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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Death penalty in Nigeria: An evaluation of the arguments for and against its abolition. Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by umeche, chinedum ikenna, Nigeria Aug 24, 2007
Human Rights   Opinions
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:: Introduction

Undoubtedly, the right of man to life is the most fundamental of all human rights. The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Right describes this right in a nutshell:

“the right to life is a fundamental right
in any society irrespective to its degree
of development or the type of culture which
characterizes it…The preservation of this
is one of the essential functions of the state
and the numerous provisions of national
legislation establish guarantees to ensure
the enjoyment of the right”

The right to life is a universal right. However, various jurisdictions recognize permissible limitation to this universal right. In Nigeria, such permissible limitation includes the imposition of the death penalty.


:: Death penalty in Nigeria

The death penalty is provided for in section 33(1) of the Nigerian constitution. Specifically, the cited section provides as follows:

“Every person has a right to life, and no one
shall be deprived intentionally of his life
save in execution of the sentence of a court
in respect of a criminal offence of which one
has been found guilty in Nigeria”

In Nigeria, today, five offences are punishable by death. These include: murder, treason, treachery, directing and controlling or presiding at an unlawful trial by ordeal from which death results, and conviction for armed robbery. The introduction of the sharia criminal law in some states in northern Nigeria widened offences punishable by death. For instance, under sharia law, death penalty can be applied for sexual crimes.

The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the supreme law of the land, and any law inconsistent with its provisions is therefore inconsistent. From the above, it follows that the constitutionality of death penalty is not in doubt. In fact, the supreme court of Nigeria upheld the constitutionality of the death sentence in the case of Onuoha Kalu vs The State . In this case, the appellant was charged with the offence of murder. The trial court found him guilty. The appellant was accordingly convicted and sentenced to death.

Aggrieved with this decision, the appellant appealed to the court and his conviction was upheld. Unsatisfied, he subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court. It was at this point that the appellant sought and was granted leave to raise the issue of the constitutionality of the death sentence in Nigeria. The Supreme Court, as usual, invited distinguished lawyers to address it on the issue. After considering submissions by all parties, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion that the death penalty was indeed constitutional. In the words of Iguh (Justice of the Supreme Court).

“Upon a careful perusal of the various foreign
authorities to which our attention was drawn by
the opinion that the death penalty per se amounts
to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and
therefore intrinsically unconstitutional seems to me
a minority view. Indeed a close study of those
decisions reveals that the foreign jurisdictions that
have similar provisions in their constitution
as ours have repeatedly pronounced the death penalty
to be constitutionally valid.”

There have been worldwide appeals and campaigns aiming to abolish death penalty. Indeed, various international and regional instruments against death penalty are on the increase. Each year, since 1997, the United Nations Commission on Human rights has passed a resolution calling on countries that have not abolished the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions.

Although the death penalty still remains constitutionally valid in Nigeria, there has been a national debate on the death penalty issue. While many argue for its retention, others argue for its abolition. I shall now seek an evaluation of these arguments.

:: Arguments In Favour Of The Death Penalty

The death penalty has been regarded as a retributive measure. Accordingly, the criminal should die for the crime he has committed. Allowing him to go free is to make him a threat to others. Just as the individual has the right to safeguard as well as take his life whenever he pleases, the state has the right and duty to take the life of a citizen in order to increase its welfare. This argument hinges on the ethical principle that evil deserves castigation and wrong doing deserves reparation by adequate deprivation and punishment for the wrong doer.
It is also argued that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to future crimes. This is known as the deterrence theory. Thus, the death penalty would be a deterrent or preventive act for capital offences.

Again, it has been argued that if the death penalty is abolished, it may lead to an increase in the number of extra judicial killings by the police and survivors of violent crimes. Indeed, the knowledge that a wanton murderer, for example, would get only a life sentence with the possibility of state pardon may compel an overzealous police officer or the victim of such an offence to seek revenge outside the law.





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umeche, chinedum ikenna


CHINEDUM UMECHE is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He is a memeber of Amnesty International, London and The Young International Arbitration Group of the London Court of International Arbitration. He currently works with G. E. Ezomo and Co, a law firm in Benin City, Edo state, Nigeria.
Comments


Nigeria is behind schedule
Ndukwe Psalms | May 1st, 2011
Life is basis of all other right upon which other rights are predicated on and should not be qualified.If one is sentenced to death,he is divested of every other rights because of a single act of his/her life.It is unjustifiable and therefore should be abrogated.



Death penalty in Nigeria- Armed robbers plight
Adesina-Okunade A Sam | Dec 13th, 2007
I will like to say that the Nigerian government should consider the revision of death penalty for armed robbers. This is not because I am one of them or that I have a close relation who engages in such but for the mere fact that the Nigerian Justice code to an extent is lopesided. The politicians steal in millions and billions and also go to the extent of killing anyone perceived to have the knowledge of their nefarious actions yet they go scot free. The latest trend now is for a government office holder to steal as much as possible and after being arrainged will opt for A PLEA BARGAIN!. Then why should a youth whose right entitlement has been stolen and was forced into robbery be killed over a loot that is sometimes not up to $1000?. Am not encouraging robbery but am saying that anybody that is caught stealing by any means should be made to face the music-preferably jail terms and not death penalty!



the death penalty
Rotimi O. Obafemi | Dec 14th, 2007
personally, i think the issue of the death penalty has been widely undebated locally for a while. while i'm particularly not always interested in the issue, i think the death penalty should be totally deleted from our statutes book. though in fairness to the judiciary, there hasn't been any case of invoking the death penalty for at least eight years...but the truth remains that the death penalty has outlived its relevance within the criminal justice system.



the death penalty
Rotimi O. Obafemi | Dec 14th, 2007
personally, i think the issue of the death penalty has been widely undebated locally for a while. while i'm particularly not always interested in the issue, i think the death penalty should be totally deleted from our statutes book. though in fairness to the judiciary, there hasn't been any case of invoking the death penalty for at least eight years...but the truth remains that the death penalty has outlived its relevance within the criminal justice system.

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