Last week, Okoli Ahinze, a 500-level Civil Engineering student at Obafemi Awolowo University, my alma mata, was beaten to death by a mob of students. His offence? He allegedly stole mobile phones at the infamous Awolowo Hall of Residence. His alleged crime scene would turn out to be his murder scene. Though I left OAU about five years ago, I always knew someday, someone would die from the university’s long primitive culture of jungle justice.
In OAU, jungle justice is euphemised as Scientific Maximum Shishi (SMS). And boy, it’s always horrible. During my time in the school, almost every semester, there were about two to three cases of SMS. Here’s how it works: whenever a suspect is caught and reported to the student union, a makeshift trial would be conducted and if guilt was found, the suspect would be stripped to their underwear and taken to every residential hostel on campus where other students would be invited to beat up the suspect at intervals. The student union argues that if they hand over these suspects to the school, their admission would be terminated; hence, Scientific Maximum Shishi helps the suspects retain their studentship while it also helps deter other students from committing crime.
I’ve always found this to be reminiscent of the gladiatorial killings that took place in the Colesseum for the ghoulish amusement and entertainment of Romans. Perhaps, there is some evolutionary basis for this sadist desire for violence and blood. Whatever the case, the university is the last place on earth you’d expect something like this to happen. It’s even worse when you think of how prideful the average OAU student is; how s/he sings jingoistic tunes to hype up the school as some kind of citadel for scholarship.
In the larger context of Nigerian society, jungle justice is a way of life. Suspected thieves and kidnappers are usually beaten and burnt to death. It takes nothing for a peaceful crowd to descend into a frenzy when someone is accused of theft or abduction. They strip the suspect naked, slap, punch, and whip them with koboko*, canes, and even logs. After the suspect is bloodied, they noose them with tires, bathe them with petrol and set them ablaze. It is a collective crime, but no one gets punished for it. It is part of our culture and even the police do not usually bother to investigate such killings.
While OAU students may claim they do not go as far as setting suspects ablaze, Scientific Maximum Shishi is jungle justice with a fancy nomenclature. There is no difference. At least now, one student is recorded to have died as a result. And that’s one too many. This is a school that has an entire college of health sciences and a whole faculty of law. You’d think that alone should make them cautious of human anatomy and the legal implications of battery and assault when they engage in this barbarity. What’s the use of all that education if they simply want to behave like apes at the end of the day? What moral justification does the gown have to lecture the town against mob justice when it happens very often on its own soil?
I stayed in Awolowo Hall (Awo or Awo Hall for short) during my first year. It is the dirtiest and noisiest hall of residence in OAU. It is also famous for aro, a culture of loud banter. The sight of a female student passing through or vising a friend’s dorm in Awo usually sparks a cacophony of banter and sexual innuendos from boys standing on the balcony of their dorms. The musically gifted ones among them could even compose a song for the innocent girl for the entertainment of others. And as you can imagine, it’s always a terrifying experience for these female students.
Awo Hall also plays host to most political activities in the school. In a sense, Awo Hall represents the worst and best of OAU. For a politically conscious hall of residence, it boggles the mind how they thought it right to take laws into their hands to beat a suspect even to the point of death. These are the people who will someday find themselves in national politics espousing politically correct rhetoric just to get votes. But beneath all that varnish lies a sadist desire for blood.
Awo Hall entrace | source: Nairaland
In a video I did last year titled The Truth About Jungle Justice in Nigeria, I argued that jungle justice is in part a failure of policing. I said: while there is absolutely no justification for jungle justice, it is important we understand why Nigerians tend to take laws into their hands instead of handing these suspects over to the police. The reality is there is trust deficit between Nigerians and the police. The Nigeria Police Force is notorious for being the most hated institution in the country and if I’m going to be honest, a lot of this is justified. Though the Nigeria Police Force has the motto “Police is your Friend”, a lot of Nigerians actually see them as fiends. These are the same people who brutalise, extort, and make up trumped-up charges against innocent Nigerians. How do we honestly expect Nigerians to trust them?
I also added that poverty plays a huge role in why people engage in jungle justice. OAU being a federal university is heavily subsidized. It has very affordable tuition compared to private universities. I paid less than N150,000 ($330) in tuition throughout my time at OAU. The more affordable a school is, the more likely it is for students from low-income families to enrol there. But people from poor families are not so kind when they lose their property or money because they know how hard it is to get money. Of course, I’m not saying rich people are kind either. But usually, they take a different approach. For low-income communities, they tend to engage in jungle justice while rich folks tend not to. And that’s why jungle justice is common in OAU and other public universities. I don’t think I’ve heard of one case of jungle justice in an expensive private school in Nigeria.
No one should be told to stop this primitive culture following the death of Okoli Ahinze. During the decades SMS has lasted, it hasn’t deterred theft in any way. I would rather suspects be handed over to the school management and if they have to lose their admission after they’ve been found culpable, then so be it. Better someone alive without a school than a student beaten to death in a frenzy. Okoli Ahinze’s parents and loved ones would definitely have preferred the former.
*koboko is a whip made from cowhide.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.