Nigerian national set to be hanged at dawn tomorrow for trafficking of Cannabis after Apex Court dismisses last ditch appeal

Chijoke Stephan Obioha, a Nigerian graduate who first came to Singapore for a football trial, is set to be hung at dawn tomorrow after the Court of Appeal dismissed an Urgent Criminal Motion filed by his lawyer, Mr Joseph Chen. Chijoke was first arrested in 2007 and sentenced to the Mandatory Death Penalty in 2008 after being found guilty of trafficking more than 2kg of Cannabis

His execution tomorrow will bring and end to what the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign member Mr Ravi calls ‘possibly the longest delay between sentencing and execution.’ Chijoke has spent almost 8 years on death row and more than 9 years behind bars. The contention that arose from the urgent criminal motion that the Court of Appeal heard at 5pm earlier today was whether the ‘unprecedented mental anguish’ Chijoke experienced contravened Article 9(1) of the Constitution in so far as it amounted to cruel and inhumane treatment.

Chijoke, a Nigerian Graduate who first came to Singapore for a football trial, is set to be hung at dawn tomorrow.
Chijoke, a Nigerian Graduate who first came to Singapore for a football trial, is set to be hung at dawn tomorrow.

Mr Ravi who also recently wrote a piece which argued that the ‘unprecedented mental anguish’ that Chijoke experienced in his 8 years on death row amounted to a ‘violation of human rights’ in itself. He stated that, to his knowledge, the delay in Chijoke’s execution is ‘possibly the longest in Singapore’s history.’ In addition to International Human Rights instruments, he also cites the Privy Council Case of Pratt and Morgan v Attorney-General for Jamaica, where it was held that ‘the delay of 5 years and 6 months which had elapsed since an accused’s conviction amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and breached his constitutional right not to be deprived of life.’

Mr Ravi, who is assisting Mr Joseph with the research for the case, shared that Singapore’s Apex Court had dismissed the motion in a Facebook post. The post was published at 7pm, about 2 hours after the Court begun to hear the case. The Judges dismissed the appeal, ruling that the issues had already been settled in the case of Yong Vui Kong, Mr Ravi’s client.

“The court of appeal has dismissed Chijioke’s constitutional challenge on the ground that Article 9(1) of Singapore’s constitution does not prohibit cruel and inhuman punishment and degrading treatment as previously held in the case of Yong Vui Kong in 2010. The court was not prepared to review its previous decision despite changes to the mandatory death penalty regime in 2012 and failed to consider the evolving standards of customary international law that prohibit cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment. We have to live with another judgement that says that the Singapore constitution allows cruel and inhumane punishment and degrading treatment.

Mr Ravi also noted that the Court questioned Mr Joseph on why the application was made at the 11th hour. This is despite the fact that the Mr Chen was only instructed yesterday and the case was only brought to the attention of the local Anti-Death Penalty groups last week.

What was most disturbing was despite the court having put on notice that Chijioke’s counsel was only instructed yesterday, The court repeatedly kept asking why this application was made at the 11th hour.”

His imminent execution drew condemnation from International Organizations and local civil society groups. As this article went to press, the United Nations, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the European UnionAmnesty International, Think Center, We Believe in Second Chances and the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign, to name a few, have all released statements calling for the Singapore Government to halt his execution. Most, if not all, statements raise the issue of the unprecedented amount of time spent on death row and the fact that Chijoke had consistently maintained his innocence – to the point that he initially turned down a chance for re-sentencing for fear that it may be perceived as an admission of guilt. Some have also raised the issue of Chijoke being executed for Marijuana – a substance that is being legalised, for both medicinal and recreational purposes, in many cities and countries around the world.

The United Nations

Under international law, the death penalty may only be used for “the most serious crimes” which has been interpreted to mean only crimes involving intentional killing. Drug-related offences do not fall under the threshold of “most serious crimes”. Furthermore, under domestic law, the death penalty is not mandatory for drug-related offences.

“The death penalty is not an effective deterrent relative to other forms of punishment nor does it protect people from drug abuse,” said Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative of the UN Human Rights Office. “The focus of drug-related crime prevention should involve strengthening the justice system and making it more effective.”

The European Union

The EU, Norway and Switzerland hold a principled position against the death penalty and are opposed to the use of capital punishment under any circumstances. The death penalty has not been shown in any way to act as a deterrent to crime. Furthermore, any errors – inevitable in any legal system – are irreversible. The EU, Norway and Switzerland will continue in their pursuit of the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

FIDH

FIDH, a member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP), reiterates its strong opposition to the death penalty for all crimes and in all circumstances. FIDH calls on the Singaporean government to reinstate the moratorium on executions that was lifted in July 2014, and to make progress towards the abolition of capital punishment for all crimes. FIDH also urges Singapore to vote in favor of the upcoming UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution – due to be voted on in December 2016 – that calls for a moratorium on executions.

SADPC

“Following legal advice that he would not qualify as a “courier” under the amended laws, Chijioke withdrew his application. This led to the lifting of the stay of execution on 24 October 2016 and the setting of the execution date. His family has also been informed on 16 November 2016, two days before his scheduled execution, that his second clemency petition has been rejected by the State. They have been unable to make their way to Singapore over the years and are heartbroken by the news.”

We Believe in Second Chances

“We also note that Chijioke has endured a very long period of 9 years in prison, much of it on death row. He is very far away from home, and has not been able to see his family in this time. We understand that death row inmates are kept in their cells for 23 hours a day, with only about a hour of ‘yard time’. We cannot underestimate the extreme psychological toll of being stuck on death row, facing imminent execution in such conditions.”

Chijoke’s family, who have not been able to visit him since 2007, will not be in Singapore to collect his remains tomorrow. His younger brother shares the ordeals his family members went through during Chijoke’s incarceration.

Chijioke Stephen Obioha is like a twin to me even though he is my elder brother. A whole part of the family has been missing since that date in 2007. He is a brother among all my brothers that loves to help, makes sure people around him are fine and would help as much as he can to assist friends and family.

Hard working and industrious, our family miss that brother, son and uncle who always love to see our family united and happy. Educated brother and skilful in playing soccer, which was one of his dreams in Singapore. It was an unforgettable shock for the family to hear of his link to such case. I have always been in constant contact with him since his stay in prison and he has always kept to his stance of innocence.

A lot of both financial and physical effort has been made by our family towards his defence in previous years but due to lack of fund and restricted access to Singapore, it was difficult to carry on with his desire towards a defence lawyer. He carried on with a lot of government appointed defence council even though he was not satisfied with their efforts and we, the family, were not satisfied as well with the level of communication between us and his defence team. We were put in the dark for a very long while. We resorted to the voice of the public via Amnesty international, which I contacted from United Kingdom. My brother deserves to live. His life is precious to us.”