Hon: We must strengthen justice administration

Sebastian Hon

Sebastian Hon

Abuja based lawyer, Sebastian Hon (SAN), has blamed the incessant cases of kidnapping across the country on several factors. One of such factors, he told BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE, is the lacuna in the constitution, as well as, poor application of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.

Why is it that kidnappers don’t fear death penalty prescribed under the law?
There are many factors accounting for this. First, the booming “business” of kidnapping, the apparently huge “reward” and the high rate of unemployment, which made unemployed youths, think that it is another veritable means of securing a living. So, to them, it is a do or die affair – to survive or to die. So, I think they go for this not necessarily because they like to do it, but because there is so much poverty and unemployment in the land that there is no reasonable opportunity according to them, than to embark on criminality, not just kidnapping.

Secondly, we have to look at societal or cultural factors. In Nigeria, we adore the so-called rich without minding the sources of their wealth. This has been on for long and a lot of people in and outside of government engage in criminality to indicate that they have arrived, yet, nobody questions the sources of such wealth.

Thirdly, law enforcement agencies would also be blamed because I don’t think they are serious in their efforts to stem kidnapping. Kidnappers work with Global System for Mobile Telecommunications and cable (GSM) and the law enforcement agents have access to search communications. They can approach the service providers to expose whatever discussions anybody is having with another person and they will track all these discussions and get to the criminals, but they appear either not willing to do that or too relaxed in doing it for whatever reasons. That is the reason kidnappers are having a field day.

There is this other factor of general human conduct. There is tendency for every society to have deviants and criminals and there is no society that is free from it. You also have other offences that carry death penalty, such as murder and armed robbery; yet, we have hundreds of people committing the offence everyday in and outside of Nigeria.  The tendency to commit crime is inherent in some individuals and we must only admit that such truism exists and it is for us to stem it to the minimum.

The Police are also lacking basic amenities. The Closed Circuit Television (CCT) cameras, street lighting and even serviceable vehicles are supposed to be necessary weapons to be used by security agents to track down criminals but we must agree that these things are not there, even where there are, they are grossly infective.

How do the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) and prosecution of kidnappers contribute to upsurge in this crime?
Ineffective application of ACJA is a factor in the increasing cases of kidnapping across the country. If somebody is arrested for kidnapping and taken to court, but no judgment is passed against him for a very long time, the criminal and his conspirators would have escaped prosecution. I must admit that the ACJA has not been fully implemented or activated. A lot of courts have not even tested the Act; a lot of lawyers have also not applied it.

The Act itself must also be interpreted subject to the provision of the Constitution, which says in Section 36 (4) that any person accused of a crime must be tried within a reasonable time. Now, ‘reasonable time’ has been interpreted judicially. You don’t rush into justice; you don’t also necessarily delay justice. For you to situate the ACJA properly, you must bear in mind this provision and have superior court of records, especially the Supreme Court interpretation of the provision of the constitution. In legislative ranking, the Act is inferior to the constitution. So, no matter the legislative intent or mischief, it must be interpreted subject to the provisions of the constitution. That is the reason there is the lacuna, and we have also been witnessing a lot of cases, particularly the politically inclined cases not taking up the speed contemplated by the Act, because when such issues come up, you see defence lawyers arguing strenuously in favour of the constitution; and given our constitutional jurisprudential position, no reasonable judge will easily over rule them.

What is the way out of the rising cases of kidnapping?
The citizens have serious roles to play. Family values have been lost in this country and there are no more religious and moral teachings for most of the children. Kidnappers are not ghosts, they live with us and people harbour them, people condone and encourage them and people don’t report them to law enforcement agents either out of fear or to get favour. Then, whistle blowers bill is a critical tool to fight the crime because experience has shown that when one reports a sensitive matter to the police or any other security matter, there is likelihood of the agency betraying the person.

So, the law should be passed speedily.  We also have to police the police. There must be counter checks on law enforcement agents. Even their communications should be checked; their means of livelihood should be checked. If an officer earns N60, 000 monthly and he has built a duplex, questions must be asked, he must be investigated. Then, justice administration must be strengthened. This does not only involve the judges, but also the prosecuting and defence lawyers.

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Sebastian Hon
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