A new bill aiming at making corporate negligence, dereliction of duty or incompetence which results in death of an employee a criminal offence, Wednesday scaled the second reading on the floor of the Senate.
Initiator of the bill tagged 'A Bill for an Act to Make Provisions Creating the Offence of Corporate Manslaughter and for Matters Incidental Thereto 2013', Senator Pius Ewherido (Delta Central), said if it passed into law would also punish any employee who serves as an 'accessory for manslaughter' by negligently performing or sabotaging their employers in any event which results in death.
While presenting the bill for second reading, Ewherido said provisions of the bill fell within the definition of killing in Section 308 of the criminal code.
Section 308 of Criminal Code states: "Except as hereinafter set forth, any person who causes the death of another directly or indirectly by any means whatever is deemed to have killed another person."
Ewherido said he drew his inspiration for the bill from unconfirmed reports that the management of Dana Airline ordered the aircraft, MD 83, which crashed in Lagos on June 3, 2012, to fly despite the insistence of the company’s technical crew that the aircraft was not airworthy at the time.
According to him, the bill also set out to fill the lacuna created by restrictive definitions. Ewherido said: "But the situation today is radically different from what it used to be when the criminal code was enacted. The industrialisation of the society with attendant increase in economic activities as well as the population explosion with resultant high human mobility have given rise to new sets of behaviour and challenges.
Even in societies where the institutions of government charged with the prescription of standards are effective and functional with disciplined and ethically committed people to their duties and countries, their governments recognise the new challenges posed by industrialisation, population explosion, increased economic activities and mobility of humans by adopting a dynamic approach to solving the emerging variant of anti-social behaviours which extant statutes fail to sufficiently cover."
Ewherido also noted that the bill would forestall recurrent cases of Nigerians' maltreatment and oppression by foreign organisations such as the gruesome burning of many Nigerians to death in a Chinese company in Lagos in 2002 when their employers reportedly locked them up.
In his contribution to the debate, Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, described the bill as one of the most intellectually stimulating bills that will have far reaching implications.
According to him, the bill will re-write jurisprudence, alter company laws, criminal laws as well as law of thought, adding that a public hearing must be conducted on the bill with a view to securing the advice of relevant stakeholders on how best to go about the bill.
In his remarks, Senate President, Senator David Mark, who restricted debate on the bill mainly among lawyers in the chamber, said he did so because "it is a technical issue and that is why I concentrated on asking lawyers," adding: "We cannot pretend on what it contains. If you convict a company, what happens? There is need for the public to be part of this bill."
While referring the bill to the committee on Judiciary, Mark said: "Committee on judiciary should filter and bring a balance of what public opinions would be. Once you engage lawyers to sort out issues, they will come with divergent opinions. I join others to appeal that we allow for public hearing and debate because it will be very interesting."
The Senate also stood down debate on the bill seeking to repeal Police Act to give room for proper presentation. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Paulinus Igwe, had remarked that "after collating and analysing the submissions of all the stakeholders, the consensus opinion is that the Police Act is obsolete and should be repealed and re-enacted."