27th March, 2012
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher on Tuesday stated that death penalty remains part of Nigeria’s laws and that unless the National Assembly amends it, there is nothing anybody can do about it.
He stressed that in a constitutional democracy, neither the legislature nor the judiciary is supreme over the constitution.
The CJN stated this position at an event organized by an NGO, Lawyers without Borders, in Abuja where the organization canvassed for the abolition of the death penalty in Nigeria.
Justice Musdapher, who was represented by his Special Assistant, Mr. Hadiza Sontali Sa’eed, further held that it is not the responsibility of the judiciary to abolish death sentence in the Nigerian laws, but the job of the legislature.
“The constitution specifically provides for the death penalty in section 33.1. The section provides that every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria”.
He noted that the Supreme Court had in a plethora of cases, upheld the constitutionality of death sentence in Nigeria “When a constitution is adopted, the judiciary is obliged to uphold its provisions. The task of the court is to protect the provisions of the constitution and ensure that the legislature fulfil its obligation”.
Similarly, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, described as premature, calls for the abolition of death penalty in the country.
Speaking at the event, the NBA National President, Joseph B. Daudu (SAN) told the organizers that the call is premature and that what it needed is institutional advocacy on issues of criminal justice system in Nigeria.
“NBA has taken a stance on this issue of death penalty. At our NBA NEC meeting in Gombe, two issues were discussed, one is the issue of death penalty and that of same-sex marriage and our stance on death penalty was that it is premature, but we condemned same-sex marriage and called for a legislation that will forbid it”.
Mr. Daudu noted that what is important is whether our justice system, particularly criminal justice, is mature enough to abolish the death penalty.
“We must concentrate on finding a way of fine-tuning our criminal justice system. We need much enlightenment than to begin to think of abolition of death penalty in our criminal justice sector”.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) says he cannot take a position on whether death penalty should be abolished or not, a position which was supported by the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC.
Instead, the AGF, who was represented at the event by an Assistant Director in the Justice Ministry, Mrs. Chidima Ukelonu, emphasized that death penalty is a constitutional matter but decried that the judiciary has been reluctant in its application.
—Nnamdi Felix / Abuja