Stories of widespread lynching of suspected kidnappers have dominated news reports in recent times, thus compounding the complex security challenge that is currently threatening to overwhelm the country. It is, indeed, a throwback to a period in a distant past when it was commonplace in Lagos to make a bonfire of anybody that was unfortunate enough to be publicly branded a thief or a kidnapper.
A case in point is the ordeal meted out to an elderly woman at the Abule Egba area of Lagos on May 7. Based on some seemingly spurious claims of attempting to kidnap a child, the woman was thoroughly beaten, stripped naked and dumped inside the gutter. Not quite done with that ignominious treatment, she was later brought out, doused with petrol and set alight. The police, who managed to arrive at the scene and tried to rescue her, were reportedly engaged in a free-for-all, while the woman burnt to ashes. This can only happen in a society that has lost its soul.
Barely a safe distance from that scene of horror, another tragedy was averted that same day by a better-equipped set of policemen. A man was on the verge of being set ablaze on the suspicion of being a kidnapper when the policemen came to his rescue, but not without some serious battle with a stubborn mob that threatened to burn down their station. After the mob had been beaten off by the use of tear gas, a policeman was later quoted as saying, “The mob said the man was looking suspicious and thought he was a kidnapper.” Upon searching the bag he was carrying, the content revealed a Christian publication, Rhapsody of Realities, a Bible, some torch and unidentified chemicals. “That is not enough to lynch a man,” the policeman added.
That incident also bore some similarity with another that occurred in Ajegunle, also in Lagos, on Tuesday, where a grandmother was miraculously saved from the hands of a bloodthirsty mob. The woman, who was carrying her grandchild, was adjudged to be too old for childbearing, and was thus taken for a kidnapper. Ignoring her explanations, the unruly crowd descended on her with the fury of bloodhounds after a criminal, not minding the danger to the day-old baby’s life. Further investigations by the police who rescued the woman showed that the medical doctor who assisted in the child’s delivery had asked the grandmother to go with the baby because the mother, being anaemic, could not breastfeed it.
The case of Tolulope Olajuwape was at once gruesome and sympathetic. For a man who had been abroad for 24 years, the way he was beaten and tortured to death and then left on the road to be run over by vehicles on his homecoming was a treatment not even fit for a dog. His was yet another case of mistaken identity, at the Mile 12 area of Lagos, just a stone’s throw to his parents’ houses; he was wrongly thought to be a kidnapper.
Cases of lynching of suspected kidnappers are not limited to Lagos but are considerably widespread, especially in the western part of the country. Similar incidents have been reported in Ilorin, Osogbo and Akure, the capitals of Kwara, Osun and Ondo states, respectively.
What these reports tend to confirm, in summary, is the fact that there has been an upsurge in cases of kidnapping, both for ritual and for ransom. This has resulted in the heightening of awareness and individual security consciousness, fuelled, especially, by the sordid incident at Soka, in Ibadan, where a kidnappers’ den was uncovered. Soka exposed many kidnapped people, who bore evidence of various degrees of dehumanisation, and skeletons of those already dead and decomposed or were still decomposing.
But this does not in any way justify people taking the law into their hands. As some of the instances have shown, many of those being killed could well have been innocent. Even in cases where they are not innocent, the duty of law-abiding citizens who apprehend criminals is to hand them over to appropriate agencies of the state, whose duty it is to investigate and prosecute them.
It is also a thing of shame that the police could be helpless to save the life of a citizen under mob attack because they are poorly equipped. Since the security challenge of the country has assumed such a gargantuan dimension, efforts must be made, not only to properly equip the police but to train them to be both physically and mentally well prepared to face the challenges of law enforcement. State governments must also take it as a point of duty to warn members of the public against assuming the role of adjudicators in criminal issues since they are not statutorily assigned that role.
No effort should be spared to bring to book those who take other peoples’ lives for whatever reason. During the London riots of 2011, almost all the people involved in days of looting and destruction were fished out by the aid of Close Circuit Television. The government should endeavour to install the CCTV to ensure that there is no hiding place for criminals and lawbreakers.