From Maduabuchi Nmeribeh, Kano
The Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) and the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA) have advocated for the immediate review of the Penal Code across the country to pave way for lesser punishments to convicts of petty offences.
Speaking during a Media Interactive Session in Kano, PRAWA’s Head of Office, Kano branch, Barr. Katumi Mohammed Oboirien called on all stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including the judiciary and legislature to facilitate amendments of some of the sections in the Penal Code which she viewed as draconian, considering the level of punishment spelt out for those found guilty of petty offences.
According to her, “these offences are crafted in such a manner that they have the net effect of targeting the poor and vulnerable since they criminalise conduct related to the social economic challenges faced by these particular groups of people in the society.”
She described petty offences as being a rogue and vagabond, being an idle or disorderly person, loitering, begging, being a vagrant, failure to pay debts and being a common nuisance.
She added that, ” additional petty offences are created through by-law aimed at controlling public nuisance on public roads and in public places such as urinating in public and washing clothes in public, as well as laws criminalising informal commercial activities, such as hawking and vending. ”
Barr. Katumi, however, cited some of the Sections in the Penal Code which give stiffer punishments to offenders to include Sections 113, 114, 183-203 and 308, among others, emphasising on the need to reduce the punishments to Community Service, while the offenders should be placed on non-custofian condition.
She further lamented that, “these crimes are believed to contribute to the increasing number of those awaiting trial in correctional facilities.
” The crime of idling and being disorderly targets beggars, street families, a person who publicly conducts himself I a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace, indecent acts and a person who solicits in public for immoral purposes.”
Barr. Katumi, however, regretted that, ” the punishment of being an idle person attracts imprisonment for one year or with fine which may extend to four hundred Naira or with both.
“Punishments on conviction as a vagabond, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.”
She, however, recommended that, “there is need to train Magistrates on the need of using alternative means of punishment instead of fine or sending offender to custody because they were unable to pay the said fine.
” By the provision of Section 444 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of Kano state provides for performance of community service order, the offender should ensure asked to carry out community services performed for a period of not more than five hours a day under he supervision of a supervising officer or officer of non-governmental organizations as may be designated. ”
According to her, there is need to engage stakehokders and community leaders to closely monitor the activities of vulnerable persons and ensure whatever support government has rendered to them can be accounted for, and their behavioural change can be watched by the community leaders.”