By Obiejesi Kingsley
The number of death sentences handed down by courts in Nigeria rose from 171 in 2015 to a staggering 527 in 2016; making Nigeria the country with the second highest number of death sentences, behind China, Amnesty International has reported.
This rather unfortunate development is coming at a time many countries of the world, including African countries, are doing away with capital punishment.
According to AI, 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 which handed down more death sentences this year than any other country except China.”
There are fears also that a good number of people sentenced to death in Nigeria might actually be innocent of the crimes they were accused of,given the fact that the country recorded the highest number of exonerations within the year in review; a total of 32 persons were exonerated in 2016.
According to the report, Lagos state imposed the highest number of death sentences in 2016, 68 people, 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, Amnesty International’s Nigeria Researcher.
However, the number of people that were actually executed decreased from 43 in 2015 to 22 in 2016, in five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa,including Botswana, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia.
This represents a significant positive development when compared to 2015 which recorded 43 executions in four countries in the region.
Nigeria prides itself as the giant of Africa yet many African countries are rated way higher than Nigeria especially with regards to the issue of capital punishment.For instance, in 2016, one of Nigeria’s closest neighbours, Benin Republic, was one of the two countries that completely abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes.
The other country is Nauru – a tiny island country in Micronesia, northeast of Australia.
However, the reverse is the case in Nigeria.
On 23 December 2016 three death row prisoners were put to death in Benin, 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,” Amnesty stated.
“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 offense,”AI added.
Amnesty International urged the Nigerian government “to establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty” insisting that “there is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments.”
Around The World
In total, 104 countries have so far abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
Across the globe, not less than 1,032 people were executed in 23 countries in 2016, representing a slight reduction from the 1,634 executions recorded in 25 countries worldwide In 2015.
China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan remain the top five executioners in the world, as the United States fell out of the top five for the first time since 2006.
Amnesty International reports that “China executed more (people) than all other countries in the world put together.”
“China wants to be a leader on the world stage, but when it comes to the death penalty it is leading in the worst possible way – executing more people annually than any other country in the world,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
The United States, on the other hand was ranked 7th, the lowest ranking the country had witnessed since 1991.
According to the Report, the US was the only country to carry out executions in the entire Americas region, with 20 people executed in 2016.
“Use of the death penalty in the USA is at its lowest since the early 1990s. But we have to fight to keep it that way. Executions could return with a vengeance in 2017,” said Shetty.
“The shocking number of executions scheduled over a ten-day period in Arkansas this April is a clear example of how quickly the picture can change.
“For eight years now the USA has had the shameful distinction of being theonly country in the Americas that carries out executions,” he added.
It should be noted that the Current US President, Donald Trump, is a vocal supporter of the death Penalty.
Answering questions on the issue during his presidential campaigns, Trump said: “The death penalty? It should be brought back and it should be brought back strong.”