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Amnesty International Pushes for Nigeria to Halt Executions

Amnesty International is calling for Nigeria to suspend executions, after finding hundreds of those awaiting execution may not have had a fair trial. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja has more in this report for VOA.

The 72-page Amnesty International report on the death penalty in Nigeria deplored flaws in the country's criminal justice system. The report said those with the fewest resources are at the greatest risk in Nigeria's criminal justice system.

The severest criticism was reserved for the Nigerian Police Force, which Amnesty says routinely tortures prisoners in order to extract confessions.

A study by the National Human Rights Commission and the non-governmental Center for Law Enforcement in 2000, found that almost 80 percent of inmates in Nigerian prisons said they had been beaten by police, threatened with weapons and tortured in police cells.

Amnesty says torture is still widespread and systematic.

Armed robbery is a serious problem in Nigeria and the public support for the death penalty is strong. But Amnesty International's Nigeria researcher, Aster van Kregten, says there is no evidence the death penalty is any more effective in reducing crime than other punishments.

"What I have witnessed here by studying death penalty in Nigeria; I have seen between 1970 and 1999, over 2,600 people on death row have been executed and then we should ask, 'Has it solved crime?' I do not think the death penalty is working as deterrent," said Aster van Kregten.

Overstretched and under-resourced, the Nigerian police is often put under pressure to make quick arrests when a crime has been committed.

A representative of the police, Chief Superintendent Henry Njoku acknowledged torture is a problem within the police, but says safeguards exist to deal with it.

"I am aware that we have some legal provisions that guard against torture. I am not saying that the report we are debating here, that there is no infraction. But we have put down mechanisms, once our attention is drawn, certainly we will take it up from there. I know there is convention against torture which Nigeria is a signatory," said Henry Njoku.

More than 2,600 death sentences were carried out under military governments in Nigeria between 1970 and 1999. Since the return to democracy in May 1999, at least 410 people have been sentenced to death and 22 executions carried out.