By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Nigeria has now successfully operated democracy as the official system of government for nearly two decades.
A key aspect of democracy is the rule of law and constitutionalism.
The specific reason why democratic practice is anchored principally on the respect for the rule of law is basically to institutionalize order, justice and fairness.
Also, the application of the supremacy of the rule of law takes away other prospect of the country returning to the state of nature.
Philosophically speaking, the state of nature is a situation whereby brute force takes overriding significance and might becomes right.
Born in 1588, Thomas Hobbes who was educated at Oxford University in England and who died in 1679,is reputable for formulating one of the finest theories on what a state of nature looks like even as he made a case for a strong institutional authority to be inaugurated which will serve as checks and balances.
In “The politics book,” the authors beautifully provided executive summary of Thomas Hobbes’s thoughts on the concept of state of nature.
In his famous work, Leviathan, Hobbes portrays humans as rational agents who seek to maximize power and act according to self-interest because acting otherwise would threaten their self-preservation.
The title, according to these observers, is suggestive of Thomas Hobbes’s views on the state and human nature.
They recalled that Leviathan is the name of the monster in the biblical book of Job, and for Hobbes, the state is the “great Leviathan….Which is but an Artificial man; though of greater stature and strength than the Natural, for whose protection and Defence it was intended and in which the sovereignty is an Artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body”.
The state is thus cruel, artificial construct, but is necessary nonetheless for the sake of the protection of its citizens.
Let us fast-forward our reflection to the key sections and provisions of the Nigerian constitution and we will specifically note that the supreme body of laws in Nigeria summarizes the primary duty of government to be security and welfare of Nigerians.
Specifically, Section 14(2) (b) says; “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.
Importantly, the constitution provides in section 6 that: “ The judicial powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts established, subject as provided by this constitution, for a state”.
The Nigerian laws have ample provisions for the establishment of law enforcement agencies.
The reason for the setting up of these various law enforcement agencies is for them to enforce and implement all the laws that demands that the nation remains orderly and that the fundamental human rights of the citizenry as enshrined in chapter four of the constitution and all other international laws are respected.
These laws and institutional frameworks are put in place for the purposes of bringing alleged perpetrators of crime to criminal trial before the competent court of law for determination.
It is therefore expected that these measures put in place are working optimally so as not to return Nigeria to that situation that can be described as the state of nature as adumbrated by the English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
It is therefore important that for the health and safety of the society, those who are in conflict with the law are made to face the full weight of the law so as to eliminate the chance of Nigeria ever witnessing impunity band anarchy in the society.
Justice M.A Owoade of the then Court of Appeal, Calabar division, had in a scholarly paper he presented at a forum on November 2007 listed out the essence of lawful punishment when meted out to convicted offenders in the society.
He had written that: “To appreciate the problem of sentencing and society, one has to bear in mind that the ultimate aim of the criminal law itself is the protection of the society and the citizens”.
The general purposes of provisions governing the definition of offences “in the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code might be taken as a statement of the proper objectives of the substantive law of crime in a modern legal system.
The purposes are: (a) To forbid and prevent conduct that unjustifiably and inexcusably inflicts or threatens substantial harm to individual or public interest; (b) To subject to public control persons whose conduct indicates that are disposed to commit crime; (c) To safeguard conduct that is without fault from condemnation as criminal;(d) To give fair warning of the nature of the conduct declared to be an offence.
Another purpose of lawful punishment of crime is to differentiate on reasonable grounds between serious and minor offences”.
Relatedly, His Lordship noted that the main purpose of punishment is that of expressing censure and denunciation.
Society’s rejection of the offender’s wrongdoing must be publicly expressed. Sentencing is the most highly visible decision-making state in the Criminal Justice process, he affirmed.
“It is carried out in open court, and in public. It thus contrasts with earlier stages of the decision-making process either by the police or the Attorney-General as prosecutors or by the trail court itself.”
Justice Owoade also stated that the judge seeks to do justice by imposing the sentence the criminal deserves.
“But he also strives to be just in another and sometimes conflicting way-that is by treating the criminal before him equally with others who have an equal degree of moral guilt. And the judges are anxious to avoid the strong sense of grievance which arises from inequality”.
Justice Owoade asserted that sentencing without conformity is a social injustice.
The judge, he said, may impose a sentence greater or less than he thinks the criminal deserves in order to comply with the norm-and this is the more reason why we have to discuss and explain the theories of punishment.
Sadly, due to professional indiscipline, most of the institutions and agencies put in place to carry out the constitutional tasks of law enforcement have failed to carry out their mandate in compliance with global best practices.
The consequence of the failure of law enforcement by these relevant agencies is that Nigerians who fall victim of the many social crime of violent nature have decided to resort to self-help measures such as lynch mob ‘justice’.
The incessant application of mob attacks targeting crime suspects may have gained motivation from the criminal practices of extra-legal killings by virtually all the law enforcement agencies.
The police is principally most guilty of deploying such crude tactics as extra-legal execution of suspects of crime in their custody as a widely tolerated practice. police cells across the Country are seen as killing fields.