Rights groups, Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS), and The Inclusion Project (TIP) have called for an official moratorium and the abolition of the death penalty in Nigeria.
The group stated this on Monday in commemoration of the 21st World Day Against Death Penalty.
October 10 of every year is marked as World Day Against the Death Penalty, a day set aside every year to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.
HURILAWS and TIP made the call in a statement jointly signed by Collins Okeke on behalf of HURILAWS and Pamela Okoroigwe for (TIP), a copy of which was made available to newsmen in Lagos.
The theme for 2023 is ‘The death penalty: an irreversible torture,’ aimed at raising awareness of the inhuman living conditions of people sentenced to death and their physical and psychological sufferings that amount to torture.
They noted that the 1999 constitution guarantees the right to life and respect for the dignity of the human person, including the right not to be subjected to torture, but the criminal justice system does otherwise.
The rights groups, while making the call, noted that it was the duty of the judge while delivering the death penalty under the country’s legal system to pronounce a death sentence and the manner in which the sentence would be carried out against anyone found guilty of the offence, while the law compels the governor to execute the sentence or order its commutation to life in prison, another prison term, or a pardon at the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Prerogative of Mercy.
“In practice, since May 29, 1999, most state governors have failed, refused, or neglected to sign warrants of execution. The result is that death sentences are handed down by the courts and are not carried out.
“According to data made available by the Nigerian Correctional Service, 3,298 persons are known to be under the sentence of death in Nigeria as of April 2023. For many of these death row prisoners, conditions are traumatic, harsh, and dehumanising.
“Most death row cells are 7 by 8 feet, shared by three to five people. The cells are dark and have hardly any ventilation. Prisoners use buckets as toilets and sleep on the bare floor.
“The average period spent on death row by prison inmates in Nigeria is between 10 and 15 years. Many death row prisoners have developed mental illness during their long stay in prison and on death row,” the groups stated.
According to them, “Several courts in Nigeria have held that a convict on death row is entitled to the right to dignity of the human person and should not be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment arising from a prolonged delay in executing him.”
HURILAWS and TIP further said that there was no more constitutional justification for the death penalty since the death sentence passed on convicts was never carried out and would never be carried out, demanding that an official moratorium should instead be put in place.
They disclosed that about 70percent of the world’s countries had so far taken the lead to either abolish the use of the death penalty or discontinue its practice, saying that this progressive route had been embraced by many countries in Africa, with Ghana being the 29th country to abolish the death penalty.
“HURILAWS and TIP are of the view that since the death sentence passed on convicts is never carried out and will never be carried out; there is no more constitutional justification for the sentence of death. Instead, an official moratorium should be put in place.
“It is important to bring to public attention that about 70 percent of the world’s countries have taken the lead to either abolish the use of the death penalty or discontinue its practice.
“HURILAWS and TIP called on the Federal Government to embark on comprehensive prison reforms in terms of infrastructural overhaul to improve the living conditions of death row inmates, even as they equally urged the federal and state governments in Nigeria to stop torturing and traumatising death row inmates by either abolishing the death penalty or signing into law a death penalty moratorium law.
“This progressive route has been embraced by many countries in Africa, with Ghana being the 29th country to abolish the death penalty,” the rights groups further said.
According to the statement, “A recent survey by TIP shows the majority of Nigerians oppose the use of the death penalty. 81percent of respondents agreed that life imprisonment or terms of years should replace the death penalty, and 81percent believe that there’s a high chance that an innocent person could be wrongly convicted.
“With this positive shift from the death penalty to other forms of punishment, TIP and HURILAWS are worried Nigeria is being left behind in the global shift from retributive justice to restorative justice.
“Further statistics show that the death penalty has never been a deterrent to the commission of crimes. Rather, it is the fear of apprehension through the instrumentality of an efficient criminal justice system starting from a well-equipped and trained police, discreet investigation, and robust prosecution that has done the magic of crime prevention in other jurisdictions.”