Edo State yesterday executed four death row prisoners, Chima Ejiofor, Daniel Nsofor, Osarenmwinda Aigbonkhan and Richard Igagu, despite their pending appeals at the Court of Appeal.
The early execution of the inmates may not be unconnected with President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent speech where he directed state governors to sign the execution warrant of death row inmates, saying they shouldn’t shy away from it no matter how hard it is to do, noting that it was part of their duties.
The execution, it was learnt, took place despite the inmates’ pending suit challenging their being on death row for over 16 years. They had also asked that their conviction be commuted to life imprisonment.
Meanwhile, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP and Amnesty International, yesterday, condemned the execution which took place at 6:45pm yesterday.
In his reaction, Edo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Henry Idahagbon, said the executed men were convicted 15 years ago, noting that the Edo State Government had nothing to do with the execution.
“These people were convicted 15 years ago. I was only informed this (last) night by the prison authorities that they had been hanged. One of them was convicted in Kaduna, while their matters had gone up to the Supreme Court, and came back to the Federal High Court, Benin. It really has nothing to do with us as a government.
“The governor only signed the death sentence of two, while previous governors signed that of two others. The information I got was that they went to the Federal High Court, which Monday refused their plea for leniency and I believe what the prison authorities did was to execute them immediately after they left the court,” Idahagbon said.
“Edo State government has no hand in it. I was only informed that it had been done,” he added.
In the suit before the Federal High Court, the death row prisoners had contended that to execute them after over 16 years of trauma, suspense and imminent death would amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
LEDAP noted that “it had, with HURSDEF, on October 19, 2012, filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Benin, on behalf of death row prisoners earmarked for execution by Edo State Government.
“However, judgment was delivered against the inmates by Justice Liman of the Federal High Court, holding among other grounds, that the prisoners did not place sufficient facts before the court to substantiate the relief sought in the suit,” LEDAP said.
They had asked the court to order the Edo State Governor to commute their death sentences to terms of imprisonment.
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Mr. Chino Obiagwu, LEDAP said: “The Attorney-General of Edo State and the prison authorities were duly served with the court processes, comprising the notice of appeal and motion for stay of execution.
“Under Nigerian laws, an appeal and application for stay of execution should restrain further action until the appeal is determined.
“By executing the prisoners, Nigeria government has demonstrated gross disregard to the rule of law and respect for the judicial process.”
Amnesty International also condemned the execution. In a statement, the group said, “We have received credible reports that authorities in Edo State have hanged four men in Benin City Prison on Monday (yesterday), the first known executions in the country since 2006.
“A fifth man remains at imminent risk of execution.”
According to Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Africa, Lucy Freeman, “If confirmed, these executions mark a sudden, brutal return to the use of the death penalty in Nigeria, a truly dark day for human rights in the country.
“We again urge the Nigerian authorities to stop all executions immediately and return to the moratorium on executions in the country.
“LEDAP filed an appeal against the judgment of the Federal High Court and also a motion for stay of execution pending the outcome of the appeal and served the notice of appeal with the motion for stay of execution on the Attorney General of Edo State and prison authorities in Edo State.
“Furthermore, all death row prisoners filed a case pending at the Court of Appeal Lagos, challenging the decision of state governors to sign their execution warrants in the case of Godwin Pius & Ors vs. Governor of Abia State & Ors.
“Both appeals are pending at the Court of Appeal and the Edo State Governor and Comptroller General of Prisons are parties in both appeals. LEDAP is representing the prisoners in both appeal and also a party to the appeal in Edo State.
“We condemn the execution of the four inmates despite the pendency of the appeal and motion for stay of execution filed by the inmates.
“Execution of the inmates, while their appeal is pending, is unlawful and amounts to a total disregard for the rule of law and judicial process in any democratic system.”