Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A kind of development

By Elizabeth Ohene

A publication in a Nigerian daily about an order to execute over 800 prisoners in the country's overcrowded jails as a means to decongest them has raised a number of questions. This article deals with the problem.
The other day, the Sunday Concord published a very startling story. It quoted authoritative sources as stating that an order had gone out to all police commissioners in Nigeria to arrange the execution of 828 condemned persons on death row within two weeks.

The order for the nationwide executions was said by the paper to have been given by the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters Maj-Gen Tunde Idiagbon just before he left for the funeral of the assassinated Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The paper wrote: "It is believed that the speed of the exercise is aimed at decongesting the country's prisons." Since the publication, whose authenticity has not been denied, nor any prosecution started against the writer or the Sunday Concord, nothing else has been heard.

One has heard of many ways of solving the overpopulation problem but this must quite be a novel one. The paper offered that the nation's prisons which were originally designed to hold 23,000 inmates, now hold 50,000. In other words, to ease the congestion, the executions of 828 people should be hurried up; and should all be finished within a period of two weeks.

It is quite possible that it is not only the problem of overcrowding that Brigadier, (sorry, Major-General) Tunde Idiagbon is hoping to solve but he wants to tackle the unemployment crisis in one go. For, the hangmen and firing squads are likely to be quite busy for some time.

Whichever way you look at it, there are many worrying aspects to this report. Why should the executions be completed within two weeks - what is the significance?

Is it possible that there is some local taboo placed on executing more than a certain number of people per day.

If one is to assume that the executions are to take place each day of the week for two weeks then some 59 people are expected to go daily, however, in case the various holy days are to be observed, - Fridays in the predominantly Muslim states and Sundays in the mainly Christian states, then the figures of course have to be readjusted.

The overcrowding problem, however, is not likely to be solved in any way whether the 828 people are executed in one week, two weeks or three months. The figures we are talking about are 50,000 people crammed in spaces meant for 23,000.

And with the various decrees adding about a dozen more daily to those who qualify for the death row, no significant dent is likely to be made.

Which must mean that the busiest sector of the Nigerian 'economy' is likely to be the execution industry, and that looks like a growing industry with the retrenchment exercise going ahead full blaze, many people will soon join those who will fall foul of Decree 20 and thus find their way on to the death rows.

It might work yet, the development by destruction strategy - whereby all roadside structures are bulldozed down because they constitute eyesores and those fascinating small businesses that give Lagos its character all go down. Whereby no longer can anybody get a car tyre repaired by the roadside at 'Awudu's International Vulcanizing services, nor buy a cold drink at "Tunde's World Class Saloon'.

Now everybody will have to take his car to the big garages for the most minor of repairs and all those who cannot or will not have all their meals in their homes will join the afternoon crowd at Ikoyi club for lunch seeing the way side chop bars have all been pulled down to make Lagos clean.

All those whose small businesses have been destroyed by the structure destruction exercises can find jobs with either the execution squads or else if that doesn't take their fancy, they can join the ranks of those to be executed. Whichever way you decide, you would be joining the war against indiscipline which is guaranteed to turn Nigeria into the best organised, disciplined society whose towns and cities are clean and orderly.

talking drums 1984-11-26 secret executions in Nigeria