Nigeria secretly hanged at least seven prisoners in 2006 despite government statements that there have been no executions in years, human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday.
Amnesty quoted a senior Nigerian representative as telling the United Nations in November that there had been no capital punishment in Africa's most populous country in recent years.
The rights group said it had evidence that seven prisoners convicted in the northern state of Kano had their death warrants signed by the state governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, but were later transferred to prisons in other states where they were hanged.
Federal Justice Minister and Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa declined to comment, while spokesmen for Shekarau and the Kano state government could not immediately be reached.
"The Nigerian government has been misleading the world," Erwin van der Borght, director of Amnesty's Africa Programme, said in a statement.
"They must now come clean on their death penalty record, establish an immediate moratorium on all executions in the country, and fully investigate how something like this could have happened," he said.
Before now, it was widely assumed that no executions had taken place in Nigeria since 2002.
The UN General Assembly is expected to vote on Wednesday to reaffirm the resolution calling for a moratorium on executions, agreed by a committee on 15 November.
Amnesty named two men it said were convicted of armed robbery by a special court set up during military rule before 1999 and executed on May 30, 2006, in the northern state of Kaduna. The group said they were not represented by lawyers during the trial and were never allowed the right to appeal.
Amnesty named another man whom it said was transferred from Kaduna to the central state of Plateau and hanged there two weeks after the other executions.
The group said four other men were hanged in southeastern Enugu state in 2006, though it did not give names or details.
The group quoted the Nigerian representative who spoke to the UN in November as saying that "punishment only comes after exhaustive legal and judicial processes, including recourse to the Supreme Court of the land."
Amnesty says there are 700 prisoners on death row in Nigeria - some of them convicted by sharia courts in the predominantly Muslim north. It says about 200 of them have been awaiting death for over 10 years and some for more than 25 years.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak, who visited Nigerian prisons in March, said he had interviewed several inmates who had been on death row so long that it amounted to psychological torture.Reuse content