Amnesty International (AI), in a new global review of death sentences handed down by the courts in 2016, has stated that Nigerian handed down the second highest number of death sentences in the world. China was ranked number one in the world.
A statement by Isa Sanusi, AI’s Media Manager in Nigeria, stated that the massive and worrying spike in death sentences recorded in Nigeria in 2016 put the country at odds with the global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty, AI said in its 2016 global review of the death penalty, published on Tuesday.
According to the human rights body, death sentences in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 443 in 2015 to at least 1,086 in 2016, mainly due to an increase in Nigeria (from 171 to 527), putting it second only to China, whose death sentences are shrouded in secrecy.
In Nigeria, Lagos State imposed the highest number of death sentences in 2016, 68 people, which was closely followed by Rivers State with 61, according to official records provided by the Nigeria Prisons Service.
“By handing down more death sentences last year than any other country except China, Nigeria has tripled its use of this cruel and inhuman punishment and skyrocketed up the shameful league table of the world’s death penalty offenders,” said Damian Ugwu, AI’s Nigeria researcher.
“The danger of people being executed for crimes they may not have committed remains ever-present. Investigations show many death row inmates live in constant fear of execution in some Nigerian prisons.”
AI said on 23 December 2016, three death row prisoners were put to death in Benin Prison, Edo State. Their executions were carried out despite the fact that one of them, Apostle Igene, was sentenced to death in 1997 by a military tribunal, and never had an appeal.
“In 2016, Oyo State passed a law making kidnapping punishable with execution. In 2017, Bauchi and Lagos States passed similar laws. In May 2016, discussions were also held in Nigeria’s Senate about introducing a federal law that would make kidnapping a capital offence.
“These steps by state and federal authorities are retrogressive and unjustifiable as there is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishment, or that it serves any useful deterrent purpose.
“Measures already being undertaken by the Nigerian authorities to improve police training and technology in the detection and prevention of crime and reforms of the criminal justice systems are likely to have a greater impact on the crime rate than any moves to expand the scope of the death penalty,” AI stated.
It called on the Nigerian government to establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
“For years, the federal government has claimed to have a voluntary or self-imposed ‘moratorium’ but executions have happened nonetheless; including those in December 2016.
“This demonstrates the urgency of formally establishing a moratorium,” it added.