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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 76509 Find in a Library
Title: Criminal Responsibility for Homicide in Nigeria and Supernatural Beliefs
Journal: International and Comparative Law Quarterly  Volume:29  Dated:(January 1980)  Pages:112-131
Author(s): L O Aremu
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 20
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Annotation: Proper application of the Nigerian rules of criminal responsibility and possible legal defenses in cases resulting from belief in the supernatural are examined.
Abstract: Such cases frequently involve killings of or by supposed witches through or because of supernatural powers. Belief in the supernatural, especially in witchcraft, still exercises a tremendous hold on the mind of the average African. Colonial courts refused to recognize supernatural beliefs, setting up a conflict between traditional African cultural beliefs and the new order based on foreign common law principles. The existing test for reasonableness thus fails to recognize the cultural norms existing in Nigerian society, which regard belief in witchcraft as reasonable. As a result, parties accused of killing a person whom they believed to be exercising powers of evil against them are considered criminally liable. The various types of homicides occurring as a consequence of belief in witchcraft require different defenses under existing law. Cases in which a supposed witch kills a person in the belief that he or she was ordered to do so can be defended on the grounds of insanity, irresistible impulse, or insane delusions. In cases where a person is killed for exercising witchcraft powers or being a supernatural creature, arguments for the defense may be based on the principles of reasonable mistake, self-defense, or provocation. In cases in which a person is believed to have killed another by invocation of supernatural powers, the court must take into consideration whether the threat of using supernatural powers aroused such fear that it actually contributed to the death of the victim. Cases in which a person who has been accused of exercising witchcraft kills the accuser can be defended with the argument of provocation. Cases in which a person kills another as a result of the belief that the victim is bewitched must be considered similar to manslaughter cases. Provocation is the most feasible defense when a person who has been accused of witchcraft kills a third party. Charges of attempted crimes involving the use of magic should not be invalidated. The Nigerian Criminal Code should be altered so that the concept of criminal responsibility reflects the majority belief in the supernatural. The article includes 102 footnotes.
Index Term(s): Criminal codes; Criminal responsibility; Cultural influences; Homicide; Nigeria
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