[Bamidele Upfront]: On Death Penalty: Abeg No Dey, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Governor Adams Oshiomhole executed three convicted murderers and it is a big deal? Cry me a river! Actions have consequences and for every crime there must be punishment. Criminals deserve punishment for the crimes they commit. It must not be lost on us that the very nature of punishment aims at three things: retribution – inflicting on a criminal a punishment that is morally right and fully deserved for a crime; correction, or emending the criminal to changing ways; and deterrence, discouraging others from committing the same crime.

Of all parts of punishment, retribution is the most fundamental. That is, retribution must always be part of any punishment. This is because we cannot correct someone who doesn’t deserve correction and we cannot punish someone for the sake of deterrence if he does not deserve the punishment. I subscribe to the retributivist theory and death penalty for capital offenses is the law of our land. Anyone that is found guilty of a crime deserves to be punished; only the criminal found guilty of a crime must be punished; and should be punished in proportion to the severity of the crime committed.

“The life of certain pestiferous men is an impediment to the common good which is the concord of human society. Therefore, certain men must be removed by death from the society of men – St. Thomas Aquinas” I cannot agree more with one of the men whose thoughts have shaped my life. The fitting punishment for murder is the execution of the murderer. Whosoever takes a life forfeits his or her right to life and deserves to die.

The executed criminals of Edo State committed heinous crimes and brutalized their victims to the very end. Daniel Nsofor took public transport from Ekpan to Ehor with two others and Maria Imariagbe. When they disembarked at Ehor, they got Maria, strangulated her and took her money. Chima Ijiofor an unmarried father fed his own two and a half month old baby acid. His excuse? It is a taboo for first born from his state of origin to have children out of wedlock. Osarenmwinda Aigbokhian claimed he went into the bush on a hunting trip and saw a big deer. He shot the deer dead and while butchering the deer, it turned human. The transmutation did not scare him, he didn’t stop. He dismembered his victim and buried the body parts in different locations to avoid detection. When autopsy was done, there was no gun shot wound on the victim. Coroner reports showed his victim was hit many times with a sharp object. Richard Igagu (soon to be put to death by hanging), invaded a house on a robbery mission. The murderous gang robbed the owner of the house of his valuables and raped his wife. Not content with rape, Richard took a bottle and inserted the bottle into the woman’s private and she bled to death. All four instances are cases of cold blooded premeditated murder. Murder in the first degree!

These criminals committed capital offences and they deserve nothing less than capital punishment. Malicious acts as carried out by the Edo murderous gang deserves worse punishment than execution. This is because in their own deaths, they had more compassion and dignity than their victims. We slaughter animals without guilt but we don’t kill our kind because we are rational beings who are capable of thought and moral goodness. Our rationality, moral goodness and consciousness is what gives the right to life to us. When a man intentionally takes an innocent life, their rationality, consciousness and moral goodness is called into question, he loses his right to life and deserves to die. Amnesty international, Chief Ban Ki Moon and many other non-profit groups should focus on world peace, hunger, health and many other issues facing the world or pay more mind to places like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China etc where death penalty is applied for non-capital offenses.

Opponents of the death penalty often confuse retribution with revenge. Retribution is not revenge, because the criminals are afforded their day in court. Heinous crimes does promote outrage among good people but the moral reprehension and inclination for revenge is suppressed in favour of punishment not vengeance. This is because vengeance signifies inflicting punishment on the perpetrator of a crime out of anger due to the nature of his offense while retribution prescribes a punishment that fits the crime. No doubt, crimes such as Nsofor’s, Ijiofor’s, Aigbokhian’s and Igagu’s should be severely punished, but we generally restrain ourselves from anger and concomitant actions and commit to the legal processes. We refrain from the urge to inflict instant judgement. When instant judgement occurs we condemn its arbitrariness and brutality. The death penalty is supported by our sense of justice, it reminds us that there are consequences for our actions, and that we are responsible for what we do. The death penalty is a fitting response to evil.

Public execution at the bar beach in the 70’s was a huge deterrence for us against stealing growing up. Our parents never ceased to remind us if and when we pilfer; what fate awaits the armed robber unlike now where victims are routinely chastised for being careless. Public executions of convicted murderers and armed robbers served as a reminder and deterrence that crime does not pay. Richard Herrnstein and James Q. Wilson have argued in Crimes and Human Nature, that a great deal of crime is committed on a cost-benefit schema. The criminal often does a risk assessment regarding his or her chances of getting caught and punished. If he or she estimates the punishment to be mild, the crime becomes inversely attractive, and vice versa. The death penalty is a warning. With a good lawyer, a prison sentence could be dealt with but the chance of being convicted of murder, which attracts the penalty of execution and hanging is a tough one that a good lawyer might not extricate one from. Deterrence is a big factor in crime prevention, if potential murderers understand the death penalty as the probable outcome of murder when caught, they would be more reluctant to kill.

Abolitionists should leave Nigerians alone, lots of crimes like the horrendous white collar crime of pension funds looting ought to be added to the statue of capital crimes. Abolitionists often cite two major reasons for their objection to the death penalty. One, miscarriage of justice; they argue that capital punishment must be abolished because of human fallibility in convicting innocent parties and sentencing them to death. They liken such mistakes to murder. I think this point is purely sensational. In mistaken judicial execution, there is no deliberate intention to kill an innocent person. They opine that “It is better to let ten criminals go free than to execute one innocent person.” What? I agree to safeguards, that is why murder to the first degree must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Nigeria has the right to protect itself from rampaging murderers even with the remote possibility of executing an innocent person. Probable execution of an innocent when it happens is regrettable, but morally acceptable. Second, they argue that death penalty is unjust because it discriminates against the poor and minorities. These might hold more water in countries with racial minorities. Even then, we are humans, we are not God. Human justice is imperfect and it is the best we can attain. We must strive to reform our practices to be equitable, fair and just as much as we can to lessen or eliminate unjust application of the law and misapplication of justice.


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Capital punishment is a rational social policy against “pestiferous” men. In Nigeria, we value the saving of innocent lives than the loss of the convicted murderers. When you have committed a crime, face the consequences; abeg no dey inside. An eye, for an eye, a life for a life. More governors should sign death warrants for death row inmates and decongest the prisons. Dem don kill person, they must be killed in return; abeg no dey.

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