Capital Punishment or Life Imprisonment in the Criminal Justice System


Before going further to discuss the topic at hand, I’d like to point out that the term death penalty and the term capital punishment refers to the same subject.

Death penalty applies to a prisoner who has been sentenced to die, but is yet to be executed; capital punishment refers to his actual execution. When the prisoner is actually executed, we refer to this as capital punishment. When execution is pending or looming, it is referred to as the death penalty.

The sentence of capital punishment is still very well applicable in the federal republic of Nigeria.

Now addressing the intended issue, capital punishment can be traced directly to Section 33(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), 1999, provides that;

“every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”

The only grounds for one to get the death penalty as a punishment is only if the individual is guilty of a capital offence, which include murder, rape, armed robbery, kidnapping e.t.c.

Life imprisonment is an alternative for capital punishment. This alternative applies at the discretion of the court or as a result of the peculiarity of the case or the current state of the accused. Life imprisonment varies in Nigeria.

Life imprisonment by virtue of section 20 of the Penal Code means imprisonment for 20 years. The criminal code presents capital punishment as when a person is sentenced to spend their entire natural life in prison custody.

An exception is provided in section 468 of the ACJA which provides thus;

“Where the Comptroller-General of Prisons makes a report to the court recommending that a prisoner:

(a) Sentenced and serving his sentence in prison is of good behaviour, and

(b) has served at least one-third of his prison term, where he is sentenced to imprisonment for a term of at least 15 years or where he is sentenced to life imprisonment, the court may, after hearing the prosecution and the prisoner or his legal representative, order that the remaining term of his imprisonment be suspended, with or without conditions, as the court considers fit, and the prisoner shall be released from prison on the order.”

In my opinion concerning the subject matter, I am of the view that the capital punishment in itself should be scrapped out of the criminal justice system as it is not helping with the situation of the crime rates in the country.

I consider the capital punishment as to be a “failed scare tactic” that needs to be reviewed, as members of the society no longer see the capital punishment as a subject to fear to deter them from committing crimes.



I recommend that the capital punishment be scrapped out and life imprisonment should be dialled down to 30 years with a good level of rehabilitation a therapy where needed.

In conclusion, the death sentence has become nothing but history in this present dispensation. The principle of a life for a life has gone out of play.

About the author:

Ejuvwevwo Oghenerume, is the LIFIN Campus Director, Delta state University. He is also a judge of the LAWSAN Jural Court, Delta state University.

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