For 14 years, an innocent family of three including an 86-year-old man had to wait in uncertainty and fear as they served a life sentence for a crime they never committed.
Azubuije Ehirio, 86; his son, Ehiodo Azubuije, 33; and cousin, Ngozi Onyekwere were sentenced to death in 2005 but the Nigeria Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion found them no longer guilty of murder that was levelled against them.
Another interesting detail is the revelation that, had this Committee not been instituted, they would have languished in prison for life especially because the family lacked the adequate financial muscle to appeal the sentence slapped on them by an Abia State High Court.
The prisoners are to be released unconditionally following their incarceration at the Enugu Maximum Prisons.
In his order, the Chairman of the Committee, Justice Ishaq Bello said after reviewing the circumstances that led to their incarceration and subsequent conviction, the committee was convinced that they needed to be set free.
When their case was called, the octogenarian Azubuije Ehirio told the court that they were unjustly convicted by the court and could not appeal the case because they did not have the money to do so.
Ehirio had had a dispute with a member of his community who had attempted to take his ancestral land from him. Later, an armed robbery on the house of the man he had the disputed with led to the killing of the man’s son.
It was this incident that prompted the man, who only gave his name as Emeka, to accuse him and subsequently have him arrested.
“My son, who was living in Port Harcourt at the time, heard that I was arrested by the police and came back. The man also called for the arrest of my son, along with my cousin,” Ehirio stated.
Justice Bello, in reading his release judgment, told Ehirio: “You should be grateful to God and remain of good behavior and never engage in any form of dispute again.”
Also, the Committee gave each of the former inmates N10,000 as transport fare to their community.
Although the law still exists, the death sentence is not often carried out in Nigeria and other parts of Africa with rights groups like Amnesty International still campaigning for the death penalty to be abolished.
However, Nigeria executed seven people who were on death row between 2007 and 2017.