NIGERIA: 200 INMATES ON DEATH ROW
March 22, 2009: Minister of Interior, Major-General Godwin Abbe (rtd), said in Abuja that close to 200 inmates in the country's prisons were on death row.
âSome of them have been there for 15 to 20 years, waiting for the hangman's noose, and you can imagine the agony and trauma of waiting for death,'' Abe said at a forum of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
He blamed the âlong wait for deathâ onÂ Â reluctance of state governors to endorse death warrants.
âOur governors are humane people who do not want to spill blood, but they could use their powers of prerogative of mercy to either commute some of the death sentences to life imprisonment or lesser forms of punishment,'' he said.
He commended the Nigerian judicial system which allows those who are condemned to death the opportunity to appeal till they reach the apex court.
âUnfortunately, some of those that appealed even at the Supreme Court still lost, because of the gravity of their offence.
âWe are giving serious thought to those on death row. Many of them have been there for some time.Â When an individual is sentenced, the prison accommodates him in a particular cell.
âThey are given opportunities to appeal to the highest level; if still found guilty, it is left for the governors to confirm the death sentence. We are working to see if their sentences could be commuted to prison terms. Some could be reviewed to serve 21 years and the governors have a right to free some on the prerogative of mercy.Â We are also appealing to the governors to do something on the death sentences; not necessarily to confirm the sentences, but at least, take decisions,'' he said.Â
Abbe dismissed speculations thatÂ execution of inmates on death row was delayed because there were no hangmen to carry out the execution, sayingÂ the prisons service had several hangmen in its employment.Â
âBut we will not identify them. They are an integral part of the Service. We don't disclose their identity and we don't disclose their number.â
The minister blamed prison congestion on buck passing between the police and Ministry of Justice, leading to a high population of Awaiting Trial Persons. He saidÂ the Ministry of Interior had initiated discussions with the Nigeria Police and the judiciary, to speed up trials. The minister said that the prisons service and all its facilities suffered a long period of neglect, but that government had started a process of improving the lot of prisoners and prison officials.
``Some of the prisons were built 60 years to 80 years ago. We believe it is time to replace the structures to meet the dictates of modern times,'' Abbe said.Â He said that the existing training schools for prisons staff had been upgraded and more equipment had been supplied toward enhancing the capability of the operators. (Sources: thisdayonline.com, 23/03/2009)