The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, recently claimed that kidnapping and banditry were not federal offences.
Verdict: Misleading. The claim that kidnapping and banditry are not federal offences is misleading. A federal legislation, the Nigerian Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, designates kidnapping as a terrorist act, an offence punishable at the federal level. Both federal and state governments make laws criminalising kidnapping and acts linked to banditry. While it is true that state governments prosecute kidnappers and bandits, depending on the jurisdictions where the crimes are committed, the crimes are investigated and the culprits arrested by the police, which is a federal institution. At best, kidnapping and banditry are criminal offences, both at federal and state levels, considering the existence of legislations at both levels.
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The Information Minister Lai Mohammed recently addressed the media on insecurity in Nigeria, where he said that kidnapping and banditry were not federal offences in the country.
“It is shocking that a party (Peoples Democratic Party) that ruled this nation for all of 16 years does not know that kidnapping and banditry are not federal offences,” he said.
The minister told the party to call out the states, including those being controlled by it, to ensure a rigorous prosecution of arrested kidnappers and bandits.
How true is the claim?
Brief on kidnapping and banditry in Nigeria
Kidnapping, which is the unlawful transportation, abduction and confinement of a person against their will, has been a major security challenge in Nigeria.
Kidnapping may be done to demand for ransom in exchange for releasing the victim, or for other illegal purposes.
In recent times, many students had been kidnapped across the country and demands for ransoms made.
On the other hand, banditry, which is an organised crime committed by outlaws, typically involving the threat or use of violence, is also a major challenge in Nigeria.
A person who engages in banditry is known as a bandit and primarily commits crimes such as extortion, robbery and murder, either as an individual or in groups.
So, how true is the claim that kidnapping and banditry are not federal offences?
The “Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011 is a federal legislation, which designates kidnapping as an offence.
Section 1 of the Act provides that “any person who knowingly does, attempts or threatens to do an act preparatory to, or in furtherance of an act of terrorism; commits to do anything that is reasonably necessary to promote an act of terrorism; or assists or facilitates the activities of persons engaged in an act of terrorism, commits an offence under this Act.”
The Act defines “acts of terrorism” as, amongst other meanings, “kidnapping of a person” and even “an attack upon a person’s life, which may cause serious bodily harm or death.
A lawyer, Precious Akhilomen, posited that the federal anti-kidnap law could be found within the Nigerian Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, which is meant to promote “the protection of persons and their properties from abuse,” as well as enhance “freedom of others in the same society.”
In her article titled, “The Offence of Kidnapping in Nigeria, Vis a Vis the Recent Bill for the Amendment of the Criminal Code Act,” published on BA LAW LLP’s website, Akhilomen stated that the Criminal Code Act CAP. C.38, laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004 exists to punish kidnappers.
On a domestic level, the lawyer observed that there were a plethora of examples of state governments introducing their own anti-kidnapping laws in an attempt to combat this crime.
She gave several instances, such as in Ebonyi State, where Section 3 of the State Internal Security Enforcement and Related Matters Law (CAP 55), which came into force on October 9, 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, Ikedi Ohakim, signed the anti-kidnapping bill into law in 2009, vowing that defaulters would pay with their lives.
Former Governor Godswill Akpabio signed the internal security and enforcement bill, 2009 into law on May 15, 2009. The law, among other things, prescribes death penalty for offenders and empowers the governor to choose the venue and mode of execution of such condemned persons, while a person who abetted the escape of a kidnapper would face a 21-year jail term.
Already, in Rivers and Enugu states, their respective Africa’s Public Service Delivery and Performance Review House of Assembly has passed the law prohibiting kidnapping, making it an offence punishable by death sentence.
In Delta State, the House of Assembly passed the anti-kidnapping and terrorism bill (albeit without the governor’s accent), with the rationale that the harsh and wicked activities of kidnappers and other terrorist acts were too overwhelming to Deltans, and therefore, decided to apply section 100, sub-section 5 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which gives them power to veto the governor.
Corroborating Akhilomen, Malachy Nwaekpe, a lawyer, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the anti-kidnapping law in Nigeria had become a concurrent legislation because both state and federal governments have powers to prosecute offenders.
This means that kidnapping is a federal offence as seen by the provisions of the Nigerian Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, which also criminalises banditry.
“The offence is captured under both Penal Code and Criminal Code for the North and South, which are federal enactments or acts. But many states have gone ahead to enact laws on kidnapping and even increased punishment for it. Such offences, if the offender is arrested anywhere, can be prosecuted there, whether or not the offence was not committed there,’’ he said.
A legal expert, Orji Uka, explained that while it is the states’ High Courts that have jurisdiction to try kidnapping, it is the federal government that has powers over law enforcement.
Describing the roles of federal and state governments in punishing kidnapping and banditry offences as “an irony,” Uka noted that while it is the attorneys-general of the states that have ultimate power to initiate, take over or discontinue criminal prosecution of state offences, the police, controlled by the federal government, is responsible for investigating and arresting offenders.
“Until recently, the police also had powers to commence prosecution of these state offences. Who has powers over the police? The federal government. Who appoints the Inspector-General of Police? The federal government. Can the state attorneys- general arrest kidnappers? Generally, no. Can they prosecute without the police? No,” the expert explained.
Another legal expert, Kaine Ananwune, a lawyer, said Lai Mohammed lied when he said kidnapping and banditry were not federal offences.
He reminded the minister of the existence of the Nigerian Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011.
“Kidnappings and banditry are federal offences that can be prosecuted in the Federal High Court by the attorney-general or his delegate; hence Alhaji Lai Mohammed lied when he said kidnapping and banditry were not federal offences,” the lawyer explained.
The claim that kidnapping and banditry are not federal offences is misleading. A federal legislation, the Nigerian Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, designates kidnapping as a terrorist act, an offence punishable at the federal level. Both federal and state governments make laws criminalising kidnapping and acts linked to banditry. While it is true that state governments prosecute kidnappers and bandits, depending on the jurisdictions where the crimes are committed, the crimes are investigated and the culprits arrested by the police, which is a federal institution. At best, kidnapping and banditry are criminal offences both at federal and state levels, considering the existence of legislations at both levels.