Will the Senate’s New Anti-Kidnapping Bill Make a Difference?

Udora Orizu writes on the need for a greater focus on the enforcement of the existing anti-kidnapping laws, rather than enactment of new legislations to combat the ever-evolving crime across the country

Despite the several measures put in place by the Nigerian government, kidnapping has continued to be prevalent all over the country. Since the advent of militancy in the Niger Delta, kidnapping has continued to gain ascendancy in the country, despite the executive and legislature’s efforts to nip it in the bud. The crime has evolved to a more terrifying tactics, from the activities of the ‘unknown gunmen’ and armed herdsmen in Southern Nigeria, to banditry and the Boko Haram insurgents in the Northern part of the country. The Chibok and Dapchi girls incidents were some of the embarrassing cases where Nigeria’s image in the global arena was plummeted.

The adverse effects of kidnapping in the country have become worrisome to the Nigerian state as well as the global community. To successfully prohibit the crime of kidnapping through the law is an ongoing battle for the government.

According to Section 14 (2) b, of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

The government fulfills this provision by enacting and enforcing through its arms, various laws to maintain peace and order. One of the legislations include the Terrorism Act of 2011 which prescribes 10 years imprisonment for hostage-taking.

The spate of kidnapping in recent times in Nigeria has led to the enactment of new laws via Acts of the National and State Assemblies to address the menace. The legislative arm of the government as expected through several laws, prescribes stringent mechanisms in response to the increase in kidnappings in the country. However, these laws enacted by the legislators have largely been ineffective, mainly due to non-enforcement.

During plenary last week, the Senate passed for second reading yet another Bill seeking life imprisonment for kidnappers. With people being kidnapped, killed or ransom paid on daily basis, with several kidnappers yet to be convicted, one can’t help but wonder the essence of all these laws.

After all, the aim of criminal law and criminal justice system is for punishment, deterrence, retribution and rehabilitation of offenders, and where a law fails to achieve any of its main objectives, it becomes inherently defective.

States Anti-Kidnapping Bills

At the state level, since 2008 many state governments have introduced their own anti-kidnapping laws in an attempt to combat the crime. At least 15 states have so far made kidnapping a capital offence.

The states include Anambra, Enugu, Abia, Oyo, Imo, Edo, Bayelsa, Bauchi, Cross River, Rivers, Lagos and Ebonyi.

For example, the Lagos State House of Assembly in 2017 passed the law on prohibition of kidnapping. The Bayelsa State Kidnapping and Allied Offences Law was enacted in 2013 while the Oyo State Kidnapping (Prohibition) Law, 2016 was enacted and signed into law in April, 2016.

In Ebonyi State, Section 3 of the Ebonyi State Internal Security Enforcement and Related Matters Law (CAP 55) which came into force on 9th October, 2009 states that anyone found guilty of kidnapping in the state shall on conviction be liable to be sentenced to death. In Imo State, the former governor, Mr. Ikedi Ohakim signed the anti-kidnapping bill into law in 2009, vowing that defaulters would pay with their lives. In Rivers and Enugu States, their lawmakers had passed the law prohibiting kidnapping, making it an offence punishable by death sentence.

Previous Bills Passed by the Senate

In September 2017, the National Assembly passed into law the Kidnapping Abduction Act, which provided for a 30 years’ term of imprisonment for anyone caught colluding with an abductor to receive ransom for any person wrongfully confined. A death sentence was equally provided by the Act for anyone whose kidnapping activities led to the death of any person.

In July, 2020, the Senate proposed the raising of the punishment for the offence of kidnapping from the current maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment to a sentence of life imprisonment.

These resolutions of the Senate followed the third reading and passage of “A bill for an Act to amend the Criminal Code Act CAP. C.38, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004.”

The Bill, sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central), sought to delete the statute of limitation on defilement, increase the punishment for the offence of kidnapping, and remove gender restrictions in the offence of rape and other related matters.

The Bill also sought to eliminate the present time frame for reporting and prosecuting defilement cases in Nigeria as well as remove gender restrictions on the offence of rape by further educating on the propensity of rape on both male and female victims.

The New Anti-Kidnapping Bill

At the plenary last Tuesday, the Senate passed for second reading a bill proposing life imprisonment for the offence of kidnapping or any form of abduction, wrongful restraint and confinement.

The bill sponsored by former governor of Ogun state, Senator Ibikunle Amosun (APC, Ogun Central) seeks to, among others, introduce stiffer punishments and punitive measures to combat and prevent kidnapping in Nigeria.

Leading debate on the bill, Senator Amosun observed that kidnapping is a major security challenge confronting Nigeria in recent times.

According to the ranking Senator, the light punishment for the offence has continued to make it grow and assume horrendous dimensions with a negative impact on the economy.

Amosun lamented that Nigeria has one of the highest rates of kidnaps for ransom of both locals and foreigners in all of Africa.

Citing recent statistics released by Neil Young Associates International – a specialist crisis prevention and response consultancy group – the lawmaker noted that Nigeria accounted for 26 per cent of kidnapping and ransom incidents globally.

He bemoaned the worrisome development, warning that the trend has the potential of negatively affecting Nigeria’s Foreign Direct Investment.

Amosun said: “The impact of kidnapping on both economic and daily life has been devastating. For many Nigerians, kidnapping is far more devastating than the carnage of Boko Haram in the North-east, or the carnage in the Middle Belt over land, pasture and water use between farmers and herders. In the rich oil south-south, kidnapping is often seen as a manifestation of the insurrection over how oil revenue is distributed.

“Overtime, the pool of potential victims has shockingly been expanded. Most victims are often poor villagers, sometimes kidnapped indiscriminately, a departure from the targeted kidnapping of wealthy people. They struggle to pay ransoms because of their relative poverty; and this has resulted into many victims being killed in the process. “While the insurgents in the North East now thrive on the proceeds of kidnappings, criminal elements in the South-east and South-west are also having a field day. In fact, kidnapping has now become a big and lucrative business.

“This bill also provides more punitive measures for ancillary crimes flowing from the commission of the crime of abduction, like death or grievous harm. To achieve the deterrent effect, life imprisonments is proposed for the offence of kidnapping, particularly where death results from the act. The law is made stricter by ensuring that recipients of any proceeds of the act of kidnapping are heavily sanctioned with term of imprisonment of up to 30 years.”

The Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, referred the bill after it was debated, to the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters. The Committee, which is chaired by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele was given four weeks to report back to the upper chamber.

Will the New Bill Make a Difference?

Efforts to curtail kidnapping in the country have failed in large parts due to weak sanctioning and ineffective implementation of the existing laws. While the safety of lives and property in this era of kidnapping across the country could be checked through enactment of anti-kidnapping laws, the provisions in Amosun’s Bill is quite similar to several anti-kidnapping bills enacted overtime. It is therefore recommended that the government and legislature must embark on an aggressive enforcement of the existing laws as an unenforced law is no law at all. Also, the police must ensure that victims are not only rescued but perpetrators of the crime are brought to book and punished appropriately.

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