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The difference between Togo, Nigeria

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SPANISH Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero visited Nigeria and Togo a
fortnight ago.  His visit to Nigeria was marked by the usually drab diplomatic talks and official declarations.

Outside Nigeria and possibly Spain, I don’t think it made news.
But his visit to Togo caught world headlines.  Zapatero, a known humanist, has been campaigning for a global moratorium on the death penalty as a step towards its total abolition.

The Togolese Parliament used the occasion to pass a bill abolishing death penalty in the country.

This vote for human dignity reverberated across the globe.  Although Togo was the 15th African country to abolish the death penalty, and the 94th in the world, its action still made universal headlines because those who truly appreciate the worth of human life and dignity are bound to celebrate each time, the ranks of countries that abolish the death penalty increase.

Yet Nigeria is supposed to be more intellectually, if not religiously endowed than Togo.  The Togolese example showed that it is not the number of churches or mosques a country has, or a huge export of evangelists like Nigeria does that matters, but the premium placed on life; the level of prevailing culture.

It is not enough for human beings to take shelter behind the claim that it is the state and not they who murder people in the name of carrying out a judicial death sentence.

We are all collectively responsible, if not guilty, because such death sentences are carried out in our name.  Life is the most fundamental of all human rights; no country can claim to be a defender or proponent of human rights if it takes life.

Even from the spiritual perspective, if you cannot give life, you should not take it. No matter how decent we are, we cannot take another human being’s life without debasing ours.

Even if we claim that religion sanctions taking lives, why don’t we allow God to do that; is it not said that vengeance is of the Lord?

In the particular case of Nigeria, due to the retention of the death penalty, hundreds of lives have been wasted in repeated orgies of mass execution of alleged coup plotters.

Ironically, those who try, sentence and execute such people are themselves successful coup plotters.

There are those who argue that people who take life do not deserve to live; a sort of an-eye-for-an-eye.  But if we take a man’s life because he had taken another’s life, does that make us feel better?  Is there a purgation of emotions if we kill a man for an alleged capital offence? Is it a matter of collective vengeance?

Those who used to argue that death penalty is a deterrent for serious crimes like armed robbery have stopped waxing such tuneless music; this type of crime has not only been completely deregulated, but its perpetrators now operate in broad daylight.

One of my main reasons for opposing the death penalty is its finality, its irreversibility.  But for the death penalty, Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Eight might still be alive.

It is a universal knowledge that law enforcement agents in many cases torture or put pressure on people to confess to alleged crimes they know nothing about. There are also possible human errors in convicting people.

Thanks to the abolition of the death penalty, there are many in Europe and America whose conviction have been upturned in the light of new evidence or the advance of science such as the DNA.  Unfortunately, some innocent persons have been executed.

In the United Kingdom, the review of those sentenced over three years from 1950 showed that at least four of them were innocent.  There was the case of Timothy Evans who was executed in 1950 for allegedly killing his baby daughter, Geraldine.

Evidence later showed that a lodger in the same house, John Christie was actually a serial killer but the police bungled the Evans investigations. Evans was granted a posthumous free pardon 16 years after his execution.

There was the case of Derek Bentley who was executed in 1953 for allegedly killing a policeman during an attempted robbery.  It turned out that at the time of the murder, Bentley, a mentally retarded person was actually under arrest, so he could not have shot the officer.

Mr. George Kelly was executed in Liverpool in 1950.  Fifty three years later, the Court of Appeal found he was an innocent man sent to the gallows.  In 1953, Mahmud Hussein Mattani was hanged in Cardiff.  Forty five years later, the courts found him innocent.

It is the United States, where death penalty still holds sway in many states, that many innocent people have been executed.  Reuben Cantu was executed in 1993 for killing a man during an attempted robbery when he was 17.

A principal state witness, Juan Moreno had claimed in court that it was Cantu who shot him.  Moreno later confessed that the police forced him to finger Cantu because he had in an unrelated incident injured a policeman.

David Spence was executed in 1997 in Texas for allegedly killing three teenagers.

There was no physical evidence connecting Spence with the crime.  The court relied on the testimony of prison inmates.  It was later discovered that a narcotics cop who wanted Spence dead, gave favours to the prison inmates in return for their testimony. So an innocent man was judicially murdered.

Apart from these, there is also the manner of execution.  The firing squad is usually a very bloody method.  Even an animal slaughtered still kicks; no matter the method used, death cannot be instantaneous.

To me, the quality of justice cannot be weakened or diluted by a convict being sent to prison for his crimes rather than being sent to a firing squad or the hangman.

Small Togo has shown big Nigeria the way to more qualitative life by abolishing the death penalty. The least the “Giant of Africa” should do is repent its ways by abolishing the death penalty.

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