Saturday, 29 June 2013

SEE Why governors refuse to sign death warrants?

Capital punishment is not a stranger to the Nigerian Constitution neither is it considered weird by the ordinary Nigerian. A couple of weeks ago, however, the tide changed. President Goodluck Jonathan tasked the governors to sign the death warrants of condemned convicts in their respective domains. As if waiting just for this, the dam of debates on capital punishment broke swirling all in its path. Where stand the governors and is their inaction actually a factor to be considered while fathoming out an end to prison congestion in the land?
“The state governors sometimes find it difficult to sign death warrants in cases of capital punishment. I have been telling the governors that they must sign (death warrants), because that is the law.
The work we are doing has a very sweet part and a very ugly part and we must perform both. No matter how painful it is, it is part of their responsibilities.”
With these words, President Goodluck Jonathan on June 16 opened the floodgate to the deluge of debates that now swirl around the existence of capital punishment in the nation’s constitution, its continual desirability coupled with its effectiveness and otherwise. Maximum penalty is recognised in Nigeria’s grundnorm. The 1999 Constitution (as amended), also backs it.
Its section 33 (1) provides thus: “(1) Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
(2) A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary – (a) For the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property: (b) In order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or (c) For the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.”
Popular awareness of Nigerians was first brought to capital punishment in the early 1970’s when the then military government of General Yakubu Gowon promulgated a decree authorising the public execution of people convicted of violent crimes especially armed robbery which was then gaining ground fast in a society hitherto alien to the vice of being violently dispossessed of one’s possession.
Among the celebrated instances of capital punishment and public execution were those of Ishola Oyenusi in 1973 and Babatunde Folorunsho. Both were notorious armed robbers in the early post civil war years of the country.
Public execution became the norm then. And it was unusual to hear Nigerians discussing a trip to the Bar Beach, where most of the public executions by firing squad was taking place, as if going for a picnic. Then, it was a public show and the citizens viewed them with apparent glee. This also applied to convicted coup plotters.
The pubic execution of 52 people following the botched coup d’état of 13 February, 1976 which claimed the lives of the head of state, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed and some other senior members of his administration including Kwara State governor, Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo. Public sentiment, however, started changing against capital punishment shortly after that.
It was alleged that some of the executed coup plotters were not guilty after all. The gradual and subtle aversion for this practice, however, came to an end in April 1985 with public execution of three convicted drug pushers by the General Muhamadu Buhari military regime which sentenced to death Bernard Ogedengbe, Bartholomew Owoh and Lawal Ojulope.
It was a sight many who watched the execution would not want to remember. A senior police officer on duty even reportedly slumped. Another enforcement of the capital punishment which left a sour taste in the mouth of Nigerians was the execution at the gallows of environmentalist and Ogoni rights defender, Ken Saro Wiwa and eight of his kin now known as the Ogoni 9 on 10 November, 1995.
They were executed by the General Sani Abacha led junta. Ever since, the public display of execution has been mellowed. With the enthronement of democracy on 29 May, 1999, the carrying out of execution both public and in the confines of the prisons nearly paled into insignificance. A notable exception is Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State who signed some death warrants which were enforced on June 24 when Chima Ejiofor, Daniel Nsofor, Osaremwinda Aigbonkhan and Richard Igagu, hitherto on death row, were hanged.
The June 16 pronouncement of the President has, however, brought the discourse on death sentence once more into the fore. Presently, no fewer than 98 countries have abolished death penalty from their statutes, while 57 nations (including Nigeria) practise it.
About 10 countries (also including Nigeria) have not carried out execution of condemned persons in the past 12 years. China ,Iran, North Korea, Yemen, United States, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Bangladesh, Somalia, Sudan, Palestinian, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Taiwan, Belarus, Japan, Iraq, Malaysia and Bahrain are currently practising the maximum penalty. China tops the list.
The crimes which attract death penalty in Nigeria today include armed robbery, murder and treason. Famous Nigerians who have been sentenced to death but still on the death row many months even years after the court verdict include Emeka Ezeugo, aka Rev. King, the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the former Head of State, late Gen. Sani Abacha, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, and an aide in the Chief M.K.O Abiola Campaign Organisation, Lateef Shofolahan.
It is believed that there are not less than 4, 000 condemned inmates awaiting execution in various prisons in the land.
The question now is: is the number high because of the state governors’ refusal to sign death warrants of condemned criminals since the advent of democracy in 1999 as implied by the President?

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