Some lawyers in Lagos on Wednesday described the suggestion of death penalty for illegal oil bunkering as unrealistic, in view of global changes.
Reacting to the call by Senate President, David Mark, that oil thieves and pipeline vandals be handed the death penalty, the lawyers said that such a step would not deter the offenders.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that Mark had made the suggestion on 27 March, while inaugurating the Senate Joint Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
According to him, the death penalty will serve as a deterrent to oil thieves.
Mr. Mike Agbamuche, a constitutional lawyer, said that calling for the death penalty for oil theft was like making a mountain out of a mole hill.
He said that at present, the country was faced with serious challenges such as insecurity and the economy that required urgent attention.
Agbamuche expressed regret that no realistic move had so far been made to tackle the situation.
“Death penalty should not be freely dispensed in a country where the error margin that could lead to the miscarriage of justice is so commonplace.
“What moral justification can there be for executing oil thieves, when none of the terrorists and corrupt bank and public officers have even been incarcerated in custody, for a reasonable time.
“These are people who constitute more havoc to the country’s economy and yet they walk on the streets as free men.
“To me, the suggestion of the death penalty for oil theft is most annoying and unreasonable,” Agbamuche said
A lawyer and social critic, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said that the death penalty in any part of the world can never be a deterrence to criminal activities.
He said that in Nigeria, offences like murder, armed robbery, coup, or mutiny are offences that carry the death penalty, but till date, armed robbery operations were on the increase.
“Abating oil theft is not a matter of sentences and convictions.
“Those involved in illegal oil bunkering are mostly beyond the law in Nigeria because they are highly placed,” Adegboruwa said.
According to him, ‘empty legislation’ will not curb incidences of illegal oil bunkering, unless there is the will power by government to clamp down on powerful oil thieves.
He said that the remedy for a crime of this nature would be to strengthen existing institutions, such as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy, to monitor and stop bunkering.
“It is common knowledge that most of these big oil thieves utilise the proceeds of their illegal acts to even fund campaigns and the election of some political big wigs.
“So the fight should begin from empowering the requisite institutions that will in turn put up resistance to the activities of these dubious Nigerians.
“Their duties must, however, be carried out without interference,” he said.
Also, another lawyer, Mr. Spurgeon Ataene, described the suggestion of the death sentence as a “farce.”
“Government should focus on good governance, create employment for the teeming youths, and ensure equitable allocation of oil blocks in the country.
“Nigeria is not a killing nation; let there be adequate security around the pipelines and oil depots, so as to mitigate vandalism and illegal bunkering to its minimum,” he said.
According to Ataene, the UN and the world generally is gradually moving away from the death penalty, so Nigeria should move with changing circumstances.