The normal and ordinary definition of death is that it happens when life stops. It is a transition from one plane to the other. Death usually comes unexpectedly, snatches our humanity from us and transfers us to an unknown plane of existence. I do not understand why we fear to die, even in the face of an assuredness that a heaven awaits us. If the only way to leave this earth is to die and go to heaven, a place of good food, good houses, clean streets without hospitals, a place without wars and rent and climate change, why do we fear to die and go to heaven straight up? When any person, good or bad, crosses the line to the other side they lose consciousness permanently and barely make it back once they are certified to be dead. If that person was a person of means, he leaves his means behind for the quiet enjoyment of those who may not have lifted a finger in the acquisition of that means. And if that person were to be poor and wretched, speculations abound as to where they transit to in the afterlife, that is, if there is one.
A lot of people arrogate this uncertainty of our final breathe with ‘capital punishment’. But I do not think so. Life is short, brutish, and hopelessly a pain in the ass. It is driven by two eternal opposite but composite values, good and evil. It is these values that engender the kind of conflict that takes place in our homes, places of work, our communities, cities and nations. It is this need to live far above our peers in our homes and, this human need for one nation to outdo the other that produces our struggles against each other. Without conflict as a key driver of life, life as we know it would be considerably dull. In most cases it is the evil, the wicked and the unscrupulous, as against the noble and conscientious people among us who carry the day.
We all know that life is not a bed of roses. And because the desire of life is for balance and cohesion as we go out daily to struggle with other human beings who seek the same things as we do, society uses certain instruments and institutions and mechanisms to regulate the battlefield of life for fairness, justice and make life worth the while. The purpose of using institutions and accepted mechanisms to introduce checks and balances in life is to ensure the continuity of life in spite of the tragedy that is life. But beyond that as a matter of fact, life hangs on a certain leitmotif that even though we often seek to take a life to compensate for a life, we fall short of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, couched under the premise that all life is sacred.
It is against this backdrop therefore that it came as a shock when I heard that an elite Nigerian body, the Nigeria Labour Congress, saddled with the impeccable responsibility of defending the dignity and human rights of Nigerian workers has asked that corrupt politicians be put to death when or if they are found culpable. The leader of the NLC was quoted in the public press on September 27, 2015 as saying that because politicians are responsible for ‘challenges’ in development of roads, schools and lack of drugs in our hospitals, they deserved the injection or the bullet or the guillotine or that they should be boiled alive.
Among the 10 countries of the world where the death penalty for criminals holds sway, China and Iran top the list. So we will examine what the death penalty in China entails. This year, China’s population was one billion people out of world population of seven billion. It currently runs neck-and-neck with the United States over control of world politics and economy. In 2007, China sentenced 1,860 Chinese to death and executed them all. In 2008, of the 7003 death sentences passed, more than 1,718 executions took place. After 2008 till date, even though the number of executions in China remains in the thousands, they are all in relation to violence, rape. None of them is related to politics or the politicians who are stealing us dry. At the point of execution, the victim is forced to sign a letter wherein he donates his liver, heart, and lungs. So widespread was the practice of selling off the parts of the victims of capital punishment that it was only in 2009 that the government launched a half-hearted investigation to ascertain the racket.
The Nigeria Labour Congress of all organizations in Nigeria should know that the death penalty belongs to the archives. It is a responsible organization that has proven itself over the years as a defender of the human rights of the Nigerian people against oppression, totalitarianism and dictatorship. Why it is aligning itself with obnoxious practices like capital punishment, even when the ‘body language’ of Mr. President suggests that he is anti-corruption beats me. The very first laws that supported capital punishment was the Babylonian law of King Hammurabi, and capital punishment at that time was carried out vide such inhuman methods like crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive, and impalement. Therefore, a call for punishment via death for corrupt politicians as a tool to fight corruption will not work, and this is because if you examine the data on China up there, you will just find out that in societies where the death penalty is used as a punishment for whatever crime, violence escalates. Recall that states in the US with the death penalty are more prone to violent crimes.
Corruption can be fought and defeated if the anti-corruption agencies instituted by the laws of the land are strengthened and made to work. Whatever calls that anyone should be making should be calls directed at the Judiciary to partner with the executive arms of government in Nigeria to overhaul our archaic legal systems that give little or no dignity to human life. I remember in 2013 when the Edo State government planned to execute a condemned criminal. Four of them were already executed before it was discovered that the systems that condemned the criminals were hardly thorough. That condemned man, ThankGod Ebohs, only got a reprieve because he was sentenced to death by a military tribunal which recommended that he be shot to death. Issues surrounding this case came to light after the Edo State government worked hard at reviewing its criminal justice activities.
But this is hardly enough. The whole concept of capital punishment for whatever crime under the skies is an aberration and a misnomer. As at the time of concluding this discussion, there were over 200 thousand deaths worldwide. Five thousand of those deaths, according to Worldometer, are from Nigeria. There is no record that any of them resulted from capital punishment. We are better off that way.
Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is communications manager with the Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice, ANEEJ