Nigeria: Repercussions of Toothless Deterrence


The recent outcry over the reportage of several child rape cases in northern Nigeria within unusually short intervals has highlighted the rampancy of the crime that mostly goes undetected or unreported, even when uncovered by chance, on the pretext of warding off the stigma inexcusably attached to being a rape victim in the society.

In addition to that, the absence of appropriate deterrence in the purported punishments handed out to the relatively very few convicted child rapists emboldens other child rapists out there to carry on their crimes. Besides, the effectively institutionalised culture of impunity in the country, which undermines the application of justice has also already bastardized punishment in the country and indeed rendered its supposed deterrence toothless.

That, of course, explains the prevalence of capital crimes in the country, which, in turn, explains why, due to its sheer frequency, a typical incident of a capital crime in the country hardly attracts media headlines except when it's particularly dramatic or particularly brutal. And even when it does, it only, if at all, provokes a momentary condemnation from who cares and, in some cases, the relevant authorities' purported commitment to tracking down the perpetrators while the victim's relatives helplessly leave everything to God.

In fact, people become curious only when they notice a relative decrease in reported cases of, say, murder, robbery, rape, kidnapping, and banditry in a while. Even in the aftermath of a massacre incident that is recurrently perpetrated against communities, authorities and security agencies only respond with some measure of seriousness according to the amount of public outcry it provokes, which is often short-lived. And whatever measures the security agencies deploy ostensibly to capture or kill the perpetrators and prevent recurrence lose momentum in no time while the public outcry dissipates in the face of other equally or even more shocking incidents elsewhere, or gets overshadowed by the frustrating reality of life in the country.

That has been the case in the unnecessarily protracted war against Boko Haram terrorists and the inexcusably lingering war against the marauding bandits in the northern part of the country. Interestingly, I, for one, no longer celebrate any purported military victory in a battle against Boko Haram terrorists or bandits, having known from the past experiences that the momentum would most probably never be maintained and that the same purportedly rescued or protected communities or other vulnerable communities in the area or elsewhere remain vulnerable to more raids and massacres at the hands of bandits and/or Boko Haram terrorists; besides, that scenario has always played out in reality. I, therefore, reserve my celebration until when the bandits and the terrorists are crushed for good, or at least until when they are irreversibly contained.

After all, there is hardly any cause for celebration in a country where more than 99% of the population is vulnerable, security-wise, in the sense that apart from those who enjoy adequate state-provided security protection among top former and incumbent political officeholders, top civil servants, other top government officials, the super-rich and other highly privileged individuals who collectively and hardly constitute 1% of the population, everybody effectively counts on God-engineered coincidental circumstances to evade harm in the face of an imminent threat.

Although perpetrators of capital crimes would continue to get away with their crimes, thanks to the deep-rooted culture of impunity in the country, the culture of unjustifiable reluctance to execute the punishments duly handed out to the convicted ones on account of some flimsy technicalities would equally continue to bastardise the whole process and indeed undermine the supposed commitment to tackling capital crimes in the country.

Therefore, in the face of the growing audacity of the perpetrators of capital crimes in Nigeria, the authorities should get serious enough in, at least, their handling of the cases of the convicted ones by reintroducing public execution of duly condemned capital crime convicts to serve as deterrence to anyone committing or toying with the idea of committing a similar crime or any capital crime for that matter. This will go along away in reducing the rate of capital crimes in the country.

It's indeed ironical, after all, that capital punishment is no longer carried out in a capital crime-infested country like Nigeria. It must have been decades since capital punishment was carried out in the country.

Even in countries where execution is carried out with a few selected relatives of the victim and the convict in attendance like the United States, the shock generated by the news suggests the effectiveness of the measure. This explains why the measure is more effective in countries where execution is carried out publicly like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where even the method per se, which is beheading with a sword, is particularly terrifying, and hence particularly deterrent. Interestingly, having witnessed a few occasions of public executions in the Kingdom, I gave a highlight of the protocol in "Drug Trafficking and the Saudi sword" (Daily Trust, Friday, April 19, 2019).

Though capital crimes occur and would indeed continue to occur, many individuals, apparently, quietly refrain from it. Thanks to the deterrence inherent in execution, especially in public.

While many Nigerians would certainly love to witness the public execution of convicted Boko Haram terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and armed robbers and rapists, especially child rapists, the exercise will definitely deter many uncaptured and potential culprits out there.

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