Sunday, 18 December 2016

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Failure to sign execution warrants: Governors are cowards, say lawyers

Prominent lawyers have described Nigerian governors’ failure to sign execution warrants of convicts contrary to constitutional provisions and content of the Criminal Procedure Act as an act of cowardice and abdication of their duties.
The Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) puts the current figure of condemned criminals at 1,440, scattered in various prison formations across the country.
Deputy Comptroller of Prisons (DCP), Mr. Enobore Francis, who is the spokesman of the Service, said the prisons are over-stretched due to failure to sign the warrants by the governors.
The last executions (four of them in all) were carried out in 2013 in Edo State. Though a total of 141 death sentences were handed down by judges in that year, the four executions were the only ones carried out in the past decade as governors abdicate the responsibility of signing execution warrants. Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, recently called on the National Assembly to amend the law, which mandates state governors to sign death warrants of condemned prisoners to reassign such to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
Ganduje had made the call, while responding to the new Comptroller of Prisons, Kano State Command, Alhaji Aliyu Achor, who complained that most governors have refused to sign the execution documents in their respective states, saying it was a factor contributing to prisons congestion across the country.
He said: “Life is valued in African culture, perhaps, that is why governors are reluctant to sign execution documents. Since judges are the ones, who make the sentences, I think the National Assembly should amend the law so that the CJN signs the warrants. I think the CJN is in a better position to assent to the execution.”
But a cross section of Constitutional lawyers, who spoke with Sunday Telegraph said the call is an invitation to breach of constituted authorities. A Constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome said it is unfortunate that no governor wants to bell the cat by signing death warrants of condemned criminals, a matter that is purely constitutional and not personal.
“The power was donated to them by the Constitution in the spirit of the doctrine of ‘Separation of Powers,’ popularised in 1748 by the great French political Philosopher  Baron de Montesquieu, in order to diversify powers and functions to prevent them from being concentrated in one organ of government. “This is to ensure that where, for instance, there appears to be palpable miscarriage of justice, what of the very Judge, who had sentenced the convict based on facts established before him the governor will check that I do not support that confirmation of death warrants should be removed from governors and given to the CJN.
That would make him and the judiciary too powerful; the very antithesis to the ‘Separation of Powers’ doctrine. “Remember, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The governors, if they have no political nuances or are not externally pressured, should grow strong balls, sit up and sign death warrants, which are a constitutional and statutory mandate,” he added.
Another Constitutional lawyer, Ahmed Maiwada said the call for the amendment is a call for gross distortion of the principle of ‘Separation of Powers’ in Nigeria. “It will be absurd to ask the judiciary, as represented by the CJN, to execute matters in which it had fully and conclusively adjudicated. This will amount to rolling the wheels of the principal of ‘Separation of Powers’ – a cardinal pillar of Rule of Law, back into the stone age period,” he submitted.
Also commenting, another senior lawyer, Wahab Olatoye said since the governors are the heads of government in their respective states and offence with penalty of execution is a crime against the state, then the governor should take responsibility by virtue of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and 1999 Constitution and not the CJN.
“This is not a personal matter; rather, it is a constitutional issue. The governors are empowered by the Constitution to do so. I don’t see any reason the governors should shy away from their responsibility and pushing it back to the judiciary.
“The Constitution is clear on....

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