Kidnapping is a serious crime in Nigeria. In this article, we will review the consequences and punishments for Kidnapping under Nigerian law.
It started like a joke. When it lost its mirth quality, it then morphed into something more than the coincidence of a few scattered crimes, some merely spawned by chance.
When it lost that too, kidnapping became a terrifying kaleidoscope of many vicious crimes which in extreme cases ended in the murder of its helpless and hapless victims.
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As Nigerians watched, alarmed, kidnapping spread across the country until it became a favourite pastime of criminals and terrorists alike: Victims were kidnapped and ransomed for money, held as sex-slaves, forced to be fighters, or simply killed.
Expatriates, come to work in Nigerian multinationals, have also fallen victim much to the international embarrassment of the giant of Africa.
Grotesquely, as the Nigerian government at all levels rallied to quell the storm of kidnapping and bring kidnappers to book, new and more terrifying modi operandi emerged and one thing became clear- the kidnappers were determined to keep their cash-churning venture going and flummox Nigeria`s security forces.
The law acting as an equalizer, a deterrent, a protector, and an instrument of social engineering had to step in and intervene, for prosecutors, the courts, and the state faced the uncomfortable spectre where the punishment for kidnapping was grossly disproportionate with the proceeds of the crime, the suffering of the victim and the trauma of families.
So, many law-making institutions toughened their anti-kidnapping laws, more than one denounced kidnapping as a capital offence to drive home the gravity of this iniquitous crime.
The law defines kidnapping and punishes it
Kidnapping in its purest form is a vicious vortex of many crimes. This is because in a solitary crime of kidnapping could be webbed the crimes of conspiracy to commit armed robbery, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, assault, battery,false imprisonment attempted rape ,rape, attempted homicide, homicide. Yes, all these terrible crimes can be committed in the act of kidnapping.
The Deluxe Ninth Edition of the Black`s Law Dictionary, at page 948, defines kidnapping thus:
“The crime of seizing and taking away a person by force or fraud.”
It further defines kidnapping for ransom as, “The offense of unlawfully seizing a person and confining the person usu. in a secret place, while attempting to extort ransom..This grave crime is sometimes made a capital offense. In addition to the abductor, a person who acts as a go-between to collect the ransom is generally considered guilty of the crime.”
On its own part, the 7th Edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner`s Dictionary, International Edition, at page 813,defines “kidnap” as “ to take somebody away illegally and to keep them as prisoner, especially in order to get money or something else for returning them.”
Nigeria`s apex criminal legislation, the Criminal Code Act, condensed into criminal legislations in different states of southern extraction unequivocally defines and criminalises kidnapping in keeping with the prescripts of Section 36(12) Constitution of the Federal Republic ,1999(As amended) which requires that an offence and its penalty be subject to a written law before a person is punished thereunder .
Section 364 of the Criminal Code Act provides thus:
“Any person who –
a. Unlawfully imprisons any person, and takes him out of Nigeria without his consent; or
b. Unlawfully imprisons any person within Nigeria in such a manner as to prevent him from applying to a 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.
Not to be outdone, the Penal Code Act applicable in Northern Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, defines kidnapping in Section 271 and punishes same in Section 273.
Section 271 of the Penal Code Act provides thus:
“Whoever takes or entices a person , under fourteen years of age if a male or under sixteen years of age if female, or any person of unsound mind out of the keeping of the lawful guardian of such person without the consent of such guardian or conveys that person beyond the limits of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, without the consent of someone legally authorized to consent to such removal is said to kidnap such person.
Section 273 of the Penal Code Act provides thus:
“Whoever kidnaps or abducts a person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.”
Thus, between the Criminal Code Act and the Penal Code Act, the heinous offence of kidnapping bears a minimum 10-year jail term
10-year jail term not enough.
As kidnapping gained in number and notoriety across the country with its attendant crippling effect on economic activities and tremendous suffering on victims and their families, most law-making institutions across the country got busy. Their aim was to make anti-kidnapping laws more stringent by increasing the severity of the punishment.
Matters came to a head on September 28,2017,when the Nigerian Senate passed into law the Kidnapping, Abduction Act, which particularly specified a 30-year jail term for anyone caught colluding with an abductor to receive ransom for any person wrongfully confined.
The Act also stipulated a sentence on death for anyone whose kidnapping activities led to the death of any person.
A couple of states followed suit and even went further than jail terms.
On January 5, 2017, the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the Law to Provide for the Prohibition of the Act of Kidnapping and for Other Connected Purposes.
In this law, the death sentence was stipulated for kidnappers whose victims die in their custody and life sentence for kidnappers whose victims do not die in their hands.
Life imprisonment was also stipulated for anyone who makes an attempt to kidnap another person. The law also prescribed a mammoth 25-year jail term for anyone found guilty of threatening to kidnap another person through phone call, email , text message or any other means of communication.
The law also prescribed a 14-year jail term for any person who knowingly or willfully allows or permits his premises ,building or a place or belonging to which he has control of, to be used for the purpose of keeping a person kidnapped.
In 2013, the Edo state government also prescribed the death penalty for kidnapping. The current administration in Cross River state also passed a law prescribing the death penalty for kidnapping. Delta, Rivers, Anambra states also prescribe the death penalty for kidnapping.
Kidnapping considered in the case of Okashetu v. State (2016) All FWLR (Pt. 861) 1262 S C.
In this case, the appellant was arraigned at the High Court of Delta state, Asaba , on a five-count charge of conspiracy to commit armed robbery, armed robbery, conspiracy to kidnap and illegal possession of fire arms.
The appellants and others at large allegedly conspired to kidnap one Mr. Galvagni Renzo. After the trial, the appellant was discharged and acquitted on the crimes of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and armed robbery, but convicted on the three counts of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, kidnapping and illegal possession of firearms.
He appealed to the Court of Appeal without success. A further appeal to the Supreme Court was also greeted with failure.
Dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court held that in order for the prosecution to succeed under a count for the offence of kidnapping, it has to prove the following facts beyond reasonable doubt:
a. That the victim was seized and taken away by the accused person
b. That the victim was taken away without his consent.
c. That the victim was taken away without lawful excuse.
The offence of kidnapping is complete when the victim is carried away against his wish.
The Supreme Court then reaffirmed the seven-year sentence placed on the appellant by the High Court.
Kidnapping is a grievous crime
Kidnapping is an unforgivably grave crime and everything must be done to excise it from Nigeria. The very stiff penalties might rankle some members of the Human Rights Community but placed side by side with the iniquity of kidnapping no one can argue against justification for the penalties.
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