State govt approves death penalty as kidnap cases soar
By Tessy Igomu
It is now hard time for kidnappers in Lagos. Recently, the state House of Assembly approved the death sentence for kidnappers whose victims die in their custody. This approval followed the adoption of a report presented by the Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Petitions, Human Rights and Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission, LASIEC, Adefunmilayo Tejuosho.
The bill states 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, which criminalises 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. This, on its own, attracts seven years imprisonment.
Similarly, 25 years imprisonment was approved for whoever threatens to kidnap a person through phone calls, e-mails, text messages or any other means of communication.
This was even as the bill provides that any person, who allows his place to be used for keeping a kidnapped person, is liable to 14 years imprisonment without an option of fine.
For years, like a sore, kidnapping has continued to fester, causing pain, panic and unfathomable losses to Nigerians.
In the beginning
Kidnapping is believed to have started at a time people were being snatched for rituals. Gradually, a new twist followed, with the abductors, demanding for ransom to release their victims. Since then, the vice has thrived as a money-spinning industry, involving every stratum of the society, with its epicentre in the creeks, home of the Niger Delta militant groups.
One of the first major cases of kidnapping in the Niger Delta region was in 1999 when a militant group, ‘Enough is Enough,’ stormed a Shell facility, kidnapping three oil workers; a Nigerian and two foreigners.
This trend later gained momentum, following the upsurge of militant groups in the region. Prominent among them was the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which began kidnapping oil workers to press home their demands. For instance, MEND in 2006, held four expatriates captive for 19 days. And stealthily, kidnapping has metamorphosed into full-scale hostage taking and ransom collection. Between 2006 and now, over 200 foreigners have been reportedly kidnapped and released, with annual average standing at 1000 cases.
High-profile kidnappings in other states
Over time, kidnapping widened in scope, cutting across states and regions. For instance, last year, a permanent secretary in Osun State, Mrs. Adebimpe Ogunlumade, was abducted alongside her driver, Ajani, and a director in her ministry, Tajudeen Badejoko by gunmen, as they were returning to Osogbo.
In November last year, the mother of Nigeria’s former Super Eagles’ coach, Madam Ogere Beauty Siasia, was abducted from her house in Odoni village, Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. Former Finance Minister, Olu Falae, was later kidnapped from his farm in Ilado, Akure, Ondo State, by six Fulani herdsmen and released after an undisclosed amount of money was paid as ransom by his family.
Also last year, father of a popular Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adiche, Professor James Adiche, was abducted and released after ransom was paid. Even the regent of Akungba Akoko in Ondo State, Princess Toyin Omosowon, was also kidnapped along the Akure/Akungba-Akoko Highway.
This year alone, the country witnessed the callous kidnap of Rev. Fr. John Adeyi. Despite the payment of about N2 million, as ransom by his family members, his decomposed body was later found in a bush at Odoba village in Otukpo, Benue State. The wife of the Central Bank governor, Mrs. Margaret Emefiele, was abducted by heavily armed men along the Benin-Agbor Road. She regained her freedom two days after intense search by the Nigerian security agencies.
Lagos, new melting pot
Over the past months, Lagos has gained reputation as a ‘melting pot’ for kidnap kingpins, as residents, including traditional rulers, pupils and their teachers, have had the misfortune of being targets. And now, kidnappers are on the prowl everyday, searching for their next victim. The trend, which appears to have defied every security measure, has made serious, negative impact on the socio-economic life of the society, with the activities of these villains on the steady rise.
Just months ago, for instance, a pastor with The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), simply identified as Bajomo, was abducted at Santos in Ikorodu area by gunmen. The kidnappers reportedly presented themselves as new members of the church. Last April, two businessmen were abducted in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area. Their families paid a mind-boggling N490 milliom as ransom, yet they were not released.
The marauders followed with the abduction of pupils and teachers, thus putting residents on edge. They stormed Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary in Ikorodu, abducting three schoolgirls whose parents allegedly paid ransom in the region of N5.6 million.
In another incident, 15 gunmen stormed two poultry farms located at Egan, Itoki area of Ikorodu, last July, kidnapping its owners, Alhaji Oyebanji Wasiu and Alhaji Isiaka Owolabi alongside two of their managers. Despite paying N22 million for their release, a manager of the farms was killed.
Then, a new twist followed with the abduction of a first-class traditional ruler in Lagos, Oba Yushau Goriola Oseni, the Oniba of Ibaland. The monarch was abducted by gunmen, who stormed his palace, killed his guard and shot his wife before escaping with him through the waterways.
He was released after three weeks in captivity, with the family paying N15.1 million as ransom. And just when the incident was believed to be simmering down, nine gunmen attacked five landlords, jogging along the road in Lekki Gardens Estate, Isheri, a border community between Lagos and Ogun states.
Again, kidnappers stormed the Lagos Junior Model School, Igbo Nla, Epe, Lagos. Three pupils: Isaac Adebisi, Okonkwo Emmanuel and Abu Jeremiah; a teacher, Lukman Oyerinde and the Vice-Principal, A.O Oyesola, were abducted on the premises of the school by gun-totting criminals. The abductors were said to have collected an undisclosed amount of money before releasing their victims.
What the law says
Nigeria’s Criminal Code Act, Cap C 38 provides that “any person who unlawfully imprisons any person, and takes him out of Nigeria without his consent; or unlawfully imprisons any person within Nigeria in such a manner as to prevent him from applying to court for his release or from discovering to any other person the place where he is imprisoned, or in such a manner as to prevent any person entitled to have access to him from discovering the place where he is imprisoned, is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for ten years.”
Though some states have passed laws, prescribing death sentence as penalty for kidnapping, many have argued that this has not addressed the foundation of the crime. Other schools of thought have also averred that the death penalty is in no way an effective deterrence to crime and could be used as a platform for extra-judicial killings.
Perhaps, the absence of the legislation to effectively tackle this despicable trend informed the call for the FG to declare a state of emergency on kidnapping by the federal lawmaker, representing Akoko South East/South West Federal Constituency, Hon. Gabriel Babatunde Kolawole.
The legislator lamented that Nigeria was now perceived as the headquarters of kidnappers worldwide, adding that the country had witnessed tremendous upsurge in the last 10 years.
Possibly drawing from the generally believed premise that the Federal Government had failed to protect the citizenry, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, opined that the establishment of state police would help curb the ugly trend. He maintained that the arrangement of relying solely on the Federal Government for policing was not fully working to tackle the enormous security situation, confronting the state.
He argued that security was a fundamental right that every resident of the state must enjoy, insisting that government must do everything possible to protect its citizenry.
Many had maintained that the best way to stem the kidnapping tide was the pro-active and dynamic enforcement measure by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
Having earlier assured that tougher legislations would be made, the governor also directed the immediate demolition of shanties along Lagos shorelines.
According to him: “It is quite worrisome that ramshackle structures, sheds, canopies and shanties, especially along shorelines, have transformed into the abode of miscreants, street urchins, kidnappers, touts, street traders and hawkers who often vandalise public utilities and attack innocent citizens. He also noted that kidnappings were usually perpetrated though the waterways, with such illegal structures, providing a leeway for criminal elements.
While applauding the bill, Hassan Bello, a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) maintained that there was no society without crime. He said the law enforcement agencies must be able to rise to the challenge of effective crime fighting. He also noted that once there was commensurate crime fighting, enforcement and prosecution, vices like kidnapping would be tackled.
Bello, however, urged Nigerians to be vigilant, collaborate with the police to rid the country of criminal elements and be cautious and aware of their environment. He also advised parents to be mindful of whom they handover their kids to and where they leave their kids.