Fielding questions from journalists after presenting a report of her delegation’s 10-day visit to Nigeria on Tuesday, Asuagbor said Nigeria and other member states should not just observe the moratorium but should go further to define the status of those on death rows in their various prisons.
Asuagbor, who was said to have visited about 30 ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government, said from the official statistics she obtained there were about 1,000 inmates on death row in Nigeria.
She said, “The African Commission has adopted a draft on abolition. Prior to that, we issued resolutions inviting member states to observe a moratorium on death penalty.
“Actually, most countries are observing the moratorium but we want them to take a further step to abolish (death penalty) because there is problem with the moratorium, especially when we still have persons on death row like in Nigeria, where we have at least a thousand people on death row – going by the statistics we got from the prison authorities. At least a thousand people are on death row and this makes death sentence to be hanging on people’s neck for so long.
“So, it is better for the authorities to take their courage and go straight to abolishing or take the decision that defines the real status of those on the death row either by commuting the sentences or causing them to be executed.
“Our stance is that if they cannot abolish they must observe the moratorium by not pronouncing the death sentence or commuting the sentence of those on death row.”
She also said the African Commission did not have a control over the decision of individual African countries on whether or not to withdraw their membership of the International Criminal Court.
She said although she was not aware if Nigeria had a plan to withdraw from the ICC, she knew that South Africa, Burundi and The Gambia had indicated such an intention.
She said, “We are aware that South Africa has indicated its interest to withdraw, Burundi has done so, and The Gambia. But you know these are conventions that are signed individually.
“So, the African Commission cannot, as a matter of its mandate, be particularly concerned with such withdrawal.
“Already, at the level of the African Union, there is division concerning the issue of the ICC as to whether it should be individual withdrawal or collective withdrawal. From the point of view of international engagements, this is an issue taken personally by state parties and I believe they have a right to continue or not to continue their relationship with such institutions.”
Asugbor said the commission would prepare a comprehensive mission report, but in the interim, urged Nigeria to “ratify regional and international instruments, in particular the Second Option Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of death penalty, in addition to making the declaration and giving NGOs direct access to the court.”
Speaking on behalf of the Attorney General of the Federation, the Director of International and Comparative Law of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Stella Anukam, assured the delegation that Nigeria would continue to fulfill its human rights obligations to its citizens.
She said Nigeria would continue to engage the African Commission and help to strengthen it.