Why do Nigerians Take the Law into Their Own Hands?

I remember years ago in university hearing someone sing, “Ole! Bring matches, tyre, carry am’ go!” I was shocked to discover just how gruesome the pigeon English lyrics translated into English was, as the song was catchy and sounded funny. The singer is actually asking for matches and a tyre to kill the suspected thief (ole) by putting a tyre filled with petrol around the victim’s chest and arms before setting the tyre alight. This barbaric practice is also known as ‘necklacing’. I once asked my dad why in this day and age this still happens and he told me I’d have to live in a country like Nigeria to truly understand. So, here I am living in Nigeria and I think my dad may have been right.

Last Friday, a mob attacked four students from the University of Port Harcourt (Uniport) in Rivers State. The young men were stripped naked, had tyres put around their necks, and were beaten by people from the Aluu community with wooden sticks, before being set on fire.

The killings, which were videotaped and posted online, sparked outraged among many Nigerians who were angry people had taken the law into their own hands. I can’t count how many blackberry broadcast messages I received about the incident. Although I was horrified by what I read and saw, since the lynching of thieves is not as uncommon as one would hope, I was curious to know/understand why people here seemed so moved by this particular event.

My younger cousins were the first to tell me about the murders. They received bbm messages with links to the video. I dared not watch as the description of the killings coupled with the before and after pictures of the guys was enough to warn me that I would most certainly cry watching. I asked my cousins if this was the first time they had heard of this type of thing happening and they said they were fully aware that thieves suffered this treatment here. What shocked/upset/angered my teenage cousins so much was the fact this incident was filmed and published on the internet. Seeing the faces of the young men that are no more, has shocked this nation in a way that’s necessary.

At long last, the discussion about Nigerians being disillusioned with their police force to the point they are prepared to take justice into their own hands, is happening among the people and those in authority. Mob justice in Nigeria has been accepted as a norm among citizens here for far too long. The sad truth is that the extrajudicial executions of crime suspects in Nigeria shows how profoundly devalued human life has become here. However, the fact that many people here seem outraged by what happened to the four students gives me hope that there are still people here that want to help create a better Nigeria.

Since Friday’s murders, many versions of the story have appeared in the press. I’ve heard that the students killed were cult members and were actually on their way to kill someone. I also read that the boys went to collect money from someone owing them money and failing to do so, took his laptop to hold until he paid up. Someone even told me that the boys were shooting at people and the mob got them once they ran out of bullets.

What angers me the most is when people attempt to excuse the barbaric act as necessary due to the incompetence of the law enforcement agencies here. That’s a rubbish excuse. I don’t care what the boys did. So long as we have prisons here, suspected criminals should be kept there. There is no justification for what that mob did.

If there is, then shouldn’t the nation’s oil thieves have tyres round their necks by now? What about all the governors that have embezzled money from their states for luxurious cars and homes? Are they not thieves as well? No, they should be brought to justice, just as the four boys should have been.

The Federal Government, security agencies, state governors, Senators, and members of the House of Representatives urgently need to discuss the following:

Police are unresponsive.

Police are unwilling to patrol high-risk areas after dark.

Police are ill-equipped.

Insecurity has become a constant companion for many Nigerians.

Money talks – too many criminals are free as a result of bribing their way out of prison.

Participants in mob action need to be prosecuted.

Vigilante groups either need to be replaced by competent police/army men, or be registered and offered adequate training to bring suspects to justice.

The standards for recruitment and training of police officers should be significantly improved.

Police officers need to be paid more and given better benefits.


Oh, the list could go on and on but if these points are addressed, Nigeria will become a better place. I can’t justify mob violence on any level so I’m not entirely sure why Nigerians take the law into their own hands. All I am sure of is that it’s wrong. I hope the folk in charge come to the same conclusion.


6 responses to “Why do Nigerians Take the Law into Their Own Hands?

  1. Nice one dear.

  2. This is absolute anarchy, in today’s world, life is brutish, nasty and short, just like it used to be in the state of nature. I think this is an eye opener to the States, Government and Law enforcement agencies in Nigeria, they either sit-up or loose recognition. More effort needs to be put into community policing.

    • Yes, Hobbes and Locke were right! I just hope Nigeria can become the country it has the potential to become. So long as people like you are here, al hope is not lost.

  3. I stupidly watched the video and it has disturbed me to my core… The complete disregard for human life is just chilling and has left me cold. Like you say, no matter what they had supposedly done, this is unjustifiable. Is change possible though? The optimist in me hopes so but to be honest the task seems so huge. I don’t claim to be an expert at all but the casual reaction from the crowd says a lot.

    • Gosh, you’re brave! I think change is possible. The fact people here are disgusted by what happened is the first step towards change. They have accepted mob violence is wrong.

      I remember when I was in East Barnet and a fight attracted loads of people from all years, who made a circle around them and watched. The next day our Headmaster called us all (not me as I wasn’t there) a brood of hyenas! Correct!

      I believe man is by nature an animal. Left to our own devices, Hobbes’ belief that we would live in a state of state of nature, which is a state of war of all against all is spot on. That’s why we need those in authority to step their game up.

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