Thursday, January 15, 2009

Their right to die

WHAT is so difficult about executing convicts after appropriate courts confirm their sentences? Why would a convict be on the death row for years and in some cases 24 years? The cases of the 27 convicts, who sued the Federal Government and Lagos State Government for the non-enforcement of death sentences on them takes our dispensation of justice to another sphere.

For periods ranging from 10 to 24 years, they have waited for government to enforce the sentences on them. The government continued with more pressing issues. The lives of the condemned were unimportant.

If the government would not implement the sentences, why did it go the whole hug to obtain convictions against them?

How does it feel to wait for death for one day? If we have any considerations for human beings, would we put the lives of others on suspense endlessly? If they keep quiet, chances are that they would wait for three decades or more for death.

Should anyone wait for death? Do the constitutional provisions for the dignity of the individual exclude convicts? The court would determine these matters and we hope it would be timely to lift the burden of the affected.

There could be more convicts suffering this plight than the 27 that went to court from Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison. Who would bring their matter to the courts? The inhumanity of this society is galling.
Now that the sentenced are asking for remedies, among them commuting of their sentences, or discharge, it is a hint that the laws are overdue for change. Time limits should apply to decisions on sentences that involve death. Within the period, the governor should either commute or confirm a death sentence. It should not take more than a month from the sentence to this decision.

A stay in the sordid conditions of Nigerian prisons or police custody is akin to a death sentence. Those who survive brief stays are thought lucky. To put people away in those conditions with death sentences on them is the height of inhumanity.

Government has no choice than to commute these sentences. It does not have to wait for the court decision to act. Subsequently, death sentences must come with an execution time frame; it is the least the courts can do for the condemned.

Related to this are cases of people awaiting trial. They constitute the higher number of those detained. Some of them have been in detention longer than the sentences for the offences that caused their arrest. Poor, to the extent that some of them cannot pay the fines (and sometimes bribes) for their liberty, the prisons and police cells become their homes. They live on luck, and die when their luck runs out.

Their high numbers are central to prison congestion. Governments talk about them — nothing else happens.

Governments’ stance on human rights must include practical measures that ensure that our people, no matter how lowly placed, are treated as human beings