A recent spike in incidents of fatal mob violence in Kano, a city in Northwest Nigeria, sparked by cases of street robberies, has raised concerns about the rule of law and resulted in several cases of fatalities, injuries, and the destruction of properties.
In three such incidents in May, three commercial tricycles suspected to belong to phone robbers were set ablaze along Gwarzo Road in Kabuga, Lodge Road in Nassarawa, and BUK roads.
Some of the suspected phone robbers, such as those on Kabuga and BUK roads, managed to escape, leaving the vehicles behind as they were burnt to ashes. Others were beaten to a pulp before they were handed to the police. These incidents served as a catalyst for subsequent confrontations between civilians and suspected phone robbers.
Another person accused of phone robbery fell victim to mob action on Saturday, May 20, in Dala. The following day, a similar incident unfolded at a market area in Kafin Mai-Yaki, where an enraged crowd caught a suspected phone robber. The suspect would have been lynched if not for the intervention of a few individuals who recognised the importance of due process.
Others at Zoo Road, Lodge Road, and Tudun Murtala were not so lucky. A picture circulated of a young adolescent suspected of involvement in a phone robbery, who was severely beaten by a mob and then handed over to law enforcement authorities at Zoo Road on Sunday, May 21.
That was followed by another incident on Tuesday in Nassarawa, where a suspect was severely beaten, and another tricycle burned to ashes before the police were invited. The incident was broadcast live on Facebook by some media houses in Kano.
Since the conclusion of the fiercely contested 2023 elections in the state, Kano has experienced an alarming upsurge in phone robberies. The intense political atmosphere during the campaign period appeared to have created a conducive environment for criminal activities. With the election fervour subsiding, some criminals have returned to an unprecedented level of phone robberies as a means of sustenance.
According to the state police spokesperson, Abdullahi Haruna Kiyawa, the phone robbers “used to operate and get arrested by the police mostly at political gatherings and during campaigns where they rob innocent people,” but things changed, and “after campaign activities ended, these thugs resorted to attacks and phone robberies.”
The robbers typically use tricycles, locally known as Adaidaita Sahu to move around. The vehicle offers both mobility and a swift means of escape, allowing the criminals to evade capture. They are also able to navigate through narrow streets and busy roads, reaching poorly lit areas where their targets are more vulnerable.
Armed with small weapons such as knives or sharp objects, they resort to physical violence, attacking their victims before robbing them of their phones or other property. Some of the robberies have led to the death of victims, which has sparked outrage and further eroded trust in the formal justice system.
“For three days, these thugs frequented our area, and nothing was done to stop them despite our close proximity to the police station until they were confronted by the community,” a person, who requested anonymity and who described jungle justice as a form of self-help, told HumAngle.
The failure of law enforcement agencies to effectively combat the phone robbery epidemic has led to a surge in jungle justice throughout Kano. Vigilante groups, locally referred to as Yan Kwamati, have been formed in various corners of the state, driven by anger and a desire to protect their communities.
Acts of mob violence are filmed and shared on social media platforms, especially Facebook, which may have led to increased normalisation.
In response to the surge in jungle justice and robberies, the Kano State Police Command issued a strong plea to the public. Commissioner of Police Mohammed Usaini Gumel urged residents to refrain from taking the law into their own hands and instead collaborate with the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“Taking the law into one’s own hands is a criminal offence,” Gumel said. “People should instead collaborate with the authorities and submit any information that will lead to arresting suspects.”
Civil society organisations have also called on the public to desist from jungle justice.
“There is a need for citizens to desist from taking the law into their hands when phone snatchers are arrested to avoid the likelihood of attacking innocent individuals and framing others,” said Zainab Nasir Ahmad, executive director of the Youth Society for Prevention of Infectious Disease and Social Vices (YOSPIS), at a press conference on Tuesday.
YOSPIS also called on the authorities to deploy more security personnel in vulnerable areas and restore public confidence in the formal justice system by expediting “the judicial process to ensure swift trials and convictions for those involved in phone snatching.”
Residents say one of the reasons the criminals are not deterred is that the police charge them with minor offences, such as theft and extortion, rather than robbery, which carries a heavier sentence. They also claim that some of those arrested are released without prosecution.
“Releasing phone snatchers without taking proper (legal) action is why people are resorting to jungle justice,” explained Abdullahi Sufi, a social media influencer and activist.
A Kano-based lawyer, Sunusi Umar Sadiq, explains that although journalists refer to it as phone snatching, to the courts, the crime could range from extortion to robbery “according to what police provide to them”.
Sadiq confirms that jungle justice violates Nigerian law, which provides that suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. “Taking the law into one’s own hands and engaging in acts of jungle justice is considered criminal because it eschews the proper legal process,” he told HumAngle.
As Kano’s Governor-elect, Abba Kabir Yusuf, prepares to take office next week, he is set to inherit a challenging situation in which many residents are engaged in fierce confrontations with phone robbers and grappling with various security issues.
Yusuf promised to prioritise the rehabilitation of drug addicts as a way to address the underlying causes of crime in the state.
YOSPIS has advised the Governor-elect to declare a state of emergency on phone snatching by establishing a special task force to facilitate the speedy investigation, prosecution, and trial of all cases.
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