Nigeria’s state governments have been urged not to extend the death penalty to include crimes such as kidnapping.
Nigeria currently operates a self-imposed moratorium on executions but Anambra, Enugu and Rivers states have all expressed their intention to make kidnapping punishable by death. In Abia, legislative amendments have been made which provide for kidnapping as a capital offence.
Amnesty International, along with the Nigerian Bar Association Human Rights Institute (NBAHRI) and Nigerian NGOs, has called on the states to do nothing that runs counter to the international and national trends towards limiting the number of offences for which the death penalty.
“The authorities have a duty to protect the population from the threat of kidnapping. However, experience has shown that the threat of the death penalty is not an effective answer to this or other violent crime. Rather, it is a measure taken to allow politicians to appear to be taking strong action against crime. Other factors are more important in deterring crime,” said Aster Van Kregten, Amnesty International’s Nigeria Researcher.
Between 1970 and 1999, more than 2,600 death row prisoners were executed in Nigeria but the crime rate did not decrease. In fact, in countries where the death penalty has been abolished, crime rates have often fallen.
On 9 February 2009, at the 4th Session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that: “Nigeria continues to exercise a self-imposed moratorium [on the death penalty].”
State governments should reflect this stance and refrain from extending the scope of the death penalty. They should also adopt a moratorium on executions with a view to the eventual abolition of the penalty, in line with the UNGA resolution 62/149 on moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
Extension of the death penalty is contrary to Nigeria’s international human rights commitments as a member of the United Nations. The UN Human Rights Committee has called on states to reduce the number of crimes punishable by death, restricting them to the “most serious crimes”.
In Nigeria, two expert groups set up by former president 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.