Crime Focus

Matching crime with punishment (1)

With Saliu Woru Mohammed

At a recent health summit organised by the Kwara State Ministry of Health, one of the participants, who is a very close friend of mine, during a discussion questioned the current practice where relatively light punishment is meted out to serious offenders like robbers and rapists. In his view, the contemporary punishments are not commensurate with offences committed by criminals, hence increasing crime rate.

Simply put, punishment can be defined as penalty imposed on an offender. Punishment under the penal code includes death, fine, caning, imprisonment, forfeiture of property and detention in reformatory.

It is safe to say that every person shall be liable to punishment under the penal code for every act or omission contrary to the provisions thereof which he shall be guilty within Northern Nigeria.

However, no act is an offence, which is committed by a child under the age of seven or by a child above seven years, under twelve years who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of such act. Conversely, nothing is an offence, which is committed by a person who at the time of the crime is of unsound mind.

Infact, this categories of offenders cannot be criminally held liable, thus no punishment can be imposed on them for any illegal commission or omission. Punishment is for the purpose of retribution, reformation and deterrence. Punishment can be meted out to erring person in order to correct and reform him; in fact an effective punishment is one, which can achieve positive attitudinal change. Punishment is also meant to deter potential offenders. A child can be beaten for stealing in order to impress on him that such an act is unlawful and should not be encouraged. A sinner shall not go unpunished, that is the law of retribution. Naturally, punishments are to be administered through judicial process in all criminal cases.

From records as well as oral history, crime and punishment has existed hand in hand. Offenders have always made one claim or the other to justify their criminal acts. Some have given excuses for their acts by claiming that it was the devil that lured them into the crime committed. Victims of these criminal activities insisted on punishment for such offenders and in such cases, they were often adequately punished even when they pleaded ignorance, as ignorance is not acceptable as legal defence in law.  For instance, during the Anini saga in the former Bendel State, every member of Anini’s gang in the state as well as other criminals took delight in robbing and maiming innocent people, burgling people’s houses and committing other social crimes. Law abiding citizens were held to ransom by Anini’s notorious gang. However, when the law caught up with them, they begged, confessed and showed remorse and even promised to turn a new leaf if their lives were spared. As their trial was progressing, there was peace all over the then Bendel State and indeed Nigeria.

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