Nigeria condemns man to death in country’s first-ever virtual ruling

Lagos State Judiciary with the Ministry of Justice records the first virtual court session to deliver the judgment in a murder case. PHOTO: TWITTER/Gawat Jubril A.

A Nigerian man was sentenced to death on Monday in the country’s first-ever virtual court ruling.

The ruling, made during the state’s coronavirus lockdown, saw Olalekan Hameed, a driver, sentenced to death by hanging for the 2018 murder of 76-year-old Jolasun Okunsanya, the mother of his employer.

All parties to the case, including the accused, lawyers, witnesses and journalists, took part in the session from different locations via the cloud-based video conferencing service, Zoom.

Hameed, first arraigned in court on March 6, 2019, was found guilty of charges of stealing and murder leveled against him by the Lagos State government. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and his trial subsequently began.

The virtual court sitting at Ikeja High Court was part of the social distancing measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Lagos has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria accounting for about 42 percent of the 2,950 infections so far.

“The case is clear. I have not found any contradiction with the evidence of the prosecution witness that can be deemed material or weighty enough to cast any doubt on the case of the prosecution against the defendant in this case. The facts of the case are incompatible with the innocence of the defendant but rather his guilt on the two counts,” Judge Mojisola Dada, who delivered the ruling, said.

State governors must authorise death sentences before they can be carried out, according to Nigerian law.

Nigeria has been under pressure from local and international human rights groups to abolish the death penalty.

Amnesty International said that the number of confirmed death sentences handed down in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 53% from 2018 to 2019 with Nigeria being among the 10 countries which recorded increases.

According to Amnesty, at the end of 2019, at least 5,731 people were known to be on death row in sub-Saharan Africa, with Kenya and Nigeria accounting for 65% of that total.