The State, The AK47 Economy and Death Sentence – by Agba Jalingo

In Breaking News, Columnists, International News, National News, Opinion, Reports
Agba Jalingo
Agba Jalingo

by crossriverwatch admin

The original copy of this article was published in the Sun Newspaper of August 30, 2005 and was also re-published on the website of the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty on Wednesday, August 31, 2005. Here the author, Agba Jalingo abridges the article in light of prevailing realities and parliamentary interventions in relation to the debate on death sentence in Nigeria.

It is instinctive to fear death. It is inherent for life to strive to be; to strive to continue. The persistence with which life opposes its extinction is one of its inherent mysteries. To even the most primitive minds, the qualities of life caused it to seem to have supernatural or divine origin.

As a result, the phenomenon of life throughout the centuries has been sanctified as the greatest gift of the gods.
Death is the violent rupture of life and all those values that men have come to attribute to it.

The fear of death is what gives rise to what philosophers called the first right of nature – the right to self preservation.

But when this right is abruptly abridged either by heinous cruelty or by the judgment of a competent court of jurisdiction, it raises profound questions about the culpability of the state in the gruesome murder of victims of capital punishment.

As at the last count, about seven states have successfully passed laws that ensure that kidnapping and acts of terrorism are now punishable by death while the debate continues in other states to do same.

This action has elicited pertinent questions not only about the justification of the continued stay of capital punishment in our statute books but also about the fidelity of the executioner which is the STATE to her own obligations and if a failure in those obligations is itself not criminal.

It has been argued that those who kill by the sword must die by the sword; that the irreparable consequences of the atrocious acts of daredevil criminals can only be repudiated by their execution.

Whether this will alleviate the pains inflicted on their victims has not been proven.

But those who hold this position maintain that such lopsided remedy is the panacea to the prevalent societal ills like kidnapping and terrorism in Nigeria, which are essentially tied to economic failure like Bill Clinton, the former American President rightly identified in his last visit to the country.

Historically, every people have had taboos against taking human life under certain conditions, insisting that the guilty one should be punished in accordance with prevalent social and religious customs.

The principal exceptions are self-defense, including war and the religious practice of immolation to the gods.

Indiscriminate taking of life, or murder, was considered a moral violation as well as a crime against society.

The codes of modern civilization likewise condemn, as a heinous crime, an individual taking another human being’s life, the premise being that life is the most precious gift man can possess.

Man is however in advanced society, permitted to sacrifice his life for certain political ideals as in the service of his country or to take another’s life to save his own. Killing in self-defense is thus acting in accordance with the basic instinct of life itself; that is self-preservation.

If war can at all be justified, then in war, men sacrifice and take life to preserve those things they have come to associate with the meaning of life.

But is the taking of life as a retaliation, retribution or punishment justified on the part of the modern STATE that prohibits the individual from doing so for similar reasons?

All advanced states inveigh against taking human life in passion, war excluded. When, however, the STATE takes the life of an individual as punishment for a crime, is that not passion also?

If life is sacred and only to be sacrificed to save its kind; which principle most legal systems concede, then it is too sacred for capital punishment also. At least the state is not consistent in taking life as a punishment for taking life.

With the Greeks who first expounded the idea, the STATE was conceived both as an ethereal entity and a legal structure recognized by Law as an individual called the state.

The state itself pants frantically to preserve her own existence anytime it is threatened, either by external aggression or by military brutes.

When anyone breaks one of her laws, the STATE charges that individual to Court; as in the case of – “Mr. X Vs. the STATE”.

When a STATE that dreads losing her own life turns around to take another individual’s life for whatever reason, the state becomes guilty of the same offence.

The murderer must be restrained. He must be punished as an example. But for the STATE to commit the same act in the form of punishment is not representative of an enlightened age or people.

No one including the STATE has been given the power to take life. It is the prerogative of the Cosmic.

Life preceded the STATE. It existed before the STATE was conceived. The sanctity of life is beyond the bounds of criminal law and jurisprudence.

The state has got every right and obligation to question and deal with every act that threatens the peaceful co-existence of the citizenry and deal appropriately too with the perpetrators. That is why the idea of incarceration was conceived.

From the days of primitive man to the year when the prison system was validated by a United Nations convention, the underlying motive has always been that of denying the criminal the divine privilege of associating with fellow humans.

Truly, it is folly to think that there is a lesson to be learnt from a firing squad or from the hang man’s gallows. At best it tells us that there is no big deal carrying the guns and hanging anyone.

Death will come, when it will come, so said Shakespeare. To think that what is a necessarily end for all men can actually restrain others from the perpetration of atrocities is to assume that the execution of criminals over the years has improved our world in terms of morality.

Of what benefit is a death sentence slammed on a suicide bomber?

The humanities are agreed on the fact that apart from life, the greatest possession of man is the privilege he has to associate with fellow human beings.

When a man is considered to have contravened the accepted norms of a society, he is taken away into solitary confinement, separated from other humans and thereby denied the privilege of associating with them.

This denial is in the real sense, more painful than the denial of life in this existence. The dead person has no opportunity of learning from his error. And there are no proofs that others have been learning from the enforcement of capital punishment.

Those who know this have been calling for life imprisonment as the ultimate punishment any man can get from the STATE.

The torture of being denied of what is second only to the gift of life which is the privilege of relating with other humans freely for a life time is a more traumatizing experience than death which is the path of everyone whether he be a criminal or a righteous man.

If the most pertinent reason given for the continued justification of capital punishment is the intent to correct and rid the society of miscreants and their activities, then the STATE must be told that, the end can no longer justify the means.

The use of an obsolete tool like capital punishment to attain a reconciliated society defies a basic law of nature.

The means to a particular end must correlate with the end. The means must be the end in the making. Where this does not apply, it is an inequality that must be upturned.

Come to think of it, if the death sentence has been abolished in European countries and some American States where the STATES have reasonably lived up to the social contract by guaranteeing the basic needs of livelihood for the citizenry, how can a fraudulent STATE like Nigeria that has robbed Nigerians of their rights of citizenship, a STATE only reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, find a moral nexus to execute a criminal who is the product of the actions and inactions of the operators of the machinery of state?

In a country where the citizens are their own government; providing everything for themselves without the input of government that the Constitution says shall guarantee their welfare and security, what moral stand does that STATE have to execute a kidnapper or terrorist who was armed by the desperate politicians?

The Nigerian STATE, is glossing over the fundamental challenge that gave rise to kidnapping and terrorism in Nigeria and are employing panic solutions to an entrenched problem created by a criminal and renteer political class.

Unconscionable looting, primitive acquisition of public wealth and the abysmal incompetence of our leadership have obviously denied Nigerians of the benevolence of our munificent endowment.

And the result is this jungle society where everyone has been left to chart a course for his life without the involvement of government that has completely abdicated its constitutional responsibility to market forces.

The ‘AK47 Economy’ is just an off shoot of our politics and economic failures. The way to resolve it is not by deluding ourselves with death sentence legislations by those who are not worthy to cast the first stone.

Like Clinton said, until our oil wealth trickles down to the least of us in this country, the death sentence legislations will only serve as “ojuju calabar” for infants. Sooner or later, the child will discover that the ‘Ojuju’ is just one of the uncles or aunties and then the business will go on.

Like several other topical issues out there in public space, we may argue pro and con for the viability of the capital punishment and may never be able to find a common ground.

But ultimately, it lies with the conscience of every man to search his heart and see if every of his actions are made public, whether they will earn us accolades or put us on the path of the kidnappers and the terrorist. That is what will test our convictions. A murderer today could become a savior tomorrow. And the only place designated for such anticipatory metamorphosis is the prisons.

Paul the Apostle may not have had the opportunity of doing the volumes he did if there was capital punishment to pay him for his initial deeds.

Methinks that if indeed he that kills with the sword must die by the sword, then it lies with He who has the power to kill both the body and soul to pay the killer, which HE will certainly do either here or in the hereafter.

Agba Jalingo is a writer, Author, Journalist and Activist. He writes from Lagos.

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