Jun. 26 (GIN) - To the dismay of human rights groups, Nigeria resumed its execution of death row prisoners, hanging four at Benin City Prison. A fifth prisoner survived his execution by a "gallows glitch" but remains at "imminent risk" of death, said Amnesty International.
Chino Obiagwu of the national lawyers' rights group Lepad said the men were hanged despite pending suits at the appeal court and had been on death row for 16 years. He said two were his clients, convicted of murder, but he did not know the crimes of the other sentenced men.
"Under Nigerian laws, an appeal and application for stay of execution should restrain further action. By executing the prisoners, Nigeria's government has demonstrated a gross disregard to the rule of law and respect for the judicial process," he said.
Obiagwu said a court dismissed his organization's appeal challenging the state's signing of execution warrants and a motion to stop executions. That was around 3pm.
"They [authorities] had already started preparing for the executions, they turned us away from the prison and by 6.15pm we heard from clients [in the prison] that they had been executed," he said.
He said traumatized inmates called him to describe "terrible sounds" like a drum rolling, shackles scratching and the screams of those condemned begging for mercy.
Capital punishment is rarely used in Africa today. In 2012, only five African countries carried out executions, and 22 imposed death sentences.
Angela Uwandu, head of the Lawyers without Borders Abuja office, decried the killings: "The system we have is completely flawed - from the point of arrest to investigation. A system that cannot guarantee fairness should not result into the death penalty which is too absolute. So we want the federal government to exercise due caution.
"Let due process be adhered to. As long as convictions are based on confessions which are coerced or denied; trials going on for five years or more, where witnesses would have forgotten facts in the case; sometimes we have missing case files; we cannot claim that we have had a fair judgment and a perfect system and life is sacred while death penalty is too absolute. "
Meanwhile, the fifth man, Thankgod Ebhos, may be slated for death by firing squad unless great pressure is immediately brought on the government, Amnesty warned. Tried by a military tribunal, Ebhos was never able to appeal the sentence under laws in force at the time.
More than 1,000 people are reportedly on death row in Nigeria, a country of about 160-million people. w/pix of anti-death penalty activistEmeka Umeagbalasi