Death sentence on Nigerians

Casmir Igbokwe

 

Joe (surname withheld) lost his sister-in-law last week. The young woman, who reportedly died of high blood pressure, left five children behind. The widower, who has no visible means of livelihood, has another wife who has six children– five boys and one girl. He had married that one to give him a boy because the five children of the deceased wife are all girls. Now that depression and a troubled existence have taken the first wife, it is not certain how this man will cater for 11 children.

 

Throughout Nigeria, similar cases abound. Many people are no more living. They merely exist. On the news menu last week, as usual, are depressing news items about life and living in Nigeria. For instance, a civil society group, ActionAid Nigeria, reportedly conducted a research last year and found that about 54 million Nigerians go to bed every night hungry. I suspect that this number is low. Even for some of those who are sure of having a good dinner every night, there is some uncertainty over the continuous availability of food on their dinner table. A man eating with golden spoon today may end up eating with aluminium one tomorrow.

 

This is why a Senator of the federal republic will collect wardrobe allowance, car maintenance allowance and will still struggle for constituency and capacity-building allowances. This is why ministers and some other government officials will go out of their way, even visiting juju houses, to retain their positions. This is also why politicians will do everything possible to win elections, not to serve but to corner resources for generations yet unborn.

 

It is for this reason also that our youths trade in scam mails, or join gangs to raid commercial banks and snatch cars. Some sneak out of the country to peddle hard drugs. Sometimes, they are successful. Oftentimes, they are not.

 

This is the fate of some 10 Nigerians or so currently languishing in Indonesian jail. Reports have it that about 20 of them were on death row in that Asian country for drug-related offences. Already, two of them – Samuel Iwuchukwu and Anthony Nwolisa – had been executed while Augustine Ogbonna died in prison earlier this month. The condemned men only have one month to apply for a review of the penalty. Last Friday, there were reports that the police in Indonesia shot dead a Nigerian, Oliver Osondu, during a raid on suspected drug traffickers in Jakarta.  

 

Recall that another Nigerian, Amara Tochi, was executed in Singapore last year for alleged drug trafficking. Last July, Saudi Arabian authorities beheaded a Nigerian suspected drug trafficker, Shuaib Mohammed. Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, reportedly said over 50 Nigerians were on death row in some other Asian countries.

 

Elsewhere, especially in Europe and America, a greater number of Nigerians are in jails for criminal activities. Last week also, there was a report that a Nigerian woman, Remi Fakorede and her daughter, Denise, were jailed in the United Kingdom for fraud. The woman was allegedly involved in a £925, 000 tax credit fraud while her daughter was jailed for laundering £70, 000 of the stolen money. Besides, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters in collaboration with international agencies arrested 60 Nigerians for alleged human trafficking in eight European countries.

 

The implication of this is that saner nations will continue to view us with suspicion. We cry that immigration officials in other countries harass many Nigerian visitors. But with this type of scenario, will there be an end to such harassments? We even give the impression that we are not serious with the fight against hard drugs. On many occasions, convicted drug couriers escape with light sentences only to plunge in deeper into the illicit business.

 

The problems notwithstanding, the Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, intervene to save the lives of these Nigerians. Like the Singaporean case indicated, it may not be easy to cajole these Asian countries into dropping death penalties already passed. But the government should at least ensure adequate legal representation and demand fair trial for these Nigerians. It should not relent in asking the Indonesian authorities to commute the death sentences to a more humane punishment.

 

The government should also fix the socio-economic problems that drive many Nigerians into this type of business in the first place. A starting point, perhaps, is to address the infrastructural problems that cripple the growth of businesses here. It is disheartening that Nigeria ranked 118th out of 150 countries the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation surveyed for 2009 ease of doing business index. This was a drop from the 108 and 114th positions the country attained in 2007 and 2008 respectively. No doubt, a better economic climate will curb the inclination for this illicit business.

 

Generally, Nigerians should realise that things are hard. They should therefore desist from doing things that will further worsen their economic plight. Breeding children that one cannot adequately take care of is a typical example.

 

Postscript

Last Sunday, there was a production mix-up that resulted in the reproduction of my previous article on the Niger Delta. The piece should have been, “Mr. President, where are you?” It was later published in THE PUNCH on Monday, September 8, 2008. The mix-up is regretted.

 

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