Lagos State anti-kidnapping bill stokes controversy over death penalty provision
Lagos State House of Assembly on January 5, 2017 passed an anti-kidnapping bill and prescribed death penalty for convicts whose victims die in their custody. Abductors, whose victims do not die in their hands would face life imprisonment.
The bill aimed at curbing the rising cases of kidnapping in the state is now waiting for the governors assent.
Titled, “Law to Provide for the Prohibition of the Act of Kidnapping and for other Connected Purposes”, the bill, barring any Executive objection might soon become law in the state.
Sponsored by the Speaker of the House, Mr Mudashiru Obasa, the bill states that any person who kidnaps, abducts, detains, captures or takes another person by any means or trick with intent to demand ransom or do anything against his/her will, commits an offence. It also stipulates life imprisonment for anyone who makes an attempt to kidnap another person and seven years imprisonment for anyone making false representation to release a kidnapped or abducted person.
The bill also provides that anyone found guilty of threatening to kidnap another person through phone call, e-mail, text message or any other means of communication would face 25 years imprisonment.
Furthermore, the bill prescribes penalty for any person, who knowingly or wilfully allows or permits his premises, building or a place or belonging to which he has control of, to be used for the purpose of keeping a kidnapped person. According to the bill, such a person is guilty of an offence under the law and liable to 14 years imprisonment without an option of fine.
Obasa, who read the 20 sections of the bill one after the other for members’ approval, conducted a voice vote before its passage. He subsequently directed the Acting Clerk of the House, Mr Azeez Sanni, to forward a clean copy of the bill to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode for assent.
The passage of this bill stoked controversy as human rights groups and other death penalty abolitionists in swift reaction condemned the action.
The Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS), condemned the decision and described it as disappointing. According to Senior Programme Officer of HURILAWS, Collins Okeke, the decision is ill-conceived and will not achieve any result.
He said: “Several other states such as Edo, Bayelsa, Abia, Akwa, Ibom, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo have done same but it has
not stopped kidnapping or any other crime”.
Okeke insisted that death penalty does not keep any society safe, insisting that it does not deter criminals. It may pander to the outrage of society, he said, but it does not abate or remove the crime or offense, which should be the interest of government.
“The best way to solve crime is to prevent it or at best apprehend the offender but when a criminal justice system is too weak to resolve crimes and apprehend offender, the penalties no matter how severe will have no deterrent effect,” the group said.
Okeke therefore advised the state to rather than emphasize the death penalty as the panacea to kidnapping or any other crime, but rather continue to build the capacity of law enforcement agencies.
According to him, Lagos State is a trailblazer in criminal justice reforms in Nigeria and therefore should not take a step backwards.
Similarly, Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), said Nigeria’s position on death penalty is more of self-deception than sound policy.
National coordinator of the group, Mr. Chino Obiagwu said Nigeria announced to the world that it placed moratorium on the use of the death penalty but refused to issue any official document to that effect. “It has continued to execute its death row prisoners, and failed to implement the report of its own Panel of Experts that recommended suspension of the use of the death penalty because of the country’s ineffecient criminal justice system.
“Because death sentence in Nigeria are mainly applied to the poor and uneducated, it is not a priority issue for the political society. If death sentences were applied to corruption or economic crimes, the turf of political leaders, it would have been abolished long ago,”he said.
Obiagwu recalled that in October 2009, Nigeria’s delegation to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) said that it had put in place a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and denied an earlier secret execution of two prisoners in Jos in 2007.
He explained that the panel of experts, headed by Professor Bamgbose, former DG of Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NAILS), issued a report stating the dangers of the continued use of the death penalty in Nigeria. According to him, the Panel had enthused that ‘a State that cannot give justice should not take life’.
He insisted that Nigerian government has continued to execute death row prisoners and has never had a moratorium, since there is no document or policy paper declaring moratorium on executions or on death sentencing.
He said: “The federal government has not made any official commitment to discourage States from using the death penalty. On the contrary, in May 2012, State Governors met in Abuja and announced they would commence executions as a way to decongest prisons, an illogical proposition because Nigeria’s prisons are over-populated by only awaiting trial prisoners.
“Upon that threat to kill them, all death row prisoners in 11 maximum security prisons filed a suit at the Federal High Court against all State governors to stop any execution. The case is pending at the Court of Appeal Lagos. Despite the on-going suit, prisoners continued to be executed. At the same time, the Federal Government has discarded the report of the Bamgbose Panel of experts, completely ignoring its commitment to the UN.
“Not only that it has executed prisoners since then, in 2013 and 2016, it has expanded the range of non-homicidal crimes punishable by death sentence. It has also continued to apply death penalty as mandatory punishment, despite the fact that all over modern democracies, the mandatory use of death sentence has been abolished because it constitutes a legislative usurpation of the judicial functions of sentencing.
“Nearly all courts and tribunal in which the issue of use of mandatory death penalty had been raised have held that to sentence a person to death or to any pre-determined punishment irrespective of his or her individual circumstances or circumstances in which he committed the offence, constitute inhuman and degrading treatment.”
He mentioned Kenya, Uganda, Bostwana, South Africa as some of the African states that have abolished death penalty by either legislation or judicial decisions.
According to him, Nigeria’s legislature has ignored calls by civil society to abolish the use of death sentence or to restrict it to only crimes resulting in death of the victims. “In many instances, it introduced death penalty for kidnapping such as in Edo, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Imo, Abia and Delta and for adultery, sodomy 12 Sharia states of the North,” he noted, saying life imprisonment is a humane and civil alternative to death sentence.
In the same vein, Coordinator, Access to Justice (A2J), Mr. Joseph Otteh, said the rush for the death penalty by the Lagos Assembly members is predicated on, at the very least, ambivalent assumptions.
To him, it is not in most cases arguably that the gravity of the punishment controls the impulse. Otteh also queried the justification of choice of death penalty when ‘our justice system has not been above board in terms of performances’.
“Why should we legitimize the use of the death penalty at all when the courts struggle to offer basic Justice to those who appear before them? As someone said, a state that must take life must first offer justice,” he declared.
The vice of kidnapping is traceable to the uprising in Niger-Delta region, when the abduction of expatriate oil workers became the order of the day. But the perpetrators said it was meant to protest and draw the attention of the world on the environmental degradation by the oil multinationals in the creeks of the region.
Unfortunately, in no time, it became a misadventure as it was hijacked by criminals and turned to become a national security threat. The vice went viral across the country, propelling some of the most affected states to also prescribe death penalty for offenders.
That did not dissuade the culprits, or so it seems as soonest, the evil spread to the centre of excellence, Lagos as well. In recent times, the state had recorded cases of kidnapping, including that of a prominent traditional ruler, the Oniba of Iba. Of great concern to the Ambode’s government was the kidnapped in October last year of some students of the Lagos Senior and Junior Model College, Igbonla Epe. This drew the ire of the governor who promised that his government would commence a review of its laws to curb and effectively punish perpetrators of such acts. The consequence of his promise is now the bill before him.
Defending the enactment of the bill, chairman of the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Public Account, Hon Moshood Oshun, said the
inclusion of death penalty in the bill was to deter people from taking up such vices.
His words: “But here in Lagos, we respect the sanctity of the human person and this is why we did not follow the general pattern of death penalty. In our case, the kidnapper will only be sentenced to death if the victim died in his or her custody. This is just a simple tit-for-tat.
“Again, most laws are not just about punishment, but deterrent. A Nigerian resident in Lagos and thinking of engaging in this kind of crime would definitely withdraw upon knowing that he has no escape route with this kind of law.”
Whether the law would achieve its purpose when it comes into force remains a conjecture that its outcome seems more certain.