By Raphael Christopher –
A senior member of Enugu Bar.
In the past few weeks, we have all witnessed the breakdown of law and order in our various states and the consequent loss of lives, destruction of public monuments, infrastructures, properties and the wanton looting and criminal damages to property committed by hoodlums.
The aftermath have been particularly painful for those innocent Nigerians who have suffered loss of their livelihoods, life savings and means of income due to the actions of the hoodlums and miscreants in the public arena. We have also seen the riots and the assaults on police officers, police stations and properly constituted public officers and authorities.
In such a situation, it behoves us to examine current legal provisions relating to miscellaneous offences against public authority provisions in the criminal codes of every state in Nigeria and consider whether they are fit for purpose. I am referring to the miscellaneous offences against public authority provisions in the criminal code statute books of every state in Nigeria.
By way of back grounding and contextual analysis, It is my view that all legislations, law statutes and provisions should be only be made if they are necessary, effective, clear, coherent and accessible to all. I believe that the content of the law, the legislation, its architectures, its language and its accessibility – and the links in between them should always be made crystal clear and articulated properly with no ambiguity.
One can, using the above yardstick, see immediately that most legislative provisions in our country and in particular the provisions of the above criminal code statutes in its various forms in all the states are lacking and suffer from the following defects:
- Their provisions are failing to achieve its stated policy aims and are not clear enough
- The Language used is very obtuse and does not make the facts founding the offence clear so law enforcement agents can identify and draft appropriate pleadings.
- It has unforeseen and undesirable side effect and sometimes Its severity of punishment is out of line with policy aims and principles of restorative justice.
- It is not wide enough or broad enough to allow for future amendments as underlying policy and public culture evolves.
- There are lots of superfluous language and words which is needless to keeping original intentions intact
I would use the Section 170 of the Enugu State Miscellaneous Offences against Public Authority as a representative example for every state in Nigeria ( for example the same provisions in the Lagos state criminal code is numbered as s113 to s123 of Chapter 13 – therefore each state of Nigeria criminal codes and section arrangements will be different but broadly they will all have the same offences and provisions).
Further to the above, I start my proposal for reform by asking that the first take is to first change the format of section 170 ( s113 to s123 in Lagos state criminal code – each state section arrangements will be different but broadly have the same offences and provisions) and reframing that section by titling that section as “Definitions” section but keep the wordings and make it the over arching definition applying to the entire section. This will give much needed clarity and form to the rest of this section. I further propose a reduction in the length of imprisonment in line with other similar offences. Misdemeanours by their very nature should be limited to 12 months imprisonment and or a fine.
Secondly and generally, I propose a new practice, across the board in every new legislative drafts and law of now first stating the offences on the headings before detailing its constituting facts underneath . This will make it easier for Judges, Lawyers and court users to find the said provisions and to refer to in court and pleadings. Thirdly, I propose that S.171 be increased in its scope of coverage of class to include parastatals and courts to ensure consistency in coverage regarding public authorities. Fourthly, I would propose that S.172 – 178 be more clearly defined with removal of redundant phraseology and its coverage be tightened and meanings enunciated more clearly.
I now present my suggested amendments for consideration for a redraft of these sections in every state of Nigeria criminal codes. This same principles are applicable to other sections of our criminal code and can be applied to change or amend them.
CHAPTER 17 MISCELLANEOUS OFFENCES AGAINST PUBLIC AUTHORITY
False verified statements
In this section—
A verified statement means—
(a) a statement made on oath or under another sanction that may by law be substituted for an oath; or
(b) a statement verified by solemn declaration or affirmation.
(2) A declaration includes a statement and an affidavit.
False verified statements
- A person who makes a verified statement that the person knows is false in a material fact or particular in respect of any certificate or declaration in a matter of execution of a sentence of death commits a crime, and is liable to a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment.
- A person who makes a declaration that the person knows is false in a material fact or particular, whether or not the person is permitted or required by law to make the declaration, before a person authorised by law to take or receive declarations, commits a crime and is liable to a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment.
Resisting Public Officers
- Any person who in any way or manner obstructs or resists any public officer engaged in the discharge or attempted discharge of the duties of their office imposed on them by any Law, Act or Statute, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 2 years.
Refusal by Public officer to perform duty
- Any person who, whilst being employed in the public service, court, tribunal, public service organisations and parastatals perversely, without lawful excuse, refuses or omits, to do any act which it is their duty to do by virtue of any Law, Act or Statute is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for 2 years or fine.
Refusal by a Law Enforcement Officer to suppress a riot
- Any person who is a Law Enforcement officer, with notice of a riot in their neighbourhood or place within their jurisdiction, without lawful excuse, refuses or omits, to do any act to suppress the riot in their neighbourhood or place within their jurisdiction, where which it is his or her duty to do by virtue of any Law, Act or Statute is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for 2 years or fine.
Refusal by a person to suppress a riot
- Any person, with reasonable notice of a riot in their neighbourhood or place where they are located at the relevant time, without lawful excuse, refuses or omits, to assist a Law Enforcement Officer in suppressing the riot in their neighbourhood or place where they are located at the relevant time, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment, and or fine.
Refusal by a person to help a Law Enforcement Officer
- Any person, given reasonable notice by a Law Enforcement Officer that they are required to help the Law Enforcement Officer in arresting any person, or in preserving the peace and protecting property, without lawful excuse, refuses or omits, to comply or do so, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment or fine.
Refusal by a person to obey a reasonable order given by authorised personnel
- Any person who, without reasonable excuse, refuses or disobeys any lawful order issued to them by any person authorised under any Law, Act or Statute is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for 12 months or fine, such penalty being exclusive of any other penalties prescribed under any other Law, Act or Statute.
Commission of acts forbidden by law
- Any person who, without reasonable excuse, the proof of which lies on the person, does any act which the person is, by the provisions of any Law, Act, Court orders or statute in force in Enugu State, forbidden to do, or omits to do any act which the person is, by the provisions of any Law, Act, Court orders or statute in force in Enugu State, required to do, is guilty of a misdemeanour, unless some mode of proceeding against the person for such disobedience is expressly provided by statute, and is liable to imprisonment for 12 months or fine, such penalty being exclusive of any other penalties prescribed under any other Law, Act, Court orders or Statute.
The purpose of the above is to encourage every reader with responsibility for legislation in every state in Nigeria to make use of the information I have provided herein to help their individual states to apply the same principles I have set out herein to the sections of its criminal code relating to miscellaneous offences against public authority so that there is uniformity and the provisions are fit for purpose and so we can together reform our laws to help foster the maintenance of law and order in the various states and ensure peace for all.
I hope that the above has helped to kickstart the process of reform of our Nigerian Legal system laws and statutes and since these principles are transferable, they can also be used in any new legislations being proposed or drafted in any state in Nigeria. It is my fervent belief that our laws and statutes needs reform to make its intents and purposes clear and unambiguous which will lead to our citizens become much clearer as to their duties and the Judicial process enhanced and the image of the administration of justice more clearly enhanced to meet the needs of the 21st century law and order especially in these current pandemic.
Thank you for your time.
Raphael Christopher is a Lawyer and member of EnuguBar and can be reached at email@example.com