In Nigeria, the governor of the southeastern state of Abia says he intends to apply the death penalty for anyone convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery.
Chief Theodore Orji’s announcement comes amid a rise in insecurity in Abia and despite pleas from Amnesty International and other human rights groups to rescind his decision. The groups call the death penalty “extreme” and are proposing a life in prison sentence instead.
VOA reporter Chinedu Offor is on assignment in Nigeria. From Umuahia the capital of Abia State, he says, “The law was passed by the State House of Assembly. And a harsh penalty, according to government officials, became necessary because every measure taken to reduce or prevent kidnapping has thus far not worked.”
A growing business
The state government recently declared an amnesty for anyone who turned in their weapons, which are often used in kidnappings. ‘That has not helped the situation any,” says Offor.
He says kidnapping has practically become a business in Abia state, with ransoms as low as (US) $100 or $200 being demanded.
“The government says since everything else has failed, then it’s about time we treated this matter as a…serious offense because of the wide implications of making the state ungovernable,” says Offor.
Besides endangering the state’s citizens, officials say the violence could drive away investors.
The kidnappings in Abia State are believed directly related to the many abductions reported elsewhere in the oil-rich Niger Delta, as militants try to avoid the heavy military presence elsewhere in the region.
“Abia is actually one of the Niger Delta States. It borders Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State and it also borders Bayelsa (State),” he says, “Those are the key Niger Delta states, but Abia is also an oil producing state.”
Offor says Chief Orji told him he has asked for reinforcement of both military and police. “He says he’s going to win this battle and that already the presence of heavily armed security men is making a big difference in the state in terms of security.”
The VOA reporter says Chief Orji “told me that the first job of a governor is the security of lives and property. That is what he swore to uphold. He says he has tried the amnesty route; (he) has also tried meetings and reconciliation. That has not worked. He says it’s about time he deploys the full strength of the government to convince people that he’s really taking his job seriously.”
No immediate executions
The death penalty for kidnapping or armed robbery is not expected to take immediate effect. The judicial process for someone accused of the crimes could take several years to complete. And there’s always the possibility the governor could commute the death sentence to life in prison.