Monday, January 12, 2009

NIGERIA: Death-row prisoners and the government

Death Penalty and Execution News (Rick Halperin's Posts)

Excerpt: "...to be sure, the excruciating mental, physical and psychological agonies which a criminal on death row experiences on daily basis, as he/she awaits the executioner's noose, could be better imagined than described: Every knock on his door brings the hangman. Everyday, he dies, as it were, but lives, pining away, right from the moment the judge read out the terminal judgment: "The sentence of death of the court upon you is that you be hanged by the neck until you be dead and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul."

JANUARY 12, 2009

ACCORDING to recent reports, 27 condemned prisoners at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons, Apapa, Lagos, have embarked on the legal war-path against the Federal and Lagos State Governments over an alleged impropriety of their prolonged stay in prison detention, on death row. The 27 condemned prisoners have filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Lagos, to question an alleged miscarriage of justice inherent in their delayed execution, and to challenge the constitutionality of keeping them on death row for periods ranging from 10 to 24 years, during which they have allegedly been subjected to untold mental and psychological trauma.

In their applications, the plaintiffs are also asking the court to convert their death sentences to terms of imprisonment since, according to them, the governments have lost the power to execute them, presumably through the effluxion of time. All that is for the court(s) to decide.

But, to be sure, the excruciating mental, physical and psychological agonies which a criminal on death row experiences on daily basis, as he/she awaits the executioner's noose, could be better imagined than described: Every knock on his door brings the hangman. Everyday, he dies, as it were, but lives, pining away, right from the moment the judge read out the terminal judgment: "The sentence of death of the court upon you is that you be hanged by the neck until you be dead and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul."

Whereas section 367 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Act (Cap. 80, LFN, 1990) stipulates that "the punishment of death is inflicted by hanging the offender by the neck till he be dead," neither the Constitution nor any of the existing laws specifically states when a condemned criminal may be executed after the sentence of death has been pronounced upon him. It is, however, instructive to note the provisions of section 371F of the Criminal Procedure Act, which states that, where the Attorney-General of the Federation or of a State, as the case may be, decides not to recommend to the Advisory Council on the Prerogative of Mercy (the Council of State), he sentence should be commuted or the offender should be pardoned or reprieved. "He shall cause the sheriff to be informed and the sentence of death pronounced upon the offender shall be carried into effect in accordance with and subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act and the sheriff shall thereupon make arrangements accordingly pursuant to the sentence of death pronounced upon the offender" (emphasis provided).

Although the underscored word, thereupon, apparently suggests that the execution of the convict must be done with efficient speed, it is, nevertheless, contingent upon the President's or Governor's endorsement of the death warrant. Over the years, successive heads of state and state governors have shown extreme reluctance and aversion to signing death warrants, either for moral or metaphysical constraints, with the result that we now have about 725 condemned prisoners, including 11 women, on death row; some of them for several years. The failure to execute the condemned criminals is also ascribed to the dearth of hangmen. A strange excuse, this!

The trend in some industrialised nations has been to first stop executing prisoners and then to substitute long terms of imprisonment for death as the most severe of all criminal penalties. The United States (U.S.) is a notable exception to this trend. The federal government and a majority of U.S. states allow the death penalty, and an average of 75 executions take place each year throughout the U.S. The antagonists of the death penalty contend that it is brutal and degrading, while the protagonists argue that it is a necessary form of retribution for terrible crimes. Amnesty International and several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have expressed concern over the treatment of condemned criminals and the mode of their elimination.

Frantic appeals have been made to all members of the United Nations (UN) to abolish the death penalty, which is viewed as a degrading and inhuman treatment. Sections 4 and 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a signatory, provide (section 4) that "Any one sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases," and (section 6) that, "Nothing in this Article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant."

However, in Kalu vs. State (1998) 3 NWLR (Pt.583), 531, the Supreme Court of Nigeria held that "Death sentence is a reality. It is provided for by our criminal laws including section 319 subsection (1) of the Criminal Code of Lagos State. Our Constitution also recognises the death sentence...Therefore, the sentence of death in itself cannot be degrading and inhuman as envisaged by section 31 subsection (1) (a) of the Constitution." That remains the law.

That, notwithstanding, we believe that, in order to eliminate, or, at least, alleviate the mental, physical and psychological anguish to which a condemned criminal is subjected, to prevent him from dying many times before his death and to reduce the pressure on the 227 prisons in Nigeria, he should be promptly executed if he has fought and lost all the legal battles and if there is no timeous recommendation made for his pardon or reprieve or for the commutation of his sentence to a term of imprisonment.

Section 175 (1) (a)-(d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 empowers the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (in due consultation with the Council of State) to "grant any person concerned with or convicted of any offence created by an Act of the National Assembly a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions." Section 212 (1) (a)-(d) of the Constitution confers similar powers on the governor of a state. We are persuaded that even though the capital punishment remains a part of our municipal laws, the Federal and State Governments should not compound the agonies of condemned criminals on death row.

The argument that such criminals are not executed because of the dearth of executioners is most implausible. Could the insufficiency of hangmen be due to the cost of hiring them, or are qualified hangmen in short supply in the labour market? We appeal to the Federal and State Governments to do something, with dispatch, about the criminals on death row - have them executed under the law or exercise the prerogative of mercy (in terms of pardon, reprieve or commutation of sentences) in their favour.

(source: The Guardian)

NOTE: Although I have posted this item here in it's entirety, in NO way does The Journey of Hope Recommend execution...this is simply posted because of the debate, the complexity of some of these issue - for discussion...

You may also want to see this article a few months back by Amnesty about the likelihood that Nigeria has quite a few INNOCENTS on death row:
here

1 comment:

Connie L. Nash said...

I lived in NIgeria for two years...what a complex, interesting place! Please add your comments.
Connie