By Josef Omorotionmwan
WE see aspects of misinformation, and sometimes, outright disinformation, in the Edo hanging row.
When we woke up on Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the newsstand was awash with the news, “Four death row prisoners – Chima Ejiofor, Daniel Nsofor, Osarenmwinda Aigbokhai and Richard Igagu – in Edo State, were, yesterday, executed, despite their pending appeals at the Court of Appeal.”
The veiled impression is created here that the cases of these suspects were hurriedly terminated at the High Court level and they were led to the gallows, without exhausting the judicial remedies of going to the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The truth is that the cases went through the thorough judicial process from the High Court to all the appeal processes and the verdict everywhere was death sentence. This was 16 years ago.
Lately, though, the Legal Defense and Assistance Project, LEDAP, approached the Federal High Court, Benin City, on behalf of the condemned felons, arguing that “to execute them after 16 years of trauma, suspense and imminent death would amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
They asked the court to order the Edo State Governor to commute their death sentences to life imprisonment.
However, judgment was delivered against the felons by Justice A.M. Liman for lack of sufficient facts to substantiate the relief sought. LEDAP proceeded to the Court of Appeal in Benin City to appeal against the judgement and also to ask for stay of execution, pending the determination of the appeal.
Meanwhile, all the death row prisoners in the country (Association of Felons?) are, in the case of Godwin Pius & ors Vs. Governor of Abia State & ors, challenging the decision of the state governors to sign their execution warrants. LEDAP is representing the inmates in both appeals.
People must understand the division of the labour arrangement inherent in every execution exercise: State governors do not execute anybody.
The courts determine the criminal status of the individual; in the case of condemned felons, the Governor as the Chief Security Officer of the State, signs the death warrant; and it is the prison authorities that carry out the execution.
This clarification has become necessary against the backdrop of insinuations that the Edo condemned felons were executed by the Governor.
Those who sit in judgement also stand in judgement. Even the most humane and “non-barbaric countries” of the world, the home countries of the human rights activists, still visit the death sentence on certain classes of crime.
This is where the stance of the human rights advocates, particularly Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, soon borders on meddlesomeness for trying to prevent the execution of the judgements of the courts of competent jurisdiction.
As at now, any governor who refuses to sign a warrant of execution for a duly condemned felon reneges on his duties in just the same way that a chief executive who refuses to implement a law duly passed by the legislature commits an impeachable offence.
In the Edo hanging row, the human rights community may as well be fighting a good fight – that capital punishment is barbaric in this age. This column has argued relentlessly along the same line. But the human rights advocates are clearly in the wrong battle field.
The best time to prevent a death sentence and its execution is before the sentence is pronounced, not when the condemned felon is already being led down the alley, destined for the guillotine.
Capital punishment is not yet abolished in Nigeria. All those against it must proceed to the national and state assemblies with a view to getting them to change the law so that capital punishment can be abolished.
To that extent, too, we see the current LEDAP battles raging at the Federal Courts of Appeal in Lagos and Benin City as wrongly situated. Capital punishment cannot be abolished through the back door.
Meanwhile, the human rights advocates are clever by half. They stick to the rights of the deviants without caring about what happens to the human rights of the innocent members of the law-abiding public whose right to life and the achievement of their potentials under the law are savagely terminated by the deviants.
The human right advocates must have in their fold, victimologists who will constantly remind them of the need to create a balance between criminology and victimology because there are human rights issues to be satisfied on either side.
When a person takes the law into his hands and brutally terminates the life of another, the system has a duty to bring the offender to justice. This should also be of great concern to human rights advocates.
It is the only way to reassure the victims’ families that the law is fighting for them, thus averting the propensity for self-help and leaving the strong moral message that crime does not pay.
Justice delayed could be justice denied. It is still difficult to understand why the condemned felons have remained on death row for 16 whole years. There are aspects of double jeopardy here: instead of promptly executing the felons, you must first punish them in prison for 16 years before presenting them to the hangman, eh?
Again, this is reminiscent of the overall rot which Oshiomhole inherited in Edo State. Rather than attract opprobrium, the signing of the death warrants should portray the Governor as a man who is truly on a rescue mission; and a man who realises that in the process, the hard decisions must also be taken.
After all, this is not the first of its kind – those educational institutions that have now been revamped had been comatose for more than 30 years before his arrival, while those fantastic road networks that now adorn the entire state constituted death-traps.
Truly, the execution of a death sentence in Nigeria is not time-barred. But if the punishment for an offence is death, after due process of trial, let who is dying die quickly!