Justice in Undisciplined Society is Always Misunderstood

Mon, 20 Dec 2010 Source: Damoa, Adreba Kwaku Abrefa

The word justice in the interpretation of many has always borne a connotation with punishment in its severest form imaginable. Many in undisciplined and acculturating societies can only approve of a visitation of punishment on a person as ‘justice delivered’ only when it is funereal, usually by inflicting pain of violent death on a suspect and nothing short of that. It is in this wise that instant mob justice has suddenly invaded Ghanaian society over the past three decades and is rapidly taking the dimension of a growing menace not only in Ghana but across Africa and especially in developing countries around the world. Going by the ordinary everyday usage of the concept of justice such as awarding what is due to another, impartiality and rightness, the administration of law etc, what is termed as justice can under many circumstances be blatant injustice in character and in application whereby supposed justiciars may themselves need to or have ever faced justice. This is not an in depth discussion on justice and how it is misconstrued and applied at certain times by people in authority, it is about the growing menace of mob justice

The uncontrollable out-break of mob justice in Ghana can be traced back from 1982 when several Ghanaians returned from their adventure for greener pasture expedition in Nigeria as an oil-rich country. The fall-out of the breakdown of law and order in Nigeria had been because it had been benighted with a long standing frustration and indiscipline due to internecine tribal conflicts that had besieged the country in the mid to late nineteen sixties. The only “rich” experience gathered from Nigerian indiscipline by the several thousand economic adventurers from Ghana and elsewhere who thronged into Nigeria for a supposed greener pasture was among others, mob justice and driver indiscipline. Mob action and road indiscipline especially on the streets of Lagos as scenes of everyday occurrence can be second to none in West Africa that continue to this day and have pervaded across the entire country. True with human nature as brutish and only regulated by laws else the worst of all beasts, left to ourselves, humans pick and learn bad habits much easier and faster than the good; so naturally humans navigate towards evil en mass as a common tendency. This natural tendency to pick the bad easily quickly eroded away all of any sense of culture, self-discipline, reason and empathy out of the fabric of these recruits of evil and replaced with impavid gory sadism within a short spell of time in Nigeria. This uncanny undisciplined condition has ever since inspissated to near serious impervious levels for any deconditioning at-all else mob action was seldom known in Ghana and those who dared were brought to book.

Back home from Nigeria after the supposed mass retaliatory expulsion of Ghanaians in 1982 following Nigeria’s Interior Minister Ali Baba’s proclamation that Nigeria could not continue to be ‘Father Christmas’, these exiled, majority of whom had been reduced to brutes and dregs in civilised Ghana were greeted back home with the spirit of revolutionary indiscipline. Earlier on, Boakye Djan as he has acceded to injustice in his own words a few weeks ago to have made “palm tree” decrees with Mr Rawlings and executed them to abominable levels had sown a seed of institutional indiscipline. Apathy and social discontent were soon followed by a PNDC advanced version of lawlessness and jungle justice carried in their message of indiscipline and disrespect for authority. Law and order in Ghana have ever since broken down in spite of the PNDC using Procrustean measures as an alternative to instilling social discipline and rule of law. These and other conditions that prevailed in the country caused the sudden relapse into indiscipline lawlessness culminating in gangsterism and hooliganism that have indeed procreated murderous self-styled justiciars.

People embark upon mob style justice without a clue about what justice means in relation to their action taken. Even the desperate times Mosaic lex talionis provides for ‘eye for an eye’ not ‘eye for a throat’. Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice makes it clear that a debt in a sum of money cannot be equated with a pound of the debtor’s flesh in payment. All said and done, Aristotle describes man as the worst of all animals when disjoined from law, order and justice. The Grotian or the otherwise government theory of atonement states of man as essentially a social being which necessitates that the principles of justice should be a perpetual obligation and in harmony with human nature. Guided by these in Christian, Islamic and governance principles in all societies, what justifies any person to mete out disproportionate measure for measure? Not surprisingly, mob justiciars across the undisciplined and ungovernable third world countries of the world pick the weak and unprotected who are only alleged to have committed misdemeanours like petty theft for their victims, simply because these emerge as the easiest prey so they can do it notwithstanding a lot of them are innocent of the alleged offence, whiles the big time latrons who steal millions of Dollars, those who use pen and paper to collapse national economies whiles they enrich themselves, the rapists, murderers, paedophiles, smugglers etc who do the most damage to society remain the untouchables because they are too strong, unreachable and respected. Many people across Africa especially from Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Ghana etc and across the world express their disgust for gang justice. They blame its incidence on the irresponsive or pedetentous approach to petty crimes by the police and judicial systems of societies concerned however, I blame the governments of condoning and connivance in this criminal act for not doing much to strengthen by way of empowering especially the police as much as possible for internal security. In their frustration, an offence of misdemeanour is visited by impavid idiopathic murderers with stabbing, throat cutting, setting ablaze, strangling etc yet they claim to belong to either the Christian or Islamic faith. So, as Abraham challenged his God in the Biblical/Hebrew Torah/Islamic story on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra, can’t these self-styled administrators of justice, refrain from these criminal executions for a proper procedural justice to take place for the sake of the many innocents who fall victims to mob justice once the supposed suspect is apprehended?

Reading about the story of a half-blind boy in Liberia who innocently run into a woman in a crowded market place called Waterside in Monrovia due to poor sight but was unfortunately taken for an attempt to snatch her bag and almost lynched to death by an irate crowd, only to be saved by timely police intervention is so pathetic and heart-breaking. In Ghana, there are several incidents of such maniacs who are poised with venom to slaughter join in mob action without having a clue as to what the suspect has done because they take it for a hobby. Even in Nigeria, Iraq, India and Pakistan where gang justice has the highest record, this practice is condemned as barbaric as it is insanity.

Some of the side effects that mob justice have on on-looking witnesses are that such scenes can leave the brain numb and people seldom regain normalcy with the possibility of becoming timid in excelsis just by witnessing such trauma. According to psychologists, this is because the average human mind is not equipped to withstand a high degree of psychological violence so those who involve in or watch such scenes are likely to suffer or may be prone to lasting severe psychological trauma. On the participant murderer, if persistent, develops an inclination to murder as the brain becomes attuned to violence with a lasting impaired sense of reason and simple understanding.

As a result of high number of mob justice in Iraq, India, South Africa, Nigeria and Pakistan, many are the people who suffer from psychological trauma associated with partaking or witnessing these incidents which I am afraid Ghana will soon rank among them. Though it is an innate part of humans to instantly decipher between good and bad, human as we are, we lack the trait to determine instantaneously fitting punishment for an offence or a crime. In view of this human shortcoming, society of all types and ethnicity across the globe is seriously evolving with mechanisms and systems for providing justice befitting human society as distinct from brutes.

Policing and justice delivery in Ghana needs to be improved tremendously to rank among the best however, in the meantime, in order to forestall any further incidents of mob justice which is not only criminal, but brutish and inhuman, society must identify and report the perpetrators of this barbaric culture who play robbing Peter to pay Paul in their own right as a substitute for justice and made to face the full rigours of the law.

Adreba Kwaku Abrefa Damoa, LLB; MPhil (London) London UK

Columnist: Damoa, Adreba Kwaku Abrefa