In these days of economic crises and continued disparity between poverty and wealth, there have been many crimes that are putting our nation in a state of perpetual fear.
Terrorism, Advance Free Fraud (aka 419), money laundering, cyber crime and kidnapping have become increasing source of worries in our nation.
Kidnapping, especially, has become a nauseating affair.
Society has always used punishment to discourage would be criminals from unlawful action. And talking of spate at which kidnapping is gradually becoming a new normal business, it is understandable why the Lagos State House of Assembly has joined few other States in passing into law, a bill aimed at checking the spate of kidnapping with stiffer penalties, including death sentence for offenders.
Ever since the law was passed, opinions especially from lawyers are sharply divided, and equally strong among both supporters and opponents of the law.
But for the perennial problems of human existence like kidnapping that requires logical investigation and deployment of all the cognitive resources of human reason and scientific methodology for solution, it can be very easy for people to assume or conclude that courses like Philosophy and Sociology among other humanities and social sciences can be dispensed with, going by silence of scholars and students of the courses in the ongoing debate and search for ethically acceptable solution. Presently, displayed of uncanny effrontery of resorting to mass abduction of students and officials of schools with that of Nigeria-Turkish International School, Ogun State being the current one remains a big sore in our society.
In the past, expatriates and foreign construction workers are the potential targets of kidnappers. It was later extended to parents of high profile personalities, religious leaders, businessmen and politicians. In following the bad example of Boko Haram terrorist group, school children are now seemingly the main target. It has happened at Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary, a model private missionary school in Ikorodu and Lagos State Model College, Igbo Nla in Epe. Naturally, it should trouble every one of us that schools are now the target.
In accordance with the laws of physics, every action causes a reaction and, depending on the type of action, the reaction. Lagos State is on course with the new bill which prescribes death sentence for kidnappers whose victims die in their custody and life sentence for kidnappers whose victims did not die in the hands of their abductors. In the bill, 25 years imprisonment is proposed as penalty for anyone found guilty of threatening to kidnap another person through phone call, e-mail, text message or any other means of communication.
So far, the only aspect of the law that is generating reaction is that of death penalty, where victims die in custody of kidnappers. Whatever the reasons for the focus on capital punishment alone, it is germane to look at the logic and otherwise of death penalty. This should bring us to a number of questions, which are important to explain as a way of summarizing the moral trade-offs of the debate. Is capital punishment intended primarily as a punishment? Is it a just and proportional punishment for certain crimes, like murder? Do murderers and some other criminals commit crimes so horrific that they forfeit the right to life? Should innocent life be valued over a murderer’s life, and does capital punishment demonstrate this? Or is it important to demonstrate compassion even to murderers who operate with ammunition by sparing their lives?
For some of our compatriots who share the Amnesty International belief that death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights which State must not be involved in, death penalty is seen as not a solution to kidnapping. The argument being that it is wrong to assume that death penalty will act as deterrent to committing of crimes. To them, death penalty has no historical foundation; it has no jurisprudential foundation and has no foundation in real life. Anti-death penalty campaigners are also quick in citing armed robbery experience which attracted death penalty from the ‘70s in Nigeria and how it has not put an end to robbery.
However, one is of the view that all these arguments are flawed and misleading. At best it can be regarded as academic exercise which does not reflect the sentiment of majority of the traumatized kidnapping victims. In Singapore, death sentences are permitted for some offences, so the people know precisely what to expect if they are convicted of such offences. In 2012, a couple of American elected officials and office-seekers suggested that Singapore’s success in combating drug abuse through death penalty should be examined as a model for the United States. Michael Bloomberg, a former Mayor of New York City, said that the United States could learn a thing or two from nations like Singapore when it comes to drug trafficking, noting that “executing a handful of people saves thousands and thousands of lives”.
So for a crime being orchestrated by professional gangs who make use of ammunition, speed boat and probably other equipment and logistics worth millions of naira, nothing else could suffice other than death penalty. This is proportional to the gravity of kidnapping crime and presently the only way to adequately express our horror at the taking of an innocent life through kidnapping.
Agreed there are socio-economic issues that must be addressed by the country. Notwithstanding, kidnapping must not be allowed to become another nemesis for our nation. Implementing death penalty to prevent continuous growth of the crime is a necessity before the crime assumes the dimension it takes in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Philippines where it is a lucrative business.
Less we forget, the toll of kidnapping in Nigeria is usually counted in terms of the human and emotional cost, but as organized kidnapping groups get rich on the suffering of others, the financial damage to the economy is also considerable as it remains one of the greatest drawbacks to investment in Nigeria. Herein lies the logic in death penalty for kidnappers!
-Musbau is of the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy. Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.