By Dayo Benson & Abdulwahab Abdulah
The call by President Goodluck Jonathan last Sunday on state governors to sign death warrants of condemned inmates in prisons across the country has again brought to the fore the lingering controversy on the issue.
At a special ceremony to mark the 2013 Fathers’ Day organized by the Aso Villa Chapel, President Jonathan urged governors not to run away from their statutory responsibility by not signing death warrants on condemned criminals by courts of competent jurisdiction.
He added that the state chief executives must be willing to carry out their responsibilities, no matter how painful in accordance with the law.
The Criminal Procedure Act of each state of the federation provides that governors should affirm death sentences of condemned criminals before execution. It is only in Lagos State that same provision is incorporated in its newly enacted Administration of Criminal Justice Law, ACJL.
Apart from the governors’ reluctance to sign death warrants, the civil society groups have also resisted moves to execute convicts.
So far, only two governors- the former Governors of Kano State, Governor Ibrahim Shekarau and Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State have signed into law the sentences passed by the court on some convicts, since the return to democracy in 1999.
Before the Edo State Governor, Comrade Oshiomhole signed the death warrant following Supreme Court judgment, which condemned Osaremwinda Aiguohian and Daniel Nsofor, to death by hanging, the governor’s action was trailed by criticisms from civil society groups, Amnesty International and the National Human Rights Commission.
According to statistics, about 970 prisoners on death row are currently languishing in the nation’s prisons awaiting executions. The lists comprises 951 males and 19 females.
As at July last year, prisons in River State had 157 inmates consisting of 149 males and eight females on death row, which is the highest in the country.
The state is followed by Delta, which has 149 convicted inmates, comprising 146 males and three females.
Ogun State has 132 condemned felons, while Plateau State is left with 125 males and one female awaiting the governor’s execution order.
Other states with high death row inmates are Lagos 83; Kaduna 79; Enugu 75; Kano 51; Katsina 43; Edo 35; Cross River 17, Jigawa 18, Kebbi 13; Kwara 12, Federal Capital Territory 10, Niger 10, Ondo seven, Benue six, Sokoto six, Osun five and Taraba four.
Speaking further on the issue, President Jonathan said, “These days, because of modern life, discipline is almost gone. Discipline can be in various forms. In the states, it could be admonition. Magistrate can just admonish and allow him (offenders) to go. From admonition to various forms of punishments, it could be imprisonment. The extreme is capital punishment.
“In the case of capital punishment, the state governors will sign (the death sentence). Even governors sometimes find it difficult to sign. I have been telling them that they must sign, because that is the law. The works we are doing have a very sweet and a very ugly part and we must perform both. No matter how painful it is, it is part of their responsibilities.”
According to human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana SAN, “There is a sociological angle to the issue of executing death row inmates. Most prisons find it difficult to find hangmen. It is difficult to find a Nigerian, who would be proud of an occupation of killing people. And more importantly, it is difficult for civilian governors to ratify the killing of other citizens, even though they have been convicted.
“Since 1999, there have been only two ratifications for the execution of death row inmates in the country. The first one was by one of the governors of Kano State and recently, by Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State. It is not easy for the governors because it is official murder. The reason for penalties in law is for correction, not execution. It is a fact that the death penalty has not served as a deterrent anywhere in the world.”
Falana added that slow pace of the appeals at the Appeal and Supreme Court, further stretched the time between the sentence and execution and the situation had resulted in the congestion of prisons by death row inmates..
He said due to the pressure at the prisons and global campaign against death penalty, the sentence of the death row inmates would eventually be turned into life sentence.
On his part, the executive director, Access to Justice, AJ, Mr.Joseph Otteh, said, “President Jonathan’s call for the execution of death warrants by Governors is arguably misplaced and inherently unprincipled. Let’s address the lack of principle first. Not long ago, President Jonathan took the unpopular and widely denounced step of pardoning the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who is both a fugitive from justice and a convicted felon.
Why does one felon deserve a State pardon and another the enforcement of the death penalty? Some of those whose lives hang on a balance on death row have probably only robbed out of a necessity to survive. Those who get the pardon rob out of what? Because they did not know where their next meals will come from?
Is it not the State’s failure to provide Nigerians with decent livelihoods or employment arising from the horrendous stealing of public resources that fuels economic crimes? Coming from President Jonathan, the advice to Governors has quite a bit of the scent of hypocrisy.
The death penalty is so objectionable because it carries social costs no moral society will want to contend with. The risks that a person may be wrongly convicted of a crime he or she has not committed will always remain with society, so long as justice systems are managed by humans who are liable to error. It is tragic to err with human life, and the death penalty is basically about saying that it is okay to take the chance. No, it is not okay to take the chance.
Arguing in similar vein, the National Coordinator, Legal Defence & Assistance Project ? LEDAP, Mr. Chino Obiagwu said, LEDAP’s position on death penalty is also borne out of the conviction that the Nigerian government cannot continue to ignore the dare need for reform of our criminal justice system. This was aptly captured in the report of the National Study Group on Death Penalty set up by the Nigerian government in 2004 that, a system that must take life must first give justice.
“LEDAP uses this medium to call on Mr. President and the state governors to respect the existing unofficial moratorium on death penalty in the country; implement the findings of its own commission; and adhere to its international and regional obligations on peoples’ right by waiting for the outcome of the communication against it pending before the African commission.”