Wherever persons come to live together and share the same natural spaces and resources, stealing, with or without violence, has always come to nestle with them as a rather strange bedfellow.
Nigeria has never been left out. Criminals taking liberty of the porous security situation have often had delicious days taking on Nigerians for their lives and property, even for their security personnel and apparatus.
In it common to hear that armed robbers struck somewhere in the dead of the night or even to experience it. In the most daring attacks, these armed robbers even strike during the day time. They leave behind them a trail of tears, trauma, blood and fear.
The law was always going to react proactively to quell the nightmarish vortex of crimes that armed robbery is. Thus a litany of legislation punishes armed robbery and all the corollary crimes that it can churn out such as culpable homicide, rape, stealing, assault, kidnapping et all.
The law defines armed robbery
The 7th Edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner `s Dictionary, International Student`s Edition, at page 1267, defines robbery thus:
“The crime of stealing money or goods from a bank, shop/ store, person, etc., especially using violence or threats.
The Deluxe Ninth Edition of the Black`s Law Dictionary, at page 1443 defines “robbery” as “the illegal taking of property from the person of another ,or in the person`s presence ,by violence or intimidation; aggravated larceny.”
It also defines “armed robbery” as “Robbery committed by a person carrying a dangerous weapon ,regardless of whether the weapon is revealed or used .Most states punish armed robbery as an aggravated form of robbery rather than as a separate crime.”
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The collinsdictionary.com defines “ armed robbery as a robbery that is carried out by people carrying guns.”
Another definition is to be found in duhaime.org>legal dictionary. There, armed robbery is defined as “Robbery committed while the accused is armed with a dangerous weapon.
Robbery (sometimes referred to as an aggravated form of theft or larceny as it implies the use of force)usually attracts a greater punishment in the criminal codes when it is accompanied by the use or a presence of a dangerous weapon.
One thing is immediately clear: that there is a difference between stealing and robbery and armed robbery. Simply put, stealing is the unlawful taking of what belongs to another; when the taking is done with violence or threats, robbery is born.
When the robbery is done with a dangerous weapon, the whole affair congeals into armed robbery. Thus, it is safe to say that in the solitary crime of armed robbery is found the constitutive crimes of stealing, robbery and illegal possession of firearms.
Nigeria`s premier criminal legislation the Criminal Code Act recognizes and criminalises stealing, robbery and armed robbery.
Chapters 34- 36 o f the Criminal Code Act make commodious provisions relating to stealing, robbery and armed robbery.
Section 401 of the Criminal Code Act defines robbery thus:
“Any person who steals anything and, at or immediately after the time of stealing it, uses or threatens to use actual violence to any person or property in order to obtain or retain the thing stolen or to prevent or overcome resistance to its being stolen or retained ,is said to be guilty of robbery.
Section 402 provides the punishment for robbery thus:
1. Any person who commits the offence of robbery shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than twenty one years
2. If –
(a) any offender mentioned in subsection (1) of this section is armed with any firearms or any offensive weapon or any obnoxious or chemical materials or is in company with any person so armed; or
(b) at or immediately after the time of robbery the said offender wounds any person, the offender shall upon conviction be sentenced to death.
Thus, clear as crystal, the law punishes armed robbery with death in Nigeria and no less. Such is the gravitas with which the law looks askance on the grievous crime of armed robbery.
It is no secret that Nigerian criminal law reserves its stiffest sanction for those crimes it considers most callous. Its stiffest sanction is the capital punishment. It is the pain of death, the sentence of death – the ultimate sanction. Thus, anyone who kills another under circumstances constitutive of culpable homicide suffers the punishment of death. Same goes for those armed during a robbery operation.
As if the Criminal Code Act were not enough, the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions)Act further crystallizes the offence of armed robbery and the grave punishment it incurs.
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Section 1 of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act provides thus:
Punishment for robbery
(1) Any person who commits the offence of robbery shall upon trial and conviction under this Act, be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than 21 years.
(a) any offender mentioned in subsection (1) of this section is armed with any firearms or any offensive weapon or is in company with any person so armed; or
(b) at or immediately before or immediately after the time of the robbery the said offender wounds or uses any personal violence to any person ,the offender shall be liable upon conviction under this Act to be sentenced to death
(C) The sentence of death imposed under this section may be executed by hanging the offender by the neck till he be dead or by causing such offender to suffer death by firing squad as the Governor may direct.
Section 11 the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act is critical to the understand the offence of armed robbery . It is the Interpretation section. It defines the following as used under the Act:
“Firearms” includes any canon, gun, rifle, carbine, machine-gun, cap-gun, flint-lock gun, revolver, pistol, explosive or ammunition or other firearm, whether whole or in detached pieces;
“Offensive weapon” means any article (apart from a firearm)made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person or intended by the person having it for such use by him and it includes an air gun, air pistol, bow and Aitow, spear, cutlass, marcher, dagger, cudgel, or any piece of wood, metal, glass or stone capable of being used as an offensive weapon.
Thus, for a robbery to be armed robbery, it must be done with an offensive weapon. This is a critical distinguishing factor between robbery and armed robbery. It is the very thin line between a twenty – one year sentence and a sentence of death.
Joseph Udoh John v The State All FWLR(PART 840)1295.
In this case, the appellant was alleged to have committed robbery alongside two other accused persons while armed with dangerous weapons. Upon being arrested, they were arraigned in the High Court of Cross River State pursuant to Section 1(2) (a) and (b) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special) Act,2004.The trial court gave its judgment, convicting the accused person and sentencing him accordingly.
The appellant appealed without success. The Court of Appeal, Calabar judicial division held that to establish the crime of armed robbery, the prosecution must prove the following:
- That there was a robbery or series of robberies
- That the robbery or each robbery was an armed robbery
- That the accused was the robber or was one of those who took part in the robbery.
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