Nigeria urged to commute all death sentences following court judgment

The Nigerian authorities must commute all death sentences and impose an official moratorium on executions, Amnesty International said today, following the confirmation of a death sentence by the Supreme Court.On Friday, the Supreme Court in Abuja upheld rulings by two lower courts that actress Rabi Ismail drugged and drowned Auwalu Ibrahim in the northern city of Kano in December 2002. She was sentenced to death in December 2004. If carried out, the execution would be the first in Nigeria since 2006.“President Goodluck Jonathan must show leadership and declare an official moratorium on executions,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Director for Africa. “By doing so, the Nigerian government would act in accordance with the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty.”Executions are shrouded in secrecy, and official statistics are not easily available. Although a Nigerian representative to the UN claimed in 2007 that no executions had been carried out in recent years, Amnesty International was able to confirm that six death row prisoners were executed in 2006 without ever having had an opportunity to appeal their death sentence. “Weaknesses in the Nigerian criminal justice system mean that hundreds of prisoners on death row have not had a fair trial and therefore may be innocent” Erwin van der Borght said.There are approximately 830 death row inmates currently in Nigeria’s prisons, including eight women, 10 prisoners over the age of 70, and more than 20 who were under 18 at the time of the offence. Expert groups set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004 have acknowledged that the Nigerian criminal justice system cannot guarantee a fair trial and therefore recommended a moratorium on executions. Since the handover to democracy in May 1999, at least 650 people have been sentenced to death in Nigeria. During the same period, at least 22 people were executed, and possibly more.In April 2010, Nigeria’s State Governors reportedly agreed to execute death row inmates “to ease prison congestion”. The same decision was confirmed at a meeting of the National Economic Council in June 2010. Two applications filed by Nigerian human rights organizations however, forced the 36 Nigerian States to refrain from carrying out the executions.