Hanged criminals may have been innocent – Group says

Four men were executed on Monday in Edo State.

More details have emerged on the identities of the death row inmates executed on Monday in Edo State.

Osarenmwinda Aiguokhian, Daniel Nsofor, Chima Ejiofor, and Richard Igagu were taken from Benin prisons to the gallows on Monday evening.

The fifth inmate, Thankgod Ebhos, was initially taken along with the quartet but later returned to the prison. It is still unclear why he was not executed along with the others.

Adams Oshiomhole, the Edo State governor, signed the death warrants of the inmates, despite appeals by local and international organisations including Amnesty International, Lawyers Without Borders, and Access to Justice.

Earlier, President Goodluck Jonathan had advised state governors to exercise their constitutional rights by signing death warrants of death row inmates in order to reduce the rising level criminality in the country.

A civil society group however condmned the execution.

“We thank everybody for (supporting) our effort to save the lives of these men, but Edo State and Nigerian Prison Authority (was) bent on executing them after LEDAP and HURSDEF had served them with appeal we filed today (Monday) on the judgement,” said Justine Ijeomah, Executive Director, Human Rights, Social Development and Environmental Foundation, HURSDEF.

The inmates

Mr. Aiguokhian, 49, was arrested for murder on July 7, 1993, and convicted three years later by Justice G.E Edokpayi of High Court 3,Benin City.

The inmate, a native of Orior Village in Uhumwode local government, Benin City, Edo State, was asthmatic as well as rheumatoid which left his left leg paralyzed before his execution.
The news of his death sentence on January 18, 1996 devastated his mother causing her to develop high blood pressure; she died five months later, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

His two sisters, coming to visit him at the prisons, were involved in a ghastly motor accident eight months later.

Mr. Nsofor, 39, was reportedly suffering from a “serious” ear problem before his execution on Monday.

The native of Umuduru-Iheoma, Isieke, Awo-omamma in Oru-East Local Government Area of Imo State, was arrested for murder on December 13, 1992 and convicted on June 19, 1996, by Justice Cromwell Idahosa of High Court 10, Benin City.

The 43-year-old Mr. Ejiofor was also arrested for murder on April 29, 1994, and was sentenced to death on February 27, 1998 at High Court 7, Benin City.

Mr. Igagu, 49, was arrested on July 4, 1991, and was sentenced to death for murder on December 21, 1995 by Mr. Idahosa of High Court 10.

Henry Idahagbon, Edo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, justified the executions, stating that the governor merely carried out his constitutional requirement by signing the warrants of the convicted criminals.

The Attorney General admitted that his office received petition papers for a stay of execution but could not do anything since the hanging had nothing to do with the state government.
There has been a de facto moratorium in Nigeria on death row executions since 2002.

Also, there have been recommendations to outlaw the death penalty based on findings by the 2004 National Study Group on Death Penalty and the 2007 Presidential Commission on the Administration of Justice; both findings stressed that Nigeria’s criminal justice system cannot guarantee a fair trial.

Perhaps, the gruesome nature of the murder victims encouraged the Edo State governor to sign the death warrants, despite calls for clemency.

Mr. Oshiomhole had stated, at a ceremony in Benin where he granted amnesty to some convicts, that both Messrs Aiguokhian and Nsofor deserved to die “in the interest of justice.”

“We must be seen to carry out justice in all fairness,” the governor had said.

According to the Supreme Court, Mr. Aiguokhian killed and dismembered the body of his victim while Mr. Nsofor forcefully robbed, tortured and strangulated his victim to death.

In Mr. Aiguokhian’s statement of defence during trial, he described his action as a “mistake” but the Supreme Court in the affirmation of his death sentence in 2004 said, “the likes of Aiguokhian belongs to Hades.”

The second convict, Mr. Nsofor, who also had his death sentence affirmed by the Supreme Court, was said to have strangled a woman to death after forcefully taking her money and torturing her.

But controversies had surrounded the conviction of both men, with Mr. Ijeomah, who has been investigating cases of death row prisoners in Nigeria, saying that the death sentences were not justified.

For instance, in Mr. Aiguokhian’s case, evidence which would have helped solve the murder allegedly disappeared, according to Mr. Ijeomah.

In Mr. Nsofor’s case, he was allegedly severely tortured into confessing to a murder he claimed to know nothing about while at the State Criminal Investigations Department in Benin.

“He was hanged and mercilessly tortured by a police officer nicknamed Akwa Ibom,” Mr. Ijeomah said.

“While the rich who commit crimes are released right from the police station, it is the poor like Nsofor who don’t have money to settle their way who are made scapegoats. Where is the justice?” Mr. Ijeomah added.

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