Criminal Punishment in Nigeria



The pathetic circumstances of victims of crime in the world have been so worrisome that, Pino Alarcchi1 once said, “we must agree amongst ourselves that we want a world where there will be no hiding place for the criminals… and where there will be adequate support for their victims”. The essence of the research is vividly captured in the above prelude. Records reveal that before the state took over the provision of security for its citizenry through its official law enforcement agency -the police-victims of crime were solely responsible for identifying those who wronged them, footing the bills of investigating their crimes and prosecuting felons when arrested2. Thus, where a crime was committed without witnesses, efforts to identify the assailant became the tasks borne by the victims unaided, as no government agencies was responsible for investigating crimes.

          Nmerole admitted that, this was the situation in the United kingdom during the frankpledge era (a system under which each adult member was responsible for the good conduct of others)4. And after the Norman Conquest In 1066, though constables were added and saddled with the tasks of guarding the city gates at night, investigating crimes and prosecuting cases still remained a private matter handled by the victims themselves. In the United States, private prosecution dominated criminal justice during the colonial era, and criminal cases were initiated by complaints of private citizens, and the responsibility to pursue the case to its logical conclusion rested primarily with the private citizen who began the process. As a result, he was required to pay the justices’ fees and hire attorney to plead the case, which situations still prevail in the common law nations.

             However, in pre-colonial Africa, according to Tamuno, “crime in most societies was viewed as an infraction against the entire community and not the individual victim”3. Therefore when crime was committed, all that the victim needed was to alert the neighbours and the entire members of the community, particularly members of the secret society responsible for security, would chase and apprehend the culprit; who would subsequently be tried by the elders’ council and if found guilty, would be promptly, adequately and publicly punished. For instance in the kanuri speaking area of Nigeria, “communal solidarity, rather than personal gains and successes, held sway in the sphere of defence4”. As a result, whenever and wherever an individual member of the community was attacked , the entire village would rise up in arms in defense of the victims.

                                                     BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

In Nigeria, once crime is committed against, or its commission is suspected by an individual, the individual is enjoined to report such to the police for their investigation. This action by the police an obvious agency of government portrays the victims as not having been completely abandoned by the state. However, mere investigation of crimes is viewed as inadequate to carter for the rights of the victims. It is therefore advocated that special laws, boards and or commissions, that would adequately accommodate the rights of victims to be established to handle their issues. Today in Nigeria, as in other African countries, it is not in doubt that there are numerous international and national non-governmental organisations, etc. whose sole task is struggling g for the protection and redress for victims of abuse of power. It is ironical that the result of the intentional and unlawful commissions or omissions of private citizens, who deserves more attention, are ignored. It is therefore proposed that governments, both at the federal and state levels, relevant non-government organisations and other groups, should re-focus on, and re-direct non-governmental organisations and other groups should re-focus on, and re-direct their attentions to the plights of victims of crime.

            By virtue of both the constitutional and statutory provisions5, the Nigeria Police force, as an institution of government is vested with the arduos responsibility of, “prevention and detection of crime, apprehension of offenders and protection of life and property” of all Nigerians. It is thus, rightly affirmed that the Nigeria police is, “structed organizationally and psychologically to protect the society from the criminal elements and other miscreant” within the society. Therefore, where there is no special legistslation, as it were, for protection of the victims of crime in Nigeria, the police should not be encumbered or obstructed, but should rather be encouraged by all, in the discharge of their duties. However, because of the apparent corruption and ineptitude of the present crop of police officers, asking Nigerians to cooperate with the police would tantamount to uphill task. It is believing that since the police belong to the citizenry, the onus is therefore on the people to demand for the kind of police they really need; and this cannot be realized through the current abhorrence of and apathy towards the institution6.

           Furthermore, it is articulated that, the fact that the police have fallen short of public expectations, does not warrant the seemingly disdain and hatred with which the officers and anything that associates with them is regarded. Sometimes, this perception has caused grant of court orders that turn out to disrupt criminal investigative processes; prohibit the arrest of reasonably suspected offenders, and even set free those in police detentions unconditionally, and in total disregard of the law, assumingly in the pursuit of protection of the purportedly breached rights of the applicants.

            It has rightly been asserted that, “the essential purpose of human rights jurisprudence is to ensure the effective protection of certain fundamental entitlements of all human beings everywhere without distinction”7. Therefore, if innocent victims of crime are human beings, it is undeniable that whenever their fundamental human rights are breached by fellow private individuals, they also are entitled to be accorded adequate protection and redress. Therefore, it is strongly argued that the release on bail of reasonably suspected and arrested criminals, without hearing from the victim, terminating police investigative processes through court orders ; and the inability or unwillingness of the court,  the police ,highly placed political office holders, top government officials and chief executives of government parastatals, to promptly and effectively bring perpetuators of crime to book, including grant of presidential pardons and amnesty of jailed criminals, contribute much more to the escalation of corruption and other criminal activities in Nigeria, than the supposed police corruption  – the recent oil subsidy and the pension’s fund scandals8, are clear examples. Events like these contribute more to the victims’ despondency and create the impression that it pays to be a criminal.

1.2         Statement of Research Problem

               Victims of crime in Africa and in Nigeria in particular from the inception of colonialism, have always been relevant only for the purpose of successful prosecution; with their needs, interests and rights accorded little or no concern by the operators of the criminal justice system. The several non-governmental organisations, civil society and other community-based groups in Nigeria are concerned with the protection and redress for the suspect, accused persons and or prisoners. The Nigeria Police as an institution of the executive arm of government, as earlier stated, are saddled with several duties, which they have performed below the public’s expectation, supposedly because of corruption, ineptitude, impunity and incompetence9.

       That these allegations are true incontestable; a cursory flip through the dailies and social media will attest to this, and most unfortunately, not too long ago, an inspector-General was jailed for corruption. However, a brief for the police is not contemplated here, but at the same time it is apt to observe that often persons police reasonably suspect of crimes are prohibited from being arrested; and sometimes those already arrested and detained are ordered by courts, to be released on bail unconditionally. As a result, the criminal investigative processes are thwarted  and aborted, and the complaint of the victim is abandoned 10, and the suspected person now set free, and seemingly protected by the law, goes about unleashing other heinous crimes on the society and his victim in the initial case now left at his mercy.

1.3    Research Questions

          1) What impact would judicial interference in criminal investigatory processes have on the victim, criminal justice system and the society as a whole?

           2) When criminal investigative processes are aborted through judicial fiat, is all the parties afforded justice?

            3) When costs are awarded against victims for allegedly breaching the rights of suspects, what messages does the court send to the society?

            4) Is there any special law for the protection of victims of crime in Nigeria?

             5) what unique rights do victims of crime possess that require protection?

1.4     Objectives of the Study

         The main aim of this study is to appraise the roles of the police and court in the protection and redress for victims of crime in Nigeria. While its objectives are;

  • To ascertain the legality and constitutionality, or otherwise, of injunctive orders against police investigative processes.
  • To examine the adverse impacts of premature release on bail of suspects on the victims of crime, the criminal justice system and the society at large.
  • To examine the rights of victims of crime.
  • To examine comparatively the use of police powers of arrest and detention and treatment and handling of arrested persons in United Kingdom, the United States, India and Nigeria.
  • To examine international. Regional and national legistlation on protection and redress for adults and children victims of crime and
  • To make appropriate recommendations.

1.5      Significance of the Study

            Against the background that protection and redress for victims of crime have attracted global attention, and emphasis and focus had since the 1960s, shifted to “restitution and compensation” to victims in Europe and America except Africa; and in view of the fact that everyone is a potential victim of crime, it is opined that there is urgent need to initiate measures to ameliorate the plights of victims. The research is immensely valuable to both federal and states’ executives, and federal and states’ legistlatures. The research enjoins these government functionaries to re-focus their perspective roles and responsibilities towards ensuring that adequate measures are put in place to protect and redress victims of crime in Nigeria, as in vogue in other jurisdictions.

          The legistatures in particular, are re-awakened to gasp the significance of their law making roles, and thereby come up with relevant legislation in support of the subject matter of this research. The initiative of senator Ganiju Olarewaju Solomon, for sponsoring the “witness Protection Bill” now before the National Assembly is commended and applauded. It is noted that the Bill when it becomes an Act, aims only at protecting citizens who volunteer useful information about perpetrators and sponsors of violence and insecurity, and not protecting the rights of victims of crime per se. It is prayed and hoped that the parliamentarians will insert therein adequate provisions for the protection of the rights of victims in the standpoint of the 1985 UN Declaration.

        Similarly, the executives at all tiers of government will hereby realize the imperativeness of creating relevant commissions and boards to handle victims’ related welfare issues. Correspondingly, non-governmental organisations, civil society groups, town and village-communal groups now recognize the need to refocus their energies and resources in the fighting for the protection and redress of victims of crime. Furthermore, Judges prosecutors and defense attorneys will find the work useful, as it reminds them of their unique roles in this regard. Finally, the general public, institutions, Human rights groups, scholars and researchers in constitutional law, international Human Rights Law and criminology will find the research useful as an authoritative source of material for further research.

1.6    Scope and Limitation

         The research begins with an examination of the position of the law on protection of victims of crime in Nigeria and afterwards veers into a comparative analysis of the position in Europe with particular emphasis on the activities of the council of ministers of European union. The position in the United States where there is adequate legal regime on the protection and redress for victims of crime is examined as a basis for recommendations for improvement of the situation in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. It is observed sadly that, in Africa, there are no serious legislative efforts regarding protection and redress for victims of crime as there are in Europe and the United States ; and the scanty provisions available in their primary criminal procedural rules is out of tune with reality, and the judges hardly apply them.

       It is observed that African countries are signatories to a significant number of international and regional human rights instruments, namely; Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR) 1966, International Convenant on Economic, social and cultural Rights(ICESCR)  1966, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples rights 1981, with flavor for the protection of human rights. Other allied instruments include the United Nations Declarations, recommendations and resolution, and particularly the 1985 United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of justice for victims of crime and abuse of power, which deals strictly with the issues of victims of crime. The non-legal bindingness of United Nation General Assembly’s Resolutions, Declarations and Recommendations, including , “UNGA 1985 Declaration of Basic Principle” is not in doubt , but it is asserted that nations would not be prejudiced for implementing this declaration, which aims at securing the rights of their citizens, which have been violated without  any fault of theirs.

1.7    Research Methodology

          The writer employs the analytical, comparative and non-empirical research methodological approaches, which is mainly a library -based research whereby references are made to existing legal materials, such as textbooks, newspapers, seminars and other papers. Other materials include statues and universal and regional human rights instruments. Consequently, the Nigerian Constitution 1999(as amended), African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 10, the Criminal Procedure Act11, the Police Act, and the Criminal Procedure Code and are consulted and analized. A comparative approach is adopted to show what others in other jurisdictions to evaluate the reasonability of adopting similar practices in Nigeria.

1.8   Criminality in Nigeria

          According to Emile Durkheim, “crime is normal because a society without crime is utterly impossible”. The sociologist never meant that nations and governments should go to sleep while criminals have a field day in their domains, as is seemingly the present situation in Nigeria. Today, both international and national mass media are inundated with the shameful details of criminal exploits of Nigerians in all walks of life12,. The nature and extend of crimes has advanced over the years from traditional of petty theft, assault, rape, murder and armed robbery to the most sophisticated transnational crimes of drug and human trafficking, kidnapping and recently terrorism. Other prominent categories of crimes today include political brutality, political corruption, police and judicial corruptions.

1.9   Impact of Crime on our Society

         The daily reports of the criminal exploits of our high level public servants,political office holders, legistlators, governors and ex-governors, police officers, even judges constantly remimd us of the rising tide of criminality in our country13. Its has been reported that “crime , is by far the gretest threat to political and social stability, security, economic progress and the general welfare of the society. Undoubtedly, crime has now permeated every fabric of our national life, to the extent that our judges and religious leaders are now suspects.

       It is argued that this pathetic security situation in Nigeria today is not unconnected with the inability and the reluctance of the courts, police and highly placed functionaries, to often promptly fish out and administer commensurate punishments on the perpetuators of crimes. It is an accepted fact that, if criminals and criminally minded persons believe that they would be shielded from punishments after their exploits, they would behave with impunity as is the situation in the country today.

1.9.1     Justice

             Where someone feels hurt, suffers any damage or any of his rights is infringed, as a result of either an intentional or unintentional act or omission of another person, it is his moral and legal right that the other party must make good that loss and restore the infringed rights. Justice should be dispensed with in such a manner that the aggrieved person goes home feeling that justice has been done. Often, defence council  would talk as if, justice is not done except in relation to their clients. In Rabiu Kano vs States14, the Supreme court warned against always looking for justice for the accu7sed only. It could thus be agreed that, if in the doing of justice, the victim is seen to have been excluded, then justice cannot be said to have been done at all.

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