Published on Human Rights Watch, June 25, 2010.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Nigerian Bar Association Human Rights Institute and other Nigerian human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are deeply concerned by reports of a decision by the Nigerian government to resume the execution of prison inmates. The reason given by the authorities for the resumption is to ease prison congestion.
Instead of executing prisoners, the Nigerian authorities should address underlying problems in the criminal justice system. The overcrowding is in part due to delays in trials and failure to provide enough lawyers. Many death row prisoners may be innocent, as Nigeria’s justice system is riddled with flaws and is unable to guarantee fair trials.
The decision to execute death row inmates to ease prison congestion was taken at a meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) on Tuesday 15 June 2010. The meeting was chaired by the Vice President of Nigeria and attended by Nigeria’s 36 state governors.
Following the meeting, the Governor of Benue state announced that the Council had asked the Nigerian state governors to review all cases of death row inmates and to sign execution warrants as a means of decongesting the country’s prisons. This is the second time in two months that Nigeria’s state governors have considered the execution of inmates to ease prison congestion. In April 2010, a similar decision was taken in a meeting of the Council of State, a meeting of the 36 state governors, chaired by the President of Nigeria.
There are approximately 870 death row inmates currently in Nigeria’s prisons, including women and juveniles. However, weaknesses in the Nigerian criminal justice system means that hundreds of those awaiting execution on Nigeria’s death rows did not have a fair trial and may therefore be innocent.
Trials can take more than 10 years to conclude. Appeals in some death row cases have been pending for a decade. Some appeals never happen because case files have been lost but the person remains on death row … (full text).