LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A man condemned to hang when he was 16 because of confessions extracted under torture has been pardoned after 10 years on death row, Nigerian and international human rights activists said Monday.
The rights groups, who say his sentencing was illegal, describe his case as one of many examples of the injustices visited on Nigerians by a system tainted by corruption.
Nigeria's new President Muhammadu Buhari, who was inaugurated Friday, has promised to reform the justice system.
In response to the campaign by the human rights groups, Delta State Gov. Emmanuel Uduaghan signed a pardon for Moses Akatugba and three other death row inmates as one of his final acts before leaving office last week.
"Moses Akatugba has been living each day of his life in prison under trauma and agony ... expecting the hangman's visit," Justine Ijeomah, executive director of Nigeria's Human Rights, Social Development and Environmental Foundation, wrote in one of many letters over months of campaigning.
Together with London-based Amnesty International, activists gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures requesting the victim's freedom.
Akatugba was a schoolboy when soldiers arrested him for allegedly stealing three cellphones. He was delivered to police officers who tortured him, including tearing out his finger and toe nails with pliers, until he signed confessions admitting to armed robbery, the activists said.
Armed robbery carries a mandatory death sentence in Nigeria, but minors are supposed to be exempt. Police often use torture to extract confessions which are used in courts despite laws prohibiting both, according to the latest U.S. State Department report on human rights in Nigeria. Torture in prisons also is common, it said.
More than 1,500 people are on death row in Nigeria, including juvenile offenders, according to Amnesty International. In 2013, Nigeria resumed executions despite an official moratorium and hanged five people.
"Nigerian governors should commute the death sentences of all death row prisoners ... including many who are at imminent risk of execution after similarly flawed criminal investigations," said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International's Africa director.
Ijeomah said she is traveling to Port Harcourt, the Delta state capital, to complete formalities for Akatugba's release, hoped for later this week.