A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN NIGERIA LAW
Capital punishment is the killing of a person by the state in accordance with its laws for an offence for which it is prescribed by law and for which the person is found guilty. Academic writers, jurists, philosophers and the public have expressed diverse views and opinions on the practice of capital punishment over the years. The protagonists of capital punishment justify their views on the penological objectives of deterrence, retribution and elimination inter alia.However, there is no doubt that the practice of capital punishment has attracted a barrage of global recriminations. The recriminations stemmed from the fact that the practice of capital punishment has numerous flaws such as the conviction of the innocent, selective conviction of the poor and sometimes, black offenders, especially in the United States of America and the other white dominated countries. The debate on whether the practice of capital punishment by the retentionist countries, constitute violation of a condemned prisoner’s rights to life and freedom from torture, inhuman, and degrading treatment has not only been controversial but acrimonious. Judicial authorities across the jurisdictions have decided that the p ractice of capital punishment per se does not constitute violation of any right, but the methods of execution and death row phenomenon.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing premises, this work seeks to examine and investigate the trial process of a capital offender in Nigeria with a view of determining the level of Nigeria’s compliance with the due process requirements. The work also seeks to examine the various methods of execution of the death penalty with a view of determining whether the methods contravene the instruments on the prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Also, the work seeks to assess the incidence of the death row phenomenon with a view of ascertaining the average length of time that a condemned prisoner spends while waiting on the death row for execution in Nigeria.This work also highlights and examines the deterrence efficacy or otherwise of capital punishment through the analysis of the statistics obtained from the Nigeria Police Headquarters and the table used by Adeyemi in his 1989 study.
In the course of this research work, the researcher found that the Nigerian Criminal Justice System as regards the legal processing of a capital offender has not been in compliance with the internationally prescribed due process requirements, and that both the pre trial and trial rights of a capital offender are flagrantly violated in Nigeria.
The study also found that majority of the convicts alleged that they stayed in detention for over six months before arraignment, and were tortured by the police during interrogation. The study also revealed that trials of capital offence cases sometimes took up to 15 years to get concluded which is a violation of a right to trial within a reasonable time. This work has also revealed that none of the methods of execution is painless as there have been various instances of botched executions in lethal injection, electrocution and gas chamber, which are perceived to be the modern methods. The study also revealed that an average condemned prisoner spends up to 10 years on the death row before execution.
Sequel to the foregoing, it can be safely contended that the abuse of due process rights of a capital offender abound in Nigeria. It has also been demonstrated that the death row phenomenon and the various methods of execution constitute violations of a condemned prisoner’s right to freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. The study has also shown that capital punishment, as a disposition method in Nigeria does not have any deterrent effect and that long term imprisonment will be a suitable alternative to capital punishment.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing, the researcher argues strongly for the abolition of capital punishment in Nigeria, while recommending alternative punishment for capital offenders.
Capital punishment1 is the supreme sacrifice paid by an offender, who has been adjudged guilty of a capital offence by a court of competent jurisdiction. Simply put, it is a sentence of death, mostly for the commission of serious offences. It is a non-institutional disposition method of treating an offender, and it is principally premised on the penological theories of deterrence, elimination and retribution.
In a bid to control and prevent commission of crimes, certain punishments are meted to offenders in order to prevent or discourage the future commission of such offences by potential offenders. Capital punishment is, therefore, one of the punishments targeted at preventing the repetition or commission of such crimes.
Capital punishment is currently a global issue which has generated much controversy over the years. Different groups and persons have viewed the subject from different perspectives. Thus, the attitudes of nations vary from one to the other. This variance is confirmed by the fact that crimes that attract the capital punishment in the retentionist countries differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This position is buttressed by the fact that in some countries, the list is short; while in others, the list is long. Hence
there is no universal yardstick to classify which crime will attract capital punishment and which will not.3
The protagonists of capital punishment hold the view that certain needs of the society which cannot be achieved by other methods are met by the execution of the criminal. They appear to assume that capital punishment attunes with proportionality in relation to heinous offences ; and their beliefs might have been premised on the utilitarian or hedonistic principle of felicitic calculus in the promotion of common will and the “greate st happiness of the highest number”.5 However, as fascinating as this argument seems to be, capital punishment has numerous flaws , and it cannot justify the violation of fundamental human rights that it involves.
Nigeria is one of the retentionist countries. The Nigerian Constitution endorses capital punishment as a legal form of sentence passed by a court of competent jurisdiction on a person adjudged guilty of capital offence.
BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
The Criminal Code7 and the Penal code, which are applicable in the Southern and the Northern States of Nigeria, respectively, prescribe capital punishment for murder, treason and armed robbery,
inter alia. The Shariah Penal Code, as exemplified by the Zamfara State Shariah Penal Code, and which has been replicated in eleven (11) other states in Northern Nigeria, further prescribes capital punishment for offences such as murder, rape, adultery, incest, sodomy and armed robbery.
The merits and demerits of the capital punishment have been adumbrated by individuals, groups and organizations at local, regional and international levels. Prominent amongst the groups is the Amnesty International, which has been monitoring and compiling records of countries that have abolished capital punishment in law and practice, and countries that still retain it or have re-introduced it into their laws.
There is no gainsaying the fact that capital punishment has been globally discredited, due to so many problems, and the demerits which are associated with it. Several militating factors , like infraction of rights to life, and freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, irreversibility of death, judicial errors, death row phenomenon, barbaric mode of execution, inter alia, have been identified as the albatross of capital punishment. Hence, the concerted global call for its universal abolition.
The Nigerian Criminal Justice Administration is regulated by the Constitution and various statutes. These statutes include the Criminal Procedure Act, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Criminal Code, the Penal Code and the Shariah Criminal Procedure Code 15 which is operative in Zamfara, and in eleven(11) other Northern States in Nigeria, as well as the relevant regional and internationa l instruments to which Nigeria is a party.
These instruments make provisions for various safeguards aimed at protecting citizens’ rights, ensuring due process in criminal trials and post trial processes, including the execution of sentences.
Chapter IV of the Nigerian Constitution recognises the right to life, as a fundamental right. However, the same Constitution, derogates from the said right by authorizing capital punishment for those who commit capital