The need for the Nigerian State to look into the issue of capital punishment has again attracted the interest of Nigerians following the long list of persons who are on “death row” without execution in line with the provision of the law.
As at May 2022, Amnesty International’s annual review of global death penalty reported that Nigeria had the highest number of death row population in sub-Sahara Africa, with a total of 3,036 death-row inmates but some other sources say it might have risen to 3,602.
Even though death sentence is legal in Nigeria, execution of offenders is rarely carried out. Still to the surprise of many, judges continue to pronounce death sentences on condemned individuals.
Under the criminal or code in Nigeria, crimes such as murder, terrorism-related, aggravated armed robbery, kidnapping, homosexuality of, blasphemy, treason, sedition, attempting to overthrow government among others attract death sentence.
The constitution of Nigeria provides that an offender who has been sentenced to death is usually executed either by hanging, shooting, lethal injection, stunning, electrocution and or gassing.
While about 105 countries all over the world have abolished the death sentence for all crimes, 54 countries, including Nigeria, seem to retain the provision in their laws. Yet, there is the concern on the non-implementation of the extant laws as regards capital punishment.
Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbeshola in August last year was quoted as saying that “there are presently 3,008 condemned criminals waiting for their date with the executioners in our meagre custodial facilities. This consists of 2,952 males and 56 females. In cases where an appeal has been exhausted and the convicts are not mounting any challenge to their conviction, the state should go ahead, to do the needful and bring closure to their cases.”
A former controller general of Nigeria correctional service, Ahmed Ja’arfaru said that inmates who have spent ten years on death row live under the suspense and mental torture of death.
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,”
It is power of a sitting governor of a state or in the case of treason or mutiny or other serious crimes against the state, for a president to sign the execution warrant after appeals have been made by the offender and the judgment of the lower court upheld.
But more often than not, even if the Supreme Court may have upheld the verdict of the lower court and affirm the judgment, the governors still dilly-dally on signing the death warrant over humanitarian, religious, political, emotional and cultural sentiments. Yet, they lack the will to commute such offenders to life imprisonment.
The recent case of Uduak Apkan who was sentenced to death by hanging for killing a young job seeker in Akwa Ibom State and other countless cases all over the country and several persons on death row who might not be executed to death over refusal of the authorities concerned to sign the execution warrants is to say the least a travesty of justice.
Afterall, laws are made to serve as deterrent and as a means of retribution. In a case where an offender is not punished according to the gravity of the offence would sent a wrong signals to the would be offenders and even emboldened other to perpetrate more crime.
The saying that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander should be applied to law irrespective of whether the offence committed is a minor or serious one (criminal case) as they all have their various degrees of punishment.
It is morally wrong for someone to intentionally take the life of another person and be sentenced to life imprisonment instead of being sentenced to death by hanging. These persons after years of serving their punishment could be granted pardon by the state which is a grave injustice to the one who had been unjustly killed.
TNN upholds the saying that he who kills by the sword must die by the sword- he who commits a capital offence must be punished according to the law if found guilty. Laws that are not implemented according to the letters are no laws, but mere love letters.