Lagos State Retains Controversial Death Sentence

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Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State

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Lagos State government due to popular opinion is retaining death penalty in its status book, but the decision is not likely to stop the debate on the controversial subject

By Olu Ojewale  |  Mar. 2, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

IN an era where death sentence is becoming unfashionable in many countries, Lagos State government has decided to retain the death penalty in its criminal law to serve as deterrence to criminals.

Ade Ipaye, attorney general and commissioner for justice in the state, who said this in a statement on Wednesday, February 18, explained that the decision was taken at a meeting of the State Executive Council, which met and deliberated on the several abolition campaigns and international advocacy, which were addressed to the government. “In taking its decision, the state commissioned an empirical research that surveyed the perception of Lagos residents and elicited their opinion on the abolition debate, including whether or not they believe the death penalty deters violent crimes,” Ipaye said.

According to the commissioner, the objective of the survey was to develop a state policy on capital punishment that would rely on empirical evidence and based on consultation with citizens and stakeholders. “The survey was undertaken in two categories: public survey (random selection of 2,000 members of the public) and the experts’ survey (selected 100 persons who have close contact with the criminal justice process and systems). Over half of the respondents (51.1 per cent) advised the government to execute convicts on the death row. Only 38. 5 percent maintained otherwise; 9.7 percent were undecided; 0.8 per cent did not proffer any opinion.

“Whilst 61.9 per cent of the respondents believed that the death penalty is a necessary retributive tool; as much as 59 per cent opined that the death penalty does not bring a sense of happiness to the family of the victim(s).

“A majority of the respondents (67.2 per cent), however, recommended that Lagos State should retain the death penalty.”

According to him, the study found that gender, age and religion played important roles in understanding the orientation of Lagos residents on the issue of capital punishment. Therefore, in the light of the results of the perceptions and expert survey, Ipaye said: “The state Executive Council adopted the position that the death penalty should be retained in the Criminal Law of Lagos State to serve as a deterrence against violent crimes, such as murder and robbery.”

The decision of Lagos State must be a shock to the likes of the European Union, EU, which in July last year, urged Nigeria to explore other alternatives to death penalty. The EU, which made the call at the official release of a report on cases of death penalty in Nigeria from since 2011 by Avocats Sans Frontieres France, ASFF, also known as Lawyers Without Borders, an international human right body, which said it had, through the Saving Lives, SALI, project, succeeded in securing freedom for 35 inmates facing the death penalty.

Alan Munday, head, Political Governance and Democracy Section of the EU delegation to Nigeria and to the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, insisted that the death penalty ought to have been abolished in the country, “especially in view of the imperfect legal system in existence. Under the SALI project, the enforcement of certain rights has been brought to the fore.”

Munday then cited the case of one Maimuna Abdulmumini, who was accused of murder when she was 13 years old and sentenced to death while nursing an infant baby. “Her case highlighted the rights of minors under both regional and international laws and secured a victory through the judgment awarding damages as given by the ECOWAS Court of Justice,” he said.

Another opponent of death penalty is Uche Jude Ilo, a lawyer and human right activist. In a recent article he wrote on the subject, Ilo argued vehemently: “It is a very heavy psychological burden for one to be made to realise that he is so evil that the nation and his people find him not only irredeemable but also unfit to live. The death row condition is a very touching one. Men and women waiting endlessly for the hangman’s rope, not knowing when the call will come. Living in perpetual fear of death for a crime, which the society pushed them on to. The treatment meted out to death row prisoners and the attendant psychological torture amounts to inhuman treatment and the Supreme Court in the case of Peter Nemi v The Attorney General Lagos State said that a death row prisoner has fundamental rights. The point here is that death row condition as practiced in Nigeria is an indictment on Nigeria and really makes a mockery of the argument in favour of death penalty.”

Although he does not cherish killing, Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, approves the retention of death sentence, if only to serve as deterrent. “You know after God, it is the state. If the state, in its wisdom, thinks the best way to punish offenders who take delight in killing others is by death penalty it is okay. It is also a question of morality. But if someone kills while robbing someone of his or her possessions the robber is not fit to live. But on a personal ground and as a minister of God I will not subscribe to it. As you know some states in the United States are still operating death sentence as deterrent,” Ekpe-Juda said.

That notwithstanding, the debate over the issue of death sentence is not going to go away because it by popular demand.

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