295 Nigerians on death row in Asia

Those 295 Nigerians on death row in Asia

on: October 21, 2015Not quite long after the government of Indonesia lined up and shot eight drug convicts, four of them from Nigeria, namely: Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Jamiu Owolabi Abashin, Okwudili Oyatanze and Martin Anderson last April, reports say 295 Nigerians are still on the death row across Asia. The Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) with its headquarters in Lagos, says roughly “120 Nigerians are facing the death penalty in Chinese prisons, over 170 others in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc., and five in Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia”. The group says “33 countries and territories retain the death penalty for drug crimes and it is estimated conservatively that over 16,500 Nigerians are in prisons abroad and nearly 350 of them are facing death penalty”.

LEDAP, which revealed the figures to Nigerians on Saturday, October 10, 2015, during activities marking the 13th World Day against the use of Death Penalty, argued spiritedly that drug offences, for which most of the 295 convicts were now trapped in Asia, did not meet the definition of ‘most serious’ crimes which the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prescribed as deserving of the death penalty. Chinonye Obiagwu, the National Coordinator of LEDAP, said the group filed litigations against over 35 death sentences on appeal, out of which half of the ‘culprits’ were exonerated; and implored the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to track and support Nigerian citizens facing the death penalty overseas.

“Most of the Nigerians convicted abroad did not receive fair trials because most of them did not have lawyers to defend them. The trials are held in languages they do not understand. In most cases, no interpreters are provided; and more importantly, consular services are lacking”, Obiagwu said. LEDAP, as an NGO, has done a good job. Saving over half of 35 Nigerians from the hangman’s noose in foreign lands is certainly not an easy task, especially when weighed against the lack-lustre attitude of Nigerian embassy staff abroad when it comes to attending to Nigerian citizens either stranded or in need of their services, as repeated complaints in recent years have suggested.

But mounting advocacy for saving Nigerians already sentenced to death abroad, without cautioning prospective victims on the varying penalties certain crimes attract in certain parts of the world does not appear to us a comprehensive approach to saving the situation. We recall, for instance, that the executions of last April in Indonesia were carried out in spite of global condemnation and rage against the exercise; in addition to loud pleas for clemency for the four Nigerians involved by the Nigerian government. Indeed, the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministry sought a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Indonesia and clemency plea for 12 other Nigerians waiting for execution in that country. But notwithstanding the ‘excellent’ diplomatic relations existing between Nigeria and Indonesia, the deed was done; thus buttressing the futility of the FG intervention.

One implication of the unfortunate development is that Indonesia views drug offences as constituting a part of the ‘most serious’ offences that deserves the death penalty; and the country has been defending its execution of those who infract its anti-drug laws with all its strength. It is also instructive that notwithstanding Indonesia’s unbending use of the death sentence as a vital weapon to wage its anti-drugs war, no nation, to public knowledge, has been so enraged as to clamp any sanction on the country (Indonesia) beyond the withdrawal of envoys. Same goes for the United Nations.

Our thinking, therefore, is that the global community seems conscious of the destructive effects of drugs on world citizens, especially youths; and caring nations lend tacit support to measures, no matter how harsh they may be, to curb the hard drugs trade. We think this is the message LEDAP should incorporate in its advocacy to save potentially endangered Nigerians who, out of ignorance and desperation for the good life, may swell the ranks of death row prisoners in Asia and elsewhere in the future

. As we have argued on this page in the past, the lesson probably not well thought at home and, therefore, not understood and appreciated, appears what Asian countries are insistent on teaching. When caught on Asian shores, hard drug convicts, from whatever part of the globe, including Asian countries, face the same punishment – execution. Recall that in addition to the four Nigerians executed in Indonesia last April were one Indonesian, Zainal Abidin; a Brazilian, Rodrigo Gularte; and two Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, numbering eight in all. To be fore warned is to be fore armed. – National Mirror, 21/10/2015

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