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Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi (1985 or 1986January 26, 2007) was a Nigerian national convicted of drug trafficking in Singapore in a trial that was described by the United Nations human rights expert, Philip Alston, as failing to meet international legal standard for criminal prosecution.

Drug trafficking carries a mandatory death sentence under Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act, and despite pleas for clemency from Amnesty International, the United Nations, President of Nigeria Olusẹgun Ọbasanjọ as well as other individuals and groups, he was executed by hanging on January 26, 2007 at Changi Prison.

Background

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi was born in Nigeria. He was given to his relatives at the age of 5. He grew up and attended St. Anthony's Mission School in Ohafia, Abia State. In an interview with his lawyer, he stated that his brother dropped out of school to support his father. His mother died a couple of years later.

Having a passion for football, he joined a football club in Senegal and subsequently played for Nigeria in the West African Coca-Cola Cup Championships when he was 14.

Later, he sought to travel to Dubai to pursue his football career. According to the interview with his lawyer, he traveled to Pakistan to secure a visa before going to Dubai, as he was under the impression that a train service travels there; he would later find out that none existed.

He then sought help from St. Andrew's Church in Islamabad, where he was provided refuge. One Sunday, he met a man known as "Mr. Smith," who claimed to be a distant friend. Tochi claimed Mr. Smith gave him pocket money and food and offered to help Tochi obtain a visa in Dubai. However, Tochi could not ultimately obtain the visa because he did not meet the appropriate requirements.

Mr. Smith then asked Tochi for a favor. He wanted him to deliver medicine for a sick friend in Singapore, saying that his friend would meet Tochi at Changi Airport and collect the medicine. . Tochi alleged that Mr. Smith led him to believe that he was delivering African herbs, not the illegal narcotic diamorphine.

Arrest

Tochi was arrested on November 28, 2004, in Changi Airport in Singapore while in transit. Authorities became suspicious after discovering that he had spent more than 24 hours in transit. One hundred capsules of diamorphine were found on him with a total weight of 727.02 grammes (a bit over a pound and a half), estimated by authorities to be worth S$1.5m (US$970,000). Tochi claimed that the capsules he carried were for a friend and insisted they were African herbs that tasted like chocolate. He swallowed a capsule to prove this, and police took him to a local hospital where he was given a laxative to flush the capsule out of his system.

His arrest led to the arrest of another African drug figure, Okeke Nelson Malachy, who was the 'sick friend' of Mr. Smith, to whom Tochi had been instructed to deliver the 'African herbs'. Tochi was waiting for Malachy to arrive from Medan, Indonesia, but Malachy's flight had been delayed.

Malachy denied being part of the conspiracy to import drugs, saying he came to Singapore to look for a second-hand car for use in South Africa. He stated that he was in the garment wholesale business; he did not have any business cards on him at the time of his arrest. He carried a South African passport, but officials believed he was Nigerian. Malachy was subsequently classified as stateless by officials. Later, the Department of Foreign Affairs of South Africa officially denied Malachy's South African citizenship.

Malachy's cellphone records and SIM card showed communication between him and "Mr. Smith", shortly after Malachy's plane from Medan landed at Changi Airport.

Immediately after the arrest, Tochi phoned his brother in Nigeria for help. His brother has not informed their parents as he fears that this might add more burden to them.

Trial

Singapore's law against drug-trafficking is to the effect that if a person is found with more than 2 grams of diamorphine, then the court will presume that he is trafficking, unless it is proved that the drug is not for that purpose. If more than 15 grams of diamorphine is found in his possession, the person faces mandatory death penalty if found guilty. These two aspects of Singapore law, the nonrequirement for proof of mens rea (guilty intention) and mandatory sentencing, have been criticised for being inconsistent with international legal standard. Tochi's lawyers put up a spirited defence. Since the basic element of crime is mens rea, the defence sought to prove that Tochi has no mens rea, that he was just an 18 year-old from a Nigeria village who just wanted to further his career in football and came across Mr. Smith who took advantage of him. More so, there was enough evidence that Tochi was not aware that he was in possession of diamorphine. According to the defence, if Tochi was aware of that, he would have fled when he was notified by the hotel staff that the police was called. He never did, neither did he even attempt to dispose the substances. Rather, he stayed in the transit area of the airport until about 20 minutes later when the police arrived. Thus the conduct of the young lad was consistent with his mistaken belief that he was only in possession of African herbs meant for a sick man as opposed to being in possession of diamorphine.

In his judgement, the trial judge Kan Ting Chiu noted that Tochi might not have known that the capsules contained diamorphine. He wrote that "There was no direct evidence that [Amara Tochi] knew the capsules contained diamorphine. There was nothing to suggest that Smith had told him they contained diamorphine, or that he had found that out of his own." paragraph 42 SGHC 233.

Notwithstanding, Justice Kan found Tochi guilty, stating that "Tochi should have known and therefore he is guilty". Both Tochi and Malachy were sentenced to death.

Appeals

On 16 March 2006, the Court of Appeal upheld the sentences issued by the High Court. The President later denied Tochi's request for clemency.

A letter was sent to his lawyer confirming Tochi's scheduled execution on the 26th January 2007. Additional visits for the condemned man were allowed from the 23rd - 25th January.

M. Ravi, a human rights lawyer, launched an appeal to the international community, visiting countries in Europe and Africa including Nigeria and Germany for support.

On 6 December 2006, CLO (Civil Liberty Organisation, Nigeria) Human rights lawyer Princewill Apakpan travelled to Singapore to conduct interviews with the Nigerian Embassy in Singapore and to meet Tochi in Changi prison. His trip was sponsored by a private human rights activist from Germany. Although carrying his legal appointment from Tochi's family to represent Tochi in all matters, Singapore's prison authorities denied him access to visit Tochi. After two weeks, Princewill returned to Nigeria, where he conducted immediate action to force the Nigerian government (which has failed to show any serious concern) to take immediate action on behalf of its national. A lawsuit was issued against Nigeria's attorney general to force actions. Unfortunately, as a result of the long Christmas and new year holiday season, too much time was lost in the process. President Olusẹgun Ọbasanjọ issued an official appeal only 48 hours prior to the scheduled execution date.

Some activists, including Ravi, maintaining that Tochi was innocent, announced a hunger strike in protest against the execution, beginning at 7am on 25 January 2007, at Singapore's Speaker's Corner, moving to the outside Changi Prison 12 hours later, and continuing until the execution of Tochi at the prison before dawn on the next day.

Execution

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi was executed about 6am at the city-state's Changi Prison, according to Stanley Seah, assistant superintendent at Singapore's Central Narcotics Bureau. Okele Nelson Malachy was executed with him.

As a Catholic, a funeral service was held for him at the Marymount Concent Chapel. During the service, the priest announced that Tochi was crying five minutes before he was executed and ask the priest to pray over him.

Notes

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