Austere Criminal Justice System As The Panacea To Our Crime Infested Society!

I have always had my head buried in shame whenever crime resurfaces everyday on the pages of our national dailies whenever I visit the local vendor in my neighborhood. Many a time unconsciously, I have always found myself asking what could be the way round over a crime infested society. An effort to do justice to that question, led me into the troubles of this article.
It is unarguably true that ever since our romance with history, crime has been with us and when taken to the extreme it becomes glaring that it is almost a product of society. I will at this juncture, attempt a somewhat exhaustive discussion of the concept of Crime.
Like any other legal phenomenon, it is often an elusive task to give a concise and apt definition of the Term but for the purpose of this piece, permit me to use the definition given by the controversial legal colossus, Lord Denning when he said, “in order for an act to be punishable as a crime, it must be morally blameworthy”. From the moral prism with which the legal sage peered through, it is clear that he saw the word ‘Crime’ as synonymous to sin. However, this is not a place to attempt an evaluation of Denning’s philosophy as to whether his definition encapsulates the views of the contemporary lawyer or otherwise, else the object of this piece may not be done. I have veered through this path for readers to have a more technical appraisal of the word ‘Crime’ which is punished through a criminal justice system in Nigerian courts hence, the title of this piece.
Can it be said that a more severe criminal justice system is the launch pad to a lesser crime infested society? Can it be said to be the panacea to a crime free society? We shall find out. The mere thought of a crime-free society in today’s world where immorality and the desire to do bad have become articles of faith is at best to live in a fool’s paradise or pursuing a loose cannon. It is only achievable in one’s imagination but not in reality as certain sociologists contend that for a proper functioning of society, crime and criminals are indispensable components little wonder Kharisu Sufiyan Chukkol a doctor of Law in his book The Law of Crime in Nigeria, refereed to it as paraphernalia of modern society.
I have always been an advocate of stricter sanctions being passed to criminals upon the establishment of their guilt beyond every shackles of doubt no more no less. In an article I titled ‘In Defense of The Mosaic Law’ which was published on this column-www.informationng.com/2012/07/in-defense-of-the-mosaic-law.html, I opined with emphasis that if possible, retribution should be the basis of our criminal justice system. ‘An eye for an eye’ will not leave all of us blind as the critics of this theory have advanced. Rather; I am of the conviction that it will create within our subconscious mind, the value of our neighbor’s eye and the more reason why it must not be tampered with. Even though it seems to be too harsh and somewhat barbaric, if it is allowed to see the light of day, our judiciary may work out modalities to mitigate some of its attendant difficulties. Irrespective of the criticisms that greeted that article, it nonetheless stopped the message from being put across neither did it wane the truth imbedded in it.
Man is the most controversial of the handwork of God since from the time of the creation story at least according to the biblical account of the creation story and clemency is the least he deserves upon frailty. William Shakespeare summed up the brutality and wickedness of Man in his book- The Lear when he said, “man has not only halos in his being, he also has holes; man is false of spirit, bloody in hand, a lion in prey and a wolf in greediness” and as such, without a severe system of criminal justice system being entrenched in Nigerian courts, one wonders how we can nip in the bud this plague of crime almost enveloping us.
The role(s) of the criminal law as far as I know is deterrence and if any criminal justice system in any legal system hardly deters people from subsequent commission of crime, it is unthinkable how that criminal justice system will attain the chief aim of the criminal law which is the prevention and punishment for crime.
There is the need for a more severe criminal justice system in Nigerian courts if we must reduce the rate of crime bringing our society near comatose behamose. Our codes are not only worn out and begging for judicial review, they are also not serving the purposes which were the intendment of the drafters when they were drafted many years ago.
On a cursory observation and study of our penal instruments- the Penal and Criminal code, one discovers a code too lenient on the accused such that even when his guilt is proved, he is left with an option either way. Nigerians both in the home and in Diaspora were quipped to their marrows when one Justice Abubakar Talba of a Federal High Court sitting at Abuja acquitted one Mr. Yusuf John of the charges of Criminal Misappropriation preferred against him by EFCC to the tune of twenty-four billion, seven hundred million naira(#24,700,000,000:00k) sometime in January 2013 and so also has been the case in other similar judgments when prominent and influential citizens get what may seem to be lighter sentences at least before the masses. The likes of Cecilia Ibru, Dipriye Alameyesiegha, Chief Bode George, Tafa Balogun and chief Lucky Igbenedion to metion but a few are all testimonies to this premise no thanks to our penal instruments which made them ‘fugitives’ from clear justice today.
In the instant case under review, the trial justice found the ex-pension officer guilty of the offence of criminal misappropriation to which he pleaded guilty to, albeit on the advice of his lead counsel. The judgment read by Justice Abubakar Talba, was the maximum sentence prescribed by the penal code for criminal misappropriation which was the crime that the accused was charged of as the prosecution, (EFCC) preferred a charge under section 308/309 of the penal code (Northern states) Federal Provisions Act Cap 345 LFN 1990 and the adjoining section (309) being the punishment for the offence states:
“Whoever commits a crime of misappropriation shall be punished with an imprisonment term which may extent to two years or with an option of fine or both”
In faith with the forgoing provision, since judges cannot create punishments when sitting in chambers, the trial justice acquitted the accused after the payment of a paltry seven hundred and fifty thousand naira (#750,000:00k) which is the legally prescribed fee when exercising an option of fine and this is where the crux of this article comes in. this is where I cannot reconcile the two premises. This is the point where the judiciary is not helping to lighten our ‘burden’. If a person who consents to the misappropriation of sums to the tune of twenty four billion naira or more is allowed to walk free, my mouth is left agape. I wonder how the criminal law will attain its chief aim of sanitizing the society of crime. This is not the first of such and may be, the reason why corruption and its attendant consequences may not leave us anytime soon as we still feather its nest.
The foregoing is just one and the most recent out of many such judgments that have become the benchmark of our judiciary so much that it has brought our judiciary to ridicule in the international window and by implication, legalizing crime and corruption in our society. How can a nation advance further from the manacles of crime and corruption in high places when its principal judicial officers shows no modicum of sympathy towards her dilapidated and worn out criminal justice system? One is left miffed and obfuscated.
There is the need for a spirited effort towards the rebranding and overhauling of our entire criminal justice system at least to make it ‘fearful’ before citizens and politicians who are out to cause us unfair loss and unfair gain to themselves thereby demeaning our social value and causing our reputation in the international scene diplomatic injury.
No nation can attain its dream height when her judiciary is not taking the driver seat in the change wagon. Our principal judicial officers must put hands on deck in turning the tides of our seemingly laughable criminal justice system. Nigeria has come a long way and our judiciary cannot be left out.
If we must make a head way towards eradicating crime to a reasonable extent, much of the work is anchored on our judicial prowess and how much pain the judicial gavel inflicts on those who come under it. Our judiciary must be dragged out of this mud it has found itself. The punishment of the courts should be a little sterner than they are now if anything, to renew the confidence of the common-man in the institution that is meant to be their last hope.
The writer is a law student. He tweets @yung_silky

2 COMMENTS

  1. Let our judiciary as an arm of govt. Also come on board in this journey to justice. Let it be independent. May Allah bring peace, harmony and good leaders in our dear nation, Nigeria. Amin