Switch headers Switch to TIGweb.org

Are you an TIG Member?
Click here to switch to TIGweb.org

HomeHomeExpress YourselfPanoramaDeath Penalty Abolition and Missing Fundamentals
a TakingITGlobal online publication

(Advanced Search)

Panorama Home
Issue Archive
Current Issue
Next Issue
Featured Writer
TIG Magazine
Short Story
My Content
Death Penalty Abolition and Missing Fundamentals Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Wilfred Mamah, United Kingdom Jul 27, 2004
Human Rights   Opinions
 1 2 3   Next page »


In a recent death penalty abolition forum, I observed a crack in the abolitionists' camp. A journalist, a supposed death penalty abolition crusader, spoke up and stunned participants. Drawing curious distinction between herself as a journalist, who writes in favour of abolition, and her person as an individual, a concerned Nigerian, the journalist raised serious doubts about the utilitarianism of abolishing capital sentence in a country like Nigeria. Put briefly, her thesis was that Nigeria is not yet ripe for such a radical step, which will in fact; impede safety, security and development. Illustrating her position with copious references to her recent encounter with violent criminals, my journalist friend concluded that we should discard the struggle for death penalty abolition or moratorium and concentrate energies on other issues like, deepening democracy, increasing well-being and minimizing ill-being.

When she was done, it was clear that "retentionists" (i.e. those in support of retention of capital sentence) have infiltrated the abolitionists' camp. But, I saw beyond that. It came across to me strongly that a thin line divides "abolitionists" and "retentionists" and anyone who fails to mind the gap can easily stumble to the other side. It also struck me that those who clamour for abolition have failed over the years to identify the missing implement in its toolkit of engagement, let alone taking any decisive steps to supply the missing fundamentals. As an unrepentant abolitionist, I feel called upon to lead this discussion in evaluating the abolitionist movement so far, particularly in calling attention to where the "banana peels are carefully hidden". I do this because; this is a struggle we cannot afford to fail. This is because if we do fail, Africa fails and the current global march towards abrogation of this inhuman and unusual punishment will be stunted, because globalisation, no matter how conceived, will be a sham without Africa.

The first problem we face in the abolitionists' camp is in the realm of conceptual clarification, worsened by absence of supporting statistics. The second area of concern borders on issues of co-ordination among stakeholders. This is compounded by the Nigerian mentality of "everyone must be the boss". In an earlier reflection, I called this mentality, the "big man's culture" which I identified as the "black man's burden" Building coalition has become problematic and the scramble for floating NGOs can today equal that for setting up miracle centers. We dissipate energies and we fail to gather enough force to push for reform. The third gap is a follow up to the earlier ones and that is funding. No serious reform campaign can be undertaken in absence of funds. Local and international grants to push for issues like this come in trickles. Absence of funds is exacerbated by lack of political will. Government seems to be speaking from both sides of its mouth. No one can say for sure, whether government, at all levels are in support of abolition or retention or whether it is standing on the fence, which in fact implies standing nowhere.

We will now examine the issues seriatim. Although we may not agree with the journalist who spoke as an individual, that abolition of capital sentence will impede safety, security and growth, it is indeed painful to observe that she may be speaking the minds of over 60% of Nigerians. Many Nigerians are getting frustrated about the current increase in violent crimes. In an answer to the enigma of crime, many are clamouring for the heads of violent offenders. Some have even gone a step further to constitute themselves into prosecutor, defence and judge, and that's why people have been stripped naked and burnt to ashes for stealing paltry sums of money or household items, like tooth paste, in a country like this where billions of naira are stolen armed with a pen.

The abolitionists who should face the angry people in the streets with superior arguments that decimation of violent offenders is not the answer, regrettable are bereft of statistics. Hence, we lack the means to lead our society through a thorough self-examination, like, why are they criminals? Were they born criminals? Could it be that environmental factors, like failing governance have pushed them to crimes? Some of us, in the abolitionist camp do not seem to believe in the stuff they package for sale, since they easily trip to the other sides, once violent offenders confront them. We all know how boring it could be to listen to a preacher that does not believe in what he preaches. Our advocacy strategy is further weakened by resort to religious argumentation, like "Life is sacred. It belongs to God and should not be taken for any cause" This line of argument often infuriates the hardened "retentionists", as they equally retort "What of the victim's life? Is that not sacred too?” And we are back to square one.

The abolitionist foot soldiers are in the battlefield with broken focus and broken rank. We lack co-ordination because everyone wants to go solo. Coalition building in Nigeria has become problematic. Vain issues like money, power and influence often intrude to misbalance worthy coalition building efforts. In my several years of working within the human rights movement in Nigeria, I have had cause to attend several meetings where coalitions are built. Most of these efforts collapse curiously as a result of "human rights abuse" I use "human rights abuse" advisedly to refer to the blatant refusal by the "power blocks", i.e. those behind the coalition, to share information and to allow coalition members to participate. This "gate-keeping" mechanism raises serious questions of accountability and intent. As a result of this, tongues are wagging as to what actually drives human rights work in Nigeria. People have asked whether we are actually working for the poor or using the poor as a ladder to wealth. It needs to be stated clearly, that the primary motivation for human rights work is to "give voice to human suffering, to make it visible and find a way of pushing governmental policies towards amelioration" If we agree on this, then, we must be able to build strong coalition and work where our strength lies. It is on this note that we should applaud the efforts of the Human Rights Law Service, (HURILAWS) for its consistency on issues of death penalty abolition. The case of Onuoha Kalu Vs State, which the organisation fought, is a locus classicus on the issue of constitutionality of death penalty. It could safely be said that just as one cannot discuss death penalty abolition in the United States without Furman and Georgia, one cannot also discuss the abolition movement in Nigeria without Onuoha Kalu Vs State. In the same way, it will be pretty difficult to talk of police reform in Nigeria without CLEEN. If we identify individual strengths like these coalitions, building around core strengths becomes easier.

 1 2 3   Next page »   


You must be logged in to add tags.

Writer Profile
Wilfred Mamah

This user has not written anything in his panorama profile yet.
You must be a TakingITGlobal member to post a comment. Sign up for free or login.