The recent outcry by Nigerian prison authorities on the number of condemned inmates spread across the six major facilities in Nigeria, calls for concern and immediate action by the government. According to the report, the six facilities originally designed to house maximum of 500 condemned prisoners now house 2,194 of such prisoners, a figure that is quadruple of the original provision!
Of course, the implications of this are not far-fetched. One immediate implication is overstretching of the meager resources meant to cater for prisoners which will manifest in congestion of prison cells, food and water rationing, protest, breakouts, poor sanitary conditions and possible jailbreaks.
When a condemned prisoner manages to break jail, he is under no moral obligation to live right so he could commit more heinous crimes and wreak more havoc on the society. This therefore portends a grave danger to the entire country.
This genuine lamentation by the prison authorities is a serious indictment on the government both at State and Federal levels. Bearing in mind that this situation would not have arisen had the State Governors been up to task in signing death warrants, the unjustified ‘silent moratorium’ granted to condemned prisoners is not only unconstitutional, it shows serious dereliction of duty on part of the Governors.
As far as the Nigerian Constitution is concerned, the section of the Constitution that provides for Capital punishment is yet to be expunged, so there is no moral justification for the Governors’ refusal to sign the death warrants of these condemned prisoners.
It is this attitude of passing the buck to subsequent administrations, especially on matters like this that has contributed largely to the level of decadence in our country. This same attitude is what applies when one administration accumulates debt and leaves it for the incoming administration.
Where a Governor feels overburden by the weight of conscience and feels that capital punishment is too harsh, such Governor has the power to commute such death sentence to life sentence thereby freeing the facilities meant to house the condemned inmates. Not signing the death warrant and not commuting the sentence to life imprisonment is nothing but sheer irresponsibility!
It is noteworthy to say that there is a cost attached to every legal process of sentencing a prisoner to death, and this cost is borne by the tax-payer. In taxation, every allowable expense incurred is expected to be wholly, exclusively and reasonably incurred to achieve a purpose.
When an accused person goes through the entire legal process culminating into death sentence, and the Governor refuses to sign the death warrant, it amounts not just to waste of such resources but incurring of additional cost for as long as that condemned prisoner is kept in prison. This is nothing but wastefulness!
If the Governors feel that Capital Punishment should be abolished in our Constitution, then they should sponsor bills through their respective State Houses of Assembly, rather than refusing to sign the death warrant. They are elected to represent the best interest of the State while in office, and this often requires setting aside primordial sentiments and emotions.
Ultimately, the Governor is the Chief Security Officer of the State, and in a situation where he acts in manner that might compromise the security of his State, then he has become a threat to his own State. This is why dodging the duty of signing death warrants is not at the best interest of the State. This is no longer acceptable and the Governors need to immediately sign the death warrants on their tables or commute the sentences where necessary.
There is also a need for review of the Constitution to place a time limit between the period of sentencing to death and the actual execution of such sentence. This will help to forestall unnecessary foot dragging by the Governors.
One or two jail breaks of the facilities housing these condemned inmates may be enough to wreak havoc on the nation, perhaps more than the havoc caused by terrorism. A stitch in time saves nine! It is time to declare Operation ‘Decongest Nigerian Prisons’ now!