Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, recently requested governors to comply with their constitutional duty of signing death warrants for death row inmates. Nigeria’s death row prison inmate population presently stands at 3008 out of the total 68,747 prison population.
Despite not constituting a significant percentage, the minister insists that the condemned inmates contribute to prison congestion. In this edition, Law and Human Rights sought the views of senior lawyers on the call for the execution of death row inmates.
I disagree with the Minister, as there is an international moratorium on death row executions and Nigeria being a signatory to the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, ought to abide by the moratorium.
Death sentences should be converted to life imprisonment — Quakers, SAN
Morrison Quakers, SAN, said: “The Interior Minister cannot compel governors to sign the death warrants for death row inmates. In Peter Nemi vs The State, the Supreme Court delivered a policy judgment that a death row inmate still has cognizable right in law. Also, a judge in the Lagos High Court has also declared unconstitutional the mode of execution of the death penalty whether by hanging or by firing squad in the case of James Ajulu and others vs. The AG, of Lagos State. This pronouncement of the court has not been appealed. The implication of the judicial pronouncement is that death row inmates should be converted to life imprisonment.
“Recall that former President Olusegun Obasanjo sometime back issued a presidential order during his presidency to the effect that anyone on death row for over 10 years should be commuted to life imprisonment, while those on death row for over 20 years should be released from prison. I believe decongesting the prison is not in executing those on death row, but those awaiting trial, who constitute about 85 percent of the prison population.
Endless wait for execution, cruelty to death row inmates — Pedro, SAN
Lawal Pedro, SAN said: “The first point to note is that a death penalty is not unconstitutional in Nigeria. Without sentiment, the call on the governors to sign death warrants for a defendant sentenced to death by a court of law is merely requesting them to perform their duty under the law. However, the governors understandably have been reluctant in performing that duty on grounds of morality and religious belief. But the lengthy stay on death row by condemned inmates, and being under the threat of imminent execution perpetually, is cruel, inhuman, and degrading.
“In my view, the condemned prisoners have no remedy against their death sentence or delay in their execution. It is the Attorneys General of the Federation that should come together to advise the government for the removal of the death penalty from our statute books and convert the same to terms of imprisonment/ life imprisonment. If there is no joint decision to that effect, a state government can abolish the death penalty in its state without recourse to the Federal government.”
Seyi Sowemimo, SAN said:” We should either abolish the death penalty or promulgate a law that those sentenced to death should have the sentences carried out without the necessity of it being ratified by a governor. Another option is that if the death warrant is not signed within three months then it should be deemed that the sentence has been commuted to life.”
Aregbesola’s directive hypocritical — Alliyu, SAN
Yomi Alliyu, SAN said: I worked closely with Aregbesola when he was governor of Osun State. He did not sign any death warrant in his eight years of being the governor of Osun.
The world has moved against the death penalty, especially where the accused is not a serial killer. Death penalty should be converted to life imprisonment with no parole for at least 25 years. However, if it is armed robbery or an act of terrorism where victims are killed, the condemned prisoner should be executed as ordered by the court. Experience has shown that death sentence hardly changes convicts since they have taken robbery as a profession. Some of them even organized armed robbery from prison.”
Hannibal Uwaifo said: “Unfortunately, Nigeria is still among the countries that have the death penalty in her statute books. The death penalty is reserved for capital offences and is often applied by law courts according to the law.
“It, therefore, becomes unlawful when governors of states, who are to sign the warrants for the execution of the convicts refuse to do their jobs without any compelling reason other than sentiments and procrastination. Most of these convicts have committed heinous crimes, terrorizing the society they once lived in.
Govs lack moral courage to sign death warrant —Ufeli
Evans Ufeli said: “While calling on governors to sign the death warrants of death row inmates who have exhausted their appeal option is the right thing to do by law as many governors have been in dereliction of their duties in that regard, the fate of the affected inmates has been one of continuous psychological trauma.
The state must be ready to treat them according to law or let them go. Keeping them in perpetual incarceration is not the best in the circumstance.
“Having said that, I feel we should take this conversation further and perhaps examine the effect of capital punishment in Nigerian society. Has dead sentence or capital punishment reduced crime? Even when we keep the death sentence in our laws, have we been putting the death row inmates to death? The answer is no.
“I will, therefore, advocate perhaps that the time has come for us abolish capital punishment like death sentence and make do with a life sentence since indirectly that is what we are doing anyway.
We keep death row inmates in indefinite incarceration while governors keep evading the signing of death warrants to execute them. In addition to this, we are still busy enacting new laws to curb new layers of offenses like kidnapping and insurgency, with the death penalty as the punishment thereto, while we are unwilling to in practical terms discharge the onerous responsibility of enforcing the law against noncompliance.
“The faith of the death row inmates hang on the balance here because the state lacks the courage to enforce the law it enacted and there is a correlation of wrongs between the criminal who knows the offense and consequences, thereof commits it and the state, which makes the law to sanction the criminal but is too weak to put the criminal to death on account of the offense committed against the state.
Let’s abolish the death sentence because we are not working according to the import of the system, besides, the state that puts its citizen to death no matter the offense isn’t exactly different from the criminal who put his neighbour to death.”
Death sentence has outlived its usefulness —Awe
Babatunde Awe said: “The death penalty has long outlived its use and functionality if there was ever any use at all. Statistics available show that the death penalty has not served any useful purpose in the mitigation or eradication of violent crimes to which the penalty is attached.
“If anything, violent crimes have actually increased.
“The retention of the death penalty itself is one of the leading causes of mob action, jungle justice, ‘accidental discharge’ and other manners of extra-judicial killings by police and members of the public.
“I think the Minister should rescind the order and suggest to the governors to instead commute the death sentences of convicts to life imprisonment. Keeping people on death row for many years, in some cases, as long as 30 years is nothing short of cruelty and inhuman treatment.”
Justice system should be reformed to allow parole —Asia
Elvis Asia said: “Interestingly, the Minister did not sign any death warrant for the eight years he was governor. The reason he gave for this retrogressive stand is most unfortunate. Our prisons are congested because of awaiting trial inmates and the failure of the prosecution.
“Death penalty is no longer fashionable, what is expected is a call for its complete erasure from our laws.
“The injustice in our criminal justice system is enough reason why no one should be sentenced to death. If politicians and the elites who have appropriated the resources of the nation cannot be sentenced to death under the law, that is if ever tried, this sentence for the poor is uncalled for. In any event, the death penalty has never solved the problem of crime in society. We need to reform our laws to allow parole system so that inmates who have been ‘corrected’ and reformed overtime can be released subject to conditions.”
Govs should exercise their prerogative of mercy —Adegborioye
Adenrele Adegborioye said: “Governors should sign the death warrant for death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals. They should not be kept in custody despite the court judgments against them.
The law must take its course. However, in the event that the governor deliberately refused to sign the warrant, my position will be that they should be kept in prison as such inmates who have been sentenced to death for grievous capital offence could constitute a danger to society. However, the governor is also empowered to exercise his prerogative of mercy under the constitution and set free the convict but I think that power should only be used in rare cases, especially in view of the nature of the offence against the accused.”