Nigeria retains the death penalty for ordinary crimes, including murder, armed robbery and rape.
Although Nigeria has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1993, it has neither signed nor ratified the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR allowing for the right of individual petition nor the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Nigeria has ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1983 and the Protocol to the African Charter on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2004. Nigeria is also a member state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which one of the institutions is the Community Court of Justice. The Court has jurisdiction to determine cases where violation of human rights occur in any member state.
Since 2004, we have been assisting the Nigerian NGO, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) in bringing a series of legal challenges to the constitutionality of the death penalty in Nigeria.
Between 2004-2008, various challenges to the mandatory death sentence were brought in different state appeal courts as well as separate challenges to delay on death row, hanging, and the death penalty per se. As the criminal appeals succeeded on conviction, the issues on the constitutionality of the death penalty were not decided upon. In 2011, a further five appeals were filed in state appeal courts raising similar challenges to the death penalty.
In September 2012, there was a major breakthrough in Nigeria. The High Court of Lagos State declared that the mandatory imposition of the death penalty on four prisoners and the proposed method of execution by either hanging or by firing squad was unconstitutional. In challenging the mandatory nature of the death penalty the applicants successfully relied on the decision of Kafatayeni. See our press release here.