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Executors of the death penalty


It is not uncommon in human history to find a group of people swimming against the tide. Such is the case with the retentionists of the death penalty as they still chant their vindictive refrain “… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Signifying nothing, in the sense that it serves no useful purpose. It was Ghandi who said, “an eye for an eye would soon make the whole world blind”.

It serves no useful purpose-just an outlet, a vent to appease angry emotions. Even the deterrent value of the death penalty has been faulted by experts who have examined the rate of recidivism. It is on record in Nigeria that after the civil war, which occurred between 1967- 1970,the rate of Armed Robbery skyrocketed to high heavens due to unemployment, underemployment, dislocations, and free availability of arms.

The Armed Robbery tribunals were set up to deal with the matter with its attendant public executions-gory entertainments as one commentator once put it. The public executions were meant to deter would-be robbers from enlisting in the infamous profession. But these did not deter anybody. Statistics showed that the robbers became more daring and more brutal and merciless-as if to say that they realise that if they are caught, they would be cut into pieces.


The death penalty has lost its acceptance in modern civilized reasoning. Even a repudiation of the death penalty is a condition for admission into the European Union. In an era where the 21st Century man is thinking of going to reside in other planets, some people are still promoting that we send men to the gallows. This is anachronistic to say the least. Even the president of COREN (Council for the regulation of engineering in Nigeria) sometime ago, while commenting on the incessant collapsing of buildings in Nigeria, suggested that the death penalty be extended to the builders of such collapsed buildings. An African proverb says, “it is only the spectators that are at ease in a wrestling match”. The real stress lies with the wrestlers. It is one thing to champion the retention of the death penalty with apostolic zeal; it is a different ball game to actually carry out the order. The ugly task of carrying out such monstrous orders is reserved for a group of men-the judicial officers, prosecuting legal officers, police officers, the prison officers, and the chief host, the Hangman!

As a young law student on attachment before Justice Desalu who had the herculean task of convicting and sentencing the cocaine dealers to death in Nigeria under Decree 20 of 1984 and who were subsequently publicly executed, I asked him how he felt after delivering a sentence that would mean the death of someone. He replied that as long as you are convinced that you are dispensing justice as prescribed by law, then your conscience is clear. Even at that I did not envy him then. As a young prosecutor before the late Hon. Justice G.C. Akoro of blessed memory, I felt uneasy after securing a first death sentence before him in the case of State v. Monday Evrele at Sapele High Court. After the judgment, the accused started crying openly in court and I wondered if it could not be said that
I have contributed to the impending “judicial homicide” as Charles Dickens puts it.

The dreg of this odd job is reserved for the hangman; the hangman –the doer of the states dirty job, whose identity is often shrouded in mystery. Why should we encourage such a cold-blooded and infamous profession? Most of our lawgivers and those championing the death penalty cannot stand the act of “execution” of a chicken, yet they expect someone out there to carry out such a monstrous order. A certain remorseful hangman in the U.S. by name Clinton T. Duffy after seeing the flesh torned from the condemned man’s face by the rope, his swollen tongue, swinging legs and odours of urine, defecation, sweat and caking blood, had this to say “ it would do if the people get to know exactly how their mandates were carried out. Every Juror who ever voted for the death penalty, every judge whoever pronounced sentence, every legislator who helped pass the law that make it necessary for us to go through this ordeal should have been with me today.‘’

The Edo state situation presents a worrisome one where on the eve of Christmas eve 2016, death row prisoners in Benin City were killed on account of death warrant signed by His Excellency Godwin Obaseki. His predecessor Comrade Adams Oshiomole had earlier, on June 21, 2013 similarly executed four prisoners in Benin City. Meanwhile, Nigeria had earlier on signed a moratorium on the death penalty.


Perhaps if the real act of execution was witnessed by the men who authorized it, there would have been a rethink and we would have won proselytes. The Delta State situation is rather commendable with the former Governor Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan withholding his assent to the Anti-kidnapping and Anti-Terrorism bill and the present Governor His Excellency Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa introducing the Anti-kidnapping law 2016 to expunge the death penalty from the former Anti-kidnapping and Terrorism law, 2013 which the House of Assembly had gone ahead to re-pass by two-third majority after the erstwhile Governor had withheld his assent under section 100(5) of the 1999 constitution (as amended).

This is highly commendable and an example of what progressive leadership is all about. Both excellencies stood true to the Hippocratic Oath that they had subscribed to – they being medical doctors. The whole idea of leadership is to lead the masses from ‘’ Egypt to Canaan’’, from darkness into light. It is anachronistic to still be fanning the embers and romancing the ideas of the death penalty, which had its origin in human sacrifices when man was in the primitive stages of evolution. A toad, like we say in Africa, does not jump backwards!

It is a thing of great concern and a cause of serious sober reflection to note that of all the countries in the world, 141 have abolished the death penalty while Nigeria is still ranked among the 56 desperate ones that still hold on to the death penalty. Such mere countries like Angola, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo have all gone ahead to abolish defacto or dejure the death penalty, yet our retentionists are still pressing on. Like the American hangman said, maybe it is time for them to go on a regular excursion to the real theatre where their mandate is carried out, after all a Nigerian proverb says that “if a child claims to be too wise, you give him an ant to slaughter .“
Adigwe is Director of Advisory Services, Ministry of Justice, Asaba, Delta State.

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