By Amaka Ezeno, MCLArb

Stealing is a wrongful taking or converting of property belonging to another. According to the Criminal Code, when a person fraudulently takes anything capable of being stolen, or fraudulently converts to his own use or to the use of any other person anything capable of being stolen, is said to steal that thing.


  1. That the defendant took or converted anything capable of being stolen

Taking, in this sense, does not mean that the person alleged to have stolen should have had in their possession, the thing said to be stolen. It is sufficient if the defendant merely moves or causes the property to be moved with the intention of stealing it. If, for example, Fred intends to steal from your luggage, opens the luggage and pulls out a parcel of money but drops it upon seeing you coming.

This amounts to stealing.  In the same vein, where there is no taking, there must a be a conversion. Conversion has been defined as dealing with goods in a manner that is inconsistent with the right of the true owner provided there is an intention on the part of the person converting the property to deny the owner’s right or to assert a right which is inconsistent with that of the owner.

Therefore, it will amount to conversion if you treat somebody else’s property as your own or assert ownership on such property. It is conversion if you sell, destroy or use the property belonging to another without that person’s authority.

In Pitman v. Hehl, it was held that the defendant stole the furniture of another through the act of appropriation by inviting two people to buy the furniture. However, land cannot be converted. Timber and crops cannot be converted unless they have been cut down or harvested.

  1. That the defendant had a fraudulent intention.

In addition to taking or converting of the property, it must be shown that the defendant had a fraudulent intention. It is not necessary that the intention was present at the time the property was taken, it is enough that the intention is thereafter formed. It is a common aphorism that even the devil does not know the intention of man.

Thus, it is from the circumstance (his action) that such intention can be deduced, and in this case, any of the following intentions must be present to constitute stealing.

  1. An intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property of it. This means that an intention to deprive the owner of the property temporarily of it will not amount to stealing. So, if you take someone else’s property and state that you will not return it unless the person surrenders your own property in his possession, this will not amount to stealing. However, it will amount to stealing if you take a person’s property with the intention to permanently deprive the owner of it notwithstanding that you later changed your mind and returned it.
  2. An intention to permanently deprive any person who has any special property in the thing of such property. An example is where you take a cloth from a tailor’s shop. The tailor is not the owner but has a possessory right over the cloth. This is stealing.
  3. An intent to use another person’s property as a pledge or security for loan.
  4. An intent to part with the property on a condition as to its return, which the person taking or converting it may be unable to perform. For example, if Charles takes, without his father’s consent, the latter’s wristwatch and gives same to his girlfriend who promises to return it when he takes her to Dubai. This will be stealing, because it is possible that Charles will not fulfil the condition as to its return.
  5. An intent to deal with the property in such a manner that it cannot be returned in the condition in which it was at the time of the taking or conversion.
  6. In case of money, an intent to use it at the will of the person taking or converting it, although he or she may intend to afterwards repay the amount to the owner.


The punishment for stealing, where no other punishment is stipulated by law, is three years imprisonment. However, where the object of theft relates to wills or postal matters, it can attract life imprisonment.