Yes, Lagos is more than a country if it is to be compared with some countries in Africa. The Gambia is just a little above 1.8 million people. Mauritus? About 1.3 million people. Not even Ghana can measure up with Lagos touted as the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria and, arguably, West Africa. Analysts continue to maintain that one major reason the state has kept its pace leading among others is the fact that it has been fortunate to produce some of the best leaders to manage its affairs.
Year after year, challenges of leadership erupt, but the good thing had been the swiftness with which those in authority grab the gauntlet and run for possible solutions. And such solutions have often helped to salvage whatever situations that be at such times. A good example is the Lagos traffic law. A good study of the law would often place its merits above its demerits.
This then brings us to the issue of security. The Nigerian constitution does not spare a thought on it when it says security of lives and property must be the responsibility of a government. If this is the case, it means that a government, no matter its focus, must put security first. A government is assumed to have failed when insecurity envelops the country or a state. With a mindset that the people must exist for government to exist, Speaker Mudashiru Obasa of the Lagos State House of Assembly, not only came up with the neighbourhood safety bill which has now been signed into law, he has also successfully, come up with the anti-kidnapping bill recently passed by the state.
While the neighbourhood watch law is expected to boost employment and ensure vigilance in the various communities of the state, the anti-kidnapping law centres on offences that have to do with abduction.
In 2016, the state witnessed a rise in cases of abduction of both high and low profile residents. While few were carried out in metropolitan areas, many of such incidents occurred in communities. For example, that year witnessed the abduction of one Frank Umeh. Remember that Mrs Toyin Nwosu, the wife of an editor of The Sun newspaper was also abducted. Apart from these two, other residents like Mr. Cosmas Ojukwu Anayo and Chief James Uduji have tasted the ‘bite’ of the dare-devil kidnappers. It is difficult to forget the trauma that took over the state following the two incidents of the kidnap of school children, first in Ikorodu and then, Epe. In the Ojo area of the state, a traditional ruler, the Oniba of Iba, was kidnapped.
Very recently, kidnappers stormed the Turkish International School Isheri, a border town between Lagos and Ogun states, and took away five people including three students and two staff.
However, while some of the victims are often lucky to either escape or be freed after a ransom is paid, others have ended up in their graves. An example here is the case of 43-year-old Abiodun Adeniyi, a farm manager, who was kidnapped with Alhaji Oyebanji Wasiu and Alhaji Isiaka Owolabi at the Egan, Itoki area of Ikorodu, on July 17, 2016. He was killed even though his kidnappers got N22 million demanded for their release.
These whole details above are geared towards making the reader understand why the Lagos state House of Assembly decided on a drastic effort through the bill, to curb this challenge, especially where it involves a death sentence and or confiscation of properties.
First, the trauma suffered by victims of kidnapping is unexplainable. It is like dying many times and this psychological trouble lasts even long after such a person regains freedom. For a person who could put another fellow in such near-death health situation, the least that can follow is a punishment commensurate to his crime and this is what the “Bill for a Law to provide for the Prohibition of the act of kidnapping and other connected Purposes,” tries to address.
Since its passage by the Assembly, there had been varied opinions relating to the stipulation of death penalty carried by one of its sections. While some think the punishment is too harsh, others think it is the best.
However, it is just necessary to say the law puts into consideration a lot of variables as it affects the abductor, his victim and the state. The abductor does not just face death except where his victim dies in his custody. Ordinarily, since abduction is a major life-threatening crime, the law considers the sanctity of the human life and only stipulates prison terms for a convict where caught and whose victim is found alive. It also stipulates the confiscation of any property found to have been used by the kidnappers but with a caveat that the use of such property must have been known to its owner.
It is worthy of note that since it passed the law, the Lagos State House of Assembly have been severally commended both orally and in writing. An editorial recently carried by The Guardian newspaper, called on the federal government and other states to take a clue from Lagos and its few counterparts that have passed the law against what it called ‘ a murderous scourge as kidnapping’.
The editorial added: “While the Lagos State government’s adoption of the death penalty may be an unfashionable extreme measure, in the circumstance, the Federal Government and other state governments should follow suit with laws that will contain permanently the menace of kidnapping. Trials should not be tedious and unduly long. Witnesses and whistle blowers against kidnappers should be guaranteed protection as part of the efforts to guarantee the safety of citizens and halt the activities of kidnappers.”
Of course, death penalty, some would argue, is old-fashion. But in the case of kidnapping, it is a most important weapon to curb the menace. A person who knows that he would be killed if a victim dies in his custody would take his time to understand what he is going into and then retrace his steps. Moreover, death penalty is not exclusive to the law. Other states of the country have the penalty for certain laws. In the United States, despite international opposition to it, about 31 states are said to still have capital punishment in their criminal jurisprudence.
Concerning its effect on the state, Lagos is the most populated state in Nigeria and no meaningful government would fold its arms and watch helplessly especially at a time the current administration is doing its best to retain investors and attracting more to the state. It is known that as a result, people daily live in fear and where fear pervades, it is difficult to build investor confidence.
Thus, what we should all be particular about is that the state government must have the will-power to implement the law to the latter including where a convict is to face the death penalty. This will put fear in the minds of prospective criminals. In Edo state, there was a time kidnapping was becoming a trend. The government waded in and today, it is at its lowest ebb. The police must also gear up and try to boost confidence in the people of the country. A situation where the average law enforcement agent is not trusted will never help in crime discouragement.
Lastly, is certain that issues like this cannot be curbed by the government alone. There must be collaboration from the residents and investors. It would just be necessary to advise that those with business interests should also conscious of security systems. They can adopt a method to secure their environments. Private schools, for instance, can install CCTV cameras to monitor movements around their premises.
I want to thank and commend Governor Akinwunmi Ambode who is relentlessly coming out with ideas on how to better the state. The government is installing security cameras in parts of the state apart from maintaining the street lights. If the Turkish International School, just like the two affected schools in Lagos had adequate security systems, it would just have been difficult for the abductors to successfully launch their attacks.
Hon. Mufutau Egberongbe is the Special Adviser to Speaker Mudashiru Obasa on Political and Legislative Matters