Not a few Nigerians have, at different times, come up with the idea that capital punishment is the one and only solution to the seemingly intractable problem of corruption in Nigeria. The position of advocates of death penalty for corrupt officials must have been informed by the belief that the prospect of a humiliating death will always serve as sufficient disincentive to corrupt practices. Some members of the ongoing National Conference who share the view that a serious problem calls for a drastic response have lent their support to this hard line stance because they see corruption as the main cog in the wheel of Nigeria’s progress.
A representative of the National Youths Council of Nigeria at the conference, Mr. Ben Duntoye, said a situation in which individuals in both private and public institutions stole billions of naira and still walked around freely would not augur well for the development of the country. He contended that capital punishment was the appropriate panacea for the harmful practice which, he believed, had been “killing the future of youths in Nigeria”. Rear Admiral C.S. Ehanmu and Major General Jeoffrey Ejiga blamed the insecurity, unemployment and poverty in the country on corruption. Ejiga said China had been able to rise to its present economic height because of its zero tolerance for corruption and contended that Nigeria should adopt the same approach if corruption was to be effectively tackled in the country.
That Nigeria’s predicament is largely, if not solely attributable to corruption cannot be a subject of argument because it is quite apparent that willful mismanagement of its abundant resources is responsible for the prevailing situation of glaring poverty in a land that is flowing with the proverbial milk and honey. The growing demand for capital punishment has certainly been informed by the concern about the worsening poverty and pathetic misery among the masses in a country where a tiny minority lives in obscene opulence and flaunts its ill-gotten wealth. A content analysis of the Nigerian media will clearly reveal that various forms of abuse – graft, bribery, brazen diversion of private funds to private pockets, contract inflation and sundry other misdeeds -constitute a substantial percentage of what gets published. Most of the time, the media is overwhelmed. Before it gets to the root of one scam another of a greater magnitude has broken because corruption has become a way of life in the country.
The conclusion that deaths and disablements caused by accidents on badly-constructed roads should be viewed as murder and punished accordingly could be irresistible when there is abundant evidence that the bulk of the fund for the project was diverted to private pockets. The point to note, however, is that the pain to be suffered by officials condemned to death will end the very moment life is snuffed out of them. The appropriate punishment for such officials should take cognisance of the deaths they have caused and the severity of the pain they have inflicted on lots of people who have been denied the basic necessities of life and condemned to a miserable existence. This is why it will be an undeserved favour to allow the agony of such officials to end so quickly at the execution stake.
In view of the widespread opposition to death penalty, Nigeria should opt for a punishment that will bring prolonged shame and mental torture not only to the culprit but also to his family members. Corrupt officials should be sentenced to long terms of imprisonment with hard labour. They should be made to clean gutters, cut grass and fill pot holes on roads in communities and localities over which they had earlier held sway. While the agony of execution will be short-lived, the shame and humiliation of wearing prison uniforms and slaving away in the full glare of the public will have a lasting deterrent effect. It is true that the prospects of a brutal end at the hands of a hangman can diminish the proclivity to dip into public coffers, the fact is that the shame and mental agony of a prolonged public humiliation can be worse than death.
It is common knowledge that corruption is as pervasive as it is in Nigeria today because of the inadequacies in the country’s criminal justice system. It is a system that allows the treasury looter to use part of the stolen fund to buy justice under the plea bargain arrangement. The law enforcement agents have become a part of the problem while the temple of justice is being desecrated. The hungry man who steals some tubers of yam goes to jail for several years while the rich rogue who steals billions of naira escapes justice. Until the laws are rewritten and all involved in the criminal justice system can be condignly punished for their misdeeds, justice will remain a purchasable commodity. The delegates at the National CWonference should recommend a comprehensive review of the entire system and propose a law that will subject treasury looters to a life-long humiliation and mental agony after being relieved of everything they have stolen. The lifeless body of a big time thief will not serve any purpose.