October 10, 2014: Today, as the world speaks out against the use of the Death Penalty, another exonerated juvenile walks home free after 11 years in Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, 8 of which was spent on death row.
Monday Ilade Prosper was barely 18 years in 2003 when he was charged with armed robbery in Benin City for forcefully collecting his salary from his employer. He was a private driver to an industrialist who refused to pay his salary for 3 months. As his employer collected money from a bank, Mr. Monday threw sand on his face, took the bag of money and counted out his salary. He was arrested by the police and charged with armed robbery, convicted and sentenced to death in 2006 by Edo State High Court. This innocent boy waited for the hangman for 8 years in great trauma, especially with Governor Oshiemohle’s resumed executions last year. But it was not to be, because now, the Court of Appeal Benin City division has allowed his appeal and overturned his conviction and sentence. Their Lordships said the evidence was ‘spurious’ and the prosecution’s case was too weak for a conviction for armed robbery.
But what happens to Mr. Monday, who, now 30 years, faces the world in hopelessness and without a skill.
Today, as he walks out of the prison, he will join millions of opposers of death penalty across the country to call on Nigeria as a nation to re-examine the continued use of the death sentence as punishment for crime.
“ It is time to abolish the death penalty. Many of my friends on CC (condemned cell) in Kirikiri are innocent. I know that as a fact. It is true”
said Sopurichi Obed, another exonerated juvenile who was acquitted and released by the appeal court in Lagos in February 2014 after a decade on death row.
Like Mr. Monday and Mr. Obed, the Legal Defence & Assistance Project (LEDAP), a legal services NGO, has in the last decade litigated over 210 cases of persons charged with capital offences or convicted and sentenced to death. In nearly two thirds of the time, the charges were dismissed or convictions quashed, either for lack of credible evidence or on technical grounds. Most of the charges were armed robbery, and 95% of them were based on confessional statements of the defendants to the police, which in almost all cases the defendants would at the trial court deny their voluntariness or totally recant the confessions.
A 2010 report on death penalty cases in Nigeria published by LEDAP showed that 36% of convictions and sentences to death over 10 years period between 1999 and 2009 were overturned by the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court, indicating a very high rate of wrongful convictions. In a 2010 national poll survey on the use of death sentences in Nigeria conducted by LEDAP and consortium of 28 NGOs across Nigeria, nearly a half of young Nigerians under the age of 30 years said they were opposed to the use of death penalty in Nigeria because it has not stopped violent crimes from increasing. Almost 52% of all the respondents in the survey supported the abolition of death sentence for offences that did not result in murder, with the highest of support for such abolition found in the South West states (71%) and the least in the North West (14%).
The dangers of continued use of the death penalty are so grim to be ignored or avoided for political or religious reasons. Death sentence is dangerous to the society. It wrongly teaches that revenge is good justice, when indeed, it promotes sinister circle of violence and bloodshed. There is always a high likelihood that innocent persons may be sentenced and executed, as indeed many who had been executed in the past had pleaded of their of their innocence till they were done with the hangman or the firing squad.
Death sentence does not deter criminality. Severity or harshness of the punishment is not a solution to crime. What deters potential criminals is not the extreme sentence for the offence, but the possibility of being caught and prosecuted. In Nigeria, the possibility of arrest and prosecution when crime is committed is nearly less than 10%. With a population of over 170 million and crime victimization rate of nearly 920 out of every 100,000 per year, Nigeria still has a prison population (remand and convicted) of fewer than 75,000. This means that most crimes are unresolved, and most criminals are not arrested and unpunished. This high rate of impunity and high possibility escape from justice for criminals is the motivation for crime and criminality, not the death sentences. This is demonstrated in many states in the south-east and south-south regions that introduced death sentence as punishment for the offence of kidnapping. Despite this severe punishment, the offence was still on the rise, with only in a handful of the incidents were the culprits arrested and prosecuted.
As the world today reminds all the 51 retentionist nations including Nigeria of the dangers of continued use of the death penalty, LEDAP and hundreds of exonerated ex-death row prisoners call on Nigeria’s National Assembly, and States Houses of Assembly to review their Criminal Code and the Penal Code laws to replace the punishment of death sentences with life imprisonment or other term of years. Such alternative humane punishments are the universally accepted norm, and Nigeria must join other democracies to say ‘yes to life’ and ‘no to State murder’. When the government kills, it motivates citizens to belittle life and to wrongly pursue revenge as justice.
National Coordinator, LEDAP – Legal Defence & Assistance Project.