Obinah was charged and convicted for armed robbery. The amount involved is insignificant
Three weeks ago, a Jos High Court presided over by Justice Yargata Nimpa sentenced a 26-year old man, Mr. Obinah John, to death for robbing at gun point, Ms Dorothy Olaniyi of the sum of N1,705 and two rolls of sachet peak milk, valued at N400. This singular judgement has been eliciting mixed public commentaries. Some members of the public wonder whether it is morally and legally justifiable to execute a man for stealing N1,705 in a country where many political office holders mindlessly loot government treasuries to the tune of billions of Naira without ever being brought to justice. But those who make such argument miss the point.
In proving its case, the prosecution told the court that in November 2005 Obinah and one other person who were armed conspired to rob Dorothy in her shop at Gada Biu, Jos and thereby committed an offence punishable by hanging. But in his defence, Obinah, through his counsel urged the court to dismiss the case in that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he used a gun to rob Dorothy. However, in his 60-page judgement, Justice Nimpa ruled that the prosecution had been able to establish a case of armed robbery against Obinah who was then consequently sentenced to death.
While we appreciate the torrents of sympathies that naturally flow in favour of Obinah considering the circumstance that earned him the hangman’s noose, we must also state that the rule of law is governed by the rule of reason as laid down in substantive and procedural laws, not by whimsical sentiments and emotions. More importantly, the function of the judiciary as a dispenser of justice is anchored in the faithful application of the law in the open court. The fact of the matter is that Obinah was charged and convicted for the offence of armed robbery, not for stealing N1,705.
So the issue here is not the amount of his take but his intent. Unlike stealing, armed robbery is a capital offence punishable in Nigeria by a death sentence. Consequently having found Obinah guilty, the judge applied the law and gave the offender a maximum penalty. Therefore, no matter the personal rationalisation, we see nothing that the Judge has done wrong in this matter. The point that should be underscored here is that an armed robber would kill for any amount (whether one billion Naira or one Naira). The fact that Obinah could only find N1,705 on his victim is no justification to seek that the law should not be applied.
This notwithstanding, the Jos High Court that sentenced Obinah to death, is not infallible. Obinah certainly has a constitutional right of appeal. Besides, our Constitution has made ample provisions for the grant of prerogative of mercy to convicts, including those under the sentence of death for capital offences. Therefore a prerogative of mercy could still be granted Obinah to commute his death sentence to terms of imprisonment. But Obinah’s case establishes the fact that the ultimate end of the legal system is justice which is rooted in confidence.
That confidence is destroyed when rationalisations are made for capital offences that carry death sentences while the ultimate implication of such would be recourse to self-help, violence, revenge and extra-judicial killings in settling disputes. Obinah, as far as we are concerned, got his just dessert; we can only plead that justice be tempered with mercy.