Nigerian NewsMetro

3,000 inmates on death row and death sentence

The Senate recently passed a bill proposing the death penalty for individuals convicted of trading or consuming hard drugs and narcotics.

The bill, titled “National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act (Amendment Bill) 2024,” was passed after receiving majority support from the senators at the Committee of the Whole House.

There are many former state governors who refused to execute more than 3,000 inmates on death row in correctional centres in Nigeria but they are members of Nigeria’s Senate that proposed significantly toughening penalties for drug trafficking, making the death penalty the new maximum sentence through a law amendment. The amendment, which is not yet law, replaces life imprisonment, which was previously the harshest punishment.

The former governors are passing wrong message and they are deceiving Nigerians. It is difficult for Nigerians to believe that the former governors that refused to sign the death warrant of inmates on death row are proposing death penalty for drug traffickers.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country of more than 200 million people, has in recent years gone from being a transit point for illegal drugs to a full-blown producer, consumer and distributor.

Opioid abuse, especially tramadol and cough syrups containing codeine, has been widespread throughout Nigeria, according to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, which banned production and import of codeine cough syrup in 2018. While cannabis is cultivated locally, cocaine, methamphetamine and other narcotics are trafficked through the country alongside opioids to feed a growing addiction problem.

The Nigerian Prisons Service, NPS, was renamed Nigerian Correctional Service, NCS. But many are not excited by the name change because in real terms, nothing has changed. This much was confirmed by the former NCS Controller General, Ahmed Ja’afaru, who disclosed that almost 3000 inmates who have spent 10 years on death row still live under the suspense and mental torture of death. “Out of the number, a greater percentage of them may have finished appeals and are still waiting for the determination of the approving authority to either approve their execution or commit them to life imprisonment,” said Ja’afaru.

According to Ja’afaru, the prisons across the nation have a population of 73,102 prisoners, 19,878 convicted males and 299 convicted females. Condemned male prisoners stand at 2,677 and females, 42. But like it has always been, prisoners awaiting trial constitute the majority as their number stands at 50,216. Some lunatics numbering 13 are also quartered at the Enugu Prison, while condemned prisoners make up the rest. Most disturbing is the large turnover of inmates on death row in the country.

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 sentiments, the delay in carrying out this executive function is breeding congestion that has impacted significantly on the administration of justice. 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.

Statutorily, governors are not bound to sign the warrants for the execution of people on death row. They can exercise their prerogative to commute such sentences to lifetime in jail or reduced the jail terms. They can also grant such convicts state pardon, therefore putting a closure to the matter. But it is unacceptable for them to leave inmates perpetually on death row.

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