When the spate of kidnapping in the country began to reach a crescendo some years back, states across the country began to respond by enacting laws stipulating death penalty. JUDE OSSAI, BANJI ALUKO, CHUKWUMA OPARAOCHA and ANTHONY UBONG report that despite the laws and death penalties for kidnappers in some states with crime rate increasing nobody has paid the supreme price.
THEY have no respect for age, social status, or gender. In fact, the higher the calibre of the victims, the more attractive they are to the kidnap gangs because they fetch higher ransoms.
Kidnappers, for several years have held the nation by the jugular, kidnapping whoever they would. Sometimes, they collect ransoms and still go ahead to kill their victims.
In recent times, victims of kidnapping across the country include such high profile personalities like former Finance Minister and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae; Mrs Margaret Emefiele, wife of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele; Mrs Adebimpe Ogunlumade, Permanent Secretary of Osun State Ministry of Finance, Budget and Economic Planniing; her driver, Oladapo Ajani, and a director from the ministry, Tajudeen Badejoko.
Others are one Pastor Bajomo of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Isawo, Ikorodu; mother of football coach, Samson Siasia, Madam Beauty Siasia; a third republic senator, Patrick Ani; regeant of Akungba Akoko, Princess Toyin Omosowon; Mrs. Mabel Kamene Titi Okonjo, mother of Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Professor James Adiche, father of popular Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie.
Even traditional rulers have not been spared as Lagos traditional ruler, Oniba of Ibaland, Oba Yushau Oseni tasted the bitter pills of the kidnappers. A priest, Rev. Father John Adeyi was killed in cold blood by his abductors despite collecting a ransom of N2 million, before dumping his body in a bush at Odoba village in Otukpo area of Benue State.
As the kidnap saga began to constitute an embarrassment some state governments began to respond by way of promulgating laws to combat the problem with a view to nipping it in the bud.
Miffed by the alarming rate of kidnapping in Lagos State, lawmakers in the state have begun making moves to deal with the situation by formulating a law that seeks death penalty for kidnappers in the state. If the move eventually sees the light of the day, Lagos would join states like Edo, Ogun and Anambra which have imposed death sentence on kidnappers.
The move is contained in a private member bill sponsored by the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, which stipulates that “any person, who kidnaps, abducts, details or captures or takes another person by any means or tricks with intent to demand ransom or do anything against his/her will, commits an offence, and liable on conviction to death sentence.”
The bill, which is entitled ‘A bill for a law to provide for the prohibition of the act of kidnapping and for other connected purposes,’ recently went through a public hearing involving major stakeholders in Lagos.
Attempt to kidnap was also criminalised under the bill and it was suggested that such a person would be committed to life imprisonment.
The bill also kicks against false representation to release a kidnapped or abducted person under section 4, and this attracts seven years imprisonment.
Furthermore, the bill provides that any person, who knowingly or willfully allows or permits his premises, building or a place belonging or occupied to which he has control of, to be used for the purposes of keeping a person kidnapped is guilty of an offence under the law and liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of 14 years without an option of fine.
‘I will sign death warrant’
But while Lagos is seeking to formulate a law that will decisively take care of kidnapping, Edo State already has a law in place. While signing a bill seeking to pass death sentence on kidnappers in Edo State in October 2013, Governor Adams Oshiomhole said, “as reluctant as one would want to be in matters of life and death, I am convinced that the overriding public interest now dictates that we invoke the maximum penalty available in our law to all those involved in the act of kidnapping. Anyone sentenced and convicted, I will sign the death warrant.”
Declaring that the penalty applies to all stages of kidnapping, Governor Oshiomhole reiterated that whether the victim dies in captivity, in the process of being kidnapped, or while being rescued, the penalty remains the same.
Many residents of Edo State reportedly expressed joy at the proclamation of the law as the state had hitherto witnessed some high-profile kidnapping such as those of a magistrate; a famous transporter, Chief Osamede Adun, lecturers of tertiary institutions in the state, clerics and students. However, those who had thought that the law would end kidnapping in Edo State were wrong.
Not long after the passage of the law, human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, was kidnapped as well as several others who were not high-profile personalities.
It is now three years since the bill was passed into law. It is also three years since many have been waiting to see the first person to face execution for crimes relating to kidnapping.
According to a Benin based legal practitioner, Mr Olayiwola Afolabi, some kidnap suspects found guilty in Edo State have been condemned to death but the cases were under appeal.
“Many people have been condemned to death for kidnapping. They have appealed and it will reach the Supreme Court. Until the Supreme Court okays it (the sentence), the case will lingers on.”
The same legal encumbrance may have prevented the second leg of the Anti-kidnapping Law–demolishing of houses where victims of kidnapping were held. Sunday Tribune investigations show that no house used by kidnap suspects has been pulled down three years after the passage of the law.
Many residents, however, feel that kidnapping has reduced in the state with the promulgation of the law. One of such persons is a journalist and public affairs commentator, Osehobo Ofure.
“To the extent that the law has been enacted, kidnapping has been checked in Edo State because of the death penalty. Before the coming of the law, cases of kidnapping were quite high. Everybody will agree that there has been a drastic reduction today.
“In that law, government promised to demolish houses used by kidnappers, but we are yet to see that or hear of such cases. I think there is a snag there. Otherwise, I can confidently say that incidence of kidnapping in Edo has truly reduced. There is no law that can completely obliterate any crime. There is a law against embezzlement of public fund in Nigeria. Has it stopped corruption in this country?” he said.
A civil servant, Flora Hosu, also shared the same opinion, pointing out that kidnapping, at a point in time, was reported on a daily basis in Edo State, adding that “while the problem is still there, one must admit that kidnapping has dropped in Edo. I believe by the time somebody is actually committed to death for kidnapping, it will indeed send a sting message to would-be kidnappers that death awaits them if found guilty.”
Other states in the country have also introduced laws banning kidnapping. One of them is Rivers State which did so in 2015. The law, Rivers State Kidnap (Prohibition) Amendment Law, 2015; according to the governor, Nyesome Wike, states that, criminals convicted for kidnapping and those acting as accessories to kidnapping will forfeit their assets, funds and proceeds from kidnap.
Enugu State whose anti-kidnapping law punishes kidnappers, including their collaborators under section 315 (2) of the Criminal Code. Cap. 30, Vol. 11, Laws of Enugu State of Nigeria, 2004 as amended in 2009.
The 2009 amendment states that kidnapping is now punishable with death in Enugu State.
Cross River State has also signed into law the act prohibiting kidnapping in the state and is set to punish kidnappers, their sponsors, accomplices, including pretenders who want to extort money from others. Excerpts from the law states:
The Cross River State House of Assembly enacts as follows –
- (1) A person who takes another person, abducts or by any other means of assault, instilling fear, or tricks, takes another person with intent to demand ransom or compel another to do anything
against his or her will commits an offence of kidnapping.
(2) Kidnapping or Abduction includes the unlawful removal or exportation of a person from any place where he or she is, to another place where he or she is found, or the unlawful confinement of a person in any place without his consent with any of the following intentions or purposes –
(i) to hold for ransom or reward; (ii) as a shield or hostage; (iii) to facilitate the commission of a felony; (iv) to inflict bodily injury on or terrorize the victim or another; (v) to interfere with the performance of any governmental, political or private function; (vi) to interfere with the person’s business or the business of another; or(vii) other acts that may be injurious to a person or organization.
- Any person who contravenes Section 1 of this Law –
(a) where the life of the person kidnapped, abducted or seized is lost in the process is liable on conviction to death by hanging without an option of fine; or
(b) where the life of the person kidnapped, abducted or seized is not lost in the process is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life without an option of fine.
- A person who attempts to kidnap or abduct commits an offence and is liable on conviction to 20 years imprisonment without an option of fine.
- (1) A person who aids or abets another to kidnap or abduct under this Law commits an offence and is liable on conviction to life imprisonment without an option of fine.
Unfortunately, till date, none of those who had been convicted of kidnapping in these states have been punished with the death penalty. In fact, it is very clear that even before now, state governors had been reluctant to sign death warrants and the death penalty for kidnapping has now become an albatross for state governors to carry out.
Governor Oshiomhole, while signing the law in 2013, was reported to have said: “We have had enough laws in our statute books that provide for various degrees of punishment for various offences. I think the real challenge is about law enforcement and dealing with the problem of impunity. Laws will be worthless if we do not have the capacity to apprehend, interrogate, persecute and interrogate criminals and invoke the full weight of the law.”