The recent killing of a former student of Makerere University by a mob of students at one of the university’s hall of residence, has raised debate about the merit of students enrolled at the university. Many, without further thought, supposed that the university administration was squarely responsible for the incident, citing laxity in security as one of its failures.
To an attentive mind, the incident highlights a course in our perception of the criminal justice system in this country. And as a former victim of burglary myself, two conclusions emerge with considerable clarity from that and many other incidents of mob justice. First is the deduction that our trust in the criminal justice system is at its lowest possible point. Previously, incidents of mob justice were a preserve of those we often consider to be from less cultivated sections of our society, who by our estimation know little or nothing about civility.
I am almost confident that had this incident happened in other parts of the city, it would not have made newspaper headlines or prime news. That the ferocious attack was incited and carried out by those we consider to possess sufficient discretion is a measure of our confidence in the capacity of the legal authorities.
Second is the thought that the government has done little to arrest the declining public confidence in its systems. But declining levels of public confidence in the criminal justice system should worry us all and must become a priority for the government and particularly the Ministry of Justice. The effectiveness of the health and education systems or departments is largely unaffected by changes in public confidence. People may become more critical of the national health services but the state of the public health will not be seriously undermined by such developments. By contrast, lack of public confidence in criminal justice system will not only breed people’s reluctance to report crimes but it would occasionally result in such incidents as it happened at Nkrumah Hall. At a time of heightened security concern, people must be made to feel that the system works.
The responsible government bodies should realise that trust in the work of the police and other legal authorities is no longer automatic; it must be earned everyday, with each encounter between legal authorities and citizens. If I report a criminal case at my local police station, I must be made to feel that the police are going to do their utmost to investigate and bring the culprit to book. Unfortunately, owing to the endemic corruption within the police force, the suspect would easily escape justice by bribing the officers in charge of the investigation. For that reason alone, we should not wonder what guided the decision of the university students if they genuinely suspected the victim to have been a criminal.
Mob justice has become a common occurrence in our society and yet we have done little to stop it, mostly because we are often convinced that the suspects in question got what they deserved. The incident at Makerere University is a clear illustration of the tragedy of this barbaric behaviour. The life of David Ojok Otim was sadly brought to an end by a group of savages but don’t we owe it to his soul to extract lessons from the circumstances surrounding his death?
Mr Makubuya is a barrister. email@example.com