Mr. Kehinde Eleja (A Senior Advocate of Nigeria)
There is no doubt that corruption is a very heinous crime which is largely responsible for most of the problems confronting Nigeria today. From that perspective, it should attract most serious sanctions under our laws. But looking at the global trend, efforts now seem to be shifting away from death even for offences that had been punished with the death sentence in the past. Therefore, I do not think that it is right to make corruption punishable with death.
I think the problem is not with the punishment prescribed, rather, it is the attitude of those who are in charge in terms of being able to do thorough investigation, prosecute properly and ensure that justice is done to all parties, especially the offenders. This is to ensure that at the end of the day somebody does not walk away with state resources without any sanction.
Rather than focus attention on whether or not the law should be amended to make corruption punishable with the death sentence, attention should be focused on ensuring that the investigators do a thorough investigation. And that those who are charged with prosecuting cases have the technical know-how and pay attention to details and of course, that the bench is properly trained; we have the right calibre of people to be able to mete out justice to people.
With these, things are likely to change. Even in the last 12 months, the attitude of Nigerians is beginning to change against corruption especially since the introduction of the whistle-blowing policy. With that, we are likely to achieve more result rather than prescribing death penalty for corruption cases.
On the side of the law, the presumption now is that an accused is innocent until the contrary is proved. We have to reconsider that aspect of our law when it comes to corruption, such that the burden should be on the accused. Once it is shown that he lives above his legitimate income, the burden should shift to him to establish his innocence. If that is done, even the burden of prosecution on anti-corruption bodies will lessen.
The whistle-blowing mechanism is yielding result, so the government should be able to do more in terms of encouraging people to volunteer information so that people will be willing to assist in bringing corrupt people to book. The Nigerian people should see themselves as stakeholders.
Edwin Inegedu (An Abuja-based legal practitioner)
I will support the death penalty considering that corruption is one of the most telling ills bedevilling Nigeria. However, I think the fight against corruption is a composite one. Considering the poor investigations and distanced prosecutions, it will be a tall order. Before we get to the issue of conviction, we must fix the issues of investigation and prosecution so that the death penalty will not be a charade. Where huge sums of money are discovered and Federal Government agencies cannot tell the owners or convictions are hard to come by, the death penalty would be a huge joke.
In all, if we must go the way of China, then all aspects of meeting justice must also be reviewed so as to give the penalty the deserved deterrent. I do think the crass looting and corruption we keep seeing and hearing about each day will be reduced when we all know that the punishment for it is death. Despite supporting it, I still have reservations that it may not work due to our penchant for systemic application of laws by the prosecution, courts and the society at large.
Usman Abdul (President, Campaign for Democracy)
The death penalty is actually an extreme position when tackling corruption. Using the death penalty will mean that the government is going to kill almost one-third of the Nigerian population, which includes most of our elites and leaders.
Death penalty for corruption means you are going to wipe out most of the wealthy class if you have to go by that option. Obviously, that is not the solution.
Also, where you have the death penalty, there will not be that sober reflection in the families of people convicted for corruption. The practice of family members visiting corrupt leaders in jail gives them a sober reflection such that none in the family wants to share such a fate.
But if you kill the corrupt people, there is no sober reflection, but rather bitterness. Hence, I think the death penalty is an extreme position because we do not want to holistically lose our leaders.
Tanko Yakassai (An elder statesman)
What Nigerians should ask themselves is whether the death penalty will solve the problem. I know that during the military era, the death penalty was introduced for armed robbery. In fact, armed robbers were at one time executed in public. At some points, members of the public were invited to witness the execution of armed robbers. Till today, we are still struggling with the problem of armed robbery in a much more serious dimension than it had been in the past.
There are countries that were bedevilled with the problem of corruption either in the same magnitude as Nigeria today or even at a greater magnitude. They adopted a pragmatic approach and in the end, they were able to solve more of this problem than resorting to the firing squad.
There was the case of South Korea under President Park, the father of a former president who was removed from office. Even Russia, under Boris Yelsin, what did they do? They took the trouble to find out where funds illicitly taken out of the country were being deposited. They investigated and found every cent that was hidden. With the data they collected, they invited the owners and confronted them with the evidence. They told them about the money they stole from their country and where it was hid. They gave them the option of repatriating the money back into the country under an amnesty programme with a caveat that the money be invested in productive sectors of the economy. In the alternative, the owners stood the risk of losing everything through the court system. In most of the cases, the looters took the first option and their economy was the better for it. I think this approach is more practicable than executing culprits.
Lawrence Alobi (a retired Commissioner of Police)
The death sentence did not stop any crime where it was imposed. The death sentence is the maximum punishment for a crime, but I don’t think it can curb corruption in the society. What can solve the problem of corruption is when those things that cause or promote it are checked.
It is our value system, the social policy, that can curb corruption, not the death sentence. When you cheat in the society, nature will cheat you. We need moral suasion that would make us change our attitude. People are being killed for armed robbery, but this has not stopped the crime.
For me, if anyone is caught for corruption, any property he has should be seized. It is social revival of the society, when we reinvent ourselve, we know our values as a people. The system needs an overhaul, a system that will empower the people, not the one that impoverishes them. We need leaders that will serve the people; leaders who have empathy and compassion, not leaders who are in office to enrich themselves at the expense of the people.
Festus Okoye (A human rights activist)
The death penalty has never solved any problem before and it cannot solve any problem now. The problem with the death penalty is that the moment there is a mistake, it becomes impossible to correct.
Take for example someone who is purportedly found guilty and executed and then later, it is discovered that the person is innocent. There is no way you can bring the person back to life; that is the biggest challenge with the death penalty. Countries are into moratoriums on the death penalty. Rather than apply the death penalty, people should be given long terms of imprisonment so that the person can reflect on the consequences of his actions and within that period, it is possible that society may find out whether the person actually committed the offence.
Imagine a situation where someone accused of crimes which carry the death penalty and are set free by the Supreme Court. What happens to those who don’t have the means to pursue their case to the Supreme Court and are eventually executed? There is a possibility that if their cases had gone up to the Supreme Court, they could be freed or even vary their sentence. I do not in principle support the death penalty because it has never solved any problem.