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Extrajudicial execution and unlawful termination of life in Nigeria

By Norrison  Quakers

The 1999 constitution recognises the sanctity of life, freedom from torture, liberty to move freely without restriction and the presumption of innocence, in the event of the commission of a crime.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria was called upon sometime in 1999 to interpret and declare unconstitutional, the provision of Section 33(1) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution as it relates and appertains to the imposition of death penalty.

The hallowed and esteemed court unequivocally held that the death penalty is constitutional and that there is no conflict of infraction between the provisions of Sections 33 & 34 of the Constitution.

The cases of Onuoha Kalu vs State (1998) 13 NWLR (Part 583) page 531 and Azeez Okoro vs State (1998) 14 NWLR (Part 584) page 121 restate the position of the law, making the death penalty legal and lawful within the ambit of the Constitution.

It is imperative to state, flowing from the cases above listed, that by the community reading of Sections 33 and 34 of the 1999 Constitution, execution is only lawful if ordered by a constitutionally empowered institution, authority or person or in circumstances envisaged by the Constitution.  It follows necessarily that any other method other than the constitutionally recognized means of deprivation of life is not only unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful, but extrajudicial.
In Nigeria, extrajudicial and unlawful termination of lives oftentimes by agents of the State saddled with the power of arrest, detention and prosecution is very quite often conducted with impunity, with only a few being subjected to justice as a result of public outcry or involvement of civil society groups or organizations.

Extra-judicial execution and unlawful termination of life are clearly constitutional infractions. The legal responsibility of the state as provided under domestic and international laws is to protect the lives of its citizens and to provide machinery for redress in cases of violation, including investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators of the violation and victim pacification or compensation. Regrettably, while extrajudicial execution and unlawful killing and torture are prohibited in Nigeria, the criminal statutes i.e. the penal and criminal codes do not specifically prohibit them.

Nigeria is a signatory to several international covenants and treaties and as a sovereign country, it has ratified several of these international and regional human rights instruments containing human rights standard relevant to policing or agencies exercising custodial or confinement powers e.g. the international covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the convention against torture and its optional protocol, the international convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance. Enforced disappearance is very common, it is a situation where persons arrested, detained or whose liberty are curtailed by law enforcement agents or agencies, without records or without proper records, whose whereabouts are unaccounted for and whose fate and status or conditions are unknown or using or relying on the available record, contains gaps that cannot be filled.

Despite the ratification of international treaties and covenants , the Nigerian government has remained complacent in the face of extrajudicial execution and unlawful termination of lives of several of its citizens, contrary to the ultimate responsibility of government, which is to protect every of its citizens against extrajudicial execution and unlawful termination of life. Reasons for extrajudicial execution and unlawful termination of life:  It is difficult to determine the reasons for extrajudicial execution or unlawful termination of life in Nigeria, but it is imperative to note among other related issues that the Police tops the list of agencies of government responsible for extrajudicial and unlawful killing.

It is widely believed that the police exploit the public perception and anger of high crime rate and legal technicalities in the administration of criminal justice, which might allow a criminal escape justice, to justify their lack of faith and confidence in the Courts in the wanton and incessant termination of lives without due regard to constitutionally_guaranteed rights of their victims. In Nigeria, crime detection and consequent arrest and prosecution of offenders are largely based on luck, emotion, personal conviction or perception of the law enforcement agent rather than on the application or deployment of technology, giving room to scientific discovery or analysis of facts and the use of reliable intelligence.

As a country, we have no criminal justice policy. Our policemen are inadequately trained; they have no instructions on the use of force, no adequate resources and equipment to combat crime, high level of corruption in our various prosecutorial agencies, existence of the culture of impunity and the lack of accountability, no respect or regard for the sanctity of life, slow and ineffective criminal justice administration with poor and obsolete criminal justice apparatus.

Way forward: The Police Act and Regulations and other enabling laws of prosecutorial and enforcement agencies should be reviewed, particularly as regards the use of force. This should be done in line with international human rights law and standards.  As a country, we should criminalize torture, extrajudicial execution and unlawful killings and enforced disappearances of prisoners. A witness protection programme ought to be established and all persons arrested for whatever offence must be registered in a criminal registry, accessible to the public on application or request. All agencies of government saddled with the responsibility of arresting, detaining or prosecuting offenders must be adequately funded, trained and equipped for the responsible use of force and firearms in line with international human rights standards.

A system should be in place for compensation of families of victims and their dependants. Any officer found to have ordered or participated in the implementation of unlawful termination of life or extrajudicial killing should not only be dismissed but must also be prosecuted.

The Duty Solicitors’ Scheme and the Human Rights Desk presently in place and being practiced in some states of the Federation should extend to other states, as this will help in checkmating and curtailing human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance of suspects.

Custodial centers must have proper record keeping, as opposed to the archaic and obsolete practice of writing with chalk, names of inmates in custodial environment, on the wall, which can be easily erased, leaving no trace, in this age of information technology. The authorities, agencies and persons empowered to carry and use firearms must give and be made accountable to an independent body, where allegations of excessive use of force occasioning constitutional infractions are made against any of such persons or agencies  by families of victims or civil society organisations.


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