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Death row inmates recount experience as LEDAP opens new office

By Joseph Onyekwere 
26 January 2015   |   11:00 pm
WILLIAMS Owodo is 36 years old. Out of that 36 years, he spent 17 of it in prison as a death row inmate. His story is heart-rending as it is incredulous.      He was barely 16, when he was picked up in Police raid at Ajegunle while returning from a football training.     …

WILLIAMS Owodo is 36 years old. Out of that 36 years, he spent 17 of it in prison as a death row inmate. His story is heart-rending as it is incredulous. 

    He was barely 16, when he was picked up in Police raid at Ajegunle while returning from a football training. 

    In a twist of events, he ended up in death row as a condemned criminal.  Owodo said: “I was arrested in February 1, 1995 with 4 others persons on allegation of murder in Ajegunle and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death on December 5, 2003 by the Lagos High Court.”

    Williams said when they were arrested and kept in Ajeromi Police station, most of the other detainees whose parents had the wherewithal effected their release. In his own case, there was no means, so he was branded an armed robber, tortured to confess to the crime and condenmed to death in court. He was freed eventually by the Appeal Court in 2014.

    Also, Sopuruchi Obed was barely 17 when he was arrested on September 30, 2004 on the allegation by Police at Igando that he and others were part of a group of young men seen by Police informant spending lavishly at a beer parlour, and overhead boasting of their unlawful escapades. Obed said even though no one ever testified of being robbed by him or others, they were charged for armed robbery and convicted. 

    Meanwhile, the young man said he was just a hapless passerby. He revealed that he met his alleged crime mate, Oto-Obong Edet for the first time in Police custody. Both of them were locked up in jail since and only had the air of freedom in 2014. He faced the trauma of the imminence of the hangman for 10 years. 

    Unlike Owodo, Obed was not only tortured to confess to the crime, he was shot on his leg. He said: “Everyday, I see people get killed. The fear and torment of being killed was horrifying. I didn’t want to die, so when they tortured me and threatened to kill me, I signed the document, admitting that I robbed. But when I told the court that the statement was not voluntary, the judge just refused to agree”.

    The story is the same for Christopher Tobi Okolie, a former student of the Federal Technical College Ilesha who was arrested in 2000 when he was accused of committing the offence of murder while he was involved in a altercation with few of his neighbours.

Okolie said a gang of boys within his neighbourhood waylaid him on his was to his father’s residence in Ikotun area as a result of his discman player, which his friend borrowed and refused to return. “I borrowed my disc player to my friend. So when I wanted to return to school, I went to collect it, but he told me that he has given it to his brother. Because I didn’t want to go without my disc, I took the one I saw in their house and left. When I came home, their brother came to my house and slapped me. 

    “One evening, as I was returning, they waylaid me on the street. I ran to enter our compund but it was locked. So in the process of dragging me, both of us fell into the gutter. I didn’t know that the guy got seriously injured. It was later that the Police came and arrested me in my sisters place”. 

    He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death in March 2006 for murder. But late last year, he was freed by the superior court.

Those are the ugly stories of hundreds of weak an vulnerable Nigerians who have been in death row but freed through the  intervention of Legal Defence and Assistance Programme (LEDAP).

    They recounted their experiences recently at the occasion of the opening of LEDAP’s new office in Lekki, Lagos. They all appealed for aid to start a new life.

Speaking at the occasion, the national cordinator of  LEDAP, Mr. Chino Obiagwu said for the past 18 years, the non-governmental organisation has worked in the area of access to justice and rule of law; human security, women’s right, internaional advocacy and rights of persons living with disabilities.

    Obiagwu pointed out that LEDAP has remained the leading voice in Nigeria on the abolition of death penalty.

    His words: “Under its human security programme, LEDAP has documented since 2001 extrajudicial killings in Nigeria comprising over 12, 500 recorded cases of unlawful killings published as our annual ‘impunity report’.”

    He noted that his organisation pioneered the Domestic Violence Law, which is today the key instrument for the protection of women and children from gender-based violence, the administration of criminal justice law as well as being a licenced service provider to the Nigeria Bar Association on mandatory continuing legal education. 

    According to him, LEDAP’s access to justice and human security programmes are geared towards providing free legal services to indigent prisoners. “LEDAP has provided free legal support to over 100 death row inmates in Nigeria. Nearly 7 out of every 10 death penalty appeals that LEDAP has handled in the last two years have resulted in the acquittal of the appellants, suggesting a very high rate of wrongeful capital convictions”, he said, and appealed to the Nigerian government to reconsider its stand on the use of capital punishment by abolishing the use of death penalty and replace same with life imprisonment.