HC Deb 09 July 1923 vol 166 cc896-9
9. Mr. WEBB

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is now in a position to inform the House as to the circumstances under which 14 persons were hanged in public at Oron, Calabar, and 12 hanged at Calabar; whether these persons were allowed counsel at their trial and found guilty by a jury; whether the execution of these sentences was specifically sanctioned by the officer administering the government in Executive Council in accordance with the Colonial Regulations; whether the practice of executions in public is approved by the Government; and what directions have been given to Governors of non-responsible-government Colonies with regard to the carrying out of capital sentences for the future?


Eighteen murderers were hanged in public at Oron, in the Eket district of the Calabar Province, in April, 1919, namely, eight on the 22nd of April and 10 on the 23rd. The Eket district was at the end of 1918 in a very unsettled state following the influenza epidemic, which was attributed to witchcraft, and a large number of murders had taken place. Early in 1919 a military patrol was despatched to the district, order was restored, and many persons suspected of being concerned in the murders were arrested. Sixty-three were tried in the provincial court of the Calabar Province by the Resident or by the District Officer, sitting with native assessors, and as a result 51 were convicted of murder or offences connected with the murders. I will circulate the remainder of the answer in the OFFICIAL REPORT.


Were these natives allowed to be represented by counsel at the trial, and were they tried by a jury? Why is it that the Colonial Office is unaware of these things?


I gather that the only Report we then had was considered sufficient. It was a report from the Colony on the subject, dealing with it generally, and not in detail. We have since got a detailed Report which was asked for later. I understand that there is no trial by jury system in that part of Nigeria.


What about counsel?


I do not think counsel were so employed, so far as I can gather.


Is it not a fact that, unless these executions in witchcraft cases take place in public, the natives refuse to believe that the witch doctors have been killed?


Cases of that kind have arisen, particularly in the heart of tropical Africa. The natives often believe that somebody else is substituted.


Were these men prevented from employing counsel?


I do not think so. The question was as to whether they had counsel in this particular case.

Following is the remainder of the answer:

Twenty were sentenced to death for murder, but, in the case of two, the officer administering the Government in Executive Council commuted the death sentence. Counsel and juries are not employed in Nigerian Provincial Courts for reasons which are fully explained in Sir Frederick Lugard's Report on the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria (Command 468, page 23), but in all these 18 cases the death sentences were confirmed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria after reviewing the proceedings at the trials, and were specifically sanctioned by the officer administering the Government in Executive Council after each case had been separately considered. The form of order for execution in use in Nigeria provides that the condemned person shall be executed at a time and place to be appointed by the Resident of the Province. The Resident ordered that the executions should take place at Oron, which had been the scene of so many murders, and as there is no prison there the executions took place in public, a special scaffold being erected for the purpose. In any case it was desirable to hang these murderers with some publicity in order to convince the primitive natives of the locality that they had been executed, and had not escaped punishment by the exercise of magical powers. The Nigerian Government has now issued instructions that no execution shall be carried out in public in future without the express sanction of the Governor. The normal practice in the Colonies is to execute capital sentences in the prisons and no special directions are considered necessary. As regards executions at Calabar, seven murderers were hanged there on 29th May, 1919, and nine more on the following day. I can ask for a special Report on those executions if the hon. Member so desires, but it is probable that they were carried out in the prison in the normal way.

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