Still No Hope In Sight
If the recent report of the Amnesty International is anything to go by, about 900 Nigerians are presently awaiting the hangman’s noose in the nation’s various prisons. Among this figure, 860 were men and 11 women. At the Kirikiri Maximum Prison in Lagos, the number of prisoners in the death-row-inmate wing has increased from 11 to 13 with the conviction, earlier this year of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and Lateef Shofolahan by the Lagos High Court for the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, wife of Chief Moshood Abiola.
Human right watchers described the seemingly endless wait of the prisoners for their appeal to be heard as both unlawful and inhuman. About 47 percent of death row inmates are waiting for their appeal to be concluded. A quarter of these appeals have lasted for five years while six percent of prisoners with appeals outstanding have waited more than 20 years. Some prisoners have spent up to 25 years on death row with no hope in sight for them.
Although Nigeria is one of the 58 countries in the world that have signed to retain the death penalty, there has not been any execution for over one and a half decades, now. This development has left hundreds of prisoners perpetually on death row.
Incidentally, when the authorities are crying of prison congestion, attention is focused on the delayed justice system, which results in many inmates awaiting trial spending more than the period they would have spent in prison if convicted of the crimes for which they are standing trial. No thought was given to those on death row. At least 40 of the prisoners on death row as at February 2008 were under 18 years old. The delay in their execution could however, be attributed to international human rights law, which prohibits the execution of juveniles. No elected governor in Nigeria has been bold enough to append his signature for the execution of convicts on death row, at least since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999.
The Amnesty report believes that most of the people on death row may not have been if the nation had a credible judicial system. “Many prisoners awaiting trial and on death row have claimed that the police picked them up and asked for money to release them. Those who couldn’t pay were treated as suspected armed robbers.” Other death row inmates are said to have told the Amnesty International that they were arrested when they went to a police station to report a crime they had witnessed. “Investigations showed that overstretched and under-resourced Nigeria Police Force, NPF, rely heavily on confessions rather than investigations and in many cases torture to force suspects to sign these statements,” the report added.
The Amnesty International, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, and National Human Rights Writers Association, HURIWA, are among human rights groups agitating for the abolition of death penalty in Nigeria. They advocate for a moratorium to be declared on all executions, changing all death sentences to terms of imprisonment. But the chief justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher said it is the duty of the legislature to amend the law to expunge death sentence from the nation’s constitution and not the judiciary to do away with the law. The CJN who was addressing a one day programme organised by an NGO, Lawyers Without Borders based in France stressed that in a constitutional democracy, neither the legislature nor the judiciary is supreme over the constitution, adding that unless the national assembly amends the law, there is nothing anybody can do about it.
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, described as premature a call for the abolition of death penalty in the country. NBA president, Joseph Daudu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, said what is needed is institutional advocacy on issues of criminal justice system in Nigeria. “NBA has taken a stand on this issue of death penalty at its NEC meeting in Gombe and the stand of NBA on it was that it is premature.”
Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution says that “every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”