Nigeria's State Governors Approve Execution Of 330 Convicted Prisoners

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nigeria’s state governors have backed the execution of more than 300 prisoners on death row to clear space in the overcrowded jails of Africa’s most populous country, reports the AFP.

“It was agreed that those people who have been condemned should be executed accordingly,” said Theodore Orji, governor of the southeastern state of Abia, after a meeting of the 36 state governors in Abuja late Tuesday.

A total of 330 prisoners are on death row in a country where capital punishment remains on the statutes despite rarely being implemented.

The last official execution dates from 2002, but Amnesty International, which campaigns against the death penalty, said it has found evidence of ongoing secret executions in prisons.

The governors, who have the power to sign execution orders, said also that 80 percent of Nigeria’s prison population is awaiting trial and efforts should be made to “leave go” those serving lengthy remands, according to Orji.

Kayode Odeyemi of the Nigerian Prisones Service told AFP that 36,000 of the 40,106 inmates are awaiting trial.

Human rights activist Chidi Odinkalu of the Open Society Justice Initiative said that instead of clearing a death-row backlog, the governors should probe the methods used by the police to tackle crime.

“There is a major problem in Nigeria with the death penalty pending. The police cannot investigate adequately. The only way of investigation the police has is torture followed by confession,” said Odinkalu, a lawyer.

“That is why the governors cannot in conscience sign the death warrants,” he said.

In an incident that highlighted the problem late Tuesday, two inmates were killed and 41 others, including two warders, were injured in a riot at an overcrowded jail in northern Nigeria.

The prison in Kaduna was designed to hold 524 prisoners but with a population of 790, according to the head of the Nigeria Prisons Service, Olusola Ogundipe. He said 530 of these are awaiting trial.

He said delays in prosecution and congestion in the facility were to blame for the riot.

Human rights groups said some of the prisoners have been awaiting trial for 10 years.

United Nations special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak on Tuesday called for the immediate release of 20,000 prisoners in Nigeria “since most had already exceeded the maximum penalty possible in relation to the crime they were suspected of committing.”

Speaking at a crime prevention and social justice conference in Brazil, Nowak — who has visited Nigeria several times — said that “in far too many countries, pretrial detention…serves as a type of preliminary punishment for all criminal suspects who lack sufficient money to bribe corrupt police or prison officials, judges and prosecutor.”

“The decision by the governors is unfortunate because those awaiting execution or trial are not responsible for prison congestion,” said Lagos human rights lawyer Festus Keyamo. “Those on death row should have their sentences commuted.”

“Under our law, the governors have prerogative of mercy to commute death sentences to life imprisonment. This is what the governors should do rather than to call for execution of those on the death row,” Keyamo said.
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