Reviewing the North’s Penal Code
Nine days ago the Northern States Governors Forum [NSGF] kick started a process of reviewing the Penal Code, which specifies crimes and their punishments in the 19 Northern states. A committee made of Attorneys-General of the Northern States, who are also the Commissioners of Justice, was given the task of reviewing the 55 year old code and bringing it in line with modern day criminal realities in the region. They have two months to complete the assignment.
Inaugurating the committee in Kaduna on October 9, NSGF’s chairman, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, said the committee’s inauguration followed the governors’ decision at an earlier meeting on September 11 to review the criminal justice system contained in the penal code. Shettima said the governors were concerned that many categories of new crimes that have either cropped up recently or become more menacing in recent times are not adequately captured in the Penal Code. These include insurgency, terrorism, rape, kidnapping and cattle rustling. He specifically said there is no adequate provision as at now to punish the sponsors of insurgency or to punish parents who offer their wards to carry out suicide attacks.
Shettima said, “The establishment of this Committee is the direct outcome of one of the resolutions of the last meeting of the Northern States Governors’ Forum held here in Kaduna on the 11th of September 2015; to the effect that most of the criminal offences currently being perpetrated especially in this part of the country like kidnapping, cattle rustling and inciting religious preaching, inter-alia have either not been adequately covered by the Penal Code or not at all. Therefore it has become a matter of strategic imperative to review the existing Criminal Justice System in its entirety in order to ensure that it is up to date and consistent with our current situation.”
Undertaking a comprehensive review of the Penal Code is long overdue and we congratulate the Northern governors for initiating this process. To put matters in perspective, the Penal Code Law of 1959 was promulgated when Nigeria was still a British colony, though it came into effect in 1960. More so, the whole North was then under one regional government.
There was a well developed criminal justice system in most of the North even before colonial times but the crimes and their punishments, variously based on the Shari’a and customary laws were not codified. However, Section 22 (10) of the independence Constitution stated that “No person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law.” Over a period of several years in the 1950s, the Northern Regional Government led by the Premier Sir Ahmadu Bello consulted widely, borrowed from the experiences of countries such as Sudan and then wrote the Penal Code to conform to the Constitution’s express provisions.
That was 55 years ago and since then there has been a lot of transformation in the region’s political, social, economic and criminal landscape. For one the North is now made up of 19 states. Each one of them inherited the Penal Code but its State House of Assembly has the power to modify or even repeal it. While every Northern state has done some amendments to criminal laws over the years, this was never done in a holistic manner and the review processes in any state have never lived up to the fast changing landscape of crime, fuelled as it is by social and technological changes.
Since these states share a common history of evolution of the criminal justice system, as well as similarities in economic and social landscape, it is of immense value that they should undertake this review process together. Yet, any recommendations for changes that the Attorneys General come up with can only be enacted into law by individual state assemblies. Hence each state retains the right to decide what is best for it.
Of all the crimes that bedevil the North in this day, the most debilitating is the Boko Haram insurgency. As Governor Shettima explained, this has many roots and ramifications which are not accommodated in the criminal law. Apart from the insurgents and their leaders, there are all shades of other criminals such as those who supply child suicide bombers, as well as those who supply food, fuel and technical knowhow to support terrorism. There are also the religious preachers who deliberately distort the message of the holy books and lay the ground for insurgency.
Rape, kidnap and cattle rustling have been around the North in small quantities all along but in modern times they have reached industrial scales. Add to these crimes that are direct spin-offs of technological innovation such as cyber crimes, electronic mail fraud, hacking of computers and using telephones and social media to extort and blackmail others. Right now the police, prosecutors and judges are often at a loss as to how to punish certain types of crime. All these should be straightened out in the reviewed Penal Code.
While we are still at it, we should not forget to include newly evolved electoral and political crimes such as thuggery, ballot box snatching, illegal thumb printing of ballot papers and bribing voters. It might be that two months is not enough time for the Attorneys General to tackle every area of the new crime landscape. In that case they could do well by addressing the most pressing issues such as insurgency, kidnap and cattle rustling while work continues later on other areas.
We want to remind the governors that action is also needed in the area of more effective law enforcement. For, however elaborately we define crimes and however harsh the penalties we provide in the Penal Code, it will have little effect so long as too many people commit crimes and get away with it.
Culled from DAILYTRUST, Oct 17, 2015