A new bill passed by Imo State House of Assembly on Monday provides for the mandatory death penalty for anyone convicted of kidnapping. People whose premises are used by a kidnapper to hold someone hostage also face the death penalty.
“This law may act as an incentive to kill, as perpetrators may decide they have ‘nothing to lose’ – leading to an increase in killings of victims, innocent bystanders and police officers trying to apprehend the criminals,” said Aster van Kregten, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher.
“Kidnapping is a terrible crime that causes anguish for both the victims and their families. But extending the scope of the death penalty to include this crime is a retrogressive step that does nothing to protect the victims – in fact, it only serves to put them at greater risk.”
Amnesty International said that making kidnapping a capital offence not only flies in the face of global and national trends away from the death penalty, but may also encourage even more violent behaviour by kidnappers. The organization urged the Imo State Governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, not to sign the bill into law.
“Experience has shown that the threat of the death penalty is not an effective answer to violent crime – it can actually exacerbate violence in a society,” said Aster van Kregten.
Retention of the death penalty has not reduced armed robbery or murder rates in Nigeria. Between 1970 and 1999, more than 2,600 death row prisoners were executed, but the crime rate did not decrease.
Studies in the US also show that the death penalty has no deterrent effect on murder. The average murder rate in the US, in states that use the death penalty, is higher than in states that did not use it.
In countries where the death penalty has been abolished, crime rates have often fallen. In Canada, 27 years after the abolition of the death penalty, murder rates had fallen by 44 percent.
“The way to be tough on violent crime like kidnapping is to strengthen the police’s ability to detect potential crimes before they occur and prevent them,” said Aster van Kregten.
“The Federal government needs to strengthen police training and resources to increase investigation capacity and effectiveness. This is the best way to start keeping citizens safe from violent crime in Nigeria – rather than resorting to knee-jerk and outmoded responses like the death penalty.”
At the 4th Session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on 9 February, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said that “Nigeria continues to exercise a self-imposed moratorium [on the death penalty].”
“The Nigerian government recent statement at a UN forum that it is practicing a moratorium on the death penalty was widely welcomed. We are therefore very disappointed to see Imo State taking steps that are contrary to that position,” said Aster van Kregten.
“State governments should be making every effort to reflect the Nigerian federal government’s self-imposed moratorium, not undermine it.”