Following the intractable resurgence of kidnapping in Lagos, the state House of Assembly recently approved the death penalty for perpetrators of the menace in the state. The bill states inter alia that: “any person who kidnaps, abducts, detains, captures or takes another person by any means or tricks with intent to demand ransom or do anything against his or her will, commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to death sentence.” The bill criminalises, among other things, attempt to kidnap, stipulates life imprisonment for anyone who makes attempt to kidnap another person or makes false representation to release a kidnapped or abducted person. Now, death lurks around for hostage takers which attracts Sven years jail term.
But it all started like a straw of fire in 2003 when some politicians in Rivers and Bayelsa states were said to have embarked on massive recruitment and arming of criminally –minded youths, some of whom had escaped from prison after conviction for murder and related crimes, for the purpose of suppressing political opponents and election rigging. Some of the employables among these youths were absorbed as aides by the politicians after the election and the unskilled ones allowed to get away with their arms and ammunition. It is this that culminated in the unnerving weight of political criminality, the then raging gang war in the Niger Delta and the thriving business of hostage taking in several parts of the country today. As is the case with all monsters, the situation is threatening to consume the entire nation including the authorities that created and nurtured it in the first place. It is a self-inflicted injury.
Now, some state governments, assessing the gravity of the situation, have called for the adoption of the death penalty for kidnappers to stem the tide of the menace. Rivers State House of Assembly has vetoed an executive bill introduced by former Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi for the death penalty, to life imprisonment for those found guilty. Also, the Enugu State House of Assembly has passed into law a bill sanctioning the death penalty. While it is agreed that state governments have the right to legislate on matters already existing in the Criminal Code, the authorities, in their typical fashion, seem to overlook the real issues involved and go chasing shadows .It is unfortunate that the Federal Government has chosen to play politics with the matter, downplaying the complicity of the individual sponsors of these gangs who happen to be notable politicians.
The authorities must note that Nigeria is on a descent into anarchy as criminal gangs and prospective financiers in the country now become emboldened by the undeserved protection and the sacred cow status that gang financiers in Rivers and Bayelsa States enjoyed. Anambra and Oyo States are instances of such outposts of lawlessness and chaos, where political godfathers had precipitated all manner of crises leading to deaths and arson with impurity. Consequently, much as hostage taking must be condemned in all ramifications, it is time that Nigeria reconsidered the extremely archaic and severe forms of punishment such as the death penalty. The State of Nigeria, no doubt, reserves the right to punish anyone who violates the laws of the land. It is conceded that this is an integral part of the concept of sovereignty. What is seriously doubtful, however, is the capacity of the state to prescribe any form of punishment, just or unjust.
Of particular concern here is the question of capital punishment which prescribes the taking of human life as a penal sanction for an offence committed. It is important to note that human life is too sacred a matter to be taken simply on the prescript of a human legal system. Whatever must have led to the evolution of the death penalty, it is clear that no logical penological purpose is served by the state killing a human being in the name of the law. A convicted criminal remains a human being whose life remains sacred being the property of the Creator. To proceed to take the life of another human being in consequence of a criminal conviction is a process as bestial as it is illogical. In other words, it is doubtful if there is any decent and civilized way to take the life of a fellow human being.
It is illogical because the punishment of death lacks all the qualities of a rational redress. First, the condemned criminal is denied the opportunity of repentance and reformation much less that of deterrence. Even in the sordid case of murder, it is all out of place to seek to use death to avenge death. In this way, humanity is denied two of its members as against the one that had been unlawfully killed. What is more, the punishing state would have to equally descend to the same bare level of the murderer in order to gain a pardon. Recent events in Nigeria have further highlighted the erroneous nature of the death penalty especially during the military rule when it became possible to criminalize all sorts of acts and omissions with the possibility of the death penalty. Examples are the routine trials and slaughtering that had ensued during military coups and counter coups. It has now been exposed that most of those trials which eventually led to massive killings were cooked up.
Meanwhile, we have spilled a lot of innocent blood. This would not have been the case if we did not have the extreme punishment of death in our statute books. Another shameful example of the unfair nature of death penalty is the unusual situation in Nigeria wherein convicted persons on the death roll are made to wait for upward of 10 to 15 years. For a man who had been sentenced to death, to have kept him waiting for is the hangman everyday of his last 15 years is the most inhuman and degrading injury any legal system can inflict on her unfortunate citizen . This is not talking of the obvious disproportionality of the punishment we inflict on some criminalized acts and omissions. It is a sad reminder of our primitivity that we find it so easy to prescribe the supreme punishment of the death penalty on sundry offences. Nigeria can resolve to join the rest of the world by renouncing the death penalty either for an armed robber or a kidnapper.
It is too final a punishment to be imposed on a society in a trial system that is often flawed and highly prejudiced. Nothing can better confirm this than the statistical fact that it is usually the poor, hated and hapless that are often inflicted with the death penalty. In most cases, the state is not usually fair in its administration, a situation that exposes the process to all civilized condemnation. We are unable to support the process which is that cruel, illogical and beyond repairs. Rather, we insist that a judicial commission of inquiry be instituted immediately to unearth the forces and factors behind hostage taking and the state of siege in the country, and the findings published and acted upon expeditiously.