For Immediate Release
Nigeria: “Waiting For The Hangman”
ABUJA, Nigeria - Amnesty International today said that hundreds of those
awaiting execution on Nigeria's death rows did not have a fair trial
and may therefore be innocent. The organization exposed a catalogue of
failings in the country's criminal justice system, saying that it is
"riddled with corruption, negligence and a nearly criminal lack of
At a press conference in Abuja to release a comprehensive report on
the death penalty in Nigeria, the organization called on the government
to establish an immediate moratorium on executions in light of its
Joining in the call was the Legal Defence and Assistance Project
(LEDAP), a Nigerian legal organization working to promote good
governance and the rule of law in Nigeria. LEDAP co-authored the report
"It is truly horrifying to think of how many innocent people may
have been executed and may still be executed," said Aster van Kregten,
Amnesty International's Nigeria researcher, speaking from Abuja. "The
judicial system is riddled with flaws that can have devastating
consequences. For those accused of capital crimes, the effects are
obviously deadly and irreversible."
Some of the most serious findings revealed in Amnesty International and LEDAP's report, "Nigeria: Waiting for the Hangman":
- Confessions: most death penalty convictions are based on confessions alone. Confessions are often extracted under torture.
- Torture: although prohibited in Nigeria, in practice torture by
police occurs on a daily basis. Almost 80 percent of inmates in
Nigerian prisons say they have been beaten, threatened with weapons or
tortured in police cells.
- Delays: death penalty trials can take more than 10 years to
conclude; some appeals have been pending for 14, 17 and even 24 years.
- Negligence: many death row prisoners cannot even have their appeals heard because their case files have been lost.
- Conditions: life on death row is extremely harsh. Prisoners whose
appeals are over are held in cells where they can see executions. After
a prisoner has been hanged, other death row prisoners are forced to
clean the gallows.
- Children: although international law prohibits the use of the death
penalty against child offenders, at least 40 death row prisoners were
aged between 13 and 17 at the time of their alleged offence.
The majority of those on death row were sentenced to death based on
a confession - in many cases, extracted under torture, according to
Amnesty International and LEDAP research.
"The police are over-stretched and under-resourced," said Aster van
Kregten. "Because of this, they rely heavily on confessions to ‘solve'
crimes - rather than on expensive investigations. Convictions based on
such confessions are obviously very unsafe."
"Under Nigerian law, if a suspect confesses under pressure, threat
or torture, it cannot be used as evidence in court," said Chino
Obiagwu, LEDAP's National Coordinator. "Judges know that there is
widespread torture by the police - and yet they continue to sentence
suspects to death based on these confessions, leading to many possibly
innocent people being sentenced to death."
Due to high crime rates, there is pressure on police to make quick
arrests when a crime has been committed. Sometimes, if the police are
unable to find a suspect, they arrest the wife, mother or brother of
the suspect instead - or even a witness - in violation of Nigerian
Jafar is 57 years old and has been on death row since 1984. He told Amnesty International:
"I am not an armed robber. I am a shoemaker. I bought a [motorcycle]
from someone who stole it. The police asked me to be a witness. They
got the man who sold [me] the [motorcycle] but shot him to death. After
that, I became the suspect."
Jafar filed an appeal 24 years ago, but is still waiting for it to be heard. His case file has gone missing.
"The hundreds of people who have already been executed or are still
awaiting execution in Nigeria all have one thing in common - they are
poor," said Chino Obiagwu. "Speaking to those languishing on death row,
it becomes clear that questions of guilt and innocence are almost
irrelevant in Nigeria's criminal justice system. It is all about if you
can afford to pay to keep yourself out of the system - whether that
means paying the police to adequately investigate your case, paying for
a lawyer to defend you or paying to have your name put on a list of
those eligible for pardon."
"Those with the fewest resources are at the greatest risk in Nigeria's criminal justice system."
Many prisoners awaiting trial and on death row told Amnesty
International and LEDAP that the police picked them up and asked for
money to release them. Those who couldn't pay were treated as suspected
Other death row prisoners told Amnesty International that they were
arrested when they went to a police station to report a crime they had
witnessed. Police demanded money for their release. Sometime police
asked for money for fuel, without which they could not visit witnesses
or check alibis.
Nigeria's death row - key facts:
- Numbers on death row: As of February 2008, 725 men and 11 women.
Age at time of crime: At least 40 prisoners were under 18.
- Criminal conviction: about 53% were convicted of murder, 38% armed robbery and 8% robbery.
Years on death row: One prisoner has spent 24 years on death row, 7 have spent more than 20 years, and 28 more than 15 years.
- Appeal: 47% are waiting for their appeal to be concluded, 41% have never filed an appeal.
Duration of appeals: 25% of prisoners' appeals have lasted more than 5
years. 6% of prisoners with appeals outstanding have waited more than
- Location: most prisoners were convicted in Imo (56), Ogun (52) and Oyo (49) states.
Key death penalty facts:
- World trends: In 1977, just 16 countries had abolished the death
penalty for all crimes. Today, 137 out of 192 UN member states have
abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.
- Africa: Africa is largely free of executions, with only 7 of the
African Union's 53 member states known to have carried out executions
in 2007. 13 African countries are abolitionist in law and a further 22
are abolitionist in practice.
- Nigeria: Executions are shrouded in secrecy. The Nigerian
government has not officially reported any executions since 2002,
although it is known that at least 7 condemned prisoners - including 6
who never had an appeal - were secretly executed in 2006.
To see a full copy of the report Nigeria: "Waiting for the Hangman", please click here.