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Why death penalty is not deterring abductors, by lawyers

By Joseph Onyekwere, Lagos, Anietie Akpan, Calabar, Saxone Akhaine, Abdulganiyu Alabi, Kaduna, Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia, Osiberoha Osibe, Awka and Ayoyinka Jegede, Uyo
12 October 2019   |   4:36 am
Lawyers have adduced reasons why kidnapping remains a lucrative “business” across the country despite the prescription of death penalty for the offence in some states.

• Soldiers Rescue Kidnapped Kaduna Students
• Buratai Declares War Against Bandits, Kidnappers

Lawyers have adduced reasons why kidnapping remains a lucrative “business” across the country despite the prescription of death penalty for the offence in some states.

Meanwhile, soldiers have rescued some of the kidnapped Kaduna students while the Police in Kano freed eight persons kidnapped in Anambra State, even as the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai, declared war against bandits and kidnappers across the country, especially in the north.

According to the National Coordinator of Legal Defence and Assistance Programme (LEDAP), Mr. Chino Obiagwu (SAN), the harshness of the punishment for crime is never a deterrent to crime; what deters or discourages crime is the high likelihood of apprehension of the offender.

He said a potential criminal doesn’t think of whether he/she would be punished with death or life imprisonment when he/she sets out to commit a crime, saying all he/she is mindful of is whether or not there is high possibility of arrest, saying: “In fact when he thinks about the punishment and if it is harsh, he will try to eliminate evidence, especially when he/she accosts someone who he/she thinks knows him/her. So, death penalty serves no deterrent purpose.”

State governors, Obiagwu said, would not sign death warrants because they know that the criminal justice system cannot guarantee that those convicted are actually guilty and would also not support death penalty openly because of public opinions, as politicians don’t like going against public opinion.

He noted that public opinion can sometimes be in favour of injustice as a result of uninformed prejudices and it is the duty of a political leader to do the right things, even if contrary to public opinion.

The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Akwa Ibom State, where death penalty was signed into law since 2010, said the law is very effective because last year, the state secured conviction of about six kidnappers and another six this year, including two policemen. But they have not been executed because they have gone on appeal.

He insists that the law was deterring would-be kidnappers, “because it has substantially reduced the numbers of kidnapping cases we have in Akwa Ibom. Kidnapping is virtually less than two per cent of the total rate of crime in the state.

“It is my humble opinion that the capital punishment has deterred kidnapping in the state, but beyond conviction and trials, the state government has deployed modern technologies, at very high cost, into fighting kidnapping, including tracking machines.

“This has brought more peace into the state. Kidnapping is absolutely not an attractive business in Akwa Ibom.”

In Cross River State, the law prescribing death sentence has not been effective since it came into effect in 2015.

Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr. Christian Ita, said he was not aware if any conviction or death sentence has been brought before the governor for signing since the law became effective.

A legal practitioner in Calabar, Mr. Etim Inyang, said: “For me, the law is not effective because most of the kidnapping cases at the Federal High Court rely on the administrative law of justice of the federation.

“However, there is need for advocacy for people to be conscious and aware of such law and it needs to be gazetted. We need to enlighten the people on it. For now, most of the kidnap cases are being charged under the criminal code, especially when they are charged at the Federal High Court.”

National President, Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, recalled that October 10 every year is marked globally as the World Day Against Death Penalty. He is against death penalty or execution of offenders, warning: “The law on capital punishment or death penalty only focuses on the perpetrator of the alleged capital offence without consideration of the apparent rights of the child or children of the offender to be executed.

“The need for the consideration of the right of the child or children of the parent who is a death row detainee could form the apparent justification of the call by Abolitionists for the global abolition of the death penalty and repeal of all laws that provide for capital punishment or death sentence.

“Thus, the death penalty could be condemned on the grounds that it is cruel, degrading, inhumane, insensitive to the rights of children to parental care, where the offender on death row, just to be executed, is a parent.

“It is a fallacy to hold a view that more cruel punishments, such as the death penalty, will deter crime and criminality, considering the high level of prevalence of violent crimes in our society, including kidnapping, insurgency, militancy, banditry, armed robbery, cultism, extra-judicial killings, etc.

“Such views that crueller punishment, such as death penalty would deter crime would have failed to take into account that there are complex socio-economic, political and other factors that drive crime rates and criminals would usually not plan to be caught or even think about the consequences of their criminal acts.

“In effect, it has not served the purpose of deterrence, as shown by research and statistics across the globe, in the same way that the State may be condescending to the same level of the offender, if the only way it could respond to the malfeasance of the offender is to commit exactly the same offence through capital punishment.”

He continued: “Death penalty deprives people of the opportunity for reform, rehabilitation or correction. Many death row detainees had acknowledged their crimes and have genuinely reformed. Therefore, there is no need or benefit whatever for the state to still execute such people, else it will be a senseless deprivation of life.

“The death penalty is largely unfair, as most of the instances affect overwhelmingly on the working class, the poor or marginalised persons or groups, not because they are simply prone to crime, but because they have less access to legal resources. The legal resources are available to a person certainly makes a whole difference.

“Finally, all the methods of execution of the offender are considered cruel. Firing squad (shooting), hanging, poisoning, injecting lethal substance or administering chemical to execute the offender is certainly cruel and inhumane. Whichever way it is considered, executing the offender is not humane, not even close; it is simply vengeful and cruel. The death penalty should not have any relevance in our legal system and must be expunged from our corpus of laws.

“All our criminal laws still retaining provisions for the death penalty should be reviewed and such provisions must be repealed forthwith.”

Similarly, Senior Legal and Programme Officer, Human Rights Law Services (HURILAW), Collins Okeke, said death penalty does not deter criminals; but what really deters them is fear of apprehension.

“At the moment, our criminal justice system is too weak to apprehend anybody. The Police and other law enforcement agents lack basic tools to work. There are no robust crime database, forensic labs, etc. Until government invests in the critical infrastructure, kidnapping and other crimes will persist. Imposing the death penalty is a political distraction. In any case, a kidnapper must be first be caught and prosecuted before death penalty can be imposed.”

On why governors are not signing death warrants: “I believe most of them know that there are loopholes in our criminal justice system that question the morality of any execution. They know the challenges of the Police and the courts, as 80 per cent of death penalty convictions are based on confessional statements, most of which are obtained through torture. How can any governor sign death warrant on this information alone?”

He believed imposing death penalty against kidnapping is mostly political and governors’ own way of showing that they are tough on crime, adding: “But it does not deter crime; what will stop crime is efficient law enforcement.”

Meanwhile, combined forces of armed soldiers of Operation Thunder Strike have rescued the abducted students of Government Day Secondary School Gwagwada in Chikun Council in Kaduna State.

Worried by the activities of armed bandits, kidnappers and other criminals in the north, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, has directed troops to declare war and deal ruthlessly with the criminals.

He stressed that the marauders and criminal elements in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and other states must be rooted out, saying troops should deal decisively with all criminal elements in their areas of operations.

Addressing troops at the headquarters of 1 Brigade in Gusau, Zamfara State, yesterday, the Army chief commended the troops for their commitment and professional disposition, urging them to maintain aggressive posture against unrepentant bandits, kidnappers and cattle rustlers.

A statement by the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, One Division Nigerian Army, Col. E. D. Idimah said the troops, who were on routine patrol in the general area, received information from a reliable source that some bandits terrorising the Abuja-Kaduna highway had waylaid some students on their way to school and abducted them.

“Troops immediately swung into action and gave the bandits a hot chase. On sighting the troops, the bandits engaged them in a firefight, but had to surrender to the superior firepower of the troops. Following the firefight, one of the bandits was neutralised, while the rest scampered into different directions of the forest with gun-shot wounds.

“All the students abducted by the bandits were rescued safely and re-united with their families. Items recovered from them include one AK47 rifle with seven rounds of 7.62mm special ammunition and a pump action gun with 10 cartridges.”

Idimah added that troops were combing the entire forest in search of the bandits to ensure they are flushed out.

In Abia, the extant law cited as the Abia State Prohibition of Terrorism, Kidnapping, Hostage Taking, use of Offensive Weapons or Explosives and other threatening Behavior came into force on August 16, 2009.

The State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mr. Ngozi Joy Obioma, told The Guardian that some suspects have been facing prosecution in the court, insisting that the law has, to a large extent, impacted positively in reducing kidnapping in the state.

The Anambra State Criminal Code (Amendment) Law 2009 stipulates that government had the right to confiscate, destroy or turn properties belonging to kidnappers and their sponsors to some other use, in addition to blocking their sources of income. As a result, some properties of suspected kidnappers and their sponsors have been pulled down or confiscated by the state government over the years.

To curb kidnapping or reduce its incidence, a lawyer, Charles Emmy Nwokeke, urged government to address the problem of lack of access to education and joblessness, advocating stringent anti-kidnapping measures to deter would-be offenders.

According to him, death penalty, where promulgated, should be limited to kidnap-related offences, just as he called for the monitoring of security agents, their training and re-training, as well as equipping them with modern fighting weapons to win the war.