“If evil ministers enjoy safety and profit, this is the beginning of downfall” – Han Feiizu (280-233 BCE).
Precisely a week ago, the Emmanuel Ogbeche-led Abuja chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists held a town hall parley on the spread of insecurity in Nigeria with greater emphasis on the rising crime rate in Abuja and other parts of the Federal Capital Territory.
As expected the officials from the police command led by the FCT’s commissioner of police utilized his vantage position as one of the panelists on the day to seek to blow his trumpets even as he made claims that he has succeeded in bringing down crime rate.
However, as God would have it, the organizers were courageous enough to have also invited some persons from the organized civil society community as panelists just as yours faithfully was on that hot seat as one of the four panelists.
Another retired police commissioner was on that panel but his entire presentation was focused on his attempt to state that the current Nigerian police force can do better with better equipment. He also took umbrage at my presentation because in his thinking, I exclusively devoted my intervention to dishing out what in his words he calls, ‘blame game’.
Come to think of it, what was it that I said that infuriated these police officers?
My observation remains that the entirety of the Nigerian Police Force are in need of urgent surgical overhaul and comprehensive reforms and restructuring with the aim of making the operatives much more people’s friendly, intelligence -driven in their modus operandi, effective and efficient at policing Nigeria and enforcing the laws.
I also pointed to the growing menace of ‘1-chance’ armed robbery scenarios in the Federal Capital Territory and the rampant cases of burglary, car theft and other manifestations of criminal tendencies even as I made a profound statement calling on the government including the private sector to fix the collapsed crime fighting architecture in Nigeria to stave off the coming security Armageddon.
It was my view that there is the urgent need for such modern information technological facilities such as the close circuit televisions, drones and other modern day crime prevention and crime fighting equipment to be effectively installed and managed so as to battle the hydra headed monster of armed banditry and crimes.
Few days after this event, a reporter working for the Asokoro, Abuja based African Independent Television (AIT) was killed by one of the deadly 1 chance gangs somewhere in Kubwa.
Also, I have seen not less than four dozen victims of this sort of crime in Abuja but it seems the police in Abuja lack the needed motivation to battle this scourge. There is also no nexus between the police and the residents. Crimes aren’t peculiar to Abuja.
In Imo state, I saw a bunch of gun-wielding police operatives who mounted over one hundred road blocks all around the major link roads leading to all the three senatorial zones of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe. These police operatives have one thing in common – extortion of all road users and especially the commercial vehicle operators.
These criminal activities of these badly behaved police operatives in Imo state are compounded by the fact that there is an increasing incidence of armed kidnappings and other criminal acts but the police operatives who should prevent and combat crimes are busy robbing motorists.
These activities of extortion and gross human right violations by the police also have the immediate impact negatively because there would be no confidence and trust by the people on the police.
Apart from the apparent gaps between the people and the police, my take is also that resolving crimes in Nigeria would require constitutional reforms which have been done by the 8th session of the National Assembly to bring into being the creation of state police.
State controlled policing institution if effectively administered can minimize crimes. But President Muhammadu Buhari refused to sign the constitutional amendments into law.
Amidst these crises of poor policing in Nigeria is the evolving criminality of governors negotiating with armed bandits and kidnappers in such places like Katsina and Zamfara states.
This connivance between the political class and armed bandits and kidnappers reminds me of a profound statement by Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) which goes thus: “If justice be taken away what are governments’ but a great bands of robbers?”
Let us see what extent the laws have gone to clearly itemize kidnapping and banditry as grave crimes.
Kidnapping and abduction are used interchangeably to describe the forceful taking or confinement of another against their will for several illegal purposes. Some criminal legislation in Nigeria defines the terms as different sides of a crime while in some others, the age or state of mind of the victim is the distinguishing factor.
A lot of the States of the South have passed laws criminalizing kidnapping and abduction.. According to section 1 of the Kidnapping (Prohibition) Law of Lagos State 2017, the term “kidnap” includes the act of unlawful removal or abduction of person(s) from a place to another against the person(s)’ will, either by force or use of offensive weapons, firearms or deception or the act of holding somebody hostage with or without the person’s consent with the intent to demand ransom, for ritual killing or for any other unlawful purpose.
By section 2 of the Law, the punishment for abduction is life imprisonment but where death results from the kidnapping, the punishment is death sentence. The section provides thus:
(1) From the commencement of this Law, any person who-
(i) Forcibly takes holds, abducts, detains or captures;
(ii) Instills fear in another or the purpose of kidnapping through coercion or by any other means against the person’s will with intent to demand ransom; commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to life imprisonment.
(2) Where death occurs as a result of the commission of the offence of kidnapping, the offender(s) shall be liable on conviction to death sentence.
(3) The death sentence imposed under subsection (2) may be executed by-
(i) hanging; (ii) lethal injection; or (iii) as the Court may direct.”
Under the Penal Code Law (PCL) which applies in the States of the North including the FCT, the term kidnapping is defined under section 271 in the following words:
Whoever takes or entices any person, under fourteen years of age if a male or under sixteen years of age if a female, or any person of unsound mind out of the keeping of the lawful guardian of such person without the consent of such guardian or consent of someone legally authorized to consent to such removal, is said to kidnap such person.
While Section 270 of the PCL states that whoever by force or by any deceitful means induces any person to go from any place, is said to abduct that person. Punishment for kidnapping range from 10 to 14 years under section 273 and 274 of the PC depending on the intention of the actor.
On the other hand “armed bandit” is not a legal term for any particular kind of crime but used in association with criminals who carry arms especially firearms which the most deadly of all kinds of offensive weapons. Section 3 of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act criminalizes the illegal possession of “firearms” which is defined under section 11 of the Act to include any canon, gun, rifle, carbine, machine-gun, cap-gun, flint-lock gun, revolver, pistol, explosive or ammunition or other firearm, whether whole or in detached pieces. To underscore the gravity of firearms related offences, robbery with firearms is punishable with death under Section 1(2) of the Act while receiving property subject of the Act carries a sentence of life imprisonment as well. It is also a crime under section 4(3) for any person hospital or clinic to admit, treat or administer drug to a person with bullet wounds without reporting same to the police.
The State has two tasks in which potential victims of wrongdoing are likely to take an interest; first is to criminalize certain behaviors which wrong others, the second is to punish those behaviors. It fulfils only one part of the law when all a society has is provision in a piece of document without complementary enforcement of those provisions in defaulters or deviants.
The first legal basis and rationale for punishment of those crimes is that the law has provided for their punishment. It must be reiterated that the usual procedure for law passage involves the executive and legislative arm of governments, so much so that even in military regimes, quasi legislative assembly or committees are constituted to serve as the parliament to either formulate the set of rules that eventually decreed or in the least the embellish it with the legislative or legal jargons. The point is that at the violation of a law, the organ of government with powers to adjudicate is the judiciary.
Another basis for which the crime of kidnapping and arm banditry must be punished is that they are not compoundable offences. A crime is compoundable when the victim of an offence which is personal to him accepts settlement from the perpetrator in lieu of prosecution. However the offences of kidnapping or abduction and armed banditry are not personal to the any particular victims. The whole society is a victim of kidnapping and armed banditry.
Why then can’t these governors communing with armed bandits and kidnappers not effectively put measures in place to fight crimes just like what Governors Emeka Ihedioha and Nyesom Wike of Imo and Rivers States have successfully done?
*** Emmanuel Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA.