Death Penalty Reform: Continuation

Female doctor giving an injection to a patient at the hospital

Clearly, this hardline stance of the AMA on the non-involvement of physicians in executions has meant government involving untrained personnel in executions, hence, leading to screw ups in the process.

In the wake of these pilling allegations of cruelty in lethal injection executions, some US states have sought to do away with the three drug protocol requiring participation of physicians by pioneering a new single-drug lethal injection. This new lethal injection protocol is believed to lower the risk of consciousness often experienced with the three-drug model, thus ensuring an even painless death. And it’s already in use in 11 US States.

Which brings me to the question, should Nigeria adopt this new lethal injection protocol in death penalty cases considering its successful implementation in the US? Not only does public opinion support death penalty reform in Nigeria, but a new series of court rulings suggest it’s time for the Nigerian government to consider other more humane death penalty alternatives.

In early September 2012, the High Court of Lagos State in James Ajulu v. Attorney General of Lagos held that execution by hanging or firing squad is unconstitutional and it amounted to “a violation of the condemned’s right to dignity of the human person and inhuman and degrading treatment”. This decision is only binding in Lagos state, though. Courts in other states are yet to follow suit in giving a similar ruling.

As a nation, Nigeria is a strong advocate of the mandatory death penalty and not only is the death penalty in force in Nigeria, section 33(1) of the Nigerian Constitution actually authorizes its imposition “in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence” where a person has been found guilty. A court of law can be impose the death penalty in varying cases such as murder, terrorism-related offenses, rape, robbery, kidnapping and other capital crimes. Methods of execution may range from hanging to shooting. Between the inception of military regime in 1970 to the start of democracy in 1999, there has been roughly 2,600 executions in Nigeria.

While there has been mounting pressure from the international community on government to establish an official moratorium on the death penalty and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as signatory aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, but bearing in mind the uniqueness of the Nigerian situation and the fact that the country’s grundnorm gives supports to the imposition of the death penalty, it would take a constitutional amendment expunging this key death penalty provision in Nigerian Constitution for its effective abolition. Experience has proven that this might be a very complicated and drawn-out process.

The better option would be for government to follow the resurgent global trend favoring a moratorium on the death penalty, or like the case in the US and the other pro-death penalty countries, adopt the new lethal injection protocol.

One criticism against the application of the death penalty in Nigeria, as evident in recent court rulings is that it’s degrading and unhuman. Perhaps, Nigerian courts might be more accommodating of it were government to switch to a less painful method of execution like the lethal injection. But questions remain whether the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) would allow Nigerian doctors to participate in such executions. Or, whether like its American counterparts, it might consider physician involvement as being in violation of medical ethics and consequently prohibit their participation. But until the Nigerian government actually decides to implement the lethal injection recommendations, there’s no telling what position the NMA might take. As a civilized state, Nigeria must follow other civilized countries to abandon its barbaric and inhuman death penalty practices and put the lethal injection on the front burner of reform as quickly as possible. This isn’t merely urgent, it’s a necessity for the progress of civilization.

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