- A high court in Nigeria has sentenced a Church preacher, Emeka Ezeuko, to death by hanging for setting fire to members of his congregation. The court found him guilty of killing one woman as well as attempted to murder five others. The woman, Ann Uzor, had died in hospital from burns.
Mr Ezeuko was crestfallen when the verdict was delivered and burst into angry remarks, maintaining his innocence. His attorney described the verdict as shocking but, after reading the judgment sheet, said that the case would likely be appealed at the higher court.
The preacher and witnesses - other than those five surviving being set on fire - had given different explanations of the circumstances the led to Ms Uzor's death. The other victims of the fire however all pointed fingers against Mr Ezeuko.
The preacher, better known as Reverend King, poured petrol on six members of his Christian Praying Assembly church in July 2006 after he had declared them sinful for having extra-marital sex.
Some comments in the Nigerian press indicated that the preacher could not be in his full mind claiming to be God Almighty in person and setting fire on his followers. Even throughout the court trial, Mr Ezeuko preferred to be titled "His Holiness".
He told members of his church that he himself was Jesus Christ, which was why he was mandated to punish sinful Christians.
As a measure to counter any possible threats in the courts, the judgment was delivered under tight security and members of the convicted preacher's congregation were not allowed to witness the final trial.
The trial was held in the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria's economic capital. The preacher himself was born and raised in the poor Anambra State in the Niger Delta, a region dominated by Christians and followers of African religions. He was brought up as a Catholic but later "reborn" into believing he had special religious gifts.
Nigeria is one of the African countries where the death penalty still is most used, in particular by the Shari'a courts of the northern part of the country. Nigerian officials, including President Olusegun Obasanjo, have however indicated that they want the country to head towards and abolishment of the death penalty.
Last year, therefore, Nigerian authorities commuted the sentences of 107 condemned men. Also in 2005, nobody was executed in Nigeria. The possibilities for an eventual hanging of Mr Ezeuko are therefore very small, unless Nigeria experiences big political changes after the upcoming elections.
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