Opinion

Levi Obijiofor: Dangers Of Destroying Kidnappers’ Houses

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Ever since the government of Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, introduced a law that allows the government to pull down houses or property of known kidnappers in the state, debate has persisted about that law, in particular the possibility that the houses of innocent people might be destroyed in the process of enforcing the law

Anyone who has been held prisoner against their will, including family members and relatives of kidnap victims, cannot but support the strict law. After all, an abhorrent and unspeakable crime deserves a draconian law to punish the criminals and discourage potential lawbreakers.

Abducting individuals for commercial gratification or indeed for any purpose is a repugnant crime that should never be tolerated in any decent society in which human rights is valued. Kidnapping denies victims their identity as human beings. Victims are held in solitary confinement like war prisoners and denied their right to freedom, their right to move about freely, their right to eat and drink at their convenience, and their right to communicate

Communication is central to human life. It is what distinguishes us from other animals. As Fred S. Siebert, author of the acclaimed but old-fashioned libertarian theory of the press said, human beings differ from lower animals because of their ability to reason, their ability to recollect, their ability to use their experience, and their capacity to make judgments. For these reasons, human beings are incomparable to other species of living organisms.

While, as human beings, we have the ability to communicate, animals cannot. Communication is the foundation of human interaction, the basis of human relationships. If we are denied our right to communicate, we lose our humanity and our right to exist as human beings. It is not for an awkward reason that our rights to food, security, life and shelter are considered important human rights. They are considered human rights because they are tied to our ability to live and survive as human beings. In fact, communication is the oxygen that sustains human abilities. If we are deprived our right to communicate, we are fundamentally living a vegetable existence. It is therefore unthinkable that a coterie of evil men and/or women should conspire to hold their fellow human beings captive for the purpose of collecting ransom.

For these and other reasons, kidnapping should be treated as a high crime against humanity. Kidnapping is getting out of control in the southeast. Surely, the previous Anambra State government was right to persuade the state House of Assembly to pass a law to check the iniquitous crime. People have lost and are still losing their family members to insensitive and cold-hearted kidnappers.

A couple of months ago, I lost to heartless kidnappers a primary school mate of mine who, most recently, served as a commissioner in the government of Peter Obi in Anambra State. What puzzled and angered many people and the family of the victim was that the criminals collected ransom and still snuffed life out of their hostage. By his little frame, they should have known that the guy was incapable of threatening or beating them. He was smallish and he was soft-spoken.

Kidnappers believe that by holding and threatening the life of their victims, family members of the victims would rally frantically to raise the money demanded. It is a callous way to make money. Life is meaningless and holds no value in our society anymore. Kidnappers and robbers kill erratically to make money, to become rich, to show off to their peers and others that they have arrived, and to be venerated by society.

In light of their reprehensible activities, because they cause untold hardships and suffering to their victims and family members, kidnappers should never be allowed to benefit from the proceeds of high crime. It is for this reason that many citizens of Anambra State have expressed total support for the law that authorises the state government to demolish houses and other property owned by kidnappers and their sponsors. Anyone who has suffered directly or indirectly from the criminal activities of kidnappers would tell you that the crime probably deserves the death penalty.

Although I support the spirit behind the government’s radical decision to fight kidnappers in the state, I have some concerns about the law that is targeted at kidnappers and their sponsors. Before you react vigorously and perhaps aggressively to my views, I urge you to read my arguments.

There is a sound reason why the Anambra State government should rethink its decision to demolish houses built by kidnappers. There is always the possibility that a house presumably owned by a kidnapper might in fact be the legitimate property of an innocent and law abiding citizen. If a house is destroyed and evidence emerges that shows there has been a miscarriage of justice, how does the government aim to compensate the victim?

Even in societies in which the death penalty is applied against certain categories of lawbreakers, there have been instances in which innocent people were murdered by the state on account of wrong or false evidence or inaccurate testimonies by dodgy witnesses. It is this danger that the Anambra State government must aim to avoid as it continues to demolish houses and property owned by known kidnappers.

A demolished house is like a broken piece of chinaware. It cannot be repaired. This is the risk in destroying houses supposedly built by criminals known as kidnappers. The question that must always occupy the thoughts and conscience of government officials is: What if, by any chance, the houses marked for demolition actually belonged to someone else other than the kidnappers? How could this human error be avoided? Indeed, is it possible to avoid human error in determining the true owner(s) of every property in Anambra State?

Another concern is whether the law that authorises the Anambra State government to destroy houses built or owned by known kidnappers and their sponsors has been effective in reducing the incidence or in eradicating the crime. It might be a better idea for the government to confiscate and put into alternative uses the houses verified to be owned by kidnappers. This will ensure that the houses remained and could be rented out while the rents collected could be used to repay victims of kidnapping and their families.

While demolishing the houses owned by kidnappers will send a forceful message to the criminals that they can never reap where they did not sow, it will be double tragedy to destroy the houses outright only to discover that an innocent person’s property has been demolished. When kidnappers are denied the houses they built and the government is unable to use the seized property for other purposes, it would amount to double deficit to the government and the kidnappers. The kidnappers most certainly will lose their ill-acquired property on the spot but the government will also lose on the basis that it cannot convert the property into other uses.

I would argue that it is perhaps better to allow the houses to stand so the government can confiscate them and use the property in the best way it deems fit to benefit the state and the citizens. Whenever kidnappers see the houses they constructed with the blood money they collected from their victims, they will shed tears because they would have been denied the right to ownership of the houses. The memory of their ill acquired mansions impounded by the state will trouble them forever. This is a more appropriate punishment that has a higher potential to deter the criminals.

We must also keep in mind that kidnappers are fast thinkers. They will explore alternative pathways they can use to safeguard their ill-acquired money so that the government will not be able to touch their money. For example, they can move their ill-gotten money to other investment portfolios or other lucrative ventures than home ownership or real estate. They might even decide to invest the money in fixed term deposits in bank accounts that will not be detected or seized by the government.

Some people have asked whether the punishment against kidnappers in Anambra State is severe enough to achieve its aim. Consider public execution that was used during the military government of Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon to put an end to marketing of hard and illicit drugs by the merchants of the unlawful business.

To understand whether the law against drug traffickers was effective at the time, we need to ask and answer one fundamental question. Did the death penalty stop or scare hardened drug couriers from carrying on with their trade? Many people would respond to this question with the view that death penalty did not bring to an end the trade in illicit drug dealing in Nigeria. In fact, some would argue that the law was counter-productive as it hardened the criminals. It might sound a bit weird but it has been reported that during public executions of people convicted of trafficking in prohibited drugs, some members of the viewing public had their pockets and wallets emptied of their contents by sticky-fingered pickpockets.

The death penalty did not stop the business in hard drugs because the traffickers and their godfathers believed they could always find ways to conceal the drugs. Of course, as they found out on the execution stakes, their newfound strategies were not as foolproof as they assumed. Drug traffickers were misled to believe that they will never be caught.

 

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Article written by Levi Obijiofor

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