While civil society groups in Edo state were on 18th October, 2013 meeting at the NUJ Press Centre, Benin, to discuss how to improve administration of criminal justice in the state, the State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was pandering to the public by signing into effect a law that prescribes the death penalty for kidnapping.

Without prejudice to the powers of the Edo State Government to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the state, we believe this latest action is ill conceived. Edo state is not the only state that has prescribed the death penalty for kidnapping. Several other states (like Bayelsa, Anambra etc) have done same but it has not stopped kidnapping or any other crime.

Like we have continued to point out, the death penalty does not keep any society safe. It does not deter criminals.  It may pander to the outrage of society but it does not abate or remove the crime or offense, which should be the interest of government. The best way to solve crime is to prevent it or at best apprehend the offender but when a criminal justice system is too weak to resolve crimes and apprehend offenders, the penalties no matter how severe will have no deterrent effect.

Edo state (for instance) has one of the oldest criminal laws in Nigeria – the Bendel State Criminal Code 1976. Rather than continue to emphasize the death penalty as the panacea to crime, we would advise the Edo state Government to follow the example of Lagos state by reforming its criminal laws, procedures and institutions. That can be a first step. What we need to stop is crime, not lives.

Thursday 5th September 2013 may become one of the saddest days for Africa. In what many have described as shameful and embarrassing, the Kenyan Parliament voted to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in protest against the continued trial of President Uhuru Kenyetta and his Deputy William Ruto over their role in the 2007 post election violence that led to the death of over 1000 Kenyan Citizens. Several reasons have been canvassed for this withdrawal. Some have argued sovereign immunity; others the hypocrisy of Western Countries.

For the Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS), this is a dangerous precedent that may ultimately exacerbate crimes against humanity and encourage more impunity in Africa.
The critical questions remain:
  1. Were crimes against humanity committed in Kenya?
  2. Should the perpetrators be held accountable? The answer  to both questions is in the affirmative.
  3. Can the Kenyan government deliver justice in the present circumstance?
If the answer to the latter is in the negative then every other argument is a no issue.
The Human Rights Law Service therefore condemns in strong terms the decision taken by the Kenyan parliament and applauds the decision of the ICC to continue with the trial even with the withdrawal of the Kenyan government. Sovereignty will no longer be used as a cloak for impunity and crimes against humanity in Africa.
The Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS) condemns in the strongest terms recent policy advise that governors begin to sign execution warrants. We are also concerned that the Nigeria prison authority is preparing to execute 5 condemned prisoners in Edo State despite that their cases challenging the signing of their execution is still pending in courts. This for us is not only a drawback on Nigeria’s human rights, it is a repudiation of Nigeria’s international commitment that it has in place an unofficial moratorium.

The official government statement made during the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on 9th February, 2009 where while informing the UN that the ‘’Death Sentence’’   is a valid part of Nigerian Law, it was admitted that: ‘Nigeria, is however, not oblivious of the global debate on the propriety or otherwise of the death sentence.  In the spirit of the global trend, Nigeria has constituted a National Committee on the review of the death sentence. With regard to the moratorium on death penalty, though we voted against it in the UN General Assembly resolution, Nigeria continues to exercise a self imposed moratorium’.[1]

More recently after the Governors Forum hinted that execution of death row inmates was their solution to prison decongestion, the Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke SAN in line with the official state policy said: ‘The Governors were not properly advised. I have written a letter and I will be discussing the issue extensively in the next meeting with the States Attorneys General ……(the death penalty) is anachronistic. It is no longer the trend and it is not an effective deterrent. Some people may not agree with me. Having given a moratorium we should not be seen to be violating it because it will attract sanctions from the United Nations’[2]

We agree with the Attorney General that the Death Penalty, which though is no longer in use in Nigeria, is anachronistic and not an effective deterrent to crimes.

We therefore urge the Federal and state governments to retrace its steps and to observe its international commitments and obligations by leaving in place the moratorium on executions in Nigeria.

[1] Ojo Madueke, former Minister of Foreign Affair; Statement of Nigeria During the 4th Session of Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council

[2] Thisday Lawyer, Tuesday, August 10, 2010, page X

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