Corruption and the Death Penalty

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

NEWS: “SENATOR Smart Adeyemi, representing Kogi West Senatorial Constituency at the National Assembly, has called for a law prescribing death penalty for public officials found guilty of corrupt practices, saying such stiffer punishment would encourage the ongoing fight against corruption”.

Everybody knows my views on corruption in Nigeria. I totally abhor it and would do a lot of things to fight corruption. The fact realistically remains that in any society, we cannot have zero corruption, but we can have zero-tolerance to corruption. The best we can do is managing corruption and/or reducing it to a manageable level. Even the Western democracies will admit that this is what they have been doing and which has made their societies better for their people.

When I first read Senator Adeyemi’s call for the death penalty to be applied to corrupt public and political officials in Nigeria, my first instinct, being very cynical of our politicians, was to think maybe he was just playing to the gallery; maybe! I had this feeling that he was not sincere, coming from him, himself a beneficiary of a corrupt system of politics and governance. However, it was a most noble and brave call.

It is certainly a good thing to hear that a Senator in Nigeria is speaking out the frustration of the rest of us who seem neglected, ignored and unheard. The problem I see in this discussion is that there are no significant apprehension (or even attempt to apprehend and prosecute sincerely) of corrupt officials yet, and for the few so indicted (but not convicted yet), they are still roaming around free and daring the rest of us to do something about it. It is a collective slap in our faces. Senator Adeyemi certainly was highlighting the damage that goes with what public officials have made of Nigeria, and her hijacked resources. As a remedy however, the death penalty is controversial as a resolution of the problem of corruption, certainly not in a democracy, no matter how poorly we practice our own version in Nigeria.

There are punishments better than death. Death takes only a few seconds to initiate. In the 50s and 60s, sentencing to long prison terms “with hard labour” was just that – hard labour, reminiscent of the “chain-gangs” of the correctional system of the United States. Long prison sentences, naming and shaming and hard labour in prison will always be effective deterrent against corruption. Can you imagine Bode George, Tafa Balogun (and even the yet-to-be-convicted James Ibori) with cutlasses, spades and shovels working on a building site or cutting down trees on state farms under the hot sun and watchful eyes of brutal warders? Truth be told, even while I live in a country (the United Kingdom) where there is not death penalty even for the most heinous of crimes, I am a believer in the Mosaic Law of “an eye for an eye”, and will advocate the death penalty for crimes such as murder, armed robbery, terrorism, etc. But for corruption? This is against my better judgement, and I will spell out my reasons.

Death penalty may not be the appropriate punishment for corrupt officials if democracy is what we claim to practice. While we all condemn the act of corruption by any public official, enacting laws that prescribe death penalty may be an over kill. The right prescription in my view is to have them prosecuted, recover all funds stolen and then have them serve time in prison. Furthermore, this will be more effective because no court in Nigeria will condemn anyone to death for corruption even if it was the law of the land.

Capital punishment is particularly risky in Nigeria where the courts are ridden with corruption and, at times, politicking takes precedence over thorough investigations. The Nigerian judicial system has lots of problems with corruption and nepotism, so there is no guarantee that a sentence is objective. Unfortunately, it is known that the extra-judicial killings and executions by the Police have been used as a way to avoid further investigation into serious crimes.

Furthermore, prescribing the death penalty for corruption will require a social, cultural, as well as legal shift.

I have trawled through numerous comments made by Nigerians on this call, and while they are of importance to the debate, and generally favourable of very severe punishment for corruption, not many people support the death penalty for corruption.

“No stolen money or property is worth a life. Confiscation of money stolen and all other assets owned by a public fund embezzler, including commitment to many years in the prison, should be enough punishment for these kleptomaniacs”, somebody opined.

One Taiye Olaniyi said “Not until we start treating corruption as a treasonable crime it will not stop. I will even go a step further in advocating in addition to the death sentence the seizure of all property they have acquired from the time they are suspected of committing the crime. This may put pressure on their family members to prevail on the criminals because they will also stand to loose. We should remember how effectively this penalty worked during the Buhari/Idiagbon regime in combating drug trafficking. Any prospective criminals will in this way look at their options, (and) of course the government must engage in nation-wide campaign to enlighten people of the consequences of corruption, something similar to the war on indiscipline campaign.

One Mr Mbuk said “If we can’t enforce the laws as they are today to prosecute suspects and jail culprits, who will enforce a new law prescribing death penalty? Does the senator know that election rigging is also corruption that deserves death?

While Marcel Okpara postulated “May God bless Senator Adeyemi. If Nigeria must march forward and become economically strong, then corruption must be dealt a heavy blow. And one strong way of discouraging corruption in public offices is to make capital punishment the punishment for offenders”.
Enyimba (NaijaPolitics) wrote “”Since death penalty does not deter Nigerians from committing crimes, I suggest longer sentence with hard labor. Make them feel the pains their crimes are causing Nigerians. Quick kill will not help.”

Said a Dr Godwin of NIDOA “It will depend on how they define corruption and how it is certified by the law. They should also include rigging elections or election malpractice like dumping voting cards, disrupting voting boots, bribing election officials, vote selling, vote buying, paying election thugs, delaying election materials and failure to send voting cards as expected by the law, death or threats to political opponents, harassment and physical threats to opponents or their assistants. The worst corruption in Nigeria is that relating to elections and office ascendancy. So the senators should first atone or confess their past involvement in election frauds, rigging and vote buying”.

Advocates of capital punishment for corruption say that the death penalty is an effective means of state-driven innovation, especially against entrenched or widespread defective social structures. Its use against corruption is not in itself new, it is still applied for that reason in China. The recent expenses scandal in the United Kingdom is a reminder, that corrupt politicians are not found only in developing countries. Corruption, self-enrichment, and nepotism are part of the political culture in western democracies – so much so, that they form a major argument against democracy itself.

Furthermore, they say, the introduction of the death penalty for corruption and nepotism, is the only guaranteed effective way, to end the culture of corruption among western politicians. Widespread application of the death penalty, with low thresholds, would ultimately disable the political parties, and end recru

itment to the political class. In that way, it would remove two primary sources of corruption.

Of course some people have moral objections to the death penalty. However, they are not overriding: the state is not obliged to accept the views of these people, as a universal moral norm. They are a private moral preference, at most. It is true that we recognise that the death penalty effectively deters corruption, however distaste for a society with frequent executions, is probably the main factor in rejecting the death penalty for non-violent crimes.

Corruption in China is a crime that draws capital punishment. Vietnam is another country that prescribes death for official corruption. According to Chinese Criminal Law, the death penalty applies only to those criminals committing extremely serious crimes while those who are not subject to immediate execution may be sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve. Specifically, embezzlement conducted with more than 100,000 yuan (US$ 12,353) is subject to no less than 10 years in prison or life imprisonment with property confiscated while those with particularly serious circumstances can be executed. The circumstances of the crimes are taken into account. In addition, capital punishment must also undergo further judicial review after first and second instance trial procedures to guarantee accurate applications of death penalties.

In the case of China, as of 2005, more than 4,000 officials fled the country, taking with them nearly US$50 billion. Since China does not have extradition agreements with most of the countries harbouring the fugitives, they cannot be always brought back to face Chinese justice. Also, many of these countries do not hand down the death penalty for corruption. So extraditing the fugitives would be tantamount to sending them to death row.

To facilitate the extradition of such criminals, (and criminals indeed are Nigerian corrupt politicians and public officials, make no mistake about that) China’s legal experts have suggested abolishing the death penalty for corruption.

It’s true that about half the world has abolished capital punishment altogether and the other half that still has it hands it down only for heinous crimes like murder.

So we can see that having the death penalty in place for corruption will strain our relationship with countries where these criminals normally carry their loot. However, I will admit that I have never heard of any Nigerian corrupt official being extradited from the UK, the US or any other country in the last 50 years, despite the agreements we have with such countries. The problem is that no Nigerian Government had ever asked for this important bi-lateral cooperation to be applied. And the simple reason is that no Nigerian administration, military or democratic, had ever been sincere about fighting corruption; in fact the Administration itself, in most cases, is corrupt. And it is in their interest not to seek the extradition of such criminals.

Corruption, rampant and prevalent as it is, poses a serious threat to Nigeria’s political stability and sustainable development. Hence, it warrants utmost care and sincerity in its handling, especially at a time when the government is seeking to be in good relationship with the larger world, and also with their “re-branding” efforts to position Nigeria right.

Having said these, this current Government and the ruling party, PDP, as we currently have both, are not even in the position or have the vision, capability, political and moral will to even advocate and implement a death sentence for corruption. You must be kidding me.

Again, capital punishment doesn’t seem to deter “capital crimes.” I remember in the early 70s when armed robbers used to be executed publicly in our cities. Have the incidents of armed robbery subsided now in the 2000s? In fact it has escalated. This of course is attributable to several social factors such as poverty, corruption itself – free-for-all looting of the treasury by the very people entrusted to look after it, government indiscipline and lack of focus and vision, unemployment, etc, brought on and exacerbated by decay in the moral and religious values of the society as a whole.

My take on this is that Nigeria, both the government and the governed have not been sincere and truthful about fighting corruption. The political will has never been there; even as we gave credit to Obasanjo for taking the first ever step to fight corruption by creating the tools: EFCC and the ICPC. The absence of this political will therefore negate the call for the death penalty to fight our endemic corruption problem.

There are other social, moral and economic issues which must be addressed first before we even talk of prescribing death (much as I would love a severe punishment for these criminals); the government and the ruling party must be seen to be more sincere in fighting corruption by continuously and vigorously exposing and prosecuting criminals, and not shielding them (like the case of Ibori and the complicity of the Attorney General in the legal standstill we have today) the judiciary must be cleaned up; the Nigeria Bar Association must deal with its errant members who are stifling the corruption fight in courts, laughing all the way to the courts by employing delaying tactics; the government must also pro-actively tackle poverty, unemployment and illiteracy;

Also, government or public service must not be seen as a quick route to making money, hence this “do-or-die” politics. The salaries and other remunerations of out political office holders must be pruned in such a way that only those who really want to serve will be the ones going for these positions, and when they get there, do not have easy or any access to stealing money.

Please make no mistake understanding my viewpoints. At this juncture, and with my, and most Nigerians of goodwill’s frustration, there is nothing more I would like to see than seeing certain corrupt public officials and politicians lined up against a wall and shot. I feel they would deserve it, because much as we say that no stolen money or property is worth a life, if we carefully consider the effect of their corrupt practices on our lives, wellbeing and survival, then these people have also committed genocide, directly or indirectly – millions of Nigerian people do die as a result of their misdemeanour.

However, methinks the whole idea of death penalty for corruption is fraught with danger, the danger being the application of this very severe penalty with consideration of the systemic, intrinsic corruption we have itself – the corrupt lawmakers who are going to make the law; the enforcement agencies who will investigate the crime, the corrupt judiciary who will try the corrupt criminal; the corrupt and opportunistic lawyers who will defend or prosecute the case, and, you might not believe it, the corrupt society itself.

Yes, we, the public. We cannot exonerate anybody. We are all complicit in the making and spread of the corruption problems of Nigeria. There must be a bribe giver to have a bribe taker. Also, it stands to reason that you cannot be a part of the problem and at the same time be part of the solution.

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Engr Ekpokoba November 28, 2009 - 2:10 am

I think Nigeria armed robbers should be sent to prison but Nigeria currupt Politicians should face firing squard because they cause more problem than the armed thieves. Only “who will bell the cat” because I heard that somewhere in the Eastern part of our beloved Country even a nororious armed robber became the Chief after murdering the rightful Chief and the people never said anything. In Nigeria our mentality is currupt. Throwng parties, riding extravagant cars (fleet of cars) showing off. Nigerian educated in Nigeria Universitries became prostitute for their lecturers or pay their their ways through their whole studies. This is noticable when the rich ones come out to further their education, you can notice their miserable level their bribed certificates.

Africa as a whole is a consuming continent with nothing to offer to the world except hands stretched out for food which they refuse to cultivate in their homeland. Africans are so longsited that they dont see what they have near in their home except like we when we are far away from home then we can seee the glory we all left behind. and then we cry curruption!! curruption! as if many of us did not buy or fodge their documents to travel out eh. If one should kill the curruped Nigerian he should first observe himself if he had never taken some sort of “eguje” in any form. Take a look at yourself in the mirror and start fighting curruption from what you see OK

Chime Cosmas November 19, 2009 - 8:45 am

Well done, Mr Adejumo, although you failed to mention the fact that when Buhari/Idiagbo executed a few Nigerians for smuggling drugs, it scared the shit out of them and the illegal trade stopped almost immediately, until IBB toppled Buhari and drug smuggling resumed.

I believe the death penalty will be a deterrent to corruption, however, I agree with you that Nigeria, as presently constituted and governed, lack the moral and political will to carry this out


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