‘His Holiness, Daddy G.O.’ on Death Row


By Olusegun Adeniyi

With his supporters turning the Kirikiri (Lagos) Maximum Security Prison into a pilgrimage site, authorities of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS) were forced to move the condemned Founder/General Overseer, Christian Praying Assembly (CPA) Church Worldwide, ‘Daddy G.O., His Holiness, The Most Honourable Dr Rev King’, to Kuje Prison in Abuja. Not long after, according to sources, the same problem surfaced and King was transferred to Kaduna Prison. Today, ‘God in black skin, the man of the moment, every moment and the final moment, the last preacher of the truthful gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is in Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison in Borno State where, from what I have gathered in recent days, he continues to live large as devotees troop to pay him obeisance. And on Monday, as has been the tradition every year for almost two decades, there were several pages of colour adverts to celebrate his birthday. 

The story of King says a lot about criminal justice administration in Nigeria – both positive and negative. While the judiciary has discharged its responsibility creditably, the executive has become a clog, with a growing number of Nigerian death row inmates. Last December, the NCoS spokesman, Abubakar Umar, lamented that there are 3,413 condemned inmates across the country. Part of the constitutional responsibilities of Governors is to sign the death warrants of convicted murderers or commute their sentence to imprisonment. Unfortunately, our governors would rather do nothing. The result is that death row inmates end up spending decades on a roller coaster existence. In his own case, King has spent nine years as a condemned man.

King was arraigned at the Lagos High Court, Ikeja on 26 September 2006 for the murder of one Ann Uzor, a member of his church, and the attempted murder of five others. He allegedly doused the six with petrol before setting them ablaze on grounds that they committed fornication. While Uzoh died from injuries sustained from the burns, others survived, though they may also have died by now since nobody followed up on them. In a judgement delivered on 11 January 2007, Justice Olubunmi Oyewole convicted and sentenced King to death for the murder of Ann Uzor. King appealed the judgement but lost. Not satisfied, he approached the Supreme Court which on 26 February 2015 affirmed the judgements of both the Lagos High Court and Court of Appeal.

The five-man apex court bench that tried the case was led by then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. Facts of the case, according to the late Justice Sylvester Ngwuta who read the lead judgement, “could have been lifted from a horror film.” Ngwuta said: “The prosecution’s case was that the appellant accused six of his people of immoral behaviour. He called them together, beat each of them with many hard objects and after the beating, he assembled them downstairs, made them kneel and he caused petrol to be poured on them and a struck match thrown on them. They all sustained various degrees of burns. While five of them escaped, the sixth of them who later died sustained 65 per cent degree burns. You can imagine her last day in the hospital.” King, according to Justice Ngwuta, “denied this incident, saying though he punished them for immoral behaviour, the punishment was different from the incident that gave birth to this charge. He said they sustained injuries when a generator exploded. But throughout the proceedings, this mysterious generator was never produced.”

There are two issues here. The first has to do with what I once described as ‘faith and fanaticism’ in Nigeria and how that is being exploited by charlatans. But that is not my business for today. The second is on the issue of the death penalty itself. During the 2023 World Day Against the Death Penalty last October, Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), stated that many countries, including Nigeria, are being encouraged to consider reforms on capital punishment. “The World Day against the Death Penalty is not merely a day of solemn remembrance, but a call to action,” Fagbemi said. “It is a day when we, as global citizens, come together to emphasise that every life is sacred, and no mistake or crime should ever push us toward actions that we cannot reverse.” Many Western diplomats also used the occasion to campaign for Nigeria to drop the death penalty even when, in some of their countries, they still carry out executions.

I followed the execution drama of Kenneth Smith who was subjected to inhaling pure nitrogen through a mask until he suffocated last month in Alabama, United States. The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR), Volker Türk, and several others, had urged Alabama State authorities to cancel the execution on 25 January but were ignored. And despite claims that the execution (the first through such method anywhere in the world) would be “swift, painless and humane”, Smith reportedly shook, convulsed, writhed, and gasped for breath until he was pronounced dead after more than 20 minutes.

The story began on 18 March 1988, when Elizabeth Sennett, wife of a Pastor, was stabbed to death in a contract killing orchestrated by her husband, Charles Sennett, who later committed suicide when he realised his cover had been blown. The Pastor, said to be heavily indebted, was having an affair with another woman, and had taken out a life insurance policy on his wife before hiring Billy Gray Williams who in turn recruited Smith and John Forrest Parker to assist in her murder. Each was paid $1,000. At trial, Williams (the middleman) was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and died in prison in November 2020. Smith and Parker who carried out the killing were both sentenced to death. Parker was executed via lethal injection in June 2010. Not surprisingly, it took a long time to execute the judgement on Smith because of several lawsuits filed on his behalf.

However, the real drama started on 17 November 2022 after Smith had eaten what was supposed to be his last meal and said the traditional goodbyes to his mother and grandson. With his death warrant already signed, Smith was placed on a gurney inside the execution chamber, his arms and legs strapped down. But for almost four hours prison officials could not find the intravenous line on Smith’s body to administer the lethal injection. By the time the execution was suspended close to midnight, shortly before expiration of the death warrant, Smith’s body was already riddled with puncture holes, according to reports. What followed was predictable. Lawsuits were again filed to stop his execution but they all failed. “After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey who signed the death warrant said in a statement shortly after the execution on 25 January. “I pray that Elizabeth Sennett’s family can receive closure after all these years dealing with that great loss.”

This then brings me back home to Rev. King who has been on death row for the past nine years. Interestingly, birthday congratulatory adverts in his honour this year offer a practical solution to the problems of Nigeria. “Daddy, you are God’s divine solution to the problem of mankind. The problem you cannot solve does not exist. All the prophecies that you gave about Nigeria have come to fulfilment exactly as you prophesied,” wrote Eng. Somitobechukwu King. “If the power brokers of Nigeria would be humble enough to consult you, I know for a fact that you are the only man endowed with the ability to transform Nigeria from the capital of poverty and clandestine activities which it currently is, to one of the wealthiest and adorable nations of planet earth.”

At a period in history when Nigerians are going through harrowing times, this may indeed be the solution we need. But before ‘His Holiness’ can rescue our country; he must first rescue himself from the death sentence for which there is no longer any appeal.

Now to the issue of capital punishment. As much as I understand the argument against the death penalty (‘an eye for an eye makes the world go blind’), I have also wrestled with the question of how to ensure closure for families of those gruesomely murdered, including by killers who show no remorse for their crimes. Don’t such families also deserve justice? That precisely was the question resolved in Alabama with the execution of Smith last month. At some point in Nigeria, the matter of ‘His Holiness, Dr Rev King’ will also have to be resolved. One way or another!

Much Ado about Oronsaye Report

On Monday, the federal government announced its preparedness to implement theSteve Oronsaye Report of 2012 and the subsequent 2014 White Paper by the Mohammed Bello Adoke inter-ministerial committee. President Bola Tinubu, we have been told, has given the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) a 12-week implementation timeline. “Many agencies will be scrapped, and many others will be merged, to pave the way to a leaner government,” according topresidential spokesperson, Bayo Onanuga, in a post on X (formerly Twitter), following Monday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting. The specific agencies to be merged or scrapped have also been highlighted so the weeks ahead are bound to be interesting in that regard.

Considering that I have written several columns on the Oronsaye Report, I crave the indulgence of readers to share a few excerpts from the first one, ‘Public Service in Private interest’, published on 7th February 2013, before I conclude with my take on the current issue.

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.. anybody who has read the report of the Presidential Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of the Federal Government Paratastals, Commissions and Agencies cannot but understand the waste we call government in Nigeria. Chaired by former Head of Service, Mr Steve Oronsaye, the committee, established in August 2011, submitted its report in April 2012. And it has come out with damning revelations. The executive summary highlights some of the salient rot in the identified 541 federal government agencies, 50 of which have no enabling laws! There are also 55 agencies that are in the statutes book yet not under the supervision of any ministry and some of them include: National Agency for Population Programmes and Development; Population Activities Fund; Population Fund Activities Agency and Population Research Fund!

According to the report, one common feature of virtually all the parastatals is the prevalence of high personnel cost as “many of them receive more budgetary allocations for personnel than they require because that component of their budget is usually inflated”. Several of them are also “obvious duplications of existing bodies” which then underscores the fact of “overlaps and enormous wastage of scarce resources”. To compound the situation, “successive administrations have over the years created parastatals which were not necessarily based on requisite need assessment that would drive development agenda”.

Debts owed local contractors, the report stated, had long been verified and paid off by a previous administration, which instructed all MDAs to ensure that any new debt be treated as First Line charge entities in Annual Budgets. However, “several years on, it is worrisome that payment to local contractors continue to feature in our National Budget, thereby giving the impression that the authorities are condoning the bad behaviour”. Further revelations include the fact that there are 106 core research and quasi-research institutes spread across the nation with little or no end product and this may be why: “In the 2011 Fiscal year, the sum of N97,108,917,918 was allocated to all the Institutes with personnel and Overhead Costs accounting for N42,581,362,128 and N10,157,863,826 respectively. Of the N44,369,691,964 allocated to Capital, only N10,408,574,488 was for core research activities.” We can see from the more than N97 billion earmarked for Research Institutes that only about 10 percent of the money is expended on core research work with the rest going into salaries and sundry procurements!

Most of the revelations in the Oronsaye Report depict very clearly that public office in our country has become avenues for the pursuit of private interests by many. But that is just a small part of the story of waste if one considers the unwieldy nature of the governing boards of these agencies and their number, as well as their overlapping and duplicating functions. For instance, some of the agencies in the ministry of Culture and Tourism are: National Institute for Culture Orientation; National Theatre; National Troupe of Nigeria; National Council for Arts and Culture; Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization; National Gallery of Arts; National Commission for Museums and Monuments and then you have the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism Development Corporation! Yet each of these nine stand-alone agencies has a Director General or Managing Director, full board membership and a retinue of mostly redundant staff. And it is from the Oronsaye report that I learnt that we actually have a full-fledged Research Institute for the study of Trypanosomiasis!…

ENDNOTE: For those who are excited about the decision of the current administration to implement the Oronsaye Report, let me remind them that we have been down this road before. In April 2020, then Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved implementation of the report on which a White Paper was also approved. “This is a report that has been in place for a long time and there hasn’t been implementation, but the President has approved that it should be implemented,” she declared. Not only was nothing done in that direction, but the administration ended up adding hundreds of new federal agencies such that the number of agencies in the federal government budget for this year is 929! So, rather than a reduction, we have almost doubled the number of federal government cost centres that we had 12 years ago before the Oronsaye Panel.

Mindful of this motion without movement that has been the bane of public engagement over the years, Oronsaye prefaced the submission of his report in 2012 with a recall. More than a decade after the White Paper on the Ahmed Joda Panel Report on the Review, Harmonization and Rationalization of Federal Government Parastatals, Institutions and Agencies (2000) by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, Oronsaye told President Jonathan twelve years ago, “some parastatals and agencies, which government had decided should either be scrapped, commercialized, privatized or self-funding, are still receiving full government funding, which runs into billions of Naira.” 

Reducing the cost of governance is good. But the jury is still out as to what the Tinubu administration intends to do with the Oronsaye Report. I will wait to see what happens in the coming weeks!

• You can follow me on my X (formerly Twitter) handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com   

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