against him. 

To conclude, the actions of the kinsmen against the victim were clear examples of jungle justice and religious intolerance. These have appeared to be common practices in many societies in Nigeria. In early January this year, a woman was stripped stark naked in public with chickens and ropes tied around her waist at Nkpor in Anambra State for allegedly stealing chickens. We have allowed jungle justice to fester for so long that it has developed infectious pus. It is now time to purge our societies of the pus. We cannot continue to live in a society where people take law into hands without repercussions. We have allowed religious intolerance to entangle our souls so much that the foundations of our religious beliefs have become weak. No religion empowers anyone to fight God’s battle. No religion gives any individual the legitimacy to abuse and trample on other people’s right to freedom of religion. Abusing someone’s right to freedom of religion just because you are intolerant of his religious practices cannot be justified. We must always allow institutions that have the legitimacy to uphold the law and maintain peace and order to do their job. I think it is time the law enforcement agencies, like the Nigerian Police, rose up to their statutory responsibilities. As we strive to nurture our democracy we cannot afford to allow flagrant disregard to democratic principles to undermine the democratic values that we should collectively uphold. I believe that the Nigerian Police in Anambra State may have seen the video clip because it has gone viral on social media. Therefore, I most humbly call on the Anambra State Police Command to launch investigation into the abuses and violations that were committed in that video by the perpetrators against the victim.

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