Posts filed under 'Nigeria'
September 8th, 2014
On this date in 1971, the Nigerian robber Ishola Oyenusi — “smil[ing] to his death,” in the words of the next day’s paper — was publicly shot with his gang at Lagos Bar Beach.
Dubbed “the most dangerous criminal of this decade” even though the Seventies were barely underway, “Doctor” Oyenusi — as he liked to style himself — sprang out of the wreckage of the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War, a charismatic, cocksure gangster whose lordly disdain for the law cast the terrifying portent of social breakdown.
Beyond Oyenusi loomed a systematic collapse of order that long outlived him. In years to come, other celebrity crime lords would follow; eventually, armed robbery proliferated into a frightfully ubiquitous feature of life in Lagos. Maybe the Doctor smiled at the stake because he foresaw his legacy.
Disturbingly unable to combat the plague systematically, authorities would resort to occasional high-profile executions instead, provided, of course, that the culprit’s misappropriations were of the retail street-crime variety, rather than the fruits of wholesale corruption.
Oyenusi was never in the same universe with such exalted impunity as enjoyed by the masters of the state. He got into the robbery business back in 1959, boosting a car (and murdering its owner into the bargain) to make it rain for his broke girlfriend. While he eventually expanded his operations into a brutal syndicate, he was still just a hoodlum; the infamy that packed the Bar Beach with 30,000 fellow humans who booed and jeered Oyenusi to the stake was merely enough to make him worth the quashing. (He was condemned to death specifically for a raid on the WAHUM factory in March 1971 that also claimed the life of a police constable.)
Six members of Oyenusi’s crime ring went with him to the stake on the same occasion. An eighth man was also shot in the batch for an unrelated armed carjacking.
There is a 1977 film by Nigerian director Eddie Ugbomah based on this flamboyant gangster’s life, The Rise and Fall of Dr. Oyenusi.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Murder,Nigeria,Pelf,Public Executions,Shot,Theft
Tags: 1970s, 1971, cinema, ishola oyenusi, lagos, september 8
July 22nd, 2014
On this date in 1995, Nigeria’s military dictatorship struck a bloody blow against the country’s surging crime waves with a mass execution of 43 prisoners at Kirikiri prison in Lagos.
Soldiers dressed in camouflage and with black shoe polish on their faces fired semi-automatic weapons to execute the convicts who were tied to stakes in three groups of 12 and one of seven.
The executions, which lasted 90 minutes, were witnessed by three doctors, who certified the deaths, an Irish Roman Catholic priest and a Muslim imam. (Reuters report, in the July 23, 1995 Los Angeles Times)
Armed robbery had since the 1970s been the most feared and high-profile genre of a crime surge that seemed all but impervious to remedies. Organized into aggressive syndicates stealing on an industrial scale, robbers grew so numerous and brazen that they plundered the personal home of the Vice President in 1983; another band raided currency exchange offices at the Lagos airport in 1993. For everyday citizens, the terror of home invasion, often accompanied by rape or gratuitous murder, horribly taxed material and psychological resources. A 1985 Nigerian Herald article (via) reported that
Lagosians now live behind bars, in houses caged with tough iron rods. In such homes, it takes occupants 20 to 30 minutes to get through the barricades each time they want to go out or get in. Driving in Lagos as well is done in a style intended to avoid interception by armed robbers. The basic rule is that no driver allows the vehicle behind him to catch up with his and overtaking at the wrong side of the lane by another motorist is avoided at the risk of death. In Lagos, people live in such terrible fear of armed robbers that those who are not attacked as each day passes regard themselves as fortunate.
The death penalty was decreed for armed robbery in 1970, revoked in 1980, re-introduced in 1983. In the late 1980s, Nigeria tried check points, road blocks, increased police patrols — nothing stemmed the tide.
This date’s demonstrative mass execution made the news, for sure. But it didn’t exactly do the trick either.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Nigeria,Shot,Theft
Tags: 1990s, 1995, july 22, lagos
September 5th, 2013
It’s certainly understandable that dilatory appeals leaving it nigh-impossible to actually carry out a meritorious death sentence provoke aggravation.
But as always, one is left in the real sphere of human endeavor to choose among alternatives that each sport their own drawbacks — and where “drawbacks” are no mere debating points but actual lives on the line. After all, even a years-long appellate process that actually results in an execution can go and execute the wrong guy, to say nothing of systems that promise more immediate enforcement.
In a similar vein is the maxim that however adroit the hangman, etiquette forbids him entering the scene before the legally constituted appellate process — of whatever length it may be — has actually run its course. At least that much patience is not merely a virtue but absolutely de rigueur.
On this date thirty-two years ago, Nigeria committed a serious breach of that decorum.
Nasiru Bello, on death row for armed robbery — a crime the recently installed civilian government appeared to be easing off treating as a hanging offense* — was abruptly put to death by Oyo State before a filed and pending appeal could actually be heard by the court.
That’s what you’d call an irreversible error.
Five years later, Bello’s kin won a unanimous Supreme Court judgment against Oyo State for the wrongful execution, which stirringly declared that
“the premature execution of the deceased by the Oyo State Government, while the deceased’s appeal against his conviction was still pending, was not only unconstitutional, but also illegal and unlawful.** By it, the deceased has lost both his right to life and his right to prosecute his appeal.”
And then that same court reduced the plaintiffs’ claimed damages of 100,000 naira to 7,400: about US $1,900 by the local currency’s black market exchange rate. Bello, of course, stayed dead.
* See the 1980 entries in this pdf of Amnesty International reports on Nigeria.
** Unconstitutional, unlawful and illegal here being used in particular, juridically distinct senses. Despite the finding, nobody involved faced criminal sanctions for reasons boiling down to sovereign immunity.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Nigeria,Notable Jurisprudence,Theft,Wrongful Executions
Tags: 1980s, 1981, aliu bello, haste, nasiru bello, september 5
August 2nd, 2012
On this date in 1994, 38 people were executed at Nigeria’s Enugu Prison … but artist Arthur Judah Angel somehow was not among them.
Angel was convicted of armed robbery and murder: tortured and framed, he says, by corrupt police under the military dictatorship of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
At the time, Nigeria was liable to put to death condemned prisoners without warning at any time, like Japan does today … except that Nigeria carried out such executions by the dozens. In one instance Angel witnessed, there were 58 executions in a single day.
On August 2, 1994, a Tuesday, that occasion finally arrived for Arthur Judah Angel — or so it seemed.
“I was chained; I was given my last meal that was August 2, 1994,” Angel said in an interview. “38 others were executed that very day. Only God knew how I was spared. He was the one that made my name disappeared in the book. I did not know how it happened. But it happened. I died, in fact, every person on the death row dies every day.”
Who exactly it was that saved Angel on that date I have not seen conclusively documented, but they say that God helps those who help themselves. In this case, Angel helped himself with his charcoal sketches on death row, which soon brought him to the attention of some well-placed people in the prison bureaucracy, a Catholic bishop — even a British arts organization which organized exhibitions of his work in 1993 and 1994.
Angel’s death sentence was commuted in 1995, and he was released outright in 2000. He well knows that, like those other 38 people who hanged this date, he’d be forgotten if not for his fortuitous escape. Life is just too damn cheap for exonerating the dead.
“I am able to clear my name because I am alive,” Angel said. “If I had been executed, nobody would believe that I was innocent. If I didn’t make it, no one would know. I knew many people who were innocent in prison. Yet they died in prison. Only people like me, who were close to them until their death, knew they were innocent. The rest of the world learnt that armed robbers were executed on so and so day; nobody knew they were innocent.”
But Angel did survive, and is remembered — not only for his exoneration, but for the 51 startling sketches he made of Nigeria’s death row. They (and other anti-death penalty art Angel has created since) have been exhibited worldwide by human rights NGOs.
Angel, who’ll turn 50 this November, continues to work as an artist from a studio outside Lagos — and uses his art to campaign against the death penalty, as one might imagine. He has written a book, I Refused to Die; unfortunately for its prospective international readership, the book requires expensive shipping from Nigeria.
(There’s also a bit of video from a news report here.)
Part of the Themed Set: Scary Escapes.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Lucky to be Alive,Mass Executions,Nigeria,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Torture,Wrongful Executions
Tags: 1990s, 1994, art, arthur angel, august 2, enugu
July 27th, 2011
On this date in 1990, Nigerian Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar and dozens of others* were shot for a coup attempt against that country’s military strongman, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
Orkar was the guy on state radio early on the morning of April 22 announcing the revolution:
On behalf of the patriotic and well-meaning peoples of the Middle Belt and the southern parts of this country, I , Major Gideon Orkar, wish to happily inform you of the successful ousting of the dictatorial, corrupt, drug baronish, evil man, deceitful, homo-sexually-centered, prodigalistic, un-patriotic administration of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.
The dictatorial, drug baronish evil man had himself come to power in a 1985 coup, and when not fending off coups kept busy reorganizing the state to his satisfaction and stalling on the promised civilian handover. (“IBB” ultimately held an election in 1992, invalidated the result, and turned over power the next year to understudy dictator Sani Abacha.**)
Said state reorganization was not to the liking of Orkar et al, and the putsch broadcast accused Babangida of wanting to make himself into a president-for-life.
Intriguingly, the broadcast also proffered a strong regional critique of “the favoured class and their stooges” who were gobbling up “the supposedly national wealth derived in the main from the Middle Belt and the southern part of this country, while the people from these parts of the country have been completely deprived from benefiting from the resources given to them by God.”
Accordingly, the government of the abortive coup intended “a temporary decision to excise the following states namely, Sokoto, Borno, Katsina, Kano and Bauchi states from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Those states, at the time, constituted the entire northern band of Nigeria, which was also the stronghold of Islam in Nigeria. (Babangida was a Muslim, as was his successor.)
What “excision” of the northern states might have meant in practice was never realized, since Babangida escaped his would-be usurpers and prevailed when the sides fought it out over the course of April 22. One survivor of the coup later described the grievance in these words: “Anytime we went to the Hausa areas in the North, we were given Hausa and Islamic regalia and if you didn’t wear it, they would not be happy with you. It got to a stage that if you were in the Army, you have to speak Hausa.”
So, if inclined to cast a gimlet eye upon the inroads of sharia in those same northern states, one might view Orkar as some sort of prophet. He and his comrades certainly strike many as a nobler and more far-sighted clique than the usual “autocratic general” type.
On trial for their lives: from left to right, Capt. Harley Empere, Major Gideon Orkar, Capt. Perebo Dakolo, Lt. Cyril Ozoalor, Lt. Nicholas Odeh
Despite the fate of Orkar and others this date, some of the plotters managed to escape the country to a better fate. For instance, Major Saliba Mukoro fled to the United States, got advanced degrees in criminal justice, and was a Mississippi Valley State University professor prior to returning to run for a governorship in 2011. (He lost.)
* Amnesty International makes it (pdf) 42 on this date, including Orkar and nine other officers — plus 27 others executed on September 13. Most of the executed and some other casualties of the affair are enumerated here.
** Abacha is the guy who hanged Ogoni poet/activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Nigeria,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason
Tags: 1990, 1990s, coup d'etat, gideon orkar, ibrahim babangida, july 27, religion, saliba mukoro, sani abacha
June 28th, 2011
On this date in 1899, British forces occupying Benin City hanged a local tribal leader for the massacre whose perpetration had justified London’s, er, “humanitarian” intervention.
The locale of today’s post is “Benin”, but it’s important to note that this is not the modern country of Benin but rather the land just to the east currently situated in southern Nigeria — which was then the Benin Empire, at the tail end of a very long run.
Ruled from Benin City (also presently in Nigeria), this great African state had been in direct contact with European countries since the 15th century.
By the 19th, of course, it had waned with colonial incursions — but Benin itself had sagely declined to extend “free trade” to the powers that meant to dominate it, nor to cede sovereignty by signing a “protectorate” arrangement.
It was only a matter of time before Britain (or someone else) made an offer Benin couldn’t refuse.
In January 1897, a British expedition attempting to enter Benin during a religious festival against the orders of its oba (king) was slaughtered by a Benin force led by the oba‘s son-in-law, Ologbosere (alternatively, Ologbosheri). Britain claimed it was a diplomatic mission; Benin apparently believed the deputation meant to attack.
Regardless, the tactical victory would prove a strategic debacle.
New York Times, Jan. 21, 1897. The last paragraph of this article innocently observes that “the country is said to be very rich, and it would not be surprising to find that one result of the punitive expedition would be the annexation of the whole territory to the British possessions in West Africa.”
The circumstances of this encounter remain murky and hotly disputed to this day. (Here’s a Benin-sympathetic take.) We at Executed Today are confident that a global superpower would never misrepresent its intentions nor engineer a provocation in order to unseat a resource-rich dictator.
As we learn from the London Times (June 12, 1897),
The object of the mission is described as peaceful, and one version even asserts that the party were unarmed … it was intended to send a party to Benin city to ask the King to remove the obstacles which he places in the way of trade …
The King and his capital have a bad reputation. He is a “Ju Ju” follower and addicted to human sacrifices, the gruesome remains of which are to be found in abundance in his capital. He is said recently to have threatened death to the next white man who attempted to visit him, and there is but too good reason to fear that he has kept his word. A military expedition against him probably would have been necessary in any event sooner or later.
Why, less than a teaspoon of Ju-Ju is enough to …
Dispatched within days, the retaliatory Benin punitive expedition sacked Benin City by the end of February, sending its reigning oba into exile. The Benin Empire had fallen; as the journalist had predicted, it was folded into Britain’s colonial administration.
Punitive force personnel reported a veritable bloodbath perpetrated within Benin City by its outgoing administration, including that trump taboo, human sacrifice.
Naval intelligence officer R.H. Bacon wrote,
The one lasting remembrance of Benin in my mind is its smells. Crucifixions, human sacrifices, and every horror the eye could get accustomed to, to a large extent, but the smells no white man’s internal economy could stand. …
Blood was everywhere; smeared over bronzes, ivory, and even the walls, and spoke the history of that awful city in a clearer way than writing ever could. And this had been going on for centuries! Not the lust of one king, not the climax of a bloody reign, but the religion (save the word!) of the race …
the atrocities of Benin, originating in blood lust and desire to terrorise the neighbouring states, the brutal love of mutilation and torture, and the wholesale manner in which the caprices of the King and Juju were satisfied, could only have been the result of stagnant brutality …
[I saw] a crucifixion tree with a double crucifixion on it, the two poor wretches stretched out facing the west, with their arms bound together in the middle. The construction of this tree was peculiar, being absolutely built for the purpose of crucifixion. At the base were skulls and bones, literally strewn about; the debris of former sacrifices … and down every main road were two or more human sacrifices.
The synoptic reports of two other officers are excerpted in this tome; e.g.,
Seven large sacrifice compounds were found inclosed by walls … [containing earthen] altars [that] were covered with streams of dried human blood … [and] open pits filled with human bodies giving forth the most trying odours.
Whilst Britain set about making Benin safe for the olfactory nerves of long-barred merchandisers, Ologbosere persisted in the bush for more than two years. He was finally snared with the connivance of some local tribal chiefs keen to do business with the new boss.
Tried on June 27 — just one day before his actual execution; the verdict, of course, foreordained — Ologbosere was damned by those chiefs’ testimony that the strike force he had led back in 1897 to precipitate the intervention “was not sent to kill white men — and we therefore decide that according to native law his life is forfeited.”
Ologbosere said otherwise, to no avail.
The king told me that he had heard that the white men were coming to fight with him, and that I must get ready to go and fight the white men … when all the people called the mass meeting at Benin City and selected me to go and fight the white men, I went. I had no palaver with the white men before.
The day I was selected to go from Benin City to meet the white men all the chiefs here present were in the meeting, and now they want to put the whole thing on my shoulders.
Great Britain’s punitive expedition also resulted in the capture of many hundreds of metal objects scattered to European museums and collections — collectively known as the Benin Bronzes. (It’s a misnomer: they’re actually brass.)
Hocked to defray the expense of their plundering, their diffusion around the empires’ continent helped broaden European appreciation for African art, and influenced modernist art movements. (Notably (pdf) German expressionism: tons of the bronzes ended up in Germany, and many can still be seen at Berlin’s Ethnological Museum.)
Nigeria, and the successor obas of Benin, have for decades besought their return in vain.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Benin,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Nigeria,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Royalty,Soldiers,Wartime Executions
Tags: 1890s, 1899, art, benin bronzes, benin city, human sacrifice, imperialism, juju, june 28, ologbosere, ologbosheri
May 15th, 2011
On this date in 1976, Nigeria executed the leading spirit of an abortive Nigerian coup was shot for the “abortive” part of that coup.
That February 13, Bukar Dimka had taken to the airwaves to announce the assassination of Nigeria’s incumbent military strongman, Murtala Mohammed.*
Good morning fellow Nigerians.
This is Lt. Colonel B. Dimka of the Nigerian Army calling. I bring you good tidings. Murtala Muhammed’s deficiency has been detected. His government is now overthrown by the young revolutionaries. All the 19 military governors have no powers over the states they now govern. The states affairs will be run by military brigade commanders until further notice.
Any acts of looting or raids will be death. Everyone should be calm. Please stay by your radio for further announcements. All borders, air and sea ports are closed until futher notice. Curfew is imposed from 6am to 6pm. Thank you. We are all together.
-From Romancing the Gun: The Press as Promoter of Military Rule
They were not all together.
Mohammed’s second-in-command, Olusegun Obasanjo, instantly quashed the putsch and served notice that assassinating the head of state would not be welcome on his watch.**
A large body of coup conspirators were publicly executed within a month; the Nigerian Defense Minister was among them.
Dimka himself managed to remain at large for most of that month, so he wasn’t among that crop. Instead, Obasanjo had the pleasure of announcing Dimka’s execution separately, along with that of
a former state governor, Joseph Gomwalk … “two of the principal actors” in the coup.
-New York Times, May 16, 1976
The coup was thought to have aimed at restoring the guy Mohammed deposed, Yakubu Gowon, who was luckily in exile in England and therefore escaped a similarly grim fate.
Years later, he received an official pardon; Gowon is still alive, one of Nigeria’s elder political statesmen.
* When next in Lagos to transfer several million in oil wealth from a secret bank account, be sure to visit Mohammed’s bullet-ridden Mercedes.
** Obasanjo handed power to a democratic government in 1979; that government was itself later toppled by the military, but Obasanjo eventually served as Nigeria’s elected president from 1999 to 2007.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Nigeria,Notable for their Victims,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers
Tags: 1970s, 1976, bukar dimka, coup d'etat, joseph gomwalk, lagos, may 15, murtala mohammed, olusegun obasanjo, yakubu gowon
March 5th, 2010
On this date in 1986,* Nigerian Major-General Mamman Jiya Vatsa was shot (along with nine others) by command of his childhood friend — the dictator Ibrahim Babangida, whom Vatsa was allegedly plotting to overthrow.
A gifted writer since youth, Vatsa was just a nameless twenty-something junior officer in the early 1970s when he emerged onto the national literary scene.
In the 15 years before his death, Vatsa churned out 20-plus volumes, mostly poetry. He had a special inclination for writing for children.
Simultaneously, his star ascended in his professional sphere.
Risen to General, Vatsa was part of the Supreme Military Council of the previous dictator.
But by December of that year,
Vatsa and dozens of others were arrested.
Testimony against them — much of it of the speculative or torture-induced variety — described a ring of officers piqued at the Babangida coup (Vatsa was out of the country when it occurred) and keen to undo it. The scheme would have been only one of many such hatched or imagined in an unstable political situation that surely made the new big man nervous.
In the end, “only” ten (the nine others are named here) were stood up against the wall for the alleged plot. Many others, however, were imprisoned or purged, a lasting injury to the Nigerian brass that particularly crippled its air force.
Babangida, of course, rejected clemency appeals from the Vatsa family he knew well. He has since justified his harshness by arguing that Vatsa would have continued plotting against him in prison or in forced retirement. “Rawlings did it in Ghana,” Babangida said. “And you know Vatsa was very stubborn.”
The fatal tribunal’s judge** is less certain, and is hardly the only one to doubt Vatsa’s guilt outright.
I don’t know, nobody ever asked.
That was how some heroes died.
-Vatsa, “They Died” (Voices from the Trench)
* Some sources give March 6 as the execution date, but contemporaneous western press reports (admittedly an impeachable source) prefer the 5th. For instance, the March 6 Chicago Tribune says the executions occurred on “Wednesday” (the 5th).
** Ironically, Vatsa himself had once sat on a tribunal for another group of failed putschists, the 1976 Dimka coup.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Nigeria,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wrongful Executions
Tags: 1980s, 1986, coup d'etat, ibb, ibrahim babangida, mamman jiya vatsa, march 5, writers
January 26th, 2008
(Thanks to Tim Goodwin at Asia Death Penalty for the guest post -ed.)
On this day one year ago, a promising young Nigerian soccer player was taken from his cell in Singapore’s Changi Prison. It was dawn on a Friday morning, execution time in a country that has come to be known for its uncompromising use of the death penalty.
Tochi, and his football kit. (Source
Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 21, and his co-accused Okele Nelson Malachy, 35, were hanged one after the other in the prison’s death chamber. Tochi’s lawyers had been informed he would die that morning, but it had not been announced that Malachy would also hang.
Later that day the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), Singapore’s “primary drug enforcement agency”, issued a 138 word statement. With the terse formality that is common to statements by Singapore’s criminal justice authorities, it noted:
The appeals of both Tochi and Malachy to the Court of Appeal and to the President for clemency have been turned down. Their sentences were carried out this morning at Changi Prison.
Tochi was arrested at Changi Airport on 28 November 2004, in possession of 100 capsules of diamorphine, or 727.02g of high grade heroin, which the CNB claimed was worth “about $1.5 million”. He said in a later interview [.doc] that he had arrived in the country expecting to be met by an African man named Mr Marshall. He did not have enough money to clear immigration, and an airport hotel called the police when he attempted to take a room. Malachy was identified as his contact after flying in from Indonesia, although he strenuously denied any connection with the drugs.
Tochi claimed he was carrying the package for a man named Mr Smith, who had befriended him at Sunday services at St Andrew’s Church in Islamabad, Pakistan. He had become stranded in Pakistan while attempting to travel to Dubai, where he hoped to play soccer professionally. As a boy, he represented Nigeria in soccer tournaments, travelling to Senegal when he was 14 to play in a West African youth Championship.
According to Tochi, Mr Smith asked him to take a package of herbs to a sick friend in Singapore, saying he could then apply to play for Singapore soccer clubs. He agreed, and was given a ticket and $200 in cash.
Many sites on the web have quoted the trial judge’s acknowledgement that there was no proof that Tochi knew he was carrying heroin:
There was no direct evidence that he knew the capsules contained diamorphine. There was nothing to suggest that Smith had told him they contained diamorphine, or that he had found that out on his own.
The trial judge was clearly doubtful of Tochi’s knowledge. Nevertheless, he found the defendant had “wilfully turned a blind eye on the contents of the capsules because he was tempted” by what police claimed was an offer of US$2000 in payment.
But the prosecution didn’t have to prove Tochi knew; it was up to him to prove that he didn’t know what was in the capsules. If he couldn’t prove his ignorance of that fact — a challenging philosophical notion in itself — then the law would presume he knew, and therefore convict him of drug trafficking. Under section 18(2) of Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act:
Any person who is proved or presumed to have had a controlled drug in his possession shall, until the contrary is proved, be presumed to have known the nature of that drug.
The Misuse of Drugs Act reverses many principles that are taken as central to a fair trial, including the burden of proof and the idea that a court should consider the facts of the case before deciding a penalty.
Amnesty International reports that the Act contains a series of presumptions that:
shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused. This conflicts with the universally guaranteed right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Amnesty International is gravely concerned that such presumptions erode the right to a fair trial, increasing the risk that an innocent person may be executed…
The Act applies a mandatory death penalty for a wide range of drug offences, including for importing more than 15 grams of diamorphine or pure heroin.
Possession of relatively small amounts of drugs — by the standards of many countries — is classed as “trafficking” in that drug. Trafficking in that drug carries a mandatory death penalty. Courts have no power to consider the individual circumstances of the case.
Famously described as “Disneyland with the death penalty” by novelist William Gibson, Singapore brings together a record of social order and strict political control, and an unwavering use of the death penalty, particularly for drug-related offences. (Such as a similar recent case profiled here -ed.)
No surprises then that Tochi was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death in December 2005. His appeal was rejected in March 2006, with the judge pausing only to note that the accused had to prove he didn’t know what was in the bag:
Under s 18(2) of the Act, the first appellant was presumed to know the nature of the drugs in his possession. The burden thus shifted to him to persuade the court on a balance of probabilities that he did not know that he was carrying drugs or that what he was carrying were drugs.
The appeal court judge acknowledged Tochi’s claim that he didn’t know, but agreed that he hadn’t proven his ignorance.
Seven months before Tochi’s execution, his brother Uzonna told a reporter from IPS News he had not told their parents that their son, who once supported the family, was now on death row.
“My poor parents will die if they hear that a child who has worked so hard to sustain them is facing a death sentence,” he said.
Tochi was hanged in the face of widespread international protest: legal efforts and a presidential appeal in Nigeria, urgent global appeals from Amnesty International activists, intervention from a United Nations human rights expert, and discreet but unequivocal opposition from a small group of human rights activists within Singapore itself.
Reflecting the colonial origins of the country’s modern death penalty, Tochi was “hanged by the neck till he [was] dead”, in the words of Singapore’s Criminal Procedure Code. The same British legal phrase was taken with the empire to, among other countries, the United States, India, Pakistan, Brunei and Malaysia.
Mr Smith has not been found.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Common Criminals,Drugs,Guest Writers,Hanged,Nigeria,Notable Jurisprudence,Other Voices,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore
January 3rd, 2008
On this date in 2002, a young murderer from the northern Nigerian state of Katsina became the first person executed under that country’s controversial introduction of sharia law two years before.
Yakubu was convicted of stabbing to death a woman and her children, and according to the BBC was initially to be stabbed to death using the same knife. The sentence was moderated to hanging, perhaps to avoid inflaming sectarian sensibilities.
The introduction in 2000 of sharia in several northern majority-Muslim states of the oil-rich nation has pitted those states against majority-Christian territories to the south in a complex duel of identity politics under the klieg lighting of international human rights pressure.
Yakubu went from a guilty plea to death within three months, apparently because he failed to pursue any form of appeal, which might well have availed him: Nigeria’s federal government has pledged to stay sharia executions. Yakubu is in fact believed to not only be the first Nigerian executed under sharia — but also the last.
(It should be noted that just last month, Amnesty International charged Nigeria with carrying out executions in secret over a period of years. Although there was no explicit sharia connection documented in that expose, such behavior counsels caution with any assertion about recent death penalty activities in Nigeria.)
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Nigeria,Notable Jurisprudence,Ripped from the Headlines
Tags: 2000s, 2002, islam, january 3, katsina, religion, sani yakubu, sharia