|Chidi Odinkalu, Ph.D.|
Now that the Chief of Army Staff has commuted to 10-year terms the death sentences that had been imposed on 66 Nigerian Army soldiers, what happens next? ThisDay has the story here:
[T]he immediate past chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr Chidi Odinkalu, faulted the decision to commute the death sentences, saying it is a hasty action that pre-empts pending law suits on the matter. Odinkalu told THISDAY by telephone that the timing of the military’s intervention in the case was inappropriate since the soldiers had not exhausted the appeal process. He noted that prerogative of mercy ought to come after the soldiers have exhausted the appeal process up to the Supreme Court.
Odinkalu wondered what would happen if either the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court overturns the convictions. "What becomes of the commutal?" he asked, adding, “Why the haste? Prerogative of mercy comes after the appeal process has been fully exhausted. This is a troubling pattern of illegality and I think there is a need to advise the president appropriately.”
However, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Sebastine Hon, applauded the replacement of the death sentences with jail terms. He commended the Nigerian Army for having a human heart. Hon said while he was not justifying the actions of the affected soldiers, the authorities might have come to the realisation that the soldiers were forced to do what they did because they were starved of the needed equipment to fight. He advised any of the soldiers who had filed an appeal to file a notice to amend their notices of appeal to reflect the commuting of the sentences. That would enable the appellate court to reflect on the current position when delivering final judgement, he pointed out.The question -- it seems to the editor -- is whether commutation of the death sentences exhausts the availability of executive clemency or whether further exercises of the prerogative are possible even after the completion of appellate or collateral review in the courts. It is difficult to see why further clemency could not be granted. For example, suppose a person whose death sentence had been commuted to a term of years thereafter amasses a spotless record as a prisoner. Why wouldn't further clemency be possible? If I were one of the affected soldiers I would be relieved to know execution was no longer on the table, and look forward to the prospect of further judicial or executive relief.