A brief background of death penalty in Nigeria was given, the LEDAP representative, Pamela, pointed out that the Supreme Court declared in Onuoha Kalu vs The State and Azeez Okoro vs The State (1998) held that death penalty is not unconstitutional in Nigeria. Therefore, death penalty has been imposed for crimes that do not involve intentional killing, and therefore do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes”, as prescribed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Pamela noted that Six persons were executed in Edo State of Nigeria, in 2013 and 2016, Just recently (9 June 2017), the National Economic Council (NEC) advised State governors to sign execution warrants for death row inmates in order to decongest the prisons, notwithstanding that Seventy percent (70%) of the current prison population in Nigeria is comprised of persons awaiting trial and not death row inmates.
Pamela highlighted the several injustices faced by the indigent persons in Nigeria as against the affluent as follows:
Corruption — She stressed that the Nigeria police force is riddled with corruption and they are usually the first institution, a criminal suspect meets. The Nigerian police force is overstretched and under resourced to deal with the high incidence of crimes across Nigeria, therefore officers rely heavily on supposed confessions to solve crimes, “rather than investigate crimes. The police commonly roundup random citizens in public places, including mass arrests at restaurants, markets, and bus stops. Those who fail to pay are often threatened and unlawfully detained, and at times tortured, killed in police custody or charged to court for the offence of armed robbery. Sadly, many crimes go un-investigated by the police were influential persons including government officials are fingered as suspects. These influential criminal suspects with money can simply bribe the police to avoid arrest, detention, or prosecution, to influence the outcome of a criminal investigation, or to turn the investigation against the victim.
Effectiveness of legal counsel — For the indigent persons, once their case proceeds to trial, the indigent accused person struggles to exercise the right to adequate representation. Over the years, lawyers assigned by the state/ court to indigent defendants are less effective than the legal counsel that more affluent defendants can hire. These state-appointed attorneys may be less experienced, non-zealous, underpaid, overworked and may have no time to collate mitigating evidence to tell the stories of their clients The rich and influential people have enough resources to hire the zealous and effective lawyers to represent them in court. If he is highly connected, he can even get the Attorney –general to enter nolle prosequi on his behalf.
High costs associated with Litigation- At the court, the indigent accused will have to battle with the several unofficial fees which will be paid to the court registrars for different purposes, such as moving of files from the magistrate court to the high court or for locating missing files and also paying for compilations of record of proceedings. The accused is faced with the challenge of getting a zealous lawyer to represent him at appeal court. Whereas the influential/rich people can easily provide such funds and even more.
Illiteracy – Indigent persons often lack the basic education that would enable them understand the proceedings at the police stations. These police officers take advantage of that to abuse, torture them to sign “’statement” which was never read or explained to them. The judges on trial will accept the said “confessional statement and proceed to convict them.
Conditions on death row- The conditions of detention on death row often depend on the financial resources of the convicted person. In Nigeria, the indigent prisoners may have difficulty accessing good food or to be considered for pardon by the state.
In conclusion, Pamela stated that Nigeria should expunge without equivocation the death sentence from its laws and in practice. The Nigerian Government should pass a law on moratorium on executions and commute all death sentence to life imprisonment or term of years. It is wrong for the State to carry out capital punishment in the name of justice. She recommended the following;
The Government should focus on the social and economic origins of crimes such as poverty which engenders violence. Nigerian Government should ensure basic amenities and jobs opportunities are provided for the citizens.
The Nigerian government has to make concrete efforts towards implementing the ACJA and also enhance the capacity of the police officers.
There were other presenters that also shared their country’s situation.
Jean JACQUES from Pax Christi Uvira (Republic of Congo)
Salomon Nodjitoloum from ACAT (Chad,) (Their presentation was in French)
The side event was moderated by Nora Nodjitoloum from Reprieve UK.