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Kidnappers versus Judicial officers?

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By Awa Kalu, SAN

Last weekend (week ending 11th May, 2013) the nation woke up with rude shock-arising from the abduction by gunmen, of the wife, daughter and driver of an eminent judicial officer, a Justice of the Supreme Court. Most men and women of goodwill including Dame Carol Ajie, Festus Kayamo and Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, the ‘Akpakpa VighiVighi’ of a famous kingdom and human rights crusader, issued a statement condemning in very strong terms, the brazen challenge to the security of  Justice Rhodes-Vivour’s family. I too must lend my voice to the rising threat to the security of judicial officers. To mention but a few incidents, a well respected Judge of the Imo State Judiciary was kidnapped on his way to work a few years ago.

Subsequently, a Judge of the Delta State Judiciary suffered the same ignominy. Now, an eminent Justice of the highest court in the land must be going through an experience that anyone who has worked so hard should not be compelled to endure- the ordeal of not knowing the condition of a loving wife and a doting daughter together with a dutiful Driver. Something must be done about our collective security.

Of this incident, Chief Ozekhome, had this to say: Justice Rhodes-Vivour, a well-acclaimed jurist, is merely a judicial officer, not an entrepreneur. His wife is a legal practitioner, not a business woman. Only on September 13, 2012, his son, Rotimi, was also abducted with a N30 million Naira ransom demand.

Why is this madness targeted at a peace-loving and hardworking jurist who has served Nigeria meritoriously? Is this persecution by faceless merchants and buccaneers masterminded by politicians who have vowed to make Nigeria ungovernable? Or is it by mere kidnappers for the sake of ransom money alone?

If so, where do they expect a serving justice of the apex court to cough out ransom money? Whatever angle we view it from, the fact remains that Nigeria is fast descending in to the abyss of systematic annihilation. It is more and more adorning the toga of one of the most insecure places on planet earth.

Judge-kidnap

We are becoming the laughing stock of the international community. For God’s sake, kidnappers, or whoever you are, release immediately and unhurt, Justice  Rhodes-Vivour’s lovely wife, daughter and driver”. It does not appear useful to belabour the Ozekhome angle in that at the time of preparing this piece, neither a demand for ransom nor an explanation for the dastardly act has been offered. It would therefore serve no useful purpose to speculate on the reasons for this latest assault on judicial independence.

In 2009, in this column, I noted that: Like darkness, the sad upsurge of kidnapping has enveloped with ease, certain parts of this country. According to H. Loewy (Criminal Law in a Nutshell (2nd ed.1987), ‘at early common law, kidnapping required asportation of the victim to another country. Under modern statutes, the asportation need not be this extensive’. Asportation is simply the act of carrying away or removing (property or person).

The crime consists of seizing and carrying away a person by force or fraud. The offence may also be aggravated by some other factors such as a demand for ransom or causing injury to the victim. At the moment, the offence is prevalent in the southern parts of the country. To that extent, it appears that it is covered by the provisions of section 364 of the Criminal Code.

The offence may be committed either by unlawfully imprisoning any person, and taking him out of Nigeria without his consent, or unlawfully imprisoning any person within Nigeria in such a manner as to prevent him from applying to a court for his release or from disclosing 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 places where he is imprisoned. The penalty is a term of imprisonment for ten years.

As things stand, there is no doubt that there are many Nigerians who would not mind if they slept and woke up in the United States of America or the United Kingdom even without their consent.

The vagaries and vicissitudes of life in our dear country has raised frustration levels to an all time high but what is self evident is that the perpetrators of the now notorious offence of kidnapping have neither the means nor the desire to take any person out of Nigeria with or without the person’s consent.

Rather, where they take you to, from available evidence, usually depends on those who snatch you either from the highway, a church, or even a gathering.

In some cases, you may be snatched from your bedroom. It does not matter what your age is, whether you are old, young, very young, or quite aged. There is also no discrimination as to gender-men and women are all eligible provided you look like you can bleed in Naira or any other currency when you are kept away from home for a few days or even weeks .

There are variants of the offence now and the prevalence is leading to a modification, no matter how subtle in our culture. In the South-East for instance, there are indications that Masters of Ceremony no longer announce the names of persons required to be at the High Table. Anonymity is the beginning of wisdom.

In addition, prolonged social gatherings no longer seem to be the norm just as presentation of invitation cards appears to be a vanishing act.

All you need do these days is to send text messages via mobile phones or emails to your prospective invitees to inform them about your occasions or parties unless you have the ‘where-with-all’ to flood the venue of your social event with security operatives.

It is also thought to be the practice to refuse to advertise your movement. Those who were caught and carried to hideous places have narrated their ordeals particularly when you are given an opportunity to bargain for your freedom. Any offer sounding in ‘thousands’ is considered an affront and is usually taken as an indication that you are either stingy or unserious or worse still, not ready to be set free.

The repercussion is that your trauma level is increased and more threats are offered. Yet another angle relates to the payment of the agreed ransom. In some simple cases, you may pay to an account nominated by your tormentor provided you promise that there will be no hanky- panky.

In other cases, the ransom must come through an identifiable person-name and colour of dress for instance, must be known. The ‘deliverer’ is then given a run-around until you come to a point where it is believed that you are not up to any prank and you drop the stuff and leave the area. Thereafter, the waiting game begins. Most victims had been blindfolded for several days and had no idea of their location. You are then dropped off, at times late in the night, and told to find your way.

According to someone who has experience in these matters, there is no history of anyone who has been kidnapped twice. You are snatched only once and you have an unofficial immunity. Whether this is one of the ‘fables’ of our present times is difficult to say.

What is instructive is that some of the victims truly believe that those who now ply the art of kidnapping have their own logic. Their belief is that the national cake is being sliced unlawfully by persons who do not deserve to do so.

The echoes of Billions of Naira that have been misappropriated, embezzled, converted, hidden or stolen and reported loudly in the mass media is often cited as justification for a thriving practice- kidnapping of hapless Nigerians. Were this to be taken as correct, would it seem to be plain to kidnap persons who have no causal connection or any nexus whatever with the alleged looters of public funds?

It has also been said that unemployment and under –employment, so all pervading as to be suffocating- is cited as another reason for this flourishing offence. Well, it is difficult to deny that the indices of unemployment are quite obvious but it is also obvious that some unemployable persons are partaking in the offence of kidnapping and abduction. If a student who has not as yet graduated snatches a person and keeps him against his wish and asks for a ransom, can such an act be justified by unemployment? The answer seems obvious.

The right to make ends meet is often cited as another excuse. Again this excuse can easily be pulverized. If a group of five successfully kidnap five persons in a month and extract a ransom of two million Naira from each of the victims, that means a return of two million Naira to each member of the group for the month.

Even after making a reasonable allowance for ‘expenses’, the ‘return on investment’ is far beyond what market forces would ordinarily allow for fair trading. To that extent, it seems unarguable that the time for a dialogue between the levels of government that can redeem the situation and the masses (including those who seem thoroughly disconnected from the system) has come.

What we have not seen, is any massive result from the efforts of different levels of government to deliver the proverbial dividends of democracy. Further, we need to witness a bolder inclination towards a diligent effort aimed at either redressing the shortcomings of the economy at this stage, or in ameliorating those obstacles that ridicule the quality of life that an average Nigerian richly deserves.

As the Chinese philosopher Confucius urged us so many centuries ago, ‘recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness’. What seems obvious at this time is that some State Governments do not want to take any prisoners.

The attitude seems to be that a person found guilty of the offence of kidnapping should be subjected to the ultimate punishment- the death penalty. What is the philosophy behind this position? It may seem to lie in the advice of W. Somerset Maughan (1874-1965).

The British novelist said that ‘Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it! It could also be rationalized on the basis of what the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) said several years ago-‘He who pretends to look on death without fear lies.

All men are afraid of dying, this is the great law of sentient beings, without which the entire human species would soon be destroyed’.

Whatever the underpinning may be for increasing the punishment from a term of imprisonment to the death penalty is really not the issue, in my humble view. The debate about why people commit offences is quite ancient just as the flip side, which is what punishment fits which offence.

What seems obvious is that the law reports reveal several cases in which the death sentence has been imposed for such crimes as murder and robbery with offensive weapons (a.k.a. armed robbery). Were we to favour the use of statistics to measure the success of any given endeavour as in other places, it would have been put beyond doubt that the efficacy of the death penalty is to say the least, arguable. Several factors contribute to this sorry pass.

Firstly, a good number of our modern Governors unabashedly, refuse to sign the warrants that constitute the instrument authorizing the Hangman to execute a condemned prisoner. The other consideration is that no one seems to know whether the Hangman’s job is still ‘’appetising” or inviting.

It is within the public domain that that class of worker now belongs to the past and l am yet to see an advertisement for any vacancies to be filled. What about the general state of the Criminal law and justice administration? Notwithstanding government enthusiasm for proliferation in classes of offences, the rate of success of public prosecution seems at best, pedestrian.

What would seem recommendable at the moment is that the economy should receive very urgent attention and all hands must be on deck to provide immediate and appropriate stimulus to empower many more Nigerians to be what they can be within the law.

Again, job creation should equally be on the front burner so that those who are willing and are qualified should be absorbed into the cadre of employed persons. Once there are reasonable and obvious employment opportunities, those who refuse to engage themselves in lawful endeavours can then be hit with a sledge hammer provided the deterrent effect can be justified.

Other commentators have also dealt with the easily noticeable lapses in our security situation nationwide and it would seem that an emergency of some sort presently exists. Perhaps, a convergence of efforts is needed to address the multifarious implications of this matter.

Meanwhile, should Hon. Justice Rhodes-Vivour’s wife, daughter and Driver still remain in the clutches of their abductors, the Inspector-General’s directives for a swift operation to release them, would seem to have been ineffectual. However, should they be free, it would be congratulations to all lovers of freedom.

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