Just Thinking...

The death penalty

THE debate generated by the recent signing of death warrants of four condemned criminals in Edo State is not surprising against the backdrop of the existence of death penalty in the country’s statute, along with the opposition of a large section of the international community to capital punishment. To be sure, there are logical arguments in support of the death penalty, chief of which finds favour in the injunction that those who live by the sword must die by the sword. In spite of global abhorrence of capital punishment, about 682 executions were performed worldwide in 2012.

   However, the arguments, persuasive as they may be, cannot discountenance the fact that the death penalty enacts a finality that is beyond human reparation, especially where the execution is found to have been inflicted on the wrong person. In that regard, it would amount to execution of justice itself; and such a situation, which has been recorded in many jurisdictions, ought not to be permitted in any progressive society. This logic, coupled with findings that death penalty has not been a deterrence to the commission of heinous crimes, partly informed the world-wide campaign against the punishment.

  President Goodluck Jonathan apparently failed to appreciate this phenomenon when, on the occasion of the global celebration of Father’s Day, recently, he urged the state governors in the country to sign the death warrants of criminal culprits on the death row. The president relied on the fact that it was entirely legal to approve the death penalty, and governors should not shy away from performing their duty of giving vent to the law. Yet, that call, by the way, was ill-timed and inappropriate. It was read by many observers as invoking blood on the polity. The ‘father of the nation’ ought to lead, show love and compassion on a day internationally designated as ‘Father’s Day.’ Little wonder that the edifying message of the president for the occasion – that fathers should enforce discipline in their homes and act as moral models for their children – was lost. Father’s Day is about honouring all the men who have typified a father figure.

  Now it would appear that the president’s call for execution of condemned criminals ended a seeming moratorium on capital punishment since 2006 which the global anti-death penalty community had regarded as hope for the West African sub-region. The number of those on death row whose warrants state governors have failed to sign, is large.  Capital punishment for culprits in murder cases and other related offences is within the bounds of the country’s laws. While this legality cannot be questioned, the criminal justice process in the country remains problematic. The integrity of criminal justice is in doubt and the country’s system is fraught with sundry contradictions. Indeed, innocent victims are often caught up in the process. It is disheartening that prison formations across the country are inhabited, in the main, by awaiting trial inmates many of who have spent periods far more than they would have spent upon conviction. Calling on the state executives to exercise the prerogative of mercy would have been more appropriate given this reality of the criminal justice system.

  Ultimately, government should accept that the death penalty is gradually losing its legal force in most countries across the world. More emphasis is being placed on the sanctity of life which is a fundamental human right underpinned by Almighty God’s creation of man. The sanctity of human life is such that even the worst murderers should not be deprived of their lives. Indeed, the value of the offender’s life cannot be destroyed by the offender’s bad behaviour involving murder.

   Although those in favour of capital punishment have argued that a person can, by his or her actions, forfeit human rights, and thus murderers lose their right to life, there is growing preference for prison terms in place of capital punishment for criminal culprits especially in murder cases.

   This is why the president’s statement, and the Edo governor’s recent action are viewed as a setback in the struggle to hallow the respect for human rights and abolish capital punishment.

  The objective reality is that despite capital punishment, crimes have been on the increase. If anything, this fact dictates the need to interrogate other aspects of the political economy to account for the cause of criminality and address it from there. The manner in which the country’s production relations is organised can only but aggravate social vices in the society. The economy is largely rentier where reward is for lassitude and where resource appropriation is done through various forms of primitive amassing. This mode of accumulation has inherent implication for criminality in the society and must be addressed head-on.

  No excuses, of course, for criminality. But the sanctity of life or the dignity of man ought to weigh more on the minds of leaders than it does now.


Culled from The Guardian

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