Nigeria releases man who barely escaped the gallows after 19 years on death row

The release of a man who spent 19 years on death row in Nigeria and was seconds away from execution last year painfully illustrates the inherent brutality and unfairness of the death penalty, said Amnesty International today.

ThankGod Ebhos was released under an order issued by the governor of Kaduna State. He had been tried and sentenced to death by a military tribunal in Kaduna in May 1995, accused of an armed robbery that had taken place in 1988.

Amnesty International raised questions about the fairness of military tribunals in Nigeria at the time.

“The release of ThankGod Ebhos brings great hope to the many hundreds who are languishing on death row across Nigeria,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director, Research and Advocacy.

“Nigeria must build on the positive step taken, immediately halt plans to carry out any more executions and move towards abolishing the death penalty once and for all. Killing inmates is not an effective way to deal with crime.”

In 24 June 2013, ThankGod was seconds away from execution, when officers at Benin Prison took him to the gallows, forced him to watch four men being hanged and told him he was next.

The execution was halted when prison authorities realized that his death sentence required it to be carried out by firing squad, which the prison was not prepared for.

The other four men were executed despite an appeal pending on their cases.

“ThankGod’s long ordeal shows that the death penalty has no place in the 21st century,” said Netsanet Belay.

In June 2014, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) court upheld its earlier decision to grant an injunction to restrain the government from executing Thankgod.

“The release of Thankgod in the aftermath of the decision of the ECOWAS Court on June 2014 shows the impact such a ruling can have on the desperate situation of an inmate on death row for more than 19 years and encourages litigation of such critical cases before regional courts” Jean-Sebastien Mariez, attorney at Avocats Sans Frontières France.

In 2013, four men were hanged in Nigeria – the first executions in more than seven years.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Amnesty International calls on Nigeria to immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.