On The Death Penalty
THOUGH the Lagos State government has based its retention of the death penalty in its criminal law on its endorsement by the public, the position of the state loses its merit when subjected to deeper scrutiny. Indeed a re-consideration of the decision is validated by the fact that the matter involves life, which human beings have no power to create and therefore should take extreme care in seeking to take.
Indeed, the campaigns for the abolition of the capital punishment have persisted over the years. Currently, 58 countries actively carrying out capital punishment, 98 countries have abolished it for all crimes, seven have abolished it for ordinary crimes only (maintaining it for special circumstances such as war crimes), and 35 have abolished it. For instance, Sweden abolished the death penalty since 1921. Other countries out of 140 that have also abolished the death penalty include Switzerland (1942), Germany (1949), the United Kingdom (1973), Canada (1976) and France (1981). Some African countries such as South Africa (1995), Senegal (2004) and Togo (2009) have also abolished the death penalty.
In Nigeria where the death penalty is still in the statutes, it is not only Lagos State that supports it. Shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan urged state governors to sign death warrants for death row prisoners on June 16, 2013, four prisoners were executed. All four individuals reportedly still had appeals pending when executed, which is a violation of Nigerian and international law.
In recent times, two governors have signed death warrants, former Governor of Kano State Ibrahim Shekarau in 2006 and Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo State, who sanctioned the execution of two condemned criminals in 2013. This is despite Nigeria being a signatory to the United Nations 2007 moratorium on the use of capital punishment.
For the proponents of the death penalty, it serves as a deterrent to crime. The point is often canvassed that the fear of being executed for a crime denies the would-be criminal the incentive of actually committing it. Moreso, the argument goes, the death penalty incapacitates criminals that might commit more murders. But even without the benefit of statistics, it cannot be argued that more crimes are committed in states or countries where there is no death penalty than those which have it in their law books. In Nigeria for instance, the death penalty has not stopped the perpetration of such crimes as deserve it.
The death penalty presumptuously, and even wrongly, puts in the hands of mortals the power over life. Yet, the imperfections of human beings easily seep into the justice system and disrupt a thorough judicial process that should be followed before the sentence of death is passed. The wrong person could be executed and simply because life is irreplaceable, there is no way the state can compensate for this. But if a person is sentenced to imprisonment and he is eventually discovered to be innocent even after many years, there is the possibility of the state compensating him or her and for such a life to wriggle out a new beginning.
Worse still, some suspects are even executed while they are insisting on their innocence and their cases are still either pending at the appeal court or waiting to go to the apex court. And in most cases such suspects stay on the death row for decades. Also a weak legal defence could lead to the execution of an innocent person. And in this case, the poor who do not have the resources to pay for competent and diligent counsel have often fallen victim.
Ironically, instead of being a deterrent, the death sentence really encourages crimes where it is applicable. What pain would be inflicted by executing a person whose mind is already made up to die in the course of committing a crime? A suicide terrorist who straps a bomb to his or her back would not be deterred by the prospect of being executed when found guilty by a law court. The death penalty also denies the state an opportunity of reforming criminals, whereas there have been convicts who have come out of prison to live normal lives.
Above all, a society should foster an environment that is not conducive to crime. But with unmitigated socio-economic injustice, with the few who are rich living ostentatiously in the midst of the grinding poverty of the majority of the population, and with the people’s confidence in the judiciary waning, such a society is a breeding ground for crimes that attract the death penalty. So, rather than endorsing the death penalty, Nigerian governments at all levels should remove it from their law books, think of more effective ways to curb crime while they truly seek to serve the people or build a just society with good governance.