The Settlement of a Criminal Case is a Crime. Daily Law Tips (Tip 671) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)
An offence is what the law says is an offence. Irrespective of tradition and religion, it the law in Nigeria, that determines what is an offence. Hence, certain actions and inactions that may be morally acceptable may be legally unacceptable (crimes) and vice versa. An example is “adultery”, in the southern part of Nigeria, adultery is not an offence/crime even though it is morally wrong. Morality further affects the way, victims and their supporters react and report crimes to law enforcement agencies. Often times, when a crime happens in a family setting, most people mistake such for a mere family matter, thereby expecting law enforcement agencies to stay away. This is part of the reason most cases of domestic violence and sexual assault are never reported rather they are illegally settled in religious houses, family meetings and kings’ palaces. This circumstance raises me questions; can a criminal case be settled? Can a victim of a crime, forgive and stop the prosecution of a suspect? Can an offender be prosecuted contrary to the wishes of the Victim? In answering the questions, this work will reveal the position of settlement of criminal cases in Nigerian law.
What is a Crime in Nigeria:
In Nigeria, the National Assembly (federal legislature) makes federal laws over federal issues while the various states Houses of Assembly (state legislators) make state laws over issues that are not federal issues and the local governments legislatures make bye-laws over issues that are not federal or state issues. In making laws, the legislatures create rights, duties, offences and punishments. Once a law creates an offence (declares any action or inaction as an offence), performing or attempting to perform such prohibited actions/inactions is a crime. In summary, no single action or inaction is an offence in Nigeria, until a written law declares such action/inaction as an offence. For example, buying a phone is not an offence since there is no law against purchase of phones, but hitting someone with a phone is an offence, because violence is an offence in the laws of Nigeria. Also, it is not an offence to be a member of multiple societies but it is an offence to be a member of a secret society.
Crime, the Victim and the Government:
A crime is web that affects three major persons; the Victim, the Government, the Public and the Offender. In formation of a nation (Nigeria), all persons in Nigeria submitted their rights and powers to the governments of Nigeria at all levels, to provide and protect them. So, the power to retaliate and fight an offender, having been submitted by all persons to the government, is now being enforced by government on behalf of all persons. Where there is an offence, government takes up the case, investigates it and prosecutes it. Government also gives support and assurances to the victim of a crime and the entire public. The offender has government to fight with and not the victim of his crime. So, whether the victim of a crime approves or disapproves investigation and prosecution of a suspected offender, the government has a duty and power to investigate and prosecute according to law.
Forgiveness of an offender by a victim does not waive the powers of government to prosecute an offender. For every crime there is a punishment and an offender deserves the fruit of his offence and must never be denied an opportunity of serving his/her punishments. A victim can at best be a witnesses and never the alpha and omega of a criminal case. Simply put, a victim lacks the power to investigate, prosecute or suspend prosecution of an offender. Plea Bargain, Restitution, Compensation and any other invention in criminal law that resembles settlement is not a settlement rather a sequence for fast track criminal justice.
Punishment for Settling a Crime:
It is a crime to conceal, cover or frustrate an investigation or prosecution of an offence. Also, it is an offence to damage, destroy or change any item that would be used as an evidence/exhibit in any investigation or prosecution. This offence is punishable with imprisonment for not more than 3 years or fine of not more than Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N500,000.00) or both. It is the duty of all persons to report any offences to law enforcement agencies.
Criminal offences are not family matters, even when it happens in a family, community, team, workplace, religious center, club or school. A victim and his/her supporters/family cannot determine whether an offender should be prosecuted or not, it is a design for law enforcement agencies and government. An offender can be prosecuted against the wish of a victim. Forgiveness, restitution, repair of damage or return of stolen property (undoing of a crime) unlike in civil cases, does not resolve, pardon or waive a crime from being prosecuted. The outcome of an offence that awaits an offender is prosecution.
Kindly note that the law creating the above offence is operational in Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Similar laws are now operational in Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Benue, Cross River, Kaduna, FCT, and Plateau states. Soon, more States will enact similar laws, as we encourage more states to do so and condemn violence. However it is advised that the punishment stated in the VAPP Act be made to be minimum punishment instead of maximum punishment to avoid releasing offenders with mere slaps on wrists. Click to read my earlier works on criminal justice in Nigeria.
- Sections 4, 6, 36, 214, 215 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
- Sections 7, 47 and 48 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 and similar laws across states in Nigeria.
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