Amnesty International has called on the Nigerian government to issue a legally binding official moratorium against executions as a first step towards the abolition of the death penalty in the country.
It said this will be in line with global trends.
The country director of the civic group, Osai Ojigho, said this during a launch of Amnesty International Global Report titled “Death sentences and Executions 2017” in Abuja on Thursday.
According to her, Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind and must show a great commitment for protecting lives and ensuring that the criminal justice system is fair.
She said there is need for reforming the judiciary in order to strengthen the system.
“Nigeria imposed the highest number of death sentences in the sub-Saharan Africa region in 2017,” she said, with 621 people sentenced to death.
She said Amnesty International believes that these death penalties are retrogressive, unjustifiable as there is no evidence to suggest the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishment
“In our reports, it is obvious that executions are reducing and death sentences with death penalty is also reducing but the reverse is the case in few countries in the world and unfortunately Nigeria is among those countries with increasing rate in death sentences and the potential for death penalty is still a risk many people face in the country.”
She said it is essential for the federal government to invest in security agencies on the use of technology in the prevention of crime thereby limiting people going through the justice system that is weak, which can be described as discriminatory against the poor and the vulnerable.
Similarly, Damian Ugwu, a researcher with the group said 2285 people were on death row as at December 31, 2017 which includes four foreign nationals.
According to him, Nigeria recorded no known executions in 2017 as compared to 2016 where it executed three death row inmates, although, 621 people were sentenced to death in 2017 compared to 527 in 2016.
Mr Ugwu said death penalty is discriminatory and often used against the most vulnerable in society which includes the poor, ethnic and religious minorities and people with mental disabilities.
“Some government use it to silence their opponents. Where justice system are flawed and unfair trials rife, the risk of executing an innocent person is ever present and when death penalty is carried out, it is final. Mistakes that are made cannot be unmade. An innocent person may be released from prison for a crime they did not commit, but an execution can never be reversed,” he said.
But a legal practitioner, Olayinka Ogunmodimu, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday evening, said death penalty should not be totally abolished.
“Once someone is found guilty of a capital offence, the governor should not have the discretion of choosing whether or not to sign. Death penalty should not be abolished. Once a life has been taken, the punishment can only reduce from death sentence to life imprisonment,” Mr Ogunmodimu said.
“By Nigerian law, the death penalty will serve as justice for someone who has taken the life of another but the disadvantage is that most governors refuse to sign death warrants by the reason of values, culture and beliefs as they prefer the inmates to die a natural death.”
He said Nigeria lacks effective legal system that can quickly dispense justice without considering factors like favouritism, power among others while noting that the judiciary system needs to be strengthened.
“A crime can be prosecuted in Nigeria for 20 years but (that) cannot happen in a developed country. The only case in Nigeria’s legal system in which you can know the starting and finishing is election petition and it is because the law have said that it must start and finish within 180 days,” he said.
“It is a matter of here and there, when you look at event around you, one might have to agree with existing laws in which death penalty is part of the punishment but Amnesty International is right to say that in most cases, most people at the back end of the law are always victims of the law. Let us look at the case of Offa, will we say death penalty is not an option if the offenders were captured?” Ola Adeosun, a legal practitioner and political analyst said
Mr Adeosun said the law should be reviewed that the manner of offence should be put into consideration before pronouncing death penalty.
“Someone who robbed with a toy gun, blade and knife if arrested, prosecuted and found guilty will be sentence to death, for me it is too harsh. The manner of the offence should be put into consideration but there are some people who are serial murderers and since there are no forests to keep them, such people should be taken out legally,” he said.
He said most leaders in African countries sign all kinds of treaties without reading them, which is the problem the country faces in domesticating most international treaties.
Amnesty International is a world-embracing movement working for the protection of human rights. It is independent of all governments and is neutral in its relation to political groups, ideologies and religious dividing lines.