The federal government says it is ready to defend the recent execution of four convicts in Edo State, which ended a seven-year moratorium on death penalty in the country.
The minister of foreign affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru, gave the indication in Abuja on Friday at a consultative forum on the forthcoming review of human rights in Nigeria under the United Nations Universal Period Review, UPR.
Ashiru acknowledged that the executions in Edo would likely come up when the country appears before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this October for a periodic review of its human rights.
The June 24 execution in Edo had been criticised by the government of United Kingdom, the United Nations, UN and the European Union high representative, Catherine Ashton.
According to the top EU diplomat, the execution negates recent commitments repeatedly made by Nigerian officials, most recently in May, to maintain the de facto moratorium on executions.
Ashiru told reporters that the execution would not act as an impediment to “tremendous improvements” by government on human rights issues in the country. He reminded countries accusing Nigeria of human rights violations to remember that the criminal code was inherited from the ‘colonial powers.
The minister said state governments are autonomous in Nigeria and for the execution in Edo State, governor Adams Oshiomhole acted within the confines of the law.
“I agree that there was an unwritten code that we should have a moratorium pending the time when our Constitution is reviewed.
“But don’t forget that the constitution we follow is supreme but the criminal code that we use is still the same handed over to us by the colonial powers. So, until the statute books are reviewed, there is nothing anybody can do and I think the governor of Edo acted within his constitutional powers,” he said.
The minister recalled that the governor gave reasons why he signed the death warrants “because the circumstances under which the crimes were committed were really heinous and in itself a crime against humanity.”
Earlier, the minister told the forum reviewing the draft national report before its submission to the UN Human Rights Council not to be “apologetic” on the country’s stance on same sex marriage.
“We should not shy away to defend what is right, what is correct and what is in our Constitution,” he said.
He also told the forum to strongly defend the records of Nigeria’s armed forces on human rights.
“They have been tested and trusted and they have distinguished themselves in numerous peacekeeping operations across the world,” he said.
The solicitor-general of the federation, Abdullahi Yola, recalled that Nigeria underwent the first cycle of UPR in 2009 during which a number of recommendations were made to the country.
“Nigeria accepted 30 recommendations out of 32 and rejected recommendations 12 and 13 of UPR 2009 on same sex marriage and abolition of death sentence,” he said.
Bem Angwe, the executive secretary, National Human Rights Commission, said the country was conscious of its obligations to the international community under different human rights instruments.
“Our obligations to the international community will not be dictated by the dictates of particular nations. The obligations will be dictated by the dictates of humanity and what we as a people continue to agree and observe.
Participants at the two-day event include government officials, non-governmental organisations, civil society groups and members of the academia.