Following an upsurge in motorcycle theft at gunpoint and other crimes in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, Northcentral Nigeria, the residents are resorting to jungle justice as a way of containing the menace.
A young man of about 30 years old was nearly lynched on Friday for allegedly attempting to dispossess a motorcycle rider of his vehicle along the busy Iorchia Ayu Road close to the Benue State Library Complex about 4 p.m.
HumAngle gathered that the man boarded the bike from Wurukum Market area and, on getting to the location, talked with his gang member by phone and asked the motorcyclist to slow down for him to disembark from the vehicle.
While the bike rider was about to stop, the passenger hit him across the face. However, the adamant motorcyclist held on to the vehicle until other road users came to his rescue, witnesses said.
When HumAngle got to the scene, the suspect had been apprehended and handed over to police who were on their way to an assignment.
Residents said the suspect was lucky as the presence of police officers prevented his being set ablaze.
Situations like this are becoming common in the town. When apprehended, motorcycle snatching and other related crimes often lead to the lynching of suspects by mobs.
Commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as “Okada riders,” have resorted to self-help in a bid to protect themselves.
They do not wait for justice to take its course as they claim that police often release apprehended suspected criminals without punishing them for their crimes.
Recently in Makurdi, a mob set ablaze a suspected motorcycle snatcher in front of LGEA Primary School, popularly known as Suswan Thank You Primary School.
HumAngle gathered that the suspect was caught around 5.30 a.m. on a Sunday when Christians were trooping to the nearby St. Peter’s Catholic Church in the area.
Mr Lawrence Agada, who owns a barbershop opposite the school, said he witnessed the incident.
Agada said the suspect had posed as a lady and, after alighting from the bike, paid the fare and demanded the vehicle’s key from the rider, who refused to surrender it.
He said the suspect quickly pulled out a gun, pointed it at the rider and insisted on having the key and when the rider refused to surrender it, the suspect shot the gun but missed the target.
Agada claimed the suspected criminal shot at his victim three times, but the bullet did not penetrate his body and that having exhausted his ammunition, the rider engaged him in a fight and attracted the attention of passersby.
He said other motorcyclists who came to the scene identified the suspect as “Yellow,” who led a motorcycle snatching gang.
Agada said the motorcyclists descended on the suspect, attached him to bricks, and spread fuel over his body before setting him on fire.
He said the police arrived at the scene hours later.
HumAngle learnt that in less than 30 days, Makurdi town recorded the lynching of suspected motorcycle snatchers at different locations, including two in Yogbo Road in the Northbank area believed to be a crime zone.
In December 2020, shortly after the death of a university lecturer by two suspected criminals who made away with his car, a young man believed to have specialised in car tracking and motorcycle theft was lynched and set on fire by a mob while he was attempting to rob a commercial motorcyclist at gunpoint.
The body was later found near the Civil Service Commission along Old Otukpo Road in Makurdi.
Reacting to the situation, the police warned that it would not tolerate lawlessness in the state.
The Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Catherine Anene, said three cases of lynching had been recorded with suspects linked with the act of jungle justice arrested and facing trial.
Anene urged members of the public to desist from taking the law into their hands and warned that anyone caught engaging in such acts would face the law’s wrath.
Why people resort to jungle justice
Some residents of Makurdi believe jungle justice is the most effective way of serving justice and curbing criminality in the state. They blame the people’s resort to the practice on the corruption and inefficiency of the security system.
Agada, a graduate of Benue State University, Makurdi, who witnessed a mob justice scene, expressed pity for the victim.
However, he said, “in my opinion, it is the best form of justice given the rampant cases of motorcycle snatching and killing of innocent motorcycle riders who are going about their legitimate business in the state.”
Agada said some of the commercial motorcyclists were just trying to make a living, adding: “Some render accounts to the owners of the bikes on a daily basis, while some acquire the bikes on hire purchase and are yet to even settle their debts.”
“The police don’t give these criminals the discipline required to change them. Some of them even prefer to run to the policemen when caught only to negotiate with them and sometimes get released before getting to the police station.”
Abel Ela, a commercial motorcyclist, said he believed jungle justice would teach other criminal-minded persons a big lesson and deter bike snatchers from the act.
He said some motorcycle snatchers usually asked their victims whether the bike belonged to them or not, and the response often determined whether they were dispossessed of their bikes alone or got killed.
Ela said some of the criminals tried to avoid a third party tracing; therefore, if they found out that the bike belonged to another person other than the rider, they would kill the rider.
However, Innocent Akogwu, a Makurdi-based businessman and Cyber Cafe operator, said jungle justice should not be encouraged.
He said the intentional killing of suspected criminals and burning them without trial was not in order.
He cited an instance where an innocent man was almost lynched around Amokachi Lane in Makurdi but for the timely intervention of a well-respected man in the area.
According to him, a money lender saw one of his alleged debtors trying to escape on sighting him and shouted, ‘thief!’
He said the shout attracted some people, who descended on the alleged debtor but he was saved from being lynched through the intervention of another man who identified him.
Akogwu, however, decried the unprofessional behaviour of some policemen in the state.
He alleged that there was an instance when a young man was arrested with a gun, and he confessed to his crime, but a police officer handling his case told him that his statement would implicate him and demanded N5,000 to rewrite the statement to get the suspect freed.
Meanwhile, the Vice-chairman of Benue State Commercial Motorcyclist Association, Elijah Adema, has attributed the lynching of suspected criminals to the prevalent cases of motorcycle theft syndicates in the state.
Adama described the situation as unfortunate and said the constant attempts to snatch motorcycles from riders had brought untold fear to members of the association and prevented them from operating freely.