UK Urges Nigeria to Expunge Death Penalty Law

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Alex Enumah in Abuja

As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to celebrate the World Day against the Death Penalty, the British Government has called on Nigeria to abrogate the death penalty law stating that capital punishment cheapens human life.

The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, made the call yesterday in a message he sent to newsmen on the co mmemoration of the World Day against Death Penalty.

In a statement by the Press and Public Affairs Officer, Joe Abuku, the British envoy who disclosed that Nigeria has not carried out any execution since 2013, however expressed worries that over 1,000 prisoners are on death row in Nigeria and the figure accounts for the highest number of death sentences in Africa.

“Although no more death sentences have been implemented since 2013, Nigeria still has more than 1,000 prisoners on death row and accounts for the highest number of death sentences in Africa. In 2015 Nigeria recorded 171 death sentences. This year too, Nigerian courts have handed down death sentences.

“I am concerned therefore that Nigeria, a model for democracy in Africa still retains the death penalty in its laws. In 2013 Nigeria carried out four executions, the first since 2006. At the time of the execution all four individuals still had appeals to halt their executions, a violation of international law and I believe Nigerian law too,” he said.

Arkwright while noting that the past two decades has seen a significant rise in the number of countries that have abolished capital punishment, however said more work needed to be done, adding that, “The British Government believes the death penalty has no place in the modern world. Its use undermines human dignity; there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value; and any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreversible and irreparable.”

He therefore used the occasion to call on Nigeria to expunge the law, adding that the UK is ready to partner with Nigeria on the matter and restore the sanctity of human life.

“Today is another opportunity for Nigeria to commit to expunging capital punishment from its statutes. This will greatly improve Nigeria’s international standing, including on the Human Rights index.

“The UK is always open to working with the Nigerian government, particularly parliament and the judiciary; and civil society to step up engagement on this subject and restore the sanctity to life that capital punishment takes away” Arkwright said.

According to him African nations that have abolished the death penalty include Togo, Burundi, Gabon, Congo and Madagascar while Niger, Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea voted in support of the most recent UN General Assembly resolution on the death penalty moratorium for the first time in 2014.

While noting that, 35 out of 54 African countries are already abolitionist in law or practice, from 21 in 1997, the envoy said, “The trajectory is very much towards abolition around the continent. Nigeria, as a leading African nation should not be left behind, rather it should be setting the direction.”