The sentence passed recently on Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security Officer to the late General Sani Abacha, for the murder of a pro-democracy activist, Mrs. Kudirat Abiola has again sparked up several debates on the death penalty. Al-Mustapha was sentenced along with Kudirat’s aide, Lateef Shofolahan to death by hanging.
At the newspaper stand where I stopped to curiously peer at the headlines when the news first broke out, there was a debate between two men about the death penalty. One was saying Al-Mustapha deserved to die because he plotted to kill someone. “An innocent person for that matter!” he said, raising his voice in support of the Judge’s sentence. The other person argued that even if Al-Mustapha dies, it does not remove murder and corruption from the society and that there were probably other people involved in the plot who were not apprehended.
Nigeria remains one of the 58 countries still practicing the death penalty. Venezuela and Portugal were the first nations to abolish the death penalty altogether. In 2009, Burundi and Togo joined the number of countries that have abolished the death penalty to make a total of 139, more than two thirds of the nations of the world. However in China, Japan, U.S.A and many Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries, the death penalty still remains and is imposed with varying frequency.
Although Nigeria has not carried out an execution since 2006, over 900 prisoners still remain on death row. Going by the weight of this particular case, many are of the opinion that this sentence would actually be carried out.
There are several schools of thought for and against the death penalty. Some people believe that anyone who is found guilty of killing another person should be killed. Also, people believe that sentencing criminals to death removes the worst of them from the society and saves the government money from feeding and keeping the prisoner. Conversely, arguments against the death penalty abound. Some are of the concern that the state can administer the death penalty unjustly thereby killing an innocent person. In this situation, there is no possible way of compensating them for this miscarriage of justice. Most human rights groups and activists have based their arguments against the death penalty in Nigeria on the dysfunctional criminal justice system which convicts a large number of people for crimes they didn’t commit.
However, Justice Mojisola Dada while passing the sentence on the duo said that the prosecution proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that the duo met between March 1995 and June 4, 1996 to plot the murder of Kudirat.
Kudirat’s death no doubt tore deeply into the hearts of many. Her husband, M.K.O Abiola suffered much in the hands of the military government after declaring himself winner of the June 12, 1993 elections. She stood solidly behind him throughout his campaign and incarceration but was shot dead in 1996 in Lagos. M.K.O Abiola later died in prison in 1998. Al-Mustapha has been in detention since 1999 over the killing.
So then, if they are truly guilty, do they deserve the death sentence? What do you think about the death penalty in Nigeria? Do you think Al-Mustapha’s sentence was harsh? Does the death penalty really serve its purpose in Nigeria? Should it be abolished? Should he have been given a prison sentence instead of the death penalty?
Please share your thoughts.