A third death row inmate facing the gallows had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment as international condemnation mounts against Governor Adams Oshiomhole who signed the extraordinary death warrants.
Olu Fatogun was moved out of death row to a regular cell at about 4:30pm on Oct. 22. Fatogun, being held at the Benin prison, was told he would no longer have to wait for the hangman. Two other death row prisoners - Monday Olu and Calistus Ike - were granted amnesty.
Mr. Fatogun had been one of six to sue the Edo State governor and the Comptroller-General of Prisons on Oct. 19 following the revelation that Gov. Oshiomhole had begun fast-tracking the death warrants of the condemned prisoners. Gov. Oshiomhole initially claimed that he took the stop because the prisoners were causing trouble in the detention facility.
In their suit, filed suit at the Federal High Court in Benin, Edo State, the six asked the court to stop the planned executions and order Gov. Oshiomhole to commute their death sentences to terms of imprisonment.
In addition to Fatogun, the applicants making the suit were Calistus Ike, Daniel Nsofor, Osarenmwinda Aiguokhan, Chima Ejiofor and Agbonmware Omoregie. The suit was filed by the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) and the Human Rights, Social Development and Environmental Foundation (HURSDEF). The applicants argued that executing them after undergoing “over 16 years trauma of suspense of imminent death” would amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
“We think it is because of all the pressure that his [Fatogun] sentence was commuted. But it is only him the warders told to change cell,” said a prison source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Local and international rights groups including Amnesty International, Lawyers without Borders and others, faulted the Edo State government for moving against the inmates while an appeal of the death penalty filed by LEDAP in April 2012 was still underway.
There has been a de facto moratorium in Nigeria on death row executions since 2002.
Gov. Oshiomhole, at a ceremony over the weekend in Edo State, granted amnesty to Monday Olu (sentenced to death for conspiracy and murder) and Calistus Ike (convicted for conspiracy and armed robbery). Mr. Ike and Mr. Fatogun are the only two of the six applicants named in the suit to have had their sentences reviewed.
Osagie Obayuwana, Edo State Attorney General, in an SMS confirmed Fatogun’s sentence had being commuted. He however refused to comment on the remaining applicants in the law suit.
Indications are their fate will be decided sooner than later.
“The gallows are being repaired and this morning seven senior prison officials led by the officer in charge of welfare inspected the gallows,” the source from the Benin prison said. “Two prisoners by name Richardson and Osamudieme were ordered to take water and wash the gallows. It seems the executions will be any time very soon.”
Kayode Odeyemi, the Nigerian Prisons Service spokesman in a phone interview said: “It’s not for us to tell the public when they’ll be executed. I cannot answer if it is open to the public or when the last executions in the country were held. These facts you want are sacred”.
In fact, Mr. Oshiomhole made it clear at the weekend that two of the remaining four in the suit – Osarenmwinda Aiguokhian and Daniel Nsofor, both presently at the Benin prison – should die in the interest of justice. He had signed their death warrant following the Supreme Court sentencing the duo to death by hanging for murder.
“We must be seen to carry out justice in all fairness,” said Mr. Oshiomhole, pointing out that Mr. Nsofor had gruesomely tortured his female victim before killing her. Mr. Aiguokhian had robbed, dismembered and hid his victim’s body parts in a premeditated act of wickedness which prompted the Supreme Court in its judgment to say the likes of Mr. Aiguokhian “belong to Hades”.
But Justine Ijeomah, HURSDEF’s executive director, who has been investigating cases of death row prisoners in Nigeria, said the circumstances surrounding Mr. Nsofor’s conviction raise serious concerns about Nigeria’s criminal justice system “where more than 97 per cent of all condemned criminals in the country are the poor”.
Mr. Ijeomah said Nsofor, 39, was arrested Dec. 13, 1992 and severely tortured into confessing to a murder he claimed to know nothing about while at the State Criminal Investigations Department in Benin. He was thereafter convicted June 19, 1996 by Justice Cromwell Idahosa, the present Chief Justice of Edo State, Mr. Ijeomah said.
“He was hanged and mercilessly tortured by a police officer nicknamed Akwa Ibom,” Mr. Ijeomah said. “While the rich who commit crimes are released right from the police station, it is the poor like Nsofor who don’t have money to settle their way who are made scapegoats. Where is the justice?”
Mr. Ijeomah said the circumstances around the conviction of Mr. Aiguokhian, 49, under Charge No: B/12c/95 were at best curious following the disappearance of evidence which would have solved the murder for which he was arrested July 7, 1993 and convicted January 18, 1996 by Justice Edokpayi of High Court 3, Benin City.
The controversy over Mr. Oshiomhole’s decision to resume executions comes amidst recommendations to outlaw the death penalty based on findings by the 2004 National Study Group on Death Penalty and the 2007 Presidential Commission on the Administration of Justice both stressing that Nigeria’s criminal justice system cannot guarantee a fair trial.
According to statistics compiled by LEDAP from 2006 – 2011, some 39 per cent of death sentences by trial courts were quashed on appeal with the period, indicating a high risk of wrongful convictions and sentences. A total number of 113 death sentences passed by the various divisions of High Court of state were appealed between 2006 to 2011.
Analysis shows that 69 out of the 113 appeal cases got to Supreme Court while 44 rested with the various divisions of Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court quashed 26 out of the 69 appeals that got before it while confirming 43 of them. While the Court of Appeal on the other hand quashed the death sentences of 22 out of the 44 appeal cases that got before it.
From the LEDAP website: “LEDAP’s campaign for the abolition of the death penalty is borne out of the conviction that the Nigerian government cannot continue to ignore the dire need for reform of our criminal justice system. ‘A system that must take life must first give justice’.
In 2008, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called on States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to “observe a moratorium on the execution of death sentences with a view to abolishing the death penalty”. On April 19, 2012, the Working Group on the Death Penalty of the African Commission reaffirmed the necessity of the abolition of capital punishment.
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