The State Beyond Mob Justice

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By Onikepo Braithwaite

Sober Reflection 

Unlike many Politicians who prefer to keep their real ages to themselves and declare false ones to make themselves appear younger, I am glad to announce that I turned 57 yesterday. Thank God. These days, the older one gets, birthdays become days for sober reflection. This year, my reflection was however, not about my life personally, but about our country Nigeria. I can safely say that in all my 57 years, I have never seen Nigeria in this kind of turmoil. My Parents returned from England after their studies and sojourn there, around the time of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967. Today, many Nigerians are looking for every opportunity to leave Nigeria and relocate to other countries, because life here seems to have reversed drastically to the Hobbesian state – nasty, short and brutish, filled with economic hardship.

Constitutional crisis, the attack on the Kaduna-bound train and the kidnapping of passengers, who, over a month later are yet to be released, the Chibok girls, Leah Sharibu, the recent murder of people in Plateau State, the countless killings and kidnappings (by bandits and ritual killers), perverse judgements like that of the Benue State High Court in Ochanya Ogbaje’s case, and now the mob killing of young Deborah Yakubu by her fellow students of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, for allegedly committing blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), are just a few examples (out of the uncountable) of the nasty, brutish and many a time short state (like for Ochanya, 13, Deborah, 23) we find ourselves in.

Reactions to Last Week’s Editorial

After my editorial last week, I received various calls with different reactions about Deborah Yakubu’s murder. Many, including Muslims of Northern extraction, condemned her killing as being horrific and barbaric. It is a breach of her right to life guaranteed by Section 33(1) of the Constitution; culpable homicide punishable with death contrary to Section 220 of the Penal Code Act.

But, a few others told me that Deborah deserved to die, because the love Muslims have for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is unquantifiable, and they cannot stand by and see him being insulted. While I do agree that it is unacceptable for anyone to insult another’s religion, I emphasise the fact that the law has provided the punishment for blasphemy. And, when people regularly ignore the law and mete out their own form of justice, and the State allows perpetrators to get away with such unlawful actions, it shows that law and order has broken down with the complicity of Government/Judiciary who should be administering and enforcing the law.

Personality Traits of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

Allah, through His Holy Book which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that Muslims follow, does not prescribe the death penalty for blasphemy, nor did the Prophet kill those who insulted him. With all the hullabaloo about blasphemy, I decided to examine the personality traits of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – the one who the Sokoto students claimed they were avenging the blasphemy against him – whether he would subscribe to this kind of violence.

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Also important, is the fact that the Prophet lived his life in total compliance to the will of Allah, and his ways serve as a guideline for all Muslims to follow on how to live their lives according to Islam. The Holy Quran says that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a man who possessed the highest moral excellence – “And indeed, you are of a great moral character” (Quran 68:4). God made him a model for Muslims to follow – “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often” – Quran 33:21. 

Having studied him, I honestly could not come to the conclusion that Prophet Muhammad  (PBUH) would approve of such heinous crimes like murder by mob justice and barbaric means, to be committed in his name. The Prophet was one of kindest, most considerate, and compassionate  people, that is recorded to have walked this earth. And, I will give three examples to buttress this point. We can also learn about the traditions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), from the Hadith.

Examples 

1) The first example is about a man who was said to defecate daily where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would stand to lead prayers. On a specific day when the Prophet got to his prayer spot, the man had not been there. The next day as well, the man did not come. So, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) went to the man’s house to check on him, and found that the reason he had failed to show up was because he was sick. The man was so overwhelmed with the Prophet’s show of love, concern and kindness, that he converted to Islam.

2) The second example is about a woman who in a bid to revenge the idols she worshipped, daily went to throw objects like stones on the route Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) walked everyday. Another account was that, daily, a woman threw garbage on the Prophet’s head as he passed by. The Prophet did not change his route; he simply prayed for her, and one day when he didn’t see her, he went to her house and found that she was ill; he cleaned her house and offered to help her until she recovered. She was so inspired by his actions, that she asked for the Prophet’s forgiveness, and converted to Islam.

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3) The Prophet was humble, truthful and merciful. He forgave his enemies, even when they criticised him. An example of this is the people of Taif, who called children to mock the Prophet and stone him. He did not react, and instead, he prayed for them.

Clearly, Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) reaction to insult was to ignore it, and pray for his abusers to see the light. He inflamed the desire to convert to Islam, by his conduct. So, when I watched a video of a Muslim cleric somewhere in the North spewing hatred and counselling his audience to kill anyone who blasphemes against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), I wondered where he got his own teaching from, because it is not only unIslamic, but against Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) personality and what he stood for. The Muslim cleric was exciting hatred between classes contrary to Section 417 of the Penal Code (Northern States) Federal Provisions Act (PCA), punishment for which is up to three years imprisonment.

True adherents to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Muslim faithfuls, not only eschew hate and violence like he did, they do not preach it, encourage it, and condone it. On the contrary, they teach followers to turn away from hate and violence.

Criminality

Again, what we saw in some of the Sokoto videos had nothing to do with blasphemy or religion. On the contrary, it was an opportunity for some to take advantage of the issue, and resort to pure criminality – miscreants breaking and entering into traders’ shops, theft and looting of goods like fabrics; destruction of products; forcefully gaining entry into the house of a woman of Southern extraction, and repeatedly beating her with a weapon (big stick). Islam abhors stealing – “[As for] the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they committed as a deterrent [punishment] from Allah. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise” (Quran 5:38 Surat-I-m-idah). Another version of the Quran says: Cut off (from the wrist joint) the (right) hand of the thief, male or female, as a recompense for that which they committed, a punishment by way of example from Allah. And Allah is AllPowerful, AllWise”. However, the Constitution does not endow Sharia or Customary Courts with criminal jurisdiction, but for one, Sections 286 & 287 of the PCA provide for the offence of theft, and up to five years imprisonment upon conviction.

Mob Justice 

It is obvious that the people perpetrating these heinous mob justice crimes do not seem to be true followers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), if we compare their conduct to his. While some of them are just psychopaths, others have been brainwashed by ignorant, vicious clerics, while others are suffering from poverty, lack of education, unemployment, idleness and the like, and such situations are used to act out their frustrations and loot when the opportunity avails itself.

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Of course, there are other types of mob justice, apart from religious. Thieves are often mob-lynched and burnt to death with tyres. Just like the religious mob lynching, thief lynching is called “Aggressive Mob”, where the crowd passes judgement on a person suspected to have committed a crime, rather than following due process or allowing the law to take its course. Mob members find it easier to be more destructive, because they believe that they can’t easily be identified to pay for their crimes. But, in this day and age of smart phones and their video cameras, it has become easier to single out these criminals. Those who lynched late Bridget Agbahime in Kano were known, while the killers of Deborah Yakubu and the Sokoto looters were also seen on video. Mob justice is an extensive topic which space constraints do not permit me to discuss, but suffice it to say that State condoned aggressive mob justice will only encourage this horrible practice to become the norm, rather than the exception. In some cases, loss of confidence in the criminal justice system encourages mob justice. But, in many of the cases we see in Nigeria, it doesn’t really have to do with that.

Conclusion

An effective way of eradicating this unwholesome practice, is for Government to throw the book at perpetrators of mob justice. In the Quran, Surat-al-Nisa 4:135, Allah said: “O you who have faith, stand firm in equity (qist) as witnesses for Allah, even if it were against yourselves, or your parents, or your relatives. Whether rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. Follow not your desires, so that you may be just (ta’dilu)”. Again, in Surat al Ma’idah 5:8 Allah said: “O ye who have faith, stand firm for Allah as witnesses in equity (qist), and let not hatred of people cause you to not be just. Be just (‘idlu), for that is nearer to righteousness”. Islam enjoins faithfuls to be just, and not partial. The State Governments and Judiciary in the North are populated by Muslim faithfuls, who are expected to also follow the injunctions in the aforementioned Surahs. If mobsters are accused of committing criminal acts, it is the responsibility of and expectation that Government will be just in meting out the proper punishment for those who deserve it.

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