Nigerian oil state approves death penalty for kidnappers

YENAGOA, Nigeria Fri Feb 15, 2013 2:41pm GMT

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YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's home state of Bayelsa signed a law on Wednesday approving the death penalty for convicted kidnappers, in a region were abductions by criminal gangs are common.

Kidnapping for ransom in the southern Niger Delta and offshore of the oil region is a multi-million dollar business. The vast majority of people taken are Nigerians, although foreigners are also regularly targeted.

The finance minister's 82-year-old mother was abducted in December but released five days later. Five Indian sailors were freed last month after spending weeks in captivity.

"It is morally indefensible for young people ... armed with illegal weapons ... to forcefully abduct and rough handle people and take them as an article of trade," Bayelsa Governor Seriake Dickson said when signing the law on Wednesday.

"Most people know that when I say something, I do it. I will not hesitate to sign a certificate of execution."

Dickson said the security forces had several people in custody facing kidnapping charges.

Piracy off the coast of Africa's biggest oil producer and in the wider Gulf of Guinea is also on the rise and increasingly involves kidnapping seamen as well as the seizure of ships.

Each of Nigeria's 36 states has its own penal code and while crimes such as murder carry the death penalty in many states, it is rarely, if ever carried out.

Nigeria has had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in place since 2006, when the last known executions were carried out. However, the ministry of justice has said described the moratorium as voluntary.

The governor of southern Edo state last year signed the death warrants for two prisoners convicted of murder, although the executions were eventually called off.

The European Union strongly opposes the death penalty and has lobbied against its use in Nigeria.

(Reporting by Tife Owolabi; Writing by Joe Brock)

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