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1.1 Background of the Study

It is general view that throughout the history of mankind, punishment has always been a way of sanction for wrong doing. It has manifested in several ways and forms as an accepted mean of sanction for the breach of any lay down laws/rules even in traditional societies. The holy bible too is not left out as it is also full of instances where the imposition of punishment is used by the Almighty God as sanction for wrongdoing.

No doubt, there is no justification for imposition of death penalty as a means of capital punishment because it is one thing you cannot take back; in other words it is inevitable and absolute judgment may lead to people paying for crimes they did not commit. Example TEXASMAN CAMEROON TODD WILLIN HAN was found innocent after his 2004 execution.

A second view is that death penalty does not deter criminals; as a matter of fact evidence startlingly reveals the opposite. Example twenty seven years after Canada abolished death penalty. There was 44 parent decreases in murder across the country.

A third view is that there is no ‘human’ way for killing. The execution of angel Nieves Diaz by a so called humane lethal injection took 34 minutes and required two doses. Other methods are hanging, shooting, beheading, crucifixion etc. the nature of this deaths only continue to perpetuate the cycle of violence and does not alleviate the pain already suffered by the victim’s family.

And to crown it all, death penalty is disappearing; this is because out of 198 countries around the world only 21 countries make use of the capital punishment. While countries that carried out the executions in 2011 did so at an alarming rate those employing capital punishment have decreased by more than a third in the last decade. With this clear downward trend, public pressure may help persuade the world’s biggest executioners such as China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the USA to stop.

The imposition of death penalty has given rise to various viewpoints. While some argue for it, others argue against it, but in an imperfect world where we can never be sure we’ve gotten the “worst for the worst” the big question remains. Is it ever justified to take a life no matter what happen? Knowing fully well that “two wrongs cannot make a right”.

Although, Nigeria is one of the few countries that have retain the death penalty in her statute as punishment to offences like murder,armed robbery treasoninstigating invasion of Nigeria etc. And John Stuart Mill, a prominent philosopher and economist supporting the constitutional provision of death penalty state. Thus:

We show… our regard for (human life) by adopting of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself.

But Prof. B.O. Nwabueze, opposes the constitutional provision of death penalty by stating thus:

The process of carrying out a death sentence, with the unsuitable lamp weight between the imposition of sentence and the actual infliction of death, is often so reproaching and brutalizing to the human spirit as it constitutes psychological torture and in many cases leads to insanity… 

Also Cesare Beccaria in his book, Essay on crimes and punishment, argue that: 

“The punishment of death has never prevented determined men from injuring society.” 

And Horace Greeley in his book the Death Penalty is State Sanction Murder, 1872 states thus:

Putting men to death in cold blood by human law… seem to me a most pernicious and brutalizing practice.”

While others like Robert Rantoul Jr. argues that death penalty is unnecessary by stating thus:

“It is not necessary to hand the murderer in order to guard society against him, and to prevent him from repeating the crime. If it were, we should hang the maniac, who is most dangerous murderer…

Cesare Beccaria in support asked a heart touching question by stating:

What right, I ask, have men to cut off the throats of their fellow creatures? Certainly not that on which the sovereignty and laws are founded.

This question till-date has not received a rational answer.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Although death penalty is constitutionally justifiable in some countries, it has been a controversial phenomenon; hence there is a global call for urgent moratorium on executions with a view to eventual abolition of death penalty. There has been a great challenge by the abolition proponents questioning the constitutionality, efficacy and human nature of death penalty. There is also the doubt that death penalty is not a qualitative deterrent factor as an object of punishment.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The major purpose of this research is to enable readers and the general public to note the importance of human life and the danger of death penalty as capital punishment. Also in this research, one major question will be answered: is death penalty an adequate deterrent factor?

1.4 Significance of the problem

Currently, the imposition of death penalty has raised a global debate; hence this research will proffer some opinions most especially the demerits of death penalty on the offender and the society at large. This work also will be useful to opponents of death penalty, judges and scholars who intend to further a research on this area.

1.5 Research question

At the end of this research, an attempt will be made to answer the following questions:

What is the objective of punishment?

Does death penalty poses an attribute of deterrence?

Is death penalty inhumane and barbaric?

What are the effects of death penalty on the offender, his family and the society at large?

1.7 Research methodology

In order for a successful work of this magnitude and to the underlying purpose of this study, this work intends to make use of library based materials as well as desktop materials. 



The act of doing away with or the state of being done away with; annulment. It is also the act of ending or terminating something or an agreement.

Death Penalty: 

The punishment or execution administered to someone convicted of a capital crime. It is also the sentence of death imposed on a convicted criminal.Is also the ultimate punishment imposed for murder or other capital offences.

It is the punishment /sanction for committing a capital offense such as murder or treason where the court having jurisdiction over the crime to death. Is the termination of the life of a person who has been convicted of a crime.


1.9 Global Debate on Death Penalty

In a research of this magnitude and importance, a review of related literature is indispensable thus attention will be drawn to the review of some related literature on death penalty. Death generally means the ending of life. Death as a form of punishment is the termination of life of a person who is convicted of crime. In this review, the provision of death penalty under the Nigerian and American Constitution are considered. In the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Section 33 (1) provides thus:

Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprive 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. 

From the above assertion, the 1999 constitution recognizes the ultimate right of mankind and prohibits the intentional and illegal taking of life with the exception of a death penalty imposed on a convicted offender by a court of competent jurisdiction as prescribed by law. In both the fifth and fourteenth articles of the American constitution, there is also direct reference to capital punishment. The fifth states in part: No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury… it further states (as it does the fourteenth) that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law…

In the following view point, taken from a Parliamentary Debate on April 21, 1868, Mr. Gregory argues that the murderers should perish. Thus he posits:

“It is better that the murderer should perish than that innocent men and women should have their throats cut”.

In his view, Samuel Hand, states that: 

Capital execution upon the deadly poisoner and the midnight assassin is not only necessary for the safety of society; it is the fit and deserved retribution of their crimes. By it alone is divine and human justice fulfilled.

Opposing the points above, some argue that “death penalty” has never prevented men from injuring society.” Caesarea Beccaria in his essay on “Crimes and Punishment” argued against capital punishment and inhumane treatment of criminals. He condemns capital punishment on several grounds, including that it is not a deterrent to crime…

He further stated “but the punishment of death is not authorized by any right; for I have demonstrated that no such right exists. It is therefore a war of a whole nation against a citizen, whose destruction they consider as necessary, or useful to the general good. But if I can further demonstrate, that it is neither necessary nor useful, I shall have gained the cause of humanity.

Also is a commentary on Caesarea Beccaria, which states thus:

It hath long since been observed, that a man after he is hanged is good for nothing, and that punishment invented for the good of society, ought to be useful to society. It is evident, that a score of stout robbers, condemned for life to some public work, would serve the state in their punishment, and that hanging them is a benefit to nobody but the executioner…

The Romans never condemned a citizen to death, unless for crimes which concerned the safety of the state. These masters, our first legislators, were careful of the blood of their fellow citizens; but we are extravagant with the blood of ours…

The sword of justice is in our hands, but we ought rather to blunt than to sharpen its edge. It remains within its sheath in the presence of kings to inform us that it ought seldom to be drawn.

Death penalty in fact could increase the incidence of murder in society as the value placed on life become reduced or minimal. This assertion has gained judicial support in the case of Forman V Georgia where Brenna J states:

It is certainly doubtful that the infliction of death by the state does in fact strengthen the community’s moral code; if the deliberate extinguishment of human life has any effect at all, it more likely tends to lower our respect for life and brutalize our values.

In a similar view, William Randolph Hearest said “there is no deterrent in the menace of the gallows”. 

Cruelty and viciousness are not abolished by cruelty and viciousness – not even by legalized cruelty and viciousness… our penal system has broken down because it is built upon the sand – founded on the basis of force and violence instead of on the basis of Christian care of our follow men, of moral and mental human development, of the conscientious performance by the state of its duty to the citizen. We cannot cure murder for murder. We must adopt another and better system.

Supporting this view, Thomas Mott Osborne, said:

“It is a fact that a large percentage of murderers are committed in the heat of passion, when the murderer is not in a position to reason; fear of the law plays no part at all. In the remaining few, whatever fear there may be is more than balanced by the belief on the part of the criminal that he is not going to get caught. There are also some who deliberately kill; but the knowledge that they will be caught and punish does not deter them.”

These and many more are the arguments against death penalty and Henry Schwarzschild the director of capital punishment project of the American Civil liberties Union in New York City is of the opinion that: The death penalty is the state’s arrogation of God-like wisdom (or totalitarian power) to decide who should live and who should die. By and large, people who commit the heinous crimes for which they might get sentenced to death either expect to get away with it, in which case the severity of the threatened sanction makes no difference, or they act under pressures of the moment – whether internal (lust, greed, fear, hatred, or under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or psychic pathology) or external (fear of imminent discovery or arrest, or expectation of being themselves shot or the like). They will commit the crime heedless of the consequences, in which case the remote possibility of the death sentence does not restrain their actions. 

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