Why General Abacha’s Government Publicly Executed 43 Nigerians By Firing Squad At Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons In July 1995 Despite Pleas From All Over The World
On a Saturday, the 22nd of July, 1995, the military junta of Nigeria carried out one of the largest mass executions in the history of the country. 43 prisoners were lined up and all executed via a firing squad made up of stern soldiers clad in camouflage clutching semi-automatic weapons.
The location of the bloodbath was the notorious Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons in Lagos State and 1,000 people were in the crowd, ready to witness one of the goriest dramas ever. They were tied to the stakes in three groups of 12 and one of seven. They had all been convicted of being armed robbers by the Robbery and Firearms Tribunals, set up by the authoritarian regime of military strongman Sani Abacha. He said it was the government’s measure to cope with the spiraling rates of violent crimes across the crimes.
But the human rights lawyers, international organizations and advocates raised alarm saying the tribunals were special and extrajudicial courts that functioned autonomously outside the mainstream judicial system and because of that, cannot guarantee fair trials to the accused. They also argued that since tribunal judgments are final without allowing right of appeal to a higher independent jurisdiction, it was quite possible that innocent people were among those executed.
Apart from the 43 to be executed, another 10 prisoners were granted stay of execution and it was not immediately clear if they had their sentences commuted or not. Abacha had just seized power in November 1993 after he overthrew Ernest Shonekan in a palace coup and he was facing various challenges, the least of which was not violent crime and the military generals felt the best way to handle the matter was to spray whoever they caught with bullets.
On the fateful day, three doctors were on hand and they reportedly certified all the prisoners dead after the executions which took more than two and half hours on the execution ground at Kirikiri. Apart from the doctors, an Irish Roman Catholic priest and a Muslim imam were on hand to offer prayers.
Although the junta said the executions were to crack down on violent crimes such as armed robbery, international bodies like Amnesty International slammed the executions describing the death penalty as being cruel, inhuman and degrading. Amnesty International and other bodies sent last-minute appeals directly to Abacha to commute the death sentences but he did not. Opponents of the move also argued that public executions did not only stamp further degradation on the condemned prisoners, such bloody visual displays also have the effect of psychologically brutalizing those who watch it making Nigerians believe the dangerous idea that a violent retribution is always the best way to even scores or prevent crimes (that is right because Nigerians now engage in vicious forms of jungle justice displaying not even a shred of human empathy, how a nation can be religious and merciless at the same time is one of the greatest paradoxes of our time). See photos of the executions below:
It was an execution spree for Abacha. In 1994 alone, unknown to many Nigerians today, over 100 people were executed publicly in the country, most of them convicted by the Robbery and Firearms Tribunals. In the period between February and June 1994, 30 prisoners convicted of armed robbery were publicly executed in Akwa Ibom State, southern Nigeria, and it was so swift that some were executed within days of being sentenced. On the 24th of May, 1994, four prisoners – including a woman named Elizabeth Oleru – were all executed before huge crowds at the Kano Race Course in northern Nigeria. That was not the end of the bloodshed. On the 2nd of August, 1994, 38 prisoners were executed in Enugu, southeastern Nigeria before an incredible crowd of 20,000 people. That day, something dramatic happened. One of the prisoners, a 24-year-old named Simeon Agbo, survived the brutal bullets of the execution and an hour later, he rose to his feet, bleeding from the wounds to his stomach and shoulders, desperately protesting his innocence and begging for water.
All these mass executions were being carried out at a time when Nigeria was regarded as a pariah nation where gross injustice and absolute disregard for human rights held sway. Nigeria has been battling armed robbery since the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970 when the worst conflict in Africa ended leaving a massive supply of weapons in the hands of disgruntled ex-combatants who quickly took to armed robbery. From checkpoints to road blocks to mass executions to increased police patrols, successive Nigerian governments have tried different measures but nothing seems to work. We need a total overhauling of the security system in Nigeria because what we have is a dysfunctional security apparatus that works only for the rich and influential.
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- Nigerian Soldiers Shoot 43 Prisoners Who Were Sentenced To Death, Getty Images http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/nigerian-soldiers-shoot-43-prisoners-who-were-sentenced-to-news-photo/166202423#nigerian-soldiers-shoot-43-prisoners-who-were-sentenced-to-death-picture-id166202423
- Amnesty International Report https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/172000/afr440101995en.pdf
- 1995: 43 Armed Robbers http://www.executedtoday.com/2014/07/22/1995-43-armed-robbers/
- The Barbaric Punishment: Abolishing The Death Penalty by Hans Goran Franck and Klas Nyman
- 43 Convicted Armed Robbers Are Put To Death In Nigeria, Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1995 http://articles.latimes.com/1995-07-23/news/mn-27074_1_firing-squad-executes-convicts