There is something about the death penalty passed on some criminals that makes many people to cringe. That is natural. A state is supposed to protect life, not terminate anyone’s life. When someone is sentenced to death by a court of law, there is always public outrage. Unfortunately, that expression of anger often lacks merit. There is a reason why the death penalty exists in those countries where it is law. No one has the right to take another person’s life. So, when someone is convicted and sentenced to death for murder, assassination or for taking people’s lives through any other means, the law should be allowed to stand.
I have listened pensively to all manner of arguments by death penalty opponents as to why capital punishment should be expunged from the statute because it is pointless and does not achieve anything. A death penalty, they say, will not resurrect a dead man or woman. It is all right to argue this way but the death penalty was meant to send a dire message that our society abhors murdering people in any way or form, particularly in peacetime.
There is an underlying belief that capital punishment is not the best way to reform a convicted criminal. Those who argue that the law should be removed say that death penalty denies a convicted person an opportunity to serve their time in jail and to be reformed and reabsorbed into the wider society. Some people disagree forcefully with this logic. In their view, any crime that results in the death of another person should be punished through execution. It is the orthodox Mosaic law that advocates “an eye for an eye.”
It is easy to understand why many people are appalled by the death penalty, especially in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, Germany (where it is proscribed by the constitution), the United Kingdom (where the practice was completely ended in 1998) and Canada (where it was finally abolished in the late 1990s). These are just a few of the countries where capital punishment does not exist as at today.
Among critics of the death penalty, there is the logic that a life sentence is always better than a death sentence. In general, what has been ignored by groups calling for the end of death penalty is the emotional suffering, the psychological and mental health issues that might affect the victim’s family members following the brutal killing of their loved one.
In some countries, the death penalty is not limited to people who commit murder. The punishment is also imposed on people who trade in illicit drugs. Drug trafficking is perceived and punished severely as a serious crime in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. In these countries, the death penalty is the maximum punishment reserved for people who are convicted of engaging in the unlawful trade.
The debate over the effectiveness of death penalty as a deterrent against serious crimes is based on moral, legal, social and religious arguments about crime and punishment, the sanctity of human life, the need for society to protect its members from untimely death through the deliberate action of another person. On paper, the argument that death penalty is not an effective deterrent against drug trafficking would appear to carry a lot of weight. Why, for example, do people still engage in drug trafficking in countries where the death penalty law exists? In fact, why has death penalty not eliminated drug trafficking?
This brief overview of the debate on the death penalty provides a context to examine the case of Chukwuemeka Ezeugo (known as Reverend King). Before his incarceration started, he was the general overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly. The Court of Appeal in Lagos endorsed in 2013 the death penalty that was passed on Rev. King by a Lagos High Court. But the pastor ran to the Supreme Court pleading his innocence, not minding that he had already cut short the life of a woman who was a member of his church.
The Supreme Court took one look at the desperate pastor and decided, after studiously reviewing the case, that Rev. King deserved to die for his crime against humanity. Everyone thought in 2006 that the Supreme Court judgment had brought an end to the unspeakable crime committed by Rev. King, who operated, before his disgrace, as if he held everyone’s life at his fingertips.
People who are familiar with knowledge of what Rev. King did to some members of his church, particularly the nauseating case of a young woman who was set on fire openly and malevolently in the most shocking manner, would wonder why a nocturnal organisation that goes by the name “Paths of Peace Initiatives (PPI)” is calling on the Lagos State government to free Rev. King and to grant him amnesty. How odd. Their argument is that Rev. King’s crimes are no worse than the transgressions of some criminals who had received amnesty from the Lagos State government. Obviously, this group lacks in-depth knowledge of the offences committed by the Rev. King. I have always argued and still maintain that people who live by the sword should depart this world through the sword.
Perhaps, we should remind members of the group asking for the release of Rev. King that he had opportunities to argue his case in three courts but he did not convince any of the courts that he was innocent.
For the records and for the benefit of readers who did not know or follow the case, Rev. King was sentenced to death because he poured petrol on Miss Ann Uzoh, a member of his church, and set her ablaze along with five other persons. He committed that crime because he was overwhelmed by sheer jealousy driven by his belief that Miss Uzoh had committed “acts of fornication.” Miss Uzoh died on August 2, 2006, a week and four days after the incident. Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court (Ikeja Division), who initially heard the case against Rev. King, found unmistakeably that the pastor was guilty of murder and, on that ground, sentenced him to death by hanging. That was on January 11, 2007.
When delivering judgment at the Appeal Court, Justice Fatima Akinbami, who presented the judgment, condemned the behaviour of some pastors toward their followers. She said: “The ingredient of this case is so bizarre. It is so devastating how some men of God will give out to their congregation scorpion instead of fish, and stone instead of bread. It is indeed sad and unfortunate.”
The Appeal Court found that Rev. King’s attitude toward members of his congregation was bizarre, abnormal, unexpected and domineering. The Supreme Court justices expressed similar sentiments in their judgment. Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court, who read the lead judgment that rejected Rev. King’s appeal, said, “The facts of the case could have been lifted from a horror film.” He said further: “This appeal has no merit. The judgment of the Court of Appeal is hereby affirmed.”
Nigeria is truly a nation of eccentric pastors. While some pastors are devoted to Christian religious work, others are the exact opposite of what they preach. These are the pretenders who target gullible members of their church.