Four convicts including Osaremwinda Aiguohian and Daniel Nsofor, were hanged on Monday at an undisclosed location.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole had last year reviewed the death sentences on four death row inmates, two of whose sentences were commuted to life imprisonment, while the other two were set free.
During the trial, Mr. Aiguohian had described his action as a “mistake”, though the Supreme Court said it was convinced he deserved to serve his 2004 death sentence, as his likes “belong to Hades”, because he showed no mercy while committing his criminal act, as he did not only kill his victim after robbing him, but also dismembered the body.
Similarly, the Supreme Court had ruled that Mr. Nsofor did not deserve to live, as he agreed to have strangled a woman to death after forcefully dispossessing her of money and other personal effects during an armed robbery operation.
But the High Representative of the European Union, EU, for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Catherine Ashton, on Tuesday condemned the execution of the criminals, describing it as the “most regrettable setback to Nigeria’s human rights record.”
“I deeply regret the execution of four prisoners yesterday in Edo State, Nigeria,” Ms. Ashton said.
“This represents a break of a 7-year moratorium on the death penalty and is a most regrettable setback to Nigeria’s human rights record. It goes against the commitment repeatedly made by the Nigerian authorities, most recently at the EU-Nigeria human rights dialogue held in Abuja in March and at the annual Ministerial meeting in Brussels in May 2013, to maintain the de facto moratorium on executions.”
Though the envoy said she recognised the serious nature of the crimes involved, and sympathised with the families and friends of the victims, she said the executions can never be justified and reiterated EU’s long-standing opposition to the use of the death penalty.
Restating the importance of United Nations Resolutions calling for the establishment of a moratorium as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty, the EU envoy urged the Nigerian authorities to refrain from further executions, while reviewing laws authorising state governors to sign execution warrants.
“I call on Nigeria to join the strong abolitionist trend which prevails on the African continent. As a first step towards abolition, I strongly encourage Nigeria to amend its legislation in order to end the use of the death penalty as sole sentence for a number of crimes,” she said.
In the wake of the sentence by the Supreme Court and the review by the governor last year, various human rights activists, groups and advocates had asked the state government to respect the sanctity of life, tamper justice with mercy, and commit the death sentences to life imprisonment with hard labour.
Apart from the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, which sent a passionate plea to the governor for mercy for the convicted criminals, Amnesty International (AI) also condemned, in strong terms, the decision of the governor to sign the death warrants.
However, in spite of the human rights groups’ outrage, some provisions of the relevant legal instruments appear to sanction the execution of criminals who take the life of other human beings.
Though Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNDHR provides that: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” Article 30 states: “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity, or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”
Similarly, Section 33(1) of the1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
Equally, Section 35 (1) states: “Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty, save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law:
(a) in execution of the sentence or order of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty;
(b) by reason of his failure to comply with the order of a court or in order to secure the fulfillment of any obligation imposed upon him by law.