Alarm in Nigeria over push to execute 3,000 convicts

jail prison

Nigerian Minister says state governors are contributing to congestion in prisons by not signing death warrants. 

Photo credit: File | Fotosearch

Rights bodies are raising the alarm over the fate of 3,008 Nigerian convicts on death row as the federal government advises state governors to sign warrants for their execution. 

The federal government accused the 36 regional state governors of hampering progress and justice because of their failure to sign the death warrants for convicts who are congesting correctional centres. 

Rauf Aregbesola, the minister of interior under whom correctional centres fall, last month accused the governors of also contributing to congestion in prisons by refusing to sign death warrants. 

But two prominent rights bodies, the Legal Defence Assistance Programme (Ledap) and the Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (Prawa), have sharply disagreed with the minister’s directive on executions. 

They argue that the death penalty is inhumane and outdated, although section 33(1) of the Nigerian constitution states: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in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.” 

Ledap, through its executive director Chino Obiagwu, said there are two anti-death penalty cases pending in courts in Abuja and Lagos. 

The Ledap suit in a Federal High Court in Abuja was brought by Nnenna Obi and Solomon Adekunle on behalf of all prisoners on death row in Nigeria, seeking enforcement of their fundamental rights and to stop future implementation of the death penalty. 

Prawa, on the other hand, said executions do not add value to the quest for a crime-free society.  

“We do not subscribe to the minister’s call for the execution of these persons, for many reasons. We see the request for execution of inmates as a consequence of the failure of Nigeria to heed the call of the United Nations General Assembly to establish a moratorium on execution of death sentences,” Prawa spokesperson Ogechi Agu said on Monday in Abuja. 

But the unyielding interior minister, who was at the inauguration of the Osun State command headquarters of the Nigeria Correctional Service in Osogbo, insisted that states need to contribute more to efforts to maintain correctional facilities.

“The state governors should summon the will to do the needful on death-row convicts. There are presently 3,008 condemned criminals waiting for their date with the executioners in our meagre custodial facilities. This consists of 2,952 males and 56 females,” Mr Aregbesola said.

“In cases where appeals have been exhausted and the convicts are not mounting any challenge to their conviction, the state should go ahead to do the needful and bring closure to their cases, as well as set some others free on compassionate grounds. 
 
“Those to be shown compassion are those who have grown old on account of the long time they have been in custody, those who are terminally ill and those who have been reformed and demonstrated exceptionally good behaviour. They can also commute others’ sentences to life or a specific term in jail.”

Mr Aregbesola, a former governor of Osun state, is not the first official to face opposition from rights lobbies on the matter.

Both vice-president Yemi Osinbajo and Attorney-General Abubakar Malami have called for the signing of the death warrants of condemned inmates. 

Death warrants were last signed in 2013 in Edo state in south Nigeria for the execution of five condemned prisoners, four of whom were executed by hanging. 

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