By Abdulwahab Abdulah
Following a petition by a non-governmental organisation to the African Commission on Human and Peoplesâ€™ Rights, ACHPR, calling for theÂ stoppage of the execution ofÂ Nigerians on death row, the body has urged the government to stay action pending the determination of the petition filed before it.
Over 800 condemned prisoners who are presently in different prisons in the country were said to be agitative after the state governors provisionally approved their execution recently.
Socio Economic Rights Advocacy Project, SERAP, had alleged before the African Commission that the â€œgovernmentâ€™s only justification for executing the prisoners is to address prison congestion.â€ It therefore asked it to stop their execution.
Granting the request, the Commission asked â€œthe Nigerian government to stay execution of the prisoners; maintain moratorium on execution of the death penalty, and move towards abolition.â€
TheÂ appeal sent last week to President Goodluck Jonathan by Commissioner Zainabo Sylvie Kayitesi, Chairperson, the ACHPR Working Group on the death penalty, followed a communication filed on 23 June 2010 before the Commission by Solicitor to SERAP, Mr Femi Falana.
In the request for provisional measures, the organization asked the Chairperson of the Commission, Commissioner Reine Alapini_ Gansou to, â€œurgently invoke Article 111 (Rule of Procedure) authority to request that Nigeria adopt provisional measures in order to stop the irreparable damage that would be caused to the more than 800 Complainants and their African Charter rights.â€
Falana in his reaction to the AU directive said, â€œBy this decision, the Commission has once again demonstrated its authority and progressive and expansive mandates to hold African governments accountable for their human rights commitments.
â€œIn line with the expressed commitment of the current administration, we now expect that the Federal government and the state governors will move swiftly to implement the orders by the Commission by suspending any plan to execute the over 870 death row prisoners in the country. As the Chair of ECOWAS, Nigeria has a responsibility to show leadership and good example for others in the sub_region, and Africa as a whole.â€ He said.
SERAP had in its Communication asked the African Commission to request the Nigerian government toâ€“Immediately remove the Complainants from death row or any risk of execution, and fully accord them their fair trial and other human rights, pending this Commissionâ€™s final decision; Give assurances that more than 800 prisoners on death row and in dehumanising and harsh conditions across Nigerian prisons will not be secretly executed. The Nigerian authorities should also give assurances that they will fully implement the resolutions on moratorium on executions by the African Commission and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.
Apart from these, it asked that the prisoners on death row across Nigerian prisons receive fair trial and other international human rights guarantees applicable to their situation, including granting them their right to appeal.
SERAP had also alleged in its Communication that, â€œthere are serious, persistent and irreparable violations of the Complainantsâ€™ rights to life; to competent and effective legal representation; to trial within a reasonable time or to a release; to trial by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law; to the presumption of innocence; to appeal to an independent and impartial tribunal, and fair trial guarantees during appeals require the Commissionâ€™s immediate and urgent attention.â€