Unknown gunmen had abducted 37 students from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Kaduna State, on 11 March 2021. They previously released 10 of them and recently threatened to kill the remaining students if concerned authorities did not yield to the demand for a ransom of N500 million. The threats met with public ululation particularly from some of the parents who were not ready to take chances or play mind games.
However, the remaining students have been released, almost two months after their abduction. The released students arrived at police headquarters in Kaduna city on the night of 5 May 2021, looking distressed and unkempt. Sources had it that ransom was paid for the newly released students, but there were no disclosures as to who made the payment. But it appears that popular peace negotiator, Alhaji Sheik Gumi, and former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, played major roles in facilitating the release.
The worrisome trend has prompted polemics, especially regarding how to nip the menace in the bud. Some have said that kidnapping persists because the benefits of their crimes exceed the costs. Hence, the way out is to raise the costs by imposing harsher, surer penalties. This is in view of the fact that the present penalty for kidnapping ranges from one to 20 years in prison, with the possibility of life imprisonment for extreme cases involving, for instance, murder.
It is on these heels that the Kwara State House of Assembly has proposed capital punishment for bandits and kidnappers. The state house on 4 May 2021 urged the Kwara State governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, to forward a bill to the House prescribing the death sentence penalty for kidnappers in the state.
The recommendation was part of the resolutions of the House on the “Need to Curb Kidnapping Activities in the State,” presented by Hon. Abolarin Ganiyu Gabriel. According to Abolarin, kidnapping in the country had gotten out of hand, particularly with schools as soft targets.
The legislator made particular reference to the kidnap case which occurred recently along the Obbo-Ile-Aiyegunle-Eruku-Isapa axis of Kwara South in the state on 1 May 2021, during which the Kogi state Commissioner, Pension Board Commission was shot dead and another person was abducted the same day.
As a response to ravaging insecurity in the state, the Osun State House of Assembly had equally held a public hearing earlier in February, on the death penalty for kidnappers. The House reached a unanimous agreement that whoever was guilty of kidnapping should be sentenced to death. The resolution was well received by different individuals and organisations present at the event.
The state coordinator of Hunter Group of Nigeria, HGN, Mr. Hammed Nureni, while urging the Assembly to immediately pass the bill into law, stated that kidnappers deserve no mercy. According to him, kidnappers were ruthless and mean towards their victims, and should not be treated with leniency.
El-Rufai holds the same view which is why he has been of the opinion that his administration will never give in to the bandits by paying them a kobo.
Meanwhile, Akinwunmi Ambode, former Lagos State Governor, had signed the state kidnapping prohibition bill, 2016, into law. The law prescribes life imprisonment or the death penalty for the offence of kidnapping and forceful extortion in the state. The death penalty however applies to kidnappers whose victims die in their custody, and life imprisonment for the act of kidnapping.
The question that is however pertinent to ask is, what role will the death penalty for bandits and kidnappers serve? Will it put a stop to kidnapping and banditry? If it were to serve as a deterrent, wouldn’t it rather bolster the resolve of bandits and kidnappers in their inhumane acts?
Oftentimes, what we term a deterrent can actually be encouragement. In other words, what we often take as a thing to discourage someone from doing something can in the real sense serve as a spur on for them to indulge in the act. It is even graver with criminals, who will end up considering the crime as a do or die adventure.
All these “copy and paste” rules do not apply in reality. The point is that it is not enough to set up a parliamentary framework and leave it at that, expecting it would completely solve the problem. The death penalty for bandits and kidnappers come from an informed point of view, but it can equally exacerbate the crime.
Our legislators need to do more than this “classroom” polemics. More so, when former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole signed into law capital punishment for kidnappers in the state, many threw his weight behind him, including a former member of the National Assembly, Mr Ehiogie West-Idahosa. But Edo State has remained one of the hotbeds of kidnapping. That of Edo State is essentially unique because it mostly involves high-profile personalities.
Consequent on the law, kidnappers in Edo State became more emboldened, and have continued to terrorise residents and others unchallenged. Commuting on most major highways across the state is a nightmare for travellers.
On several occasions, entire passengers of commercial buses have been abducted and taken to the forests, with demands for mouth-jarring ransom. Certain areas such as Oredo, Ovia Northeast, Orhionmwon, Uhumwode, and Akoko Edo Local Government Areas, have become flashpoints to avoid.
The death penalty for criminal elements is not enough. It might be a starting point, but it is not enough because almost everyone believes it is the final in deciding Nigeria’s solution to her current security challenges, especially in the area of banditry.
As National Coordinator of the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), Chino Obiagwu, opined at a point in time, “Making it a capital offence cannot stop kidnapping because the severity of punishment is not a deterrent to crime.
“Death penalty does not solve anything. As a matter of fact, a lot of innocent people will be killed because of poor investigations.’’
Adding his voice to the issue, human rights activist and legal practitioner, Fred Agbaje, had equally pointed out that the spate of kidnapping was becoming worrisome, but added that disciplinary laws were a small part of the entire process to end the tide.
“It is not just a question of having punitive laws that will solve the problem of kidnapping in the state. Who have they arrested that they want to use as an example that the death sentence has come to stay? Passing the law is one thing, whether they will work to effect it, is another.’’
Besides, wouldn’t a kidnapper that knows that his life is at stake be more emboldened in his craft? If such a person knows that he is going to die after all, wouldn’t they devise more schemes and ways to hold concerned authorities and individuals by the balls to evade arrest? One must not forget that the fear of death is the most powerful impulse of the spirit.
While stricter measures, such as the death penalty, may not be completely out of place in dealing with the kidnapping menace, the proposition has a loose end and cannot be totally relied upon. Coupled with the death penalty, the discourse should include how the capacity and efficiency of the security agencies can be improved to ward off the crime headlong.