Governors and convicts on death row

Recently, the National Economic Council (NEC) resolved that state governors should act on condemned criminals currently languishing in various jailhouses all over the country.
The decision followed the briefing the Council received from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Barr.
Abubakar Malami, on prison congestion and condemned convicts at the meeting held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Speaking to State House Correspondents after the meeting, the Bauchi state Governor, Barr.
Mohammed Abubakar, said there were a total of 2,359 condemned prisoners nationwide who currently posed a threat to the nation’s prison system.
The governor said, “The threat they present to the prison system is very clear because these are a set of people the system has already condemned and the need to carry out whatever sentence that has been passed by the courts is very critical.” He further disclosed that the AGF had strongly recommended that the state governors should carry out a review of the cases of condemned convicts within their jurisdiction as enshrined in section 212 of the 1999 Constitution.
The NEC’s resolution is coming about a year and a half after the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) blamed state governors for the prison congestion across the land.
The Prison’s Public Relations Officer, Francis Enobore, while addressing a group of newsmen in Abuja in January last year, said the governors were unwilling to approve the execution of inmates on death row, numbering 1,640 in various prison formations across the country.
Within a period of 18 months, the number of condemned convicts has risen by 719 according to the latest statistics released by the AGF.
Enobore was quoted as saying, “When someone gets to his last bus stop and is condemned to death and he has exhausted his appeal to the Supreme Court, the only opportunity he has to escape the death is the chief executive commuting his death sentence to a term of imprisonment, or in the alternative, signing the death warrant for the person to take his last breath.
“But there is this kind of silent moratorium whereby most governors are not too willing to endorse death sentences.
“You are not signing their death warrant for their execution, yet you are not commuting their death sentences to terms of imprisonment so that we can get them transferred to a place where they can be remodeled or rebranded for the society.” He noted that the situation had created a huge problem for the system which could only be solved by the governors acting appropriately.
As stated in our previous editorial, the reluctance of most governors to sign execution warrants of condemned prisoners may not be unconnected with the negative reactions that such action often generates from within and outside the country.
We recalled that when the immediate past governor of Edo state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, okayed the execution warrants of two condemned prisoners, Osaremwinda Aiguohian and Daniel Nsofor, in October 2012, for the heinous crimes they committed, his action attracted strident condemnation from local and international rights organisations like the Amnesty International.
But Oshiomhole stuck to his guns ostensibly because of the gruesome manner the duo’s victims were murdered.
His audacity must have been fuelled by the appeal made to the state governors by the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, to be bold and act constitutionally by signing the death warrants of death row inmates convicted by the courts.
The phenomenon of prison congestion and the consequences therefrom have become worrisome lately.
Notable among them are the frequent incidents of jailbreaks across the prison formations in the country.
In the forefront of this trend are the condemned criminals who oftentimes see their continued incarceration as an opportunity to escape to freedom.
They also find allies among awaiting trial inmates whose number accounts for 72 per cent or about 45,263 of the total figure of 63,000 prisoners in various formations.
In other words, there are only 17,000 convicts serving different jail terms in the prisons across the country as at the last count.
However, it is quite obvious that the percentage of convicts on the death row pales into insignificance compared to those awaiting trials.
There is still a compelling need for the relevant authorities to, as a matter of urgency, address the constraints hampering the quick dispensation of justice such as frequent adjournments of cases partly due to endless investigations by prosecuting police personnel who are mostly ill-trained or badly equipped for their assignments, inadequate courts, shortage of personnel at the bench, recording of court proceedings in the 21st Century Nigeria.
Chief judges in various states are advised to pay routine visits to jailhouses with a view to looking into cases that have overstayed in the courts.
It is equally necessary to expand the judicial space by setting up mobile courts to try minor offences.
Suspended sentences and granting of parole are also some options the courts can consider.
It is also imperative to fortify the prison facilities across the country in addition to building the capacity of warders and equipping them with tools to secure the premises; the much-talked-about prison reforms should also be given urgent attention and pursued to their logical conclusions.
Furthermore, the federal and state governments have a responsibility to address such factors as poverty and joblessness that fuel criminality, which invariably haul people into jailhouses.
The introduction of Effective Implementation of Non-Custodial Measures in Nigeria will not make any meaning or achieve the desired results if a holistic approach is not taken to address the issues bedeviling the nation’s criminal justice system.
We urge the governors to allow justice to run its full course by signing death warrants of convicts or commuting them to various terms of imprisonment as canvassed by the prison authorities.
Any further dithering will amount to justice denied.

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