A Case For Condemned Inmates

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The practice of keeping convicts perpetually on death row is a violation of their rights

It is an inherent violation on their rights and dignity to keep people interminably on death row, especially for cases that have been concluded by the Supreme Court. It is therefore little surprise that this category of inmates, according to the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), were becoming difficult to control. “We have a crisis on our hands.

We have 2,745 condemned persons in our facilities across the country. This category of inmates is very difficult to maintain or control. They are afraid of nothing because they know that they are already destined to die,” said the NCS Public Relations Officer, Francis Enobore.

The practice of keeping convicts perpetually on death row is not only inhumane, it is a violation of their rights. To put it in context, prisoners on death row are condemned to a kind of existential limbo, existing as entities in cold storage rather than living as human beings.

The NCS Controller General, Mr Ahmed Ja’afaru recently bemoaned the fact that majority of the condemned inmates have spent a decade and more waiting for death, living under suspense and mental torture. “Out of the number, a greater percentage of them may have finished appeals and are still waiting for the determination of the approving authority to either approve their execution or commit them to life imprisonment,” said Ja’afaru. Statutorily, governors are not bound to sign the warrants for the execution of people on death row. They can exercise their prerogative to commute such sentences to lifetime in jail or reduced the jail terms.

The delay in carrying out this executive function is breeding congestion that has impacted significantly on the administration of justice in Nigeria. That is aside the helplessness endured in the roller coaster of emotions for these condemned inmates who have practically been reduced to the status of the living dead. They can also grant such convicts state pardon, therefore putting a closure to the matter.

But it is unacceptable for them to leave inmates perpetually on death row. The obligation on the governors is specifically enshrined in Section 212 of the 1999 Constitution as well as Section 221 of the Penal Code and Section 319 of the Criminal Code. All this prescribes capital punishment for murder while sections 37 and 38 of the Criminal Code prescribe the same punishment for treasonable felony.

There is of course a global campaign against capital punishment, but it is still applicable in Nigeria. Majority of these death row inmates are in solitary confinement, having been convicted for such offences as murder, treason, treachery and armed robbery. Some states in the country have also enacted capital punishment for those convicted of kidnapping. It is an inherent violation on their rights and dignity to keep people interminably on death row, especially for cases that have been concluded by the Supreme Court.

Such practice is antithetical and capable of inflicting traumatic shock on the condemned inmates awaiting an imaginary death in solitary confinement. We therefore imagine the harrowing spell condemned prisoners go through daily in solitary cells, humbled by the force of an impending death that seems to be an eternity. Against the background that the NCS Act provides for some mitigations, we urge Ja’afaru to liaise with the judiciary on how to operationalise Section 12(2c) which specifically provides that “where an inmate sentenced to death has exhausted all legal procedures for appeal and a period of 10 years has elapsed without execution of the sentence, the Chief Judge may commute the sentence of death to life imprisonment.”