Author:Keenan, Jillian

NO ONE WARNED ThankGod Ebhos that he was going to die that night, but he knew without words. For 19 years, as he suffered on death row in Nigeria's notorious Benin Prison for the crime of armed robbery, Ebhos had waited for this moment. So when the sound of his cell door opening awoke him from a restless sleep on June 24, 2013, the smell of freshly oiled gallows told him what the prison guards did not.

Without a word, the guards forced Ebhos and four others out. All were set to die that night. Since he was No. 5, he watched as, one by one, each of the men before him gasped for life and died at the end of the executioner's rope. (The prisoners were killed despite the fact that each had an appeal pending at the time.) When Ebhos was up, the guards put a black bag over his face, chained his hands behind his back, and tied a bag of sand to his feet. They put the noose around his neck.

Then someone spotted a clerical error.

Unable to see through the black fabric, the rope still wrapped around his throat, he listened as the prison guards squabbled over the problem: Ebhos had been sentenced to die by firing squad, not hanging.

After long minutes, the execution was postponed. "They removed the rope from my neck, but I never knew that I was still alive," he says. "Even now, talking to you, it seems I am dreaming."

Nigeria's death penalty has always been terrifying, and it is poised to get even worse. In 2017, the Senate approved death sentences for kidnapping--expanding the list of capital crimes that, like ThankGod Ebhos' robbery, do not involve murder.

"Nigeria is the 'bad guy' of West Africa at the moment," says Oluwatosin Popoola, a lawyer and death penalty adviser for Amnesty International. "It seems politicians in the country feel the death penalty is the solution to all problems."

There is even growing support in Nigeria to impose death sentences for speech "crimes." A new bill, which seeks to impose "death by hanging" on people found guilty of any form of hate speech that allegedly results in someone's death, just passed its second reading in the Senate. (The bill would also punish ethnic or racial harassment with a five-year jail term or a fine of 10 million naira, equal to about 27,800 U.S. dollars.)

But other West African nations have been moving away from the death penalty in recent years. In February, Gambian president Adama Barrow announced an...

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