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Death Penalty in Nigeria: Time for Reflection Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Wilfred Mamah, United Kingdom Nov 22, 2003
Human Rights   Opinions
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The daily violation of right to life is now the most serious problem facing the human race. “Man is a wolf to man”. The question of retention or abolition of death penalty at a time like this will provoke serious emotions. I am not surprised that emotions were raised on the issue in Nigeria. The recent death penalty dialogue organized by the Federal Ministry of Justice in Nigeria no doubt provided an opportunity for a discharge, to borrow from re-evaluation counselling.

Most Nigerians are getting conversant with the arguments on all the sides. I do not intend to regurgitate them. Those who still enforce the death penalty do not need any research to unearth the disturbing incidences of heartless crimes that seem to support the retention of the death penalty, if only to save the human race from extinction.

No doubt there are heartless people that are beyond reclamation, or so it seems. For example, take Ian Huntley of the U.K. He was the prime suspect in the murders of ten year olds Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. Holly and Jessica described as being loyal to each other and popular at school vanished on August 4th, 2002. Their bodies were later discovered, yet hidden in way that it was difficult to be seen. Huntley later admitted on front to a jury that the girls died while they were alone with him in his house, but he denies the charges of murder. It is important to note that the United Kingdom abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 1998, with the last execution placed in 1964. Hence, the question of Ian Huntley, being executed, even if found guilty of murder does not arise at all. The U.K is a fine example of triumph of the abolitionists' argument. Similar arguments had also been made in several other countries such as: Finland which eliminated the death penalty in 1972. According to Amnesty International, a total of 112 countries have disclaimed to death penalty in law or practice. According to the same source, 83 countries are retaining the death penalty, including: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Swaziland, United States, and Nigeria.

The arguments in favour of retention seem to be gathering momentum, as crime waves continue to rise, but interestingly, the number of countries that use the capital penalty continues to dwindle. The desire for revenge is a usual animal instinct. It could be understandable when people want to hit back, but it seems it requires a higher level of maturity to hold oneself back, even when provoked.

A few days ago, I watched with shock and anger as the bodies of 19 Italian soldiers were laid to rest, amid tears and wails. At the same time, Turkey is still licking its wounds following the last few days’ senseless attack. Men, women and children that sought solace in a house of prayer became victims of heartless attacks of terror. The event of September 11 cannot be wished away. The harvest of graves, dust and tears will continue to shock men and women forever. Iraq is still a theatre of war. Saddam Hussein, who is notorious for his crimes against his own people, is yet to be captured. Terrorists and assassins are having a field day. Osama Bin laden is still in hiding, issuing instructions to the Al Qaeda network, to tear down and destroy. Terrorism has given birth to countless victims. The urge to strike back is so intense. The most disturbing aspect of this however, is that in most of the terrorist cases, the perpetrators, are desperate to die with their victims.

As I write, at least 14, 000 security agents are keeping watch in the UK to ensure that terrorists are scared from attacking the U.S president, who is currently on a state visit in the UK. “The Stop the War Coalition” plans a peaceful gathering, which will attract over 100, 000 protesters. The message is: Stop the Killing in Iraq! Stop the Bloodshed!

Blood is shed daily by offenders, who have wilfully decided to wreck havoc on their fellow men and women. Should the state also condescend in doing the same? Are there other alternative punishments to cater for violent offenders and secure the cherished rights of law abiding citizens?

Advocates of retention and abolition agree that:

• Life is sacred and should be accorded that sanctity
• There is a possibility of error in death penalty trial, sentencing and execution.
• There is the need to save the innocent from execution.
• There is a need for death penalty statistics
• It is unfair to keep capital offenders awaiting trial endlessly.
• There is need for prison reform.
• Police investigative capacity needs to be enhanced.

There are so many other common grounds. I suggest that the first point of departure will be knowledge. Statistics in Nigeria has always been problematic. Nigeria can no longer continue to destroy lives, without a thorough examination of the effectiveness of that action. Nigeria needs clear statistics on the death penalty, urgently. The country also needs clear statistics on crime situation. For instance, it would be helpful to know whether, incidences of robbery are increasing or decreasing. It would be relevant to shop for international best practices. For instance, a study group could be assigned, with the task of studying the UK and the US system. It would be very useful to equally study the abolitionist countries in Africa. Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique have all abolished death penalty.

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