The hundreds of Nigerians convicted in foreign prisons were largely left with no legal assistance or no help from the Nigerian government to get a fair trial, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project has said.
At a roundtable on ‘Moving Nigeria Towards the Abolition of the Death Penalty’ organized for the media and civil society organizations in Lagos, Thursday, the group said there are over 500 Nigerians facing the death penalty abroad.
“The question is what is the Nigerian government doing with respect to the process in which they got to that stage,” Chino Obiagwu, National Coordinator, LEDAP, said while presenting his paper ‘Nigerians on Death Row Abroad: Issues and Concerns.’
“What responsibility has Nigeria to its citizens facing criminal charges, especially death penalty, abroad? Nigeria is a signatory to a treaty called Vienna Convention on Consular Rights Services.”
There are 16,250 Nigerians already convicted in prisons across the world, according to the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs; though Mr. Obiagwu insists the figure is close to 25,000 because the ministry’s information are from those within their consular records.
“Out of the 16,250 Nigerians convicted already in foreign prisons, a total of 810 are facing the death penalty – either they are already convicted or they are facing capital offences,” said Mr. Obiagwu.
“Those already convicted, there are 420 Nigerians already convicted and on death row abroad.”
According to LEDAP, the number of Nigerians convicted abroad include: China, 120; Indonesia, 17; Malaysia, 132 (LEDAP says it was only able to assess two of the seven maximum security prisons in Malaysia); Saudi Arabia, 18; Canada, 650 (none of them facing death penalty); Qatar, 2; Iran, 1; and United Arab Emirates (Dubai), 5.
“How many foreigners are facing the death penalty in Nigeria? Only one Briton who was sentenced to death in this country, and that was in 2007,” Mr. Obiagwu said.
“He was charged for killing his mistress and was sentenced to death. But there is a prison swap, at the end of the day he was pardoned and moved out of Kirikiri so he’s returned to Britain. Even though there was no quashing of his conviction, it was a diplomatic arrangement.
“At the moment, there is no foreigner facing the death penalty in Nigeria. The total number of foreigners serving terms in Nigeria are less than 12, many of them for oil bunkering.”
The Vienna Convention on Consular Rights Services, to which Nigeria is a signatory to, requires every state to ensure that any of its citizens who faces criminal charge abroad receives consular service from the Mission.
The consular service will include telling the person his rights under the law of the prosecuting country.
“Many of them, especially those who were tried in Malaysia, Indonesia, China were tried under languages which they were not conversant with and many of them didn’t have service of interpreters,” said Mr. Obiagwu.
“So consular service will make sure that the charges were translated and the proceedings were interpreted to the citizens.
“The Nigerian Constitution provides that every citizen has a right to fair hearing. It didn’t say right to fair hearing within Nigeria, it is everywhere. So once a Nigerian goes out of his country, that right to fair trial in the Constitution goes along with him.
“So it is the duty of the Nigerian government to ensure that it takes due diligence to ensure that these citizens when they confront the law abroad are given fair trial. And it can only do so through consular services.”
Also, under the Vienna Convention, the country of prosecution, that is the country arresting the person, has a duty to inform the foreign consulate – what is called consular notification.
Mr. Obiagwu said that a lot of the countries where Nigerians have either been convicted or still facing criminal trial failed in their duty of consular notification to the Nigerian Mission in their country.
“The Indonesian government has failed in the duty of consular notification,” he said.
“When they arrest Nigerians at the border, usually for drug offences, they don’t notify the Nigerian Mission in Jakarta, and that’s a problem. So there is a failure of consular notification because it’s only when these services notify the country of the victim that the Mission can take steps to find out what is going on.
“Chinese government has refused to notify Nigerian Consulate about people who are facing trial, and which is a breach of the Vienna Convention on Consular Rights Services.
“I am aware that Saudi Arabia try to provide free legal services to people facing the death penalty in their country even though they are not Saudis.”
Mr. Obiagwu said that the Nigerian government has failed to exercise due diligence in ensuring that Nigerians who face death penalty abroad receive proper consular services.
“Our goal is to draw attention to Nigerian government and, of course, civil society and the media that we can’t just leave our Nigerians, about 16,000 people, out there without support,” he said.
“They all have families. We can’t just leave 132 Nigerians on death row in Malaysia; 120 in China, they may die anytime; 17 in Indonesia and so on.
“Because Nigerian government has a duty to ask the question: Is there fair trial?
“Remember when the five people that were executed in Indonesia, there was an Australian, a Brazilian, a Nigerian, an Asian. All the other countries raised questions about the fair trial, how do you arrive to the conclusion that our citizen is guilty?
“Despite all the letters we wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, despite all the attempts we made to engage the Foreign Ministry, to engage the Mission in Jakarta to ask those questions, Nigeria’s Foreign Mission was not just forthcoming.”