From death to life – The Nation

  • Commuting plan is a welcome development to decongest our correctional centres

The proposal by the Federal Government to commute the sentences of some inmates on death row in custodial centres across the country to life jail is a welcome development. The need for such step is accentuated by the surge in the number of inmates on death row, who pose grave risk to the security of the correctional service personnel and other inmates in the custodial centres.

With about 2,956 inmates on death row as at 2021, there is the urgent need to use the various opportunities provided in our laws to deal with the challenge. According to a media report, the number of inmates in the custodial centres on death row in 2017 stood at 1,606, but has risen to 2,742 by 2019. If the number continues to rise, they may become more than the entire capacity of the nation’s custodial centres in no distant time. Of course, many have blamed the governors for being tardy in signing death warrants, as provided by extant laws, to enable the correctional centres to execute the condemned inmates.

That stance might as well be true, for those who push for the enforcement of the death penalty which is still in our statutes. But for us, the death penalty should be abolished. So, we support the proposal by the federal authorities to commute the death sentences to life jail, and we urge the relevant state governments to cooperate to ensure the necessary steps are carried through.

Of note, section 12(2)(c) of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act 2019, provides “that where an inmate on death sentence had exhausted legal procedures for appeal and a period of 10 years had elapsed without execution of the sentence, the chief judge may commute the death sentence to life imprisonment.” As the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Mallami (SAN) hinted, even those who have spent five years on the death row should also benefit from such clemency.

The challenge was vividly captured by the Controller-General of the Correctional Service, Haliru Nababa, who spoke through his image maker, Francis Enabore. He said: “We can understand that some governors dither in signing death warrants on humanitarian, political, religious, emotional and ethnic grounds. But whatever may be the mitigating sentiment, the delay in carrying out this executive function is breeding congestion that has impacted significantly on the administration of justice.”

He went further: “That is aside the helplessness endured in the roller coaster of emotions for these condemned inmates who have practically been reduced to the status of the living dead.” Many human rights activists consider it inhuman and a violation of the fundamental human rights against torture and inhuman treatment, to keep an inmate in an emotional limbo of being a condemned prisoner for several years.

That is why the proposal that such sentences be commuted to life jail is a welcome development. As the controller-general rightly put it: “If they are converted to life or termed imprisonment we will take them to areas where they can be productive. They will learn trade. Some can be sent to our camps, where they engage in farming activities and they will help boost the economy and even support themselves and their families.”

To effectively decongest our correctional centres, there is the need for the courts, police and the correctional service to cooperate. The present instances where accused persons stay in prisons for several years awaiting trial for minor misdemeanours, must stop. A fundamental change in the offences which require custodial sentencing and the setting of bail is key to the required improvement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

x

Check Also

Kidnappers in the palace – Thisday

Over the past few months, Nigerians have lost count of victims of the gangs who operate everywhere in the country, extorting money from people, both rich and poor, in the name of kidnap for ransom.