What Communities should do about Crimes and Criminals in Nigeria

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By Olumide Toyinbo

Crime is an area of life that nations and their citizenry must deal with. Crime is an act or omission forbidden by law and strongly considered as an anti-social behaviour. Why crime exists or why people commit crimes has been subjected to inexhaustible theories. Prominent theories are biological, sociological and psychological theories. Biological explanations of crime assume that some people are born criminals and that they are physiologically distinct from non-criminals. Beyond the physical features of the body as concentrated on by early proponents of the theory, contemporary approaches focus on biochemical conditions, neurophysiological conditions, genetic inheritance or abnormality and intelligence.

The sociological study of crime has focused either on the social structural factors (e.g. poverty and social disorganisation) believed to generate criminal behaviour or on the arenas (e.g. family, schools and peer groups) in which the socialisation of conventional or criminal values and behaviour are affected. The theory suggests that crime is a function of neighbourhood dynamics and not due to individual actors or their actions. Psychological view approaches the task of explaining criminal behaviour by focusing on an individual’s personality. Each of the approaches in place has gaps; hence, none is absolute or super. Regardless, crime remains a menace and should be suppressed by the relevant institutions empowered by law.

The presence of crime is a threat to the security and welfare of the people. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides in Section 14(2) (b) that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. To this end, various arms, levels and agencies of government have come together to form a superstructure towards ensuring that deviants are punished and their acts assuaged in the society. Each independent structure works together to form the superstructure known as the criminal justice system. The act in which the superstructure is steered towards achieving its goals which are: justice for the suspect, victims and the society can be termed the administration of criminal justice system.

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The community is a crucial pillar in the administration of criminal justice. Crimes are being committed in societies and it is commited by members of a particular society. From the time a crime is committed, to the time of investigation, prosecution, conviction and post-correctional, the society has onus placed on it. The more criminals perpetrate their acts and walk scot-free in the community, the more they find recruits willing to join in committing crimes; hence, justice finds no place in such a community. The saying- “If you see something, say something”, comes to play.

The community has to cry out to law enforcement agencies when a crime occurs, when criminals are on the run or harboured in their vicinities. Section 20 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) allows for arrest made by a private person for offences the Police are entitled to arrest without a warrant. The Act in Section 23 further states that persons arrested in that manner shall be promptly handed over to the Police. The referenced sections of the ACJA make the idea of community policing statutorily introduced by the Police Act in Sections 113 to 119 of the Police Act 2020 a laudable step towards an efficient criminal justice system.

Members of the Community should be generous in giving the Police full and fair details of the crime committed and persons involved in the criminal situation when they have the information during investigation. The Police should prove themselves worthy of the Public’s trust. Politicising criminal matters is utterly odious. The Government should greatly minimise their influence on the criminal justice administration and allows its agencies to operate in good faith.

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With solid synergy between the Police and the Public, the criminal justice system is made more effective. Information gathered via police investigation and potentially with the community’s help makes prosecution in Court smoothened. Such aware members of the community should not also shy away from testifying in court. This will grant justice to the community, the victim, and even the suspect in all cases. When found guilty of the offence based on evidence and punished commensurately, it sends a warning to other members of the community, especially the younger ones that crime committal is a way to rot.

After sentencing, convicts are withdrawn from society and handed over to the appropriate correctional institution for custodial or non-custodial reprimand or both. Upon completing the terms of the sentence, the convicts get released to society. When released, such persons sentenced are deemed reformed and rehabilitated. It should be a norm that society does not stigmatise ex-convicts; instead, they should help them get reabsorbed into society. There should be no discrimination; the community should help them settle down and have a livelihood. If the community makes their post-correctional reengineering difficult, they get hardened in their criminal ways or depressed and may run into psychological issues if not swiftly helped. The criminal justice system in Nigeria should put more emphasis on reintegrating offenders back into society as law-abiding citizens after they have served their sentences in accordance with the letter of the law rather than just punishing them alone.

Olumide Toyinbo holds a law degree. He can be reached via toyinboolumide@gmail.com.

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