Criminal Law

Offences and Punishments in Nigeria

Have you ever wondered how the court of law arrives at its decision on the type of punishment to mete out on a suspect that has been pronounced guilty of an offence? Few days ago, I read on the news of how a suspect convicted of cyber fraud was sentenced to a one year term imprisonment or an option of payment of fine of one million naira after having his ten million naira car forfeited to the government. His accomplice, who received part of the proceeds of the fraud into her account, was sentenced to a term of three years in prison or an option of five hundred thousand naira fine. How ridiculous! You think? Well, I thought same too and this further heightened my interest to take a quick look into classification of offence under the Nigerian Law.

What is an Offence?
Section 2 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 states that an act or omission which renders the person doing the act or making the omission liable to punishment under this Code, or under any Act, or law, is called an offence. A crime is regarded as offence under the law if it is recognized as such under the law and the penalty is prescribed thereof; section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as ammended) This is different from violation of mere moral instructions even though these two cannot be divorced.

Beyond the general purpose of punishment and trial, offences are also divided into various classes based on convenience, purpose of research and exposition. As the Criminal Code Act classification is with respect to punishment, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, in its interpretation section, looks at trial as another basis of categorization.

Classification Under the Criminal Code Act CAP 38, LFN, 2004
To determine the degree or type of punishment, the Criminal Code Act in its third section has divided offences into three kinds, namely, felonies, misdemeanors, and simple offences
A felony is any offence which is declared by law to be a felony, or is punishable, without proof of previous conviction, with death or with imprisonment for three years or more. 
 A misdemeanor is any offence which is declared by law to be a misdemeanor, or is punishable by imprisonment for not less than six months, but less than three years.  
While simple offences are all offences, other than felonies and misdemeanors.

Classification Under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015
This enactment of the National Assembly takes a further step to categorize offences based on whether it is indictable or non-indictable. The former means whether such an offence requires that an information be filed against it at the High Court while the latter presupposes that conviction can be done summarily, without going through the procedure of filing an information or the technicalities and bureaucracy of regular courts of record.

Section 494 of the Act defines an ‘indictable offence’ to mean one upon which conviction may be punished by:
(a)a term of imprisonment exceeding two years or
(b)a fine exceeding N40,000.00
(c)such offence is not declared by the law creating it to be punishable on summary conviction.
Conversely, it is safe to presume that a non-indictable offence is one upon which conviction may be punished by:
(a)a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or
(b)a fine not exceeding N40,000.00
(c)such offence is declared by the law creating it to be punishable on summary conviction.

The legal importance of classifying offences assists parties in identifying the court that has jurisdiction over a matter, thereby saving the time and resources of the court and parties that would have been wasted in the process of gallivanting. It is also a systematic order of adminstering justice. From the foregoing, how would you classify the offences painted in the introductory paragraph based on the type of sentence given?


About Favour Fasanya

The author is a lover of creative writing and legal literature. Her interests span into the world of art and literature. She sees writing as a strong tool of expression and is willing to wield it well. As a budding legal practitioner, she believes strongly that she has a unique contribution to make in her own sphere. Her love for literature is not limited to the legal world. She is receptive to learning!