The Governor of Delta State, His Excellency, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, while addressing members of the presidential advisory committee on the prerogative of mercy, urged the Nigerian government to abolish the death penalty. The committee was inaugurated to assist the President in discharging his constitutional responsibility of granting pardon to inmates, ex-convicts and de-congesting prisons nationwide. The Governor maintained that imposition of the death penalty had become irrelevant, in light of recent refusal by State governors to sign death warrants. While urging the government to upgrade the facilities in prison, Senator Okowa cited the need to evolve measures that will make the Nigerian Prisons true reformatory centers, where ex-convicts are reformed to become productive and self-reliant citizens. He hoped that the Committee would lead advocacy for the introduction of far-reaching reforms that target the entire prison administration. Nigeria will need to take a cue from other jurisdictions in this regard.
A study released by The Telegraph indicates that only about 54 countries in the world maintain the death penalty sentence, of which the United States is surprisingly a part of. Majority of these countries are also predominantly from the Asian and African regions, with China ranking as the world’s top executioner, in a report released by Amnesty International. Interestingly, all European nations have abolished the death penalty, with the exception of Belarus, which is currently the only country in Europe retaining the death penalty. This interesting statistics reveal the need to have a rethink about the continued retention of the death penalty in the Nigerian criminal Justice system.
This state of affairs poses the question of whether there are ample justifications for the retention of the death penalty sentence in Nigeria? Majority of Nigerians, who are protagonists of the death penalty believe that abolishing the death penalty will spike the crime rate in the country, hence, the death penalty is viewed as a deterrence to capital offenders. There is also the natural tendency to repay evil with evil, thus giving credence to the saying that “he who kills by the gun should die by the gun”. In addition, the Nigerian criminal justice system practices and upholds punitive and retributive justice, as opposed to reformatory justice.
On the other side of the divide, antagonists of the death penalty believe that capital offenders are victims of the Nigerian hardships; unemployment, bad educational system and zero social welfare system, and are only striving to survive amidst these hardships. Others are also of the view that the death penalty feeds the insatiable craving for vengeance and does nothing to alleviate the plight of the victim’s family or the community. They also believe that the death penalty does not produce the intended deterrent effect but rather it makes criminal offenders ruthless and unremorseful. This is evidenced by the fact that armed robbery continues to be on the rise, despite its classification as a capital offence punishable by death. Very interestingly, some antagonists of the death penalty believe that Nigeria has no moral justification for executing capital offenders, as the country itself is soaked in blood, ranging from the genocide of the civil war and massacre in different parts of the country to the tales of death due to lack of basic amenities. They are of the view that the death penalty is only meted out to poor citizens, as corporate thieves and rich citizens are highly indicted and sent to the gallows. They propose the rehabilitation of capital offenders, particularly armed robbers.
There are strong cases for the retention or abolition of the death penalty. It remains to be seen if Nigeria will borrow a leaf from other Nations that have abolished the death penalty.
What are your thoughts on this issue?