After an accused person has gone through trial and has been found to be guilty of an offence, the judge would convict him of the crime he has been accused of, and subsequently sentence him.
Depending on the offence an individual has been found guilty of, the sentence pronounced on him could be a minimum of one month if it is a simple offence. However, where the offence is a felony, a person could receive a life sentence.
There has been a lot of controversy as to what a life sentence means. Some hold the view that it means an individual would spend the rest of his life behind bars. However, the meaning of a life sentence depends on the part of Nigeria that an individual is sentenced.
In the Northern states of Nigeria, the Penal Code is the applicable law for all offences. Section 70 of the Penal Code states that:
In calculating fractions of terms of punishment, imprisonment for life shall be reckoned as equivalent to imprisonment for twenty years.
From the above section of the law, we can see that when a person is sentenced to life imprisonment in any of the Northern states in Nigeria, he or she would be liable to spend only a period of twenty years in prison.
Although in the southern states of Nigeria where the Criminal Code is applicable, there is no provision defining what a life sentence is.
However, Section 468 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act provides that where the Comptroller General of Prisons makes a report to the court recommending that a prisoner has served at least one third of his prison term where he is sentenced to life imprisonment, the court may order that the remaining term of the imprisonment be suspended.
The suspension may be either with or without conditions and the prisoner will be released from prison on the order of the court.