Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Argument For And Against The Abolition Of Death Penalty in Nigeria: The Oracle's Verdict

Capital punishment or death penalty, according to Wikipedia, is a process, backed by law, by which the state puts someone to death as punishment for a crime committed. Such crimes that demand capital punishment are called capital crimes or capital offences.
Crimes seen as capital vary from country to country and even state to state. In countries where Capital punishment is still administered, violent crimes like murder, rape and kidnapping are the most common capital crimes; however, non-violent crimes are also seen as capital in some countries. For instance, China, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Iran and Iraq, amongst others, see drug trafficking as an offence punishable by death. Counterfeiting of currencies and human trafficking are capital offences in China; treason remains capital offence in the United States, Brazil amongst other nations.

Capital offences in Nigeria

In Nigeria, there are five major crimes which are punishable by death and they are: murder; armed robbery; directing, controlling or presiding over an unlawful trial which results to death; treason and treachery. Due to the spate of Kidnapping in the South-eastern part of the country, however, Enugu and Abia States have made kidnapping a capital offence. Furthermore, some states in the Northern part of the country where Sharia law is in practice also have some other offences such as sexual crimes as punishable by death.

To be or not to be?

Over the years, worldwide, there have been arguments as to whether capital punishment should be abolished or retained. This has brought about 2 groups of countries/states with regards to this issue...the Abolitionists and the Retentionists. Whereas the Abolitionists like Australia, Canada, Gabon, France, the United Kingdom and a fraction of the United States of America (17 States and the District of Columbia out of 50 states) are countries/states that have totally outlawed capital punishment for all offences; the Retentionists are countries/states that still have it in place. There is also a group of countries/states that tend to stand in the middle on this issue and have put in place a moratorium (suspension) on capital punishment with a view to either abolishing or retaining it eventually...I would call them "Moratorists". Countries have also been known to drift between being Abolitionists and Retentionists over time; China and Japan are two of such countries. 

As at 2012, according to records released by Amnesty International, a non-governmental organisation focused on human rights with over 3 million members/supporters world-wide; 97 countries in the world are total Abolitionists; 8 countries are Partial-abolitionists (they use it only under special circumstances); 36 countries are Moratorists and even though they have people on death row and still sentence people to die, they have not executed anyone in the last 10 years while 57 countries are Retentionists. Nigeria, though now one of the Retentionists after the recent execution in Edo State, has been a Moratorist Country, having not executed anyone since 2006, at least, legally.

In spite of all these, it is the wish of the United Nations that there is a universal ban on capital punishment. Presently, there is a non-binding resolution requesting that its member states (187 Countries) raise a moratorium on executions with a view to totally abolishing capital punishment. But the argument still rages on? Capital Punishment; to be or not to be?

The views of those against it:

Individuals and organisations world-wide have continued to speak and fight against capital punishment. Most prominent in this struggle is Amnesty International. They argue that:

  • It is prone to miscarriage of justice: Abolitionists argue that innocent people have been executed in the past and would keep being executed as long as capital punishment is still in practice. This argument is given weight when one considers the fact that the use of DNA is crime detection, especially in the United States, has sickeningly revealed that a number of people sentenced to death and executed were actually innocent. About 15 people who were sentenced to die between 1992 and 2004 had been cleared using DNA evidences. The worrisome part is that this technology is not far-reaching and that in most Retentionist countries, especially the under-developed and developing; people are executed without extensive inquiry and trial which could be aided by DNA evidence. Even in the United States, DNA evidence is used just for a fraction of capital cases.
  • It is a violation of Human Rights: They further argue that capital punishment is extremely degrading and violates a person's right to life which is the most important human right. Abolitionists are of the opinion that the condemned are subjected to psychological torture by being made aware, usually of how and when their lives would be taken. They argue that no criminal deserves such torture and eventual death asides the criminal whom had before murdering his victim, incarcerated and informed him of when he shall be killed. They argue that criminals who have committed heinous crimes should be given life in prison without parole.
  • It is discriminatory against the poor of society and minorities: They argue that capital punishment must be abolished since most legal systems around the world do not have the courage to administer such on the high and mighty. It has been noticed that many of the condemned are the poor and lowly of society who cannot muscle their way to freedom through sheer nepotism nor afford the cost of proper legal representation. It has also been noticed, especially in societies with mixed races, that people of the minority race tend to be more at the receiving end of capital punishments.
The Views of those supporting it:

People have, on the other hand, supported the retention of capital punishment and have even written petitions to countries that have become Abolitionists to revert towards being Retentionists. Their argument is that:

  • It deters crime: They suggest that if one is aware that being convicted of certain crimes would result to his death; he would keep away from such crimes than he would to crimes that would fetch him life in prison.
  • It is a justifiable penalty to certain atrocious crimes: They argue that certain crimes deserve nothing less than death as penalty. They see no reason why a murderer who tortures his victim till he dies should have a claim to his own life; they see no reason why someone who rapes an infant to death should have a claim to his own life or why someone who brutally kills another should be spared his own life.

The Oracle's View:

Yes, there have been and there would still be innocent people who have been executed due to miscarriage of justice; yes there is the perceived discrimination against the poor and minority of society with regards capital punishment but I do disagree that it is "extremely degrading" and should be seen as "violation of human rights" especially for certain crimes.

Think of an assassin who gets paid to take the life of another whom he had, hitherto, never met; whom had neither provoked nor done him any harm...yet he murders him in cold blood. Think of ritualists who kidnap, kill and mutilate their victims for money making purposes; think of the Boko-Haramists who enter a Church and try to methodically kill every member of the congregation for reasons best known to them. Think of miscreants who invade villages killing defenceless people especially children, women and the aged. Think of serial killers who enjoy killing, see it as a game and do it without remorse. Think of men who rape vulnerable women, insert dangerous items in their privates and murder them. Think of armed robbers who after robbery, get trigger-happy and kill their victims....I can go on and on. Can you visualise each of these? Now tell me...do you not think that such criminals as you may have imagined, denied their victims their right to life? So do they have a valid claim to their own right to live?

Besides, freedom is also human right...if such criminals should be sentenced to life in prison without parole, and going by the argument that capital punishment violates a person's right to life...does life in prison not also violate their right to freedom? Maybe we should let them go scot free since their human rights must be respected.

Again, I don’t see as valid the argument that capital punishment subjects the condemned to psychological torture and is not fair unless the condemned had done same to his victim. It is punitive in nature and should be more painful when compared to the crime. The victim here is the person who had been murdered and not the murderer/criminal.

Ihukwa Ogbu mmadu ndu n'agu (talk of a murderer to whom life is precious)...If I had my way, Great One, certain criminals would not be given the luxury of instant death…I would subject them to very slow and excruciating death…

It is simple psychology that the weight of the punishment a crime bears serves as deterrent. If allowed to choose, murderers would prefer life in prison to capital punishment...it is easy to understand. Humans value their own lives unless they have gone suicidal. People would usually stay away from crimes that would result to their death than they would to those that would lead to their incarceration. A case in point would be the rate at which Nigerian drug-peddlers tend to avoid countries where drug peddling is capital crime. It is also clear when one considers how criminals in the United States try as much as possible not to kill a cop...It is a sure road to death. Heinous crimes can obviously be discouraged by being assigned a capital status; this is not to say that such crimes would still not be committed.

Nigeria, as it is today, is a jungle with people committing different heinous and capital crimes with impunity. It would be counterproductive to water-down on the punishment reserved for such crimes and criminals especially at this moment. If someone or a group of people can go ahead; in Nigeria or elsewhere; to wantonly kill others knowing fully well that the punishment for such a crime is death; what do you think the person(s) would do if the punishment was watered-down to incarceration? Repent?

Nigeria is hardly a crime preventing nation; she is not proactive in crime fighting...she is reactionary. The major score this nation has against crime is the punishment reserved for caught criminals and it is my opinion that it should be used extensively till the time when proactive crime prevention becomes a part of us and the country becomes more civilized and less of a jungle.

Advice to Amnesty International and other Abolitionists

Therefore, to the Abolitionists, especially Amnesty International...though I do understand your reservations with regards retaining capital punishment; I suggest you do not try to generalise its outright abolition; all countries are not the same and certainly would not need same strategy. It would be wiser to look at the prevalent atmosphere in the given state or country with respect to the frequency of the capital crimes committed and the ability to prevent such crimes. In an environment where such crimes can be prevented and/or where such crimes are not common; it may make sense to preach against abolition of capital punishment. But in an environment which seemingly cannot control the everyday occurrence of capital crimes that threaten to decimate its people; let capital punishment run its course.

Furthermore, it would make more sense if you pay more attention to ensuring that the convicted get fair trials and that the use of DNA technology in crime fighting and DNA evidence in trials become widespread; this would help reduce the likelihood that the innocent get convicted and executed for crimes they never committed while ensuring that the guilty are duly punished. This would make more sense than campaigning blindly for the abolition of capital punishment in toto.

Yes Great one! One does not throw the baby out with the bath water...

Advice to Nigeria and other Retentionists

Life is precious and as long as someone has done nothing to intentionally take away the life of another; s/he should be spared the capital punishment. I am aware that due to the re-occurrence of certain crimes and the stubborn and unrepentant nature of those perpetuating them; capital punishment has been prescribed even to non-violent crimes like currency counterfeiting, drug peddling, etc. I would,however, suggest that a milder punishment be prescribed for such crimes as it is totally unfair to punish, for instance, a drug peddler just the same way you would a murderer.

I would also advice that capital crimes be investigated critically, extensively and conclusively before judgement is passed. The use of modern technology which mines DNA information from crime scenes and processes them have helped solve countless crimes and even helped ensure that the innocent are not punished; such technology should be adopted and DNA evidence should be made essential in trials relating to capital crimes.

Again, capital punishment in not for the poor of society; it is for capital criminals. If it must be retained, then it should be dished to all who deserve it, no matter how highly placed...whatever is good for the goose, is good for the gander.

Prevention, they say, is better than cure...Nigeria should change from being reactionary to crime fighting to being proactive. One of the major reasons why criminals have a field day in Nigeria is the near-devastating rate of unemployment. Nigerian youth, who are supposed to be preserved and groomed towards being responsible as leaders of the country in no distant time, are left without jobs, benefits and quality education...they are left to fend for themselves in a cruel, cruel world and this has pushed a number of them into crimes including capital crimes. I daresay that the rate of unemployment in a given country is directly proportional to the crime rate in that same country...the more the unemployment rate; the more the crime rate. If Nigeria is to become near-crime-free society, jobs should be made available to the teeming Nigerian youth.

I would also want to point out that every unsolved crime is an incentive and invitation for more of those crimes to be committed. In Nigeria the amount of solved crimes are very minute when compared to the unsolved ones especially the capital crimes. People have been assassinated without their murderers being caught, people have been kidnapped now and again without the kidnappers being caught, robbers have attacked banks and Nigerians and have walked away scot free...the list goes on and on. All these encourage and fuel the bravery of these criminals and the criminal-minded to go on with or join the crime world.

Well, Nigeria's is a multi-faceted problem...and till we start addressing them, I urge the President, Goodluck Jonathan, not to allow himself to be bullied by Amnesty International or other Abolitionists into abolishing the Country's major line of defence against heinous crimes. Capital Punishment should be retained until such a time that Nigerians would shy away from crime for the sake that it is morally wrong and unproductive rather than because of the possible punishment following such a crime. Even the United States, as developed as they are, still make use of capital punishment as deterrent to certain crimes.

Finally, Capital punishment is just PUNISHMENT...it goes to say that if the associated crimes are not committed, nobody gets punished, simple! Laws are meant to guide and to be obeyed not to maim or be disobeyed.

Ukpara okpoko gburu...nti chiri ya.


The Oracle Has Spoken!!