Capital Punishment (Death Penalty) is a matter of active controversy in various countries and states, and positions can vary with a single political ideology or cultural region. In the European Union member states, Article 2 of the charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the use of capital punishment. The council of Europe, which has 77 member states, also prohibits the use of the death penalty by its members.
The United Nations General Assembly has adopted, in 2007, 2008 and 2010, non-binding resolutions calling for a global moratorium on executions with a view to eventual abolition. Although many nations have abolished capital punishment over 60% of the World’s population live in countries where executions take place, such as the People’s Republic of China, India, the United States of America and Indonesia, the Four most populous countries in the world, which continue to apply the death penalty (although in India, Indonesia and in many US states. It is rarely employed). Each of these four nations voted against the General Assembly resolutions.
As to whether capital Punishment reduces crime, research in the United States shows that homicide actually increases on either side of an execution. Social scientists refer to this as the “brutalization effect”. Executions desensitize the public to the immortality of killing increasing the probability that some people will be motivated to kill. The state legitimizes the notion that vengeance for past misdeeds is acceptable. Executions also have limitation effect in which people follow the states example. If people feel the government can kill its enemies, they believe they can too.
It is to be observed that most countries that still retain the death penalty as a form of ultimate punishment usually have strong Islamic background. This raises the question whether the religious inclinations affects the liability or otherwise of the capital punishment or death penalty.
Finally, it is noteworthy to point out that most international agencies and non-governmental organization like Amnesty International do not support Capital punishment.
Questions as to whether a country’s retention of the death penalty may lead to abuse of power by their leaders have been posed time and again by international scholars and global analysts. Truth be told, power corrupts and absolutely. For this reason, appropriate mechanisms and checks should be put in place by countries using the death penalty so as to prevent too much concentration of power in the hands of their leaders. This is so as to avoid the use of men like Adolf Hitter of Germany, Idi Amen Dada of Uganda etc from taking over power and wrecking havoc on their people and on the world.
Importantly, there should be restorative justice rather than retributive justice focuses on vengeance and punishing the offence whereas restorative justice allows the offender and the offended to seek ways of reconciliation. In restorative justice, victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, “to repair the harm they have ore by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service”. Restorative justice involves both victim and offender and focuses on their personal needs. In addition, it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offences. This, we believe is better than the animalistic instinct of vengeance when dealing with offender of “serious” offences.
Finally, one capital punishment is the tendency to convict and execute an innocent person. This miscarriage of justice has prompted the abolition of the death penalty in many countries notably in the United Kingdom in the case of Timothy Evans. As well put by an erudite scholar, “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”.
Though all around the world, the popularity of the death penalty is waning but in Nigeria, it still holds strong. This may be attributed to strong hold on religious and cultural beliefs plus our notorious inability to upgrade and update our laws where necessary. Instead of abolishing the death penalty for some offences, Nigeria is still enacting capital offences e.g. the recent kidnapping laws enacted in most Eastern States of the Federation.
Though a strong call for the abolition of the capital punishment rage on from the international community, a critical look at our society shows that the death penalty still serves some purpose. Perhaps the deterrent effect which social scientists hold does not result on the prescription of the death penalty in a given society may apply after all in Nigeria. We hold this conclusion because the rate of kidnapping went to an all time with the enactment of the kidnapping law making kidnapping a capital offence in some Eastern states. This may at least show, whether remotely or strongly that the death penalty is useful in Nigeria.