afrol News, 22 April - Human rights groups express shock over reports that Nigeria's governors are considering to execute all the country's 870 death row prisoners in a quick move to ease overcrowding in prisons.
Amnesty International today condemned a reported move by Nigerian state governors to execute hundreds of death row inmates to ease overcrowding and insteadd urged the authorities to address the underlying problems in the criminal justice system.
According to Nigerian media reports, Theadore Orji, governor of the south-eastern state of Abia, announced this after a meeting of 36 state governors in the country's capital Abuja on Tuesday.
"More than three of every five prison inmates in Nigeria have not been convicted of any offence; instead they wait years for their trial in appalling conditions," said Aster van Kregten, Amnesty's Nigeria researcher. "It is shocking to suggest that executing prisoners is a way around this problem," she added.
According to Nigeria's Minister of the Interior, the total prison population is 46,000, of which some 30,000 are awaiting trial. Few can afford a lawyer and the government-funded Legal Aid Council only has around 100 lawyers. There are currently more than 870 death row inmates, including women and juveniles.
Amnesty research had shown that "many death row prisoners may be innocent as Nigeria's justice system is riddled with flaws," accordidng to the group. Many had been sentenced to death "after blatantly unfair trials," the group adds.
Trials can take more than 10 years to conclude. Appeals in some death row cases have been pending for a decade. Some never happen because case files have been lost.
"International law prohibits the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by people under the age of 18, yet in Nigeria juvenile offenders continue to be sentenced to death," Amnesty warns.
Two expert groups set up by former President Olesegun Obasanjo – the National Study Group on Death Penalty (2004) and the Presidential Commission on Reform of the Administration of Justice (2007) – recommended a moratorium on executions because the criminal justice system could not guarantee a fair trial.
"Federal and state authorities must not ignore the recommendations of their own study groups, Nigerian NGOs and other international organisations which have all found Nigeria's justice system to be woefully inadequate," said Ms van Kregten. "Until these underlying problems are addressed, Nigeria's prisons will remain overcrowded," she added.
The "overcrowding" of Nigerian prisons has been discussed as a major problem for over 20 years. Already in 1985, Nigeria's prison population reached the double of prisons' official capacity, and the problem since then has increased in size from year to year. Despite decades of public discussions on how to solve the problem, little has been done.
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