''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol 10 No 2

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Tuesday June 25, 2013 - Nigeria hangs four of its own citizens after more than a decade in prison. The sword of Damocles hanging over convicted persons gives no comfort that countries do not intend to carry out executions. Let it be on the statute books.Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan - Photo: The UK Guardian

Nigeria has hanged four prisoners in a jail in southern Edo State with a fifth man spared the drop at the gallows at the last minute after been dragged to meet his fate at the hands of state executioners on Monday night. Not that the authorities in Edo State had had a sudden change of mind. No it was reported that the man's life would be snuffed out of him using another method of execution - the firing squad as directed by a former military regime that had condemned him to death!!!

Last night's hanging exercise is the first such since 2006 and once more highlights what we had always stood for - that a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty on convicted persons is not guarantee that a government would not get up one morning and decide to execute its own citizens. We witnessed this in the Gambia where the man with the cure-all for any known and unknown affliction has boasted that he had the power to effect a cure.

The execution of nine people including a Senegalese woman in August last year evoked loud protests from rights groups as well as from Gambians within and outside the borders of the Gambia. The BBC quoted the rights group Amnesty International which stated that it had received "credible reports" that President Yahya Jammeh had ordered the execution of the nine by firing squad with threats from the Gambian Head of State that more would be executed to clear what he called the backlog on death row of forty seven people. The last execution is recorded to have been carried out in 1985.

It was the voice of the international community including condemnation from rights groups that apparently halted the executions. There is still no guarantee that those on death row would be spared.

Nigeria on its part carried out its last such grisly exercise in 2006 and there were hopes that this would be maintained in what had been seen as a moratorium on the execution of prisoners on death row. Last night's execution again highlights the need for countries, if they are serious about not wanting to kill their prisoners to put such intentions on the statute books but to have it still on such books no doubt represents a hanging sword over the heads of the condemned whose trial could have been flawed and with the possibility that verdicts could have been influenced by state functionaries.

The Nigeria situation is particularly disturbing with some one thousand awaiting the state's decision to kill or not to kill the convicted prisoners. Nigeria should have had lessons from its past where convicted armed robbers were routinely executed on that infamous Bar Beach in Lagos - a grisly spectacle watched by many as the winds blew gently over the executioners and their hapless targets while the waves raced against the sandy shorelines. That did not stop the armed robbers and so for the present Edo State governor, a former labour union leader to embark on such a gruesome exercise calls into questions the moratorium conundrum and the need for a written statement not to take the lives of fellow citizens.

On the latest execution in Nigeria, Amnesty International has noted that "neither the prisoners nor their families were told of the executions in advance.

Secret executions, where prisoners, families and lawyers are not informed beforehand, violate international standards on the use of the death penalty. “Cruel and inhumane do not even begin to describe the nightmare situation facing this man – and it points to the spectacularly brutal nature of Nigeria’s sudden return to state-sponsored killing,” said Lucy Freeman, deputy Africa director at Amnesty International.

“The resumption of executions in Nigeria is deplorable and extremely worrying. Edo state authorities have already executed four men this week and still plan to execute a fifth – the Nigerian authorities must immediately halt all executions and return to the moratorium on the death penalty that was previously in place.” The four men hanged at Benin Prison last night still had appeals pending in their cases. Their executions came only hours after a federal High Court had dismissed a lawsuit against three of the execution warrants.

The Edo state Attorney General and the prison authorities ignored an appeal and application for stay of execution filed immediately after the judgement. By executing the prisoners, Nigeria has demonstrated a gross disregard for the rule of law and respect for the judicial process.

The fifth man, sentenced by military tribunal, was never able to appeal his original sentence because military tribunals at the time denied defendants the right to appeal – itself a violation of fair trial standards and international law. Under Nigerian and international law, executions may not be carried out while any appeals are still pending.

“Authorities at Benin Prison simply disregarded the due process requirements under law and in a cold-blooded move they denied the inmates an opportunity to exercise their rights,” said Freeman. The fifth man who is to face a firing squad has been on death row for 17 years, and was sentenced to death by a military tribunal during the military rule in Nigeria before the return to democracy in 1999. Amnesty International has raised serious doubts about the fairness of trials during that period. Of the more than 1,000 people currently on death row in the country, scores of others were also sentenced by military tribunals before 1999."

Chino Obiagwu of the Nigerian national lawyers' rights group LEPAD is reported to have told the Associated Press news agency that a court dismissed his organisation's appeal challenging the state government's signing of execution warrants and a motion to stop executions. That was around 3pm (local time).

'They (authorities) had already started preparing for the executions, they turned us away from the prison and by 6.15pm we heard from clients (in the prison) that they had been executed.' He said traumatised inmates called him to describe 'terrible sounds' like a drum rolling, shackles scratching and the screams of those condemned begging for mercy.

The UK-based Guardian newspaper gives the names of the executed men in its report of the executions - Four men, Chima Ejiofor, Daniel Nsofor, Osarenmwinda Aiguokhan and Richard Igagu, were hanged at Benin City prison after a court had ordered their executions on Monday afternoon.

Nigeria's attorney general, Mohammed Bello Adoke, said a fifth man, who cannot be named because his family has not been informed of his impending execution, is due to be executed by firing squad. But the attorney general said that he was against the death penalty and that Edo state, which carried out the executions, had chosen to flout a voluntary moratorium under which no executions have been carried out in Nigeria for seven years.

"I'm personally against corporal punishment and I don't believe it's a practical deterrent," Adoke said. "The state is aware of the moratorium in place. But it's not legally obliged to follow it."

Despite the moratorium, President Goodluck Jonathan recently called for more death warrants to be signed, "no matter how painful," according to reports in the Nigerian press. President Goodluck Jonathan, it has been reported, has urged State Governors in the country to sign death warrants for death row prisoners paving the way for more executions throughout the country and as the fallout from the Monday night executions continue, there appears to be a determined move by the Nigerian authorities to clear death row unless appropriate pressure is put on President Goodluck Jonathan.

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