Lawyers, activists blame security agencies for rising cases



Until recently, grievous felonies such as murder and armed robberies were offences in the law books that attracted capital punishment. Kidnapping was joined as one of the offences that should attract death penalty because of its severity, as it became a lucrative business for some Nigerians desiring quick money.

However, despite its classification as capital offence punishable by death, among other related crimes, the trend has refused to abate as criminals still engage in it. Nigerians who reacted to the development are blaming it on a lot of factors ranging from economy, weak and fragile security, and greed, among others.

An Aba based Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Chuks Muoma said the law enforcement agencies should be held responsible for the development, insisting that criminals, especially kidnappers could have been deterred if there was strict enforcement of the law in that regard. He said: “When you make laws, the law enforcement agencies will enforce the law, if there is any dispute to the law you come to the court to interpret the law. But when you make the law and it is in the statute books and the law enforcement agencies choose to do nothing about it, then whatever the law seeks to prevent will continue.

“If kidnapping has not been made a capital offence and kidnapping is on the increase, then you blame the law enforcement agencies- the police, the army, the Department of State Security (DSS) and other law enforcement agents. You won’t blame it on Judges and lawyers. We only come in when there is a culprit and when someone is about to be tried, then we look into it and see whether he or she has fouled the law or not. Most laws in Nigeria are observed more in breach than in compliance and this is because the law enforcement agents are not effective. They go after people who commit petty crimes, but the real criminals like kidnappers are left to go scout free.

“Do the police not know the kidnappers, their hideouts and headquarters? So if the law is not being enforced, then put the blame on law enforcement agencies. They should be able to ensure the enforcement of the laws made by the legislature; judiciary is only there to interpret”

He said he does not agree that the economic situation of the country has played any major role to increase the trend, blaming the rise on greed and quest for quick wealth among Nigerians

According to him: “The average Nigerian is greedy; he wants to make all the money in the world without labouring for it. What is happening in Nigeria (recession, depression) has happened in other countries, but the point is that an average Nigerian wants quick money with least labour. The average Nigerian gets crazy about making quick money and that is the basis for criminality.”

He said there was no better way of checking kidnapping than enforcing the law making it a capital offence.“These people are desperate, they kidnap people, market them back to their family. It is a heinous crime because you steal somebody, package him back to his people and tell his people to pay you a price. As far as I am concerned, it should be visited with the severest of penalties,” he added.

An Enugu based legal practitioner, Mr. John Nwobodo said: “Generally speaking laws that carry the maximum sentence are intended to discourage the commission of certain grievous felonies such as murder, armed robbery and now kidnapping as we have it in the penal laws of some states. Kidnapping, no doubt has become prevalent in recent times. Due to this fact, it has been made a capital offence, meaning that the offence carries death penalty. The observation you made is a moot point.

“Despite the death sentence that the offence carries it has not served as deterrence. Kidnapping is seen as a lucrative crime because victims are usually made to pay huge sums of money as ransoms and many victims are ready to paying for fear of their lives and due to the premium on personal liberty, safety and security. In my view, the crime has remained unabated despite the stiff penalty because the capacity of our intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies to detect and prevent crime is nothing to write home about. The offence will abate when and only when our capacity for detecting, preventing and enforcing the laws are enhanced. You can only sentence a man to death for kidnapping when he is caught. When people commit offences and they escape without challenge, they will continue in their crimes notwithstanding the stiffness of the penalty.”

Asked whether implementation was the problem, he said: “It is not a problem of implementation; it is a problem of weak and fragile security. How do we measure our response preparedness to crimes? It is at its lowest ebb. We live in a terribly insecure environment, insecure neighborhoods, insecure highways etc. I will have to emphasise that the question of implementation comes to focus when we have the capacity to apprehend offenders. Kidnappers whisk their victims to their den, put calls across to the relatives of the victim and they escape without traces. In developed climes, the kidnappers will be tracked, using necessary technology”

On whether public officers are culpable in the rise in cases of kidnappings, he said: “Who signs the death warrant is immaterial. What should be paramount is that whoever signs discharges such duty without bias. There is no problem with the status quo. The power to sign death warrants should remain with the governor who is deemed the conscience of the state with powers not only with powers to approve executions of condemned prisoners, but powers also to grant clemency and to commute death sentences.

“I want the retention of death sentence for kidnappers. To reduce the incidences of kidnapping we should as a country rework our security; ensure safe neighbourhoods, safe highways and safe environment generally. In most cases of kidnapping, the perpetrators communicate with victims’ relatives or any person they believe they can extort money from by holding their victim to ransom. I believe that we should acquire a mobile system tracker that can pin the kidnappers to their approximate or exact locations. This I believe is possible. And that is one sure way out of the menace.”

Immediate Past President General of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike said: “What deters prospective offenders is not the severity of the punishment, rather it is the efficiency the law enforcement of officers. A person will go ahead and kidnap another if he knows that he will pass 100 check points if he drives a posh car, has a ready bundle of cash and a big man smile. The British police unit does not brandish weapons up and down, but the men are thorough. Now compare it to the United States where there is death penalty and open display of weapons. The deterrence rate in United States is much lower compared to Switzerland.

“The problem of enforcement is also related to the identity of the kidnappers. Most of them were armed and equipped by the politicians when the criminals worked as thugs of the political gladiators. They protect each other. Besides, many of the kidnappers are secretly connected with dubious security men.

“The power to sign the execution of a person condemned to death lies on the governor of a state. The judge who convicts a person makes such a declaration. The Chief Judge has no such powers of life and death over any person. At the National Conference of 2014, of which I was a member, we were briefed that since 1999, the state governors have not been signing execution warrants. The only exception is ex-Governor Adams Oshiomole and one other (recently). The condemned convicts cells are overcrowded. The trend in the world is to move away from death penalty. The European countries will not extradite any one if the offence carries death penalty.  The only advice I can give is for our security men to work on their efficiency. It never fails.”

Also speaking, Executive Director, Civil Rights Concern, Awka, Mr Okey Onyeka, stated that kidnapping reduced in Anambra State because of the approach by the state government and the implementation of the law making it a capital offence.

“If somebody is involved in kidnapping, his house will be pulled down. The property that is used to house a kidnapped person will also be pulled down and government went ahead to mount security that enables people to access Police, linking up vigilante with police, as well as, other infrastructure.”

He said the situation has not completely curbed kidnapping, but has helped reduced it.According to him, death penalties no longer deter criminals because of the economic situation that has posed several challenges on them. “They need food to eat, they need cloths to wear and what have you. When there is no hope for all these, they would resort to all manner of crimes to live and that is one area that we must work to address,” he disclosed.

Onyeka blamed the development on the failure of the government to provide for the youths in the areas of employment, education, health among others, stressing that kidnapping and other related capital crimes would continue unless some basic facilities that could restore hope of survival in the country were fixed and sustained.

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