When Will Nigeria Abolish the Death Penalty?


Ugo Aliogo writes that there is a clarion call on Nigeria by Amnesty International to abolish the death penalty

Solomon Prosper was 25 years old, he was arrested for an alleged case of murder of his cousin, a crime he knew nothing about. He was tried in the court and sentenced to death. While in prison, he was subjected to gruesome torture and was also forced to sign several documents that he killed his cousin. Prosper was constantly traumatised as he thought of his imminent death; he was to die by hanging for a crime he was either the prime suspect or accomplice. His heart was drained of joy and happiness.

Prosper was in agony, a man with full of life and energy was now hunted by perpetual fear. He knew that the long cherished dream of becoming a professionally certified engineer and lifting his mother from poverty was gradually coming to an unfortunate end. He was put behind bars for nine years. On May, 2014, the final day of his trial, an eye witness brought before the court a factual evidence of the case. Consequent upon the evidence brought the court, the death sentence was quashed and he was freed.

In 2005, Moses Akatugba, a 16 years old young man was arrested for arm robbery, an offence he knew nothing about. Recounting his experience to Amnesty International, Akatugba stated that the police officers beat him repeatedly with machetes and batons, tied him up from the ceiling for several hours, and then used pliers to pull out his toenails and fingernails.

He was then forced to sign two pre-written confessions. After eight years of being remanded in prison, on November 12, 2013, he was sentenced to death by hanging. On May 28, 2015, the day before his departure from office, the then Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, granted total pardon to Moses. He also commuted the death sentence of three people to prison terms.
Death penalty has been an issue for debate for several years amongst countries and concerned human rights organisations. While some countries have advanced that it should be abolished, others are of the view that it should be retained. The abolitionist countries argue that while the condemned prisoner is in jail, he goes through emotional torture on a daily basis as he awaits his death.
They also argue that taking an individual’s life for a crime committed does not augur well on the grounds of morality. Therefore, the state should respect the sanity of life which is its statutory responsibility to the citizenry and provide enough security to curb the crime rate especially the most serious crimes. For the retentionists, their argument is that death penalty will help to reduce the crime rates, thereby restoring decency and order in the society. They also contend that death penalty is a stiffer measure of dealing with dangerous crimes and it will serve as a deterrent to others intending to commit similar offences.

Amnesty International Global Report
The 2015 Amnesty International (AI) global report stated that the total number of countries that were abolitionists for all crimes reached 102 as Congo, Fiji, Madagascar and Suriname repealed the death penalty during the year. The report further stated that the use of death penalty in 2015 revealed two divergent developments. First, four countries abolished the death penalty, reinforcing the long-term trend towards global abolition. While on the other hand, the executions recorded by AI during the year increased by more than 50 per cent compared to 2014 and constituted the highest total that AI has reported since 1989, excluding China.

In 1977, when AI started campaigning against the abolition of death penalty only 16 countries were interested but today, 102 have abolished death penalty for all crimes. This number is the majority of countries in the world, and this implies that there is a positive trend, as more countries are moving away from the use of the death penalty. In 2015, 1,634 people were executed in 25 countries that is 54 per cent more than in 2014.

The report further stated that Nigeria did not carry out executions in 2015, adding that the last executions took in place in 2013. The AI report referred to information in the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) which noted that 171 people were sentenced to death in 2015. This was a drop on the 659 death sentences recorded in 2014. The NPS report added that 26 pardons were granted, 41 death row prisoners were exonerated and 1,677 people were on death row, including five foreign nationals. During the year of 121 death sentences were commuted.

The Advocate and Adviser of AI on Death Penalty, Oluwatosin Popoola, explained that death penalty has not been completely abolished, under international law, adding that the law allows death penalty only for the most serious crimes; the international covenant for civil and political rights provides that countries that have not yet abolished, “should only use the death penalty for the most serious crimes, under international human rights standards, most serious crimes are crimes that involve intentional killings.”

He noted that though AI opposes the death penalty in all cases, regardless of the characteristics of the offender, the nature of the offence, or the method used by the state to carry out the execution, stressing that they believe the death penalty violates the right to life as contained in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Poopola said: “We have been involved in various actions on the abolishing of death penalty, for instance, we took a leading role in urging United Nations General Assembly, to pass its force resolution on the moratorium on execution in 2007 and since that time, there have been several resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly urging states that still use the death penalty to establish moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. Nigeria continues to use the death penalty, it is a retentionist country.

“In Nigeria, the death penalty is mandatory for several crimes, including armed robbery, and murder which means that the judges do not have the discretion on those cases whether to impose the death penalty or not. We have always been calling on the Nigeria government to establish a moratorium on executions, the last executions took place in 2013. However, nothing stops execution from resuming tomorrow because there is no official moratorium in place and we have also been urging Nigeria to use the death penalty for the most serious crimes under international law.

“We have also urged Nigeria government in recent times, not to extend the scope of the death, but in the last few months, a number of states have been extending the scope of the death penalty to cover kidnapping. Our argument has always been that kidnapping does not meet the threshold of most serious crimes under international law and standards because it does not involve intentional killing. The law needs to be reformed to provide for the abolition of death penalty. It requires leadership on the part of the government to move for current laws that proposes the amendment of the death penalty, so that it is not only restricted but abolished for all crimes in Nigeria.
“Going forward, Amnesty International will continue to campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in Nigeria. In West Africa, five countries have abolished death penalty for all crimes, in sub-Saharan Africa, 18 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, the latest being Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2015. Therefore the trend has been positive in sub- Sahara Africa, the region remains a beacon of hope, Nigeria should take leadership position by joining the ranks of other Africa countries that have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.”

Death Penalty and the Nigeria Legal system
A lawyer and lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Dr. Simeon Igbinedion, stressed that the Nigeria legal system permits death penalty for a few serious offences such as treason, murder and drug trafficking, noting that these are few cases that the law allocates death penalty as a capital punishment, “the sovereignty of countries will determine what they will do as independent nations.”

He further stated that in the United States of America, some states that are abolitionists, while others are retentionists, adding that executions are carried out through lethal injection, which in their understanding is a civilised way of eliminating the individual in a gentle manner.

Igbinedion noted that: “There are insinuations from the international community that the legal systems of most countries should be properly reformed. They (International Community) view crime as environmentally oriented, which implies that when people commit crime, it is not because they want to commit the crime rather it is due to environmental influence, therefore they should be rehabilitated back to the society instead of been punished. When we consider it from the point of view of the developing countries, you will notice that there is a variation in terms of behavioural patterns between the developed and developing countries.

“For instance in Japan, when someone commits an offence, he or she will naturally owe up to committing such a crime, not because of any compulsion, but because of the conscience in him. He will realise that he is guilty so that the process can just be short-circuited. But in developing countries such as Nigeria, people will not owe up to the crime that they have committed. This takes the court through a lot of long processes, and several adjournments. When it comes to committing crimes in this part of the world, people have the tendency to commit greater crimes which show the extent of wickedness and evil intentions in them.”

On his part, the National President Committee for the Defence of Human Right (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, stated that there are no constitutional provisions for death penalty instead, there are statutory provisions which are other legislations that are independent of the constitution and which introduce capital punishment as a form of punitive sentences on convicted persons, “this can be found both in the criminal and penal code, which has now been harmonised under the administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. Criminal code operates in the South, while the penal code operates in the North. Both bodies of legislations have now been harmonised.”
“Those are the laws in which criminal justice are codified to attracting violence for extreme criminal activities such as murder, outright murder, treason, and other criminal activities, while what you see cannot find in the constitution anything pertaining to capital punishment, but it can be found in other laws.

“However, if you want to draw an extraneous reference to the constitution, then you talk about the sessions of the constitution that prohibits torture, which is a fundamental right and no person shall be subjected to any form of torture or in human treatment,” he noted.

Abolishing Death Penalty in Nigeria

Igbinedion called on the government not to abolish the death penalty law in Nigeria now, stressing that this would give a particular group of people the impetus to commit certain crimes in order to dare the law and the state, therefore abolishing it would not favour the state.

He added: “I would advocate for the use of state policing as a measure to provide security in order to curb crimes which in turn would reduce cases of death penalty, though there are several ill feelings to it. Some see it as undermining the power of the federal government. In state policing, the people are more at home with the local environment.

“There should be re-orientation of people because the way people relate with their environment matters a lot, if there is a re-orientation people will be more humane and kind to their neighbours and this would reduce crime.”

Ugwummadu, remarked that CDHR has been on the forefront of campaigns in the country to abolish death penalty, adding that it has been a long fight with a highly polarised argument, “there are those who argue that you need to also watch the incidents of such crimes in the society in order to deal with such type of crime before you take a position.

“But the argument is that whether it is in developed or developing countries, the issues are simple, first you cannot commit the same offence or if you remain at the same level with a person who you are alleging to have taken life. If a man commits murder as it were to what extent will the state justify that the only thing it can think of by way of reprisal is that particular offence the individual committed would be the response of the state. Secondly, you cannot create a life, therefore you cannot be justified to take it despite how gravity of the offence because until you are a victim you may not understand how bad the situation is.

“Grievous as they are, the argument is that the state must deal with the social economic conditions that lead to those manners of atrocities in the first place. More importantly, it is to consider the statistics out there which clearly shows that capital punishment do not reduce the incidence of the commission of that particular crime, so if the argument is that it serves as the stiffest deterrent that claim is completely eroded by what empirical statistics are showing, even in the US where capital punishment is been practiced, it is hardly ever shown by empirical evidence that the incidence of crime has reduced in those particular states.

“In country where it is being practiced such as Nigeria, you can hardly see any of the governors appending their signatures to death penalty. I think in this present dispensation, it is only the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshimole that did it, so what then is the purpose of it. As long you keep the convict on the death role, (some of them are there for a long period of time) each day of their life they will be thinking of their death.

“This is extreme maximum torture inflicted on a human being. The constitution clearly abhors that, the fact that he is a convict does not mean his rights have been taken away from him, what it means is that he is guilty of the offence he has committed. Therefore if you must kill him by hanging, or decide to shot him, you are denying the individual of his rights.”