“And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.” — Leveticus 24: 19-21.
It has been 10 months since a policeman darkened Christmas for relatives and friends of Bolanle Raheem, a Lagos-based lawyer.
On the fateful Sunday in December 2022, Drambi Vandi, an assistant superintendent of police, expended two of the 25 bullets in his gun and ultimately ensured Raheem would never grow older than 41.
Vandi seemed to instantly regret his decision, and literally went crying to his superiors at the Ajiwe Police Division in the Ajah area of Lagos State, but as soon as his trial began on January 16, 2023, he and Adetokumbo Odutola, his lawyer, began telling a different tale.
Their story was that Vandi’s gun was too powerful to leave a bullet lodged in Raheem. They told the court that if he had shot her, the bullet would have torn through her vehicle, flesh and up to three more vehicles before coming to a halt.
On October 9, 2023, Justice Ibironke Harrison of the Lagos High Court said she did not buy Vandi’s account of events, and sentenced him to death by hanging.
What Harrison’s verdict means is that the state has condemned Vandi to death, but her gavel does not nail the ex-policeman’s coffin just yet. To actually enforce this judgement, the number one citizen of the state has to append his signature to the convict’s death warrant. As of October 9, that citizen was Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
WILL THE GOVERNOR SIGN IT?
Whether the governor would sign the document that puts paid to Vandi’s life is anyone’s guess at the moment.
In the interim, Vandi would be on death row, awaiting a signature, but going by history, he may wait quite a while.
In Nigeria, governors seldom sign death warrants, and this means convicts who get the sentence often join inmates on life sentences to live out their days in prison.
When we look at the numbers, we may have some semblance of answers.
As of July 2022, Nigeria’s death row inmate count stood at a staggering 3,145. This means that 36 governors were yet to sign an average of 87 death warrants each. The reluctance of governors to sign them has contributed to Nigeria’s growing prison congestion problem.
When Umar Ganduje was Kano State Governor, he argued in 2021 that governors did not trust the judicial process enough, and were scared of signing warrants only to discover later that the convict was innocent.
To put this reluctance into perspective, only two governors have signed death warrants in Nigeria since the fourth republic began in 1999. Ibrahim Shekarau did so in 2006 while he was Kano State Governor, and Adams Oshiomhole did same in 2012 as Edo State Governor.
Shekarau signed the warrants of seven inmates, while Oshiomhole signed those of two.
This means that in 24 years, only nine convicts have actually died following a death sentence, and no governor has hit 10 percent of the average 87 per state. For more context, no Lagos governor has ever signed a death warrant, and while the average is 87, as of August 2022, Lagos actually had a recorded figure of 353 death row inmates.
If that number remained unchanged until October 9, 2023, it would mean it now stands at 354.
WHERE HAVE WE SEEN THIS BEFORE?
It is difficult to find a more popular death row inmate than Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, popularly known as Reverend King.
The man gained notoriety for sexually assaulting, burning and killing his female church members in the early 2000s.
King committed the atrocities while serving as General Overseer of Christian Praying Assembly in Lagos State, but in 2006, a Lagos judge ordered his execution.
While serving 17 years in prison so far, King has survived four Lagos Governors, and his church members continue to clamour for his release.
Like King, Bolanle Raheem was a Christian, and on the day her life was forcefully taken from her, she was returning from church.
Her holy book says in Leveticus 24: 21 that “… he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death,” but history says Sanwo-Olu may prefer that he that killeth a (wo)man become another reverend King.
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