Introducing the Death Penalty into the anti-cultism laws of the state is a derogation from international law and a waste of legislative ink.

By Usani Odum

Honourable Speaker sir,

It has been reported in the media that the Cross River State House of Assembly (CRSHA) which you preside over has commenced amendment of the state’s anti-cultism laws to introduce death penalty for cultism.

It is heartwarming that the spate of cult-related killings in the state finally got the attention of the house, sir, considering the number of youths killed daily as a result of cultism. According to your deputy and the sponsor of the bill, capital punishment will stem the trend.

While I commend the house for even broaching the issue, I must point out that cultists, as the house is pretty much aware, have for a while now been having a free rein in the state, killing and maiming without the faintest inkling of reprimand from the government. And true to their dare, there has been little or no arrests or prosecutions for their actions.

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We are daily assaulted with news and gory images of cult-related killings in the state, while the state security apparatus looks entirely clueless. Or so it appears. The problem, sir, clearly is not that existing laws are weak. There seems to be more.

Recall that in 2009, governor Imoke ordered government officials to denounce cultism, saying his administration will no longer hobnob them.

Hardly ever! If cult violence is rarely investigated and perpetrators arrested, how then, sir, does the house blame cult-related violence on ineffective laws, when we have hardly enforced existing ones?

Without sounding immodest, sir, cultism is the result of political exploitation in the country. It is nurtured and oiled by the political class, and deployed for their supremacy battles.

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At the end of elections, politicians further ‘empower’ these boys by deploying them to motor parks, markets and other revenue-generating points.

The ‘boys’ soon get embroiled in supremacy battles and unleash terror on themselves and the citizens. The system seems to encourage these activities by its indifference, while more youths are enlisted daily.

In fact, to be sincere to you, sir, our youths are the victims of a skewed political system that clearly fetes gangsters, and the house cannot amend laws to kill them the more.

The fact that the state has rarely secured conviction with existing laws, even in the face of sustained bloodshed in the state proves that the problem is not the laws but the will to bite!

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There seems to be a lack of political will to enforce laws. Thus, the proposed amendment by the house, with all due respect sir, is a knee-jerk reaction to the problem with no genuine intention of addressing underlying causes.

At best, it is a waste of legislative ink, as it holds no promises of taming the ugly monster in the state.

But assuming we accord the house some benefit of the sincerity of purpose, the house ought reasonably to have known that the death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment under international law, including the threats of it.

In fact, the United Nations insists that the death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. Nigeria is a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several instruments which aspires to end the death penalty globally.

May I respectfully draw your attention to the fact, sir, that though Nigeria is yet a ‘retentionist’ country, it recently changed its vote at the United Nations’ General Assembly in 2018 by ‘abstaining’ on the Resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty.

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This was a sharp departure from its consistent vote for its retention in the past years. Experts opine that Nigeria’s abstinence implies a positive consideration of the issue, considering the global trend from ‘against’, ‘abstention’, to a vote in support.

Globally, there has been a consistent increase in votes in favour of the moratorium, from 117 countries in 2016 when the resolution was first introduced, to 121 countries in 2018, out of the 193 UN member-states. Indeed, global abolition of the death penalty is becoming an inevitable reality, and CRSHA cannot live in oblivion. Thus, amending the laws to introduce same negates Nigeria’s position on the issue, and is embarrassing, to say the least.

This is, therefore, to, very respectfully sir, call on you and the entire house to shelve the idea of introducing capital punishment into the law through the proposed amendment.

You should explore instead, durable solutions to dealing with the situation, including legislating on policies which will provide meaningful engagement opportunities for the teeming youth of the state, and being sincere about it.

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This does not include ‘audio employments’ or phoney appointments.

It is high time politicians stop patronizing gangs for their selfish political gains. There is also the need for the proper enforcement of existing laws on anti-cultism by ensuring that cult-related violence is thoroughly investigated and criminals brought to book.

These, together with other programmes aimed at reorienting the youths is all we need to tame the monster in our midst.

I concede at once the need for the collaborative efforts of all of us. The task to rid the state of cultism belongs to everybody. From the family to the church, the schools, social groups, traditional institutions, etc. But the larger task lies in your hands’ sir, and the state.


Usani Odum is a Human Rights Lawyer and writes from South Africa.

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