Death warrant which can simply be defined as a legal order for the execution of a condemned person is one document many Nigerian governors have shown incapacity to touch for reasons which are largely inexplicable over the years.
The reluctance or refusal by state governors to sign death warrants of many condemned persons on the death row in prisons is one issue that has occasionally thrown up some challenge to the state chief executives who are shying away from their political responsibility.
Since the country’s return to democracy about 23 years ago, the number of condemned persons waiting for the hangman has continued to increase in our correctional facilities such that in 2021 there were about 3008 persons waiting to be hanged.
The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola sometime in July, 2021 had occasion to urge the various state governors to brace up and be courageous enough to sign death warrants of condemned convicts. He gave some reasons while it had become expedient to do so, one of the reasons being that keeping them unduly long was creating space problem for those serving jail sentences. Another reason was the cost of feeding and maintaining such people who by court judgement have no choice but to die for the offences committed.
Only recently, Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje speaking for himself and his colleagues, said many of them were being reluctant to sign due to an incident of wrongful signing of the death warrant of an innocent person by a former Governor. Ganduje’s argument is that an innocent person had been hanged based on the hasty signing of the death warrant before it was discovered that the victim was innocent of the offence for which he was sentenced to death.
The Kano Governor’s explanation or defence may hold some water, but it could not be largely relied upon as an alibi for the governors’ reluctance to sign the document. We assume so, because the argument he put forward was pre-dated by the manifest evidence in the reluctance of the governors to do the needful.
We could remember that during President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, he had occasion to persuade the governors not to abdicate their responsibility of signing the death warrants as state chief executives once the courts have convincingly tried a person and reached the verdict of death especially when all appeals at the various court levels have failed including Supreme Court.
If Ganduje’s position is anything to go by, it therefore means that because of one singular incident of miscarriage of justice, every other case is laden with suspicion and judgement arising thereto, is also fraught with doubt in the minds of the governors.
To us, this is a cheap way of dodging one’s political responsibility because if there were miscarriage of justice or wrongful sentencing of the over 3000 condemned persons in prisons now awaiting execution, their defense counsels and civil society groups would have reacted appropriately over the years.
Like any other responsibilities assigned to the governors by the Nigerian Constitution under which auspice they operate, signing of death warrants in line with judgements of courts of competent jurisdiction is in sync with the doctrine of separation of powers as obtainable in a democracy.
If the governors could in a jiffy sign financial appropriations (passed by their state legislatures) which are often laden with humongous intent to primitively accumulate and impoverish the masses by those of them in power, why can’t the same governors speedily sign the death warrants of those found guilty of destroying humanity through their criminal activities?
How can we explain for instance, a situation where a convicted murderer who had deliberately killed his girl friend (another man’s child) for money ritual, is allowed to live for years in prison at the expense of tax payers money after he had been tried, found guilty beyond reasonable doubts and sentenced accordingly?
If the reluctance of governors to sign the death warrant is hinged on any spiritual parlance that probably connects to fear of signing death warrant of “innocent blood,” let them come up to clearly proffer a solution on how best to obtain a sentencing to death that cannot be faulted at any point in time.
We call upon the governors to review their position and stop buck passing to their successors through allowing condemned persons in their Correctional Service territories to live longer than necessary at the expense of law abiding citizens. The governors should do the needful as occasions call for. They should not pretend to be good men by not signing the death warrants whereas their covert actions and inactions have become deadlier than not signing the warrants.