Recently, a bill proposing life imprisonment for the offence of kidnapping or any form of abduction, wrongful restraint, and confinement, passed the second reading in the Nigerian Senate. The bill which was sponsored by Sen. Ibikunle Amosun, representing Ogun central senatorial district seeks to, among others, introduce stiffer punitive measures to address the scourge of kidnapping in the country. The proposed law also provides a 30- year jail term for ransom collection.
We welcome this development and expect that implementation, if the bill is passed into law, would have a tremendous impact on the menace, considering that kidnapping has become a huge industry in Nigeria.
To be sure, kidnapping is unlawful detention of a person through the use of force, threat, and intimidation with intent to making gains therefrom. In the last ten years, this vice has become a huge ‘industry’, with the ‘perpetrators’ making great and intimidating gains through the collection of a ransom in exchange for the freedom of their victims. A good number of Nigerians and foreigners alike have fallen victims of kidnapping for ransom. Politicians of high standing, captains of industries, school children, market women, interstate travellers, and, indeed, people of all social strata, have, at one point or the other, been victims of this heinous crime.
Kidnapping has swept through all states of the federation like wild fire, although some states have it on a greater and higher scale than others. In recent times, kidnapping has been so up-scaled that even a well-fortified military institution like the Nigerian Defence Academy has not been spared. Its intensity and ferociousness is so scary that it has become a major national security challenge that should be treated as such.
A good number of states have so far passed legislations prescribing stiffer penalties, including death sentence for the crime. Unfortunately, these have so far not deterred perpetrators who are getting even more emboldened by the day. While a lot of people have lost their lives in the process, other victims have lost their lives even after ransom had been paid by relatives and friends, besides the fact that some major highways have been deserted for fear of the criminals. That is how far the crime has taken its toll on the country.
It must, however, be emphasised that Nigeria has never been short of laws against criminal activities such as kidnapping. The major challenge is the lack of the will power on the part of the government and its agencies to apply the law to the later. Currently, there is an existing law in both the Criminal and Penal Codes, stipulating a ten year jail term for the crime of kidnapping. How many times have kidnappers been tried and appropriately jailed under those provisions? At the moment, no one seems to know the extent of trial of a celebrated kidnapping suspect Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike (also known as Evans) arrested on June 10/11, 2017, even after he confessed to committing the crime. The problem is always with State agencies responsible for arrest and detention, arraignment, prosecution, and eventual sentencing of those found guilty. Those in this line of duties are the police, the Ministries of Justice (federal and states), the prosecuting and defence lawyers, and the judiciary. A state that keeps confessed criminals on perpetual holding charge without trial is surely not in a hurry to dispense justice to the victims, society, and the criminals.
We note quite sadly that prosecution of heinous crimes in Nigeria has never been diligent and its trial has never been accelerated, compared to political cases that seemingly always enjoy swift attention. This is why criminal activities such as kidnapping have not been curbed and continue to fester in the country.
With this law that stipulates life imprisonment to kidnappers is in the works, the various agencies of government and other stakeholders in the process must be told in very unambiguous terms that this link must never be broken under any guise whatsoever. The police that arrest a suspect must not hold him beyond the mandatory 48 hours without charging him to court. The various ministries of justice through their directorate or public prosecution must also speedily authenticate the various cases files and forward them for trials to begin in earnest. The lawyers representing both the state and the accused must refrain from unnecessary technicalities and instead concentrate on the substance of the subject matter. On its part, the judiciary as the final arbiter in the process of justice must be dispassionate and avoid unnecessary adjournments.
We advocate that the proposed law be seen to its logical conclusion, with all hands on deck to ensure that the bill at passage is timely transmitted to the president for assent. Not only must anything to the contrary be regarded as unacceptable, but treated as a crime against the common good and national interest.
It must be collectively accepted that kidnapping is a vice that must not be allowed to thrive. That is why such a law is required to serve as a deterrent to perpetrators.