Criminal Law

Liability for Neglecting to Prevent a Felony under the Nigerian Criminal Law

Introduction
It is trite that the duties of police men and other similar Law enforcement agencies in Nigeria includes preventing, to the best of their ability, the commission of any offence. Moreover, The Law imposes duties on everyone to prevent crime. Section 515 of the Criminal code Act. states that 
‘Every person who, knowing that a person designs to commit or is committing a felony, fails to use all reasonable means to prevent the commission or completion thereof, is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for two years.’ 


A number of questions has been raised as to the real intention of the draft-men, the mischief this provision intends to cure and the true extent of this duty on an ordinary citizen. This Article shall answer these questions and shall differentiate between the liability under Section 515, accessory after the fact under section 10 and other similar Miscellaneous Liability under the Criminal Code Act. 


Liability for Neglecting to Prevent a Felony under the Nigerian Criminal Code Act

As stated above, the Nigerian Criminal Code Act provides for two years imprisonment for every person who, knowing that a person designs to commit or is committing a felony, fails to use all reasonable means to prevent the commission or completion of the offense. There are two key element that must be present before one may be held culpable under section 515. 


Firstly, the person must have known of the design to commit a felony or that a felony was in the process of being committed. This simply shows that there must have been evidence to show that he/she was aware that the crime is going to be committed whether in his/her vicinity or not. 


Secondly, the person must have been capable to use all reasonable means to stop the offence whose commission he/she is aware of. Albeit the court is yet to settle what constitutes ‘all reasonable means of prevention’. Reasonable means could mean taking charge of the situation by citizen exercising his or her rights to arrest or reporting to the necessary authorities charged with such responsibility within a reasonable time. Where a person neglects this duty, the law considers such as an irresponsibility and a punishable offence.


In the case of Benedict Obumselu v Commissioner of police A student was persuaded by his girl friend to lend his room for an abortion operation. She died as a result and he was charged under Section 515. The court held that he was guilty since he failed to use all reasonable means to prevent the commission of the offence and having had requisite knowledge. The court further held that the poof of the commission of the felony is not an essential ingredient of the offence and that so long as the appellant still had it in his power to take any steps to prevent the commission of the felony and the appellant knew of it, it is sufficient to warrant his conviction.


It can be inferred from the wide extent of liability under section 515 that even where no offence is committed eventually, the one who neglects to prevent the person designing to commit the felony, by using reasonable means, can bear liability independently. 


However, in the case where mere presence at the scene of the crime does not amount to assistance one may be liable, if charged, under section 515. For instance, In R v Akpunonu the wife stood by her husband while he buried their new born twins alive. It was held that the wife did not do anything to aid the commission of the offence as such she is not a principal offender. In my opinion, I believe the wife could have been convicted under section 515 of the criminal code for neglect to prevent a felony. The actus reus under section 515 is in fact an omission to act.


The Differences Between the Liability Under Section 515, Accessory After the Fact Under Section 10 and other Similar Miscellaneous Liability Under the Criminal Code Act.
 
The difference between the liability under Section 515 and accessory after the fact under section 10 of the Criminal code is clear. A person who receives or assists another who to his knowledge, is guilty of an offence, in order to enable him to escape punishment, is said to become an accessory after the fact to the offence. An accessory after the fact knows that a crime has been committed and helps the offender to escape arrest or punishment. In R v Enweoye it was held against one of the defendants, who helped to dispose a body after a murder, to be an assistance that amounts to him being an accessory after the fact. 


Interestingly, The law says ‘A wife does not become an accessory after the fact to an offence of which her husband is guilty by receiving or assisting him in order to enable him to escape punishment; nor by receiving or assisting, in her husband’s presence and by his authority, another person who is guilty of an offence in the commission of which her husband has taken part, in order to enable that other person to escape punishment; nor does a husband become accessory after the fact to an offence of which his wife is guilty by receiving or assisting her in order to enable her to escape punishment”. The rationale behind this exception is not far fetched it is based on the emotions which may arise due to love, compassion and fear.


Aside the exception stated above, some of the differences include the Actus reus for accessory after the fact is receipt or assistance after the commission of a crime.For instance, Reception of a person in one’s house, in a way of helping him escape punishment knowing the person is guilty of an offence, alone will suffice. On the other hand, The actus reus under section 515 is in fact an omission to act. Also, it can be distilled that Section 10 arises only after the commission of an offence.  


Furthermore, this elements of offence under s. 515 above mentioned is what also differentiates it from other miscellaneous liabilities like Compounding felonies, which is an offence of either agreeing not to prosecute a crime that one knows has been committed or agreeing to hamper the prosecution and Perverting Justice under Section 126 where a person conspires with another to obstruct prevent, pervert, or defeat the course of justice.

Conclusion
From the above, we can conclude that this duty as promulgated by the Section515 of the Criminal code Act is not so fierce albeit important. As the Law seemed to have extended duties to prevent crime, which is believed by most Nigerians to be the sole responsibility of Law enforcement agencies, to every ordinary citizen too.  As such, Ordinary citizens play, and must continue to play, a crucial role in spotting, reporting, and warding off crime.

About the Author

Samson Dada is a goal driven, vibrant, team oriented graduate of law from University of Calabar and completed his Law School in Abuja Campus of Nigerian Law School. He has keen interest in the practice of Corporate Law, Taxation Law, Technology Law and Policy Making in Nigeria especially concerning persons with disability. He is also a professional photographer and owns a startup NGO for the advantage of persons with disability.