Criminal Law, The sole objective of the criminal law is to bring the offender to book and meet adequate sanctions for violating the law. The punishment ranges from prison term, payment of fines, flogging to outright execution of the accused person. Save for monetary payments in civil action, none of these sanctions can apply.
Section 36(12) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 states that “Subject as otherwise provided by this constitution, a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law; and in this subsection, a law refers to an Act of the National Assembly or of a Law of a State, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the provision of a law.
This entails that unwritten customary law offences cannot be treated as crimes. See the case of Aoko V. Fagbemi (1961) 1 ANLR 80; where adultery though regarded as offence under customary law was held not to be a crime because the law has not so provided.
Furthermore, an act regarded under customary law as normal, sound and unimpeachable may under statutory law be declared criminal and treated as such. In Southern states of Nigeria, where the Criminal Code is operational criminal law may further be categorized as simple offence, misdemeanor, and felony.
Criminal Law – Classifications of offence
A simple offence is an offence, which is neither a felony nor misdemeanor, and any offence, which is punishable by imprisonment for less than six months.
A misdemeanor is an 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.
A felony is an offence declared by law to be a felony or is punishable, without proof of previous conviction with death or imprisonment for three years or more.
In the Northern states of Nigeria which apply the Penal Code rather than the Criminal Code, this classification does not exist although the resultant effect of this classification to some extent are observed in the Northern states.
In the South, there is a dual effect of the classification – procedural and substantive. Procedurally, a private person’s power of arrest is greater in the case of a felony than in misdemeanor.
Some laws provide that a private person can arrest any person whom he reasonably suspects of having committed a felony by day or by night, but prohibits him from doing so if the offence is a misdemeanor unless such a misdemeanor was committed at night.
Furthermore, misdemeanor and simple offences are bailable offences as of right, but a court may refuse bail if there exists a good reason for doing so. This is not the case with a felony where the law circumscribes the powers of a court to grant bail. Other than felony or felonies punishable with death the court has got to grant bail, as a matter of law.