The Human Rights Laws HURILAWS of the Olisa Agbakoba Chambers as part of activities to mark the 2018 World Day against the Death Penalty has joint the rest of the international community in seeking an end to death penalty not only in Nigeria but also across the globe

Recall that October 10 of every year has been set aside globally to advocate the abolition of death penalty in judicial systems. The theme for this year’s programme is ‘Dignity for All’, which aims at raising awareness on the inhuman living conditions of people sentenced to death; their physical and psychological sufferings which can in most cases amount to torture.

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International in its Global Report on Death Sentences and Executions 2017, reports that no fewer than 2,285 persons are known to be under the sentence of death in Nigeria as at December 2017.  The report further shows that in 2017 alone 621 persons were sentenced to death.

A statement issued by the HURILAWS by its Senior Legal/Programme Officer, Collins Okeke, however says that despite the rising number of people on death roll in the country, most state governors since May 29, 1999, when the country returned to democratic system of government, have failed, refused or neglected to sign warrant of execution.

This development indicates that death sentences are handed down by the courts and are not carried out.

“Under Nigerian law, a judge is required to sentence to death any person found guilty of a capital offence: ‘The sentence of the court upon you is that you be hanged by the neck until you be dead and may the Lord have mercy on your soul’. While a judge is mandatorily required to pronounce this on conviction in a capital offence, the law requires the governor acting under the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Prerogative of Mercy to order execution or commutation to life imprisonment or some other prison term or pardon, which is currently not being done.

“For many of these death row prisoners, the conditions are traumatic, harsh and dehumanising. Most death row cells are seven by eight feet, shared by three to five people, the cells are dark and with hardly any ventilation. Prisoners use buckets as toilets and sleep on the bare floor. The average period spent on death row by prison inmates in Nigeria is between 10-15 years. Many death row prisoners have developed mental illness during their long stay in prison and on death row”, the statement said.

It cited the suit Nemi v. Attorney-General of Lagos State (1996) 6 NWLR 42 at 55 where the Court of Appeal held that a convict on death row is entitled to right to dignity of human person and so should not be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment arising from a prolonged delay in executing him.

HURILAWS therefore argued that since the death sentence passed on convicts are never carried out and will never be carried out; there is no more constitutional justification for the sentence of death.

It further argued that the punishment of death is protected under section 33 (1) CFRN 1999 ‘ in the execution of the sentence of a court’ and when those who should sign death warrants are unwilling to, it becomes clear that the sentence of death is unconstitutional since section 33 (1) covers execution not sentencing in vain keeping the convicts on the death row indefinitely.

“On this World 16th World Day Against the Death Penalty, HURILAWS calls on Judges in Nigeria to employ activism to declare this practice unconstitutional. HURILAWS also calls on The federal and state governments in Nigeria to stop torturing and traumatising death row inmates by either abolishing the death penalty or signing into law a death penalty moratorium law”, the statement further insists.