FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA: Nigeria: Government misleads world about death penalty record

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17 Dec 2007
Topic: Abolition of the Death Penalty
Amnesty International revealed today that secret executions have been taking place in Nigeria’s prisons, despite recent assurances by the government that Nigeria has not executed “in years.”
The organization has uncovered evidence of at least seven executions in the last two years, but fears more may have taken place. All of the executions took place by hanging.

All those executed were convicted in a Kano state court and relocated to prisons across the country, including Jos, Kaduna and Enugu. Their death warrants were all signed by the current Kano state governor, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau.

“The Nigerian government has been misleading the world ? and they must now come clean on their death penalty record, establish an immediate moratorium on all executions in the country, and fully investigate how something like this could have happened,” said Erwin van der Borght, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.

The detailed cases uncovered by Amnesty International include:

On 30 May 2006, Kenneth Ekhone and Auwalu Musa were executed by hanging in Kaduna Central Prison. They were tried and convicted by a Robbery and Firearms Tribunal, but did not have lawyers throughout the proceedings. They were also not given an opportunity to appeal against the judgements. Until his death, Auwalu Musa denied he had anything to do with the crime.On 15 June 2006, Salisu Babuga was transferred from Kaduna prison to Jos prison, where he was hanged;At least four men were hanged in Enugu prison in 2006.

The organization also believes that at least one execution has taken place in Port Harcourt prison. Amnesty International is continuing to investigate in order to confirm the names of those executed and the dates of the executions.

On 15 November 2007, a Nigerian government representative at the UN spoke about the death penalty in Nigeria. He said, “punishment only comes after exhaustive legal and judicial processes, including recourse to the supreme court of the land”…”It is thus on record that we have not carried out any capital punishment in recent years in Nigeria.”

“It is inexcusable for a government to mislead about something as serious as the taking of human life, and we are shocked at what appears to be an attempt by the Nigerian government to deliberately deceive the international community,” said van der Borght.

Background information
Approximately 700 prisoners are estimated to be on death row in Nigeria. Until now, it has been widely assumed that no executions have taken place since 2002. More than 200 inmates have been on death row for over ten years, some for over 25 years.

Many of them were convicted and sentenced to death by the Robbery and Firearms Tribunals under the military rule. Defendants did not have the right of appeal. After 1999, jurisdiction was supposed to be restored to state-level High Courts with the right to appeal. However, in numerous cases the inmates were not informed of this right, or did not have legal representation or money for an appeal and thus never filed one. A number of convicts did file an appeal at the time they were sentenced to death; however, their cases were never heard in court. As they do not have lawyers the state should have provided legal representation to follow up their cases.

A government-established National Study Group on the Death Penalty acknowledged in 2004 that "a system that would take a life must first give justice" and thus recommended a moratorium on the death penalty “until the Nigerian Criminal Justice System can ensure fundamental fairness and due process in capital cases and minimize the risk that innocent people will be executed.”

A Presidential Commission on Reform of the Administration of Justice (PCRAJ) reiterated that conclusion in May 2007 and called for "an official moratorium on executions until Nigerian criminal justice system can ensure fundamental fairness and due process in capital cases.” The PCRAJ concluded that “the Federal Government and indeed State Governments can no longer ignore the systemic problems that have long existed in our criminal justice system.”

Both commissions highlighted that inmates on death row are “almost exclusively poor and without legal representation.”

Article 14(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: "Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law."

On 18 December, the UN General Assembly will be voting to reaffirm the resolution calling for a moratorium on executions, agreed by the General Assembly’s Third Committee on 15 November.

17 December 2007

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