The retention/abolition debate on capital punishment is an unending one. Despite the fact that many countries are tilting towards the abolitionist side, some countries still use the death penalty.
The phrase capital punishment can be traced to the ancient Latin word caput, meaning to behead a person. Therefore, a capital crime is any offence punishable by death. However, the history of the death penalty, from Ancient Rome up till now plagued by substantial error and injustice.
Holding on to this barbarous system, in line with the outdated thinking of revenge is unacceptable in the 21st century, especially in a modern democracy.
32 countries have abolished the death penalty. 108 countries have abandoned it. 8 countries reserve it for only special crimes. This makes a total of about 70% of the world’s countries which no longer use the death penalty.
But in Africa, about 25 countries no longer use the death penalty system, and for Nigeria to take her rightful place as the giant of Africa, and also set an example for other developing countries, she must abolish the death penalty.
In 1944, a black minor in the United States named George Stinney was convicted for murder and executed. Decades after Stinney’s execution, the reinvestigation of the case led to new DNA evidence which showed that he was innocent. This rate of error, and miscarriage of justice associated with the death penalty system was alarming.
In addition, between 1978 when the United States reinstated the death penalty, and 2018, there were almost 170 death row exonerations due to new DNA evidence. In fact, for every ten persons sentenced to death in the United States, one person will be found innocent. Therefore, there is a great risk of executing innocent persons.
This leaves us with a question. If the United States has a commendable criminal justice system cannot operate the capital punishment system without error, how will Nigeria?
The criminal justice system in Nigeria is plagued with mistaken eye-witness identification, confessions contracted under torture, poorly investigated cases and corruption. Yet the government condemns people to die in a system as dysfunctional as ours.
President Olusegun Obasanjo was an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty during his tenure as President of Nigeria. He established the National Study Group on Death Penalty (2004), and the Presidential Commission on the Administration of Justice (2007). And at the end of his term, these bodies reached the conclusion that Nigeria should abolish the death penalty. This is because the criminal justice system in Nigeria cannot guarantee a fair trial.
There is no evidence whatsoever that proves that the existence of the death penalty affects the crime rate. The only thing the death penalty does is to keep the criminal from repeating the same crime. And life imprisonment without the possibility of parol will achieve the same result.
After the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1978, the homicidal rate increased by 80% in the 1980s. Clearly, the death penalty system does not deter people from committing crime.
The thinking that the death penalty scares people from committing crime is mere myth. In reality, countries with the death penalty suffer from a higher rate of violence.
The government squanders a lot of taxpayers’ money on the dysfunctional death penalty system. The amount of money spent on a single execution in Nigeria is significantly high.
In Nigeria, there are currently about 800 condemned death row inmates who have been awaiting execution for 5-20 years. This is as a result of the fact that governors are reluctant to sign death warrants.
The reluctance of governors to sign death warrants creates a separate punishment, as death row inmates live daily in physical and psychological anguish, awaiting the hangman’s noose every other day. This punishment is worse than death.
Also, it is cruel and inhuman treatment, and a violation of the rights to dignity of human person and personal liberty as entrenched in Sections 34 and 35 of the 1999 Constitution. It is also an insult to the Democratic status of the nation.
It is erroneous to assume that the death is the severest and brutal punishment for most grievous offences. In most cases, subjection to eternal solitary and anguish can be much more painful than death. Hence death becomes an escape route. This is the rationale behind euthanasia.
President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America made it clear regarding terrorism and armed conflict that we do not retaliate terror with terror. If we do so, we reduce ourselves to the same level as the criminals and give them a just cause. Hence, they become more aggressive. In the end, they count those who die as martyrs.
In conclusion, we cannot kill people if we want to show that killing people is wrong.