Obed Sopuruchi was arrested during a police raid in Morogbo, Lagos, in 2004 at the age of 16. He only left his father’s roof for the first time in his life to spend his holidays in Lagos with an uncle after his senior secondary two examinations.
The police continued to extort money from the family to grant him bail and when the family could not afford to pay again, he was charged with armed robbery and was given a case mate, Sunday Edet, a 17 year-old whom he had never met in his life.
Both of them were allegedly shot in prison by the police, both were convicted and sentenced to death solely on confessional statements they were shown for the first time in court.
Prosper Ilada, a former driver in Benin, was pushed to steal his salary from his boss after he hadn’t been paid for three months. After repeated pleas for his salary, Mr Ilada, while returning from the bank with his boss after making cash withdrawal, distracted him for a while and took out the exact amount being owed him from the lump sum. He later went to his boss’s house to explain why he had to resort to such measures but was arrested and charged with armed robbery. He was subsequently sentenced to death and has been in prison for seven years.
These cases and other similar but largely unreported ones have heightened the call for the abolition of death penalty in Nigeria by citizens and human rights groups. Groups such as Amnesty International and Legal Defence and Assisted Project (LEDAP) have called for the abolition of the death sentence, and an immediate moratorium to be declared on all executions, changing all death sentences without delay to terms of imprisonment.
Chino Obiagwu, national coordinator, LEDAP, noted at a workshop on death penalty for journalists, recently, that most of the people on death row today in Nigeria are the poor who cannot afford defence lawyers or who cannot bribe the police.
“The death sentence has been unfairly applied to the poor, uneducated people,” said Mr Obiagwu. “Out of the 924 people on death row today, more than half of them cannot afford lawyers to take their appeal,” Mr Obiagwu added.