WORLD REPORT 1997 - Nigeria

Human Rights Developments

Nigeria=s human rights record failed to improve during 1996, despite international pressure on the military government of Gen. Sani Abacha following the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni rights activists on November 10, 1995. Political detentions, restrictions on freedom of expression and association, torture and summary executions, interference in the judicial process, appalling prison conditions, and other human rights violations continued, without noticeable efforts to check such abuses.

In January, military decrees formalized the Atransition program@ announced by head of state Gen. Sani Abacha on October 1, 1995, and local government elections were held in March 1996 on a Azero party@ basis. However, the elections were so compromised by executive interference that they could not be counted as a step forward. Guidelines for the registration of political parties published in June appeared designed to prevent any party from successfully fulfilling the stated criteria. Meanwhile, the presumed winner of the annulled 1993 elections, Chief Moshood K.O. Abiola, passed his second year in detention. On June 4, Kudirat Abiola, Chief Abiola=s senior wife and most prominent campaigner on his behalf was assassinated in Lagos by unidentified gunmen presumed by most people to be acting on behalf of the government. Those convicted in 1995 of involvement in an alleged coup plot, including journalists and pro-democracy campaigners who had commented on the allegations, also remained incarcerated.

The decrees promulgated by successive military governments suspending constitutional guarantees of human rights, allowing detention without trial, and criminalizing criticism of the government or its policies, remained in force during 1996. The Transition to Civil Rule (Political Programme) Decree 1 of 1996 made it an offense to Amisrepresent, accuse or distort@ the transition program. Although the government lifted a controversial 1994 decree that suspended the operation of habeas corpus in case of detentions under the notorious Decree 2 of 1984, the courts remained barred from inquiring into the legality of detentions under Decree 2 or examining government actions under numerous other decrees. Other supposed reforms, including the appointment of a national human rights commission, the institution of a review panel to consider detentions on security grounds, and the restoration of a right to appeal in certain cases held before special tribunals appeared to be purely cosmetic and had no effect in practice.

Harassment of opposition activists remained severe, despite the nominal lifting of all restrictions on political activity by a fresh program for the restoration of civilian rule. Threats of violence were made against numerous activists, while other activists in Nigeria and in exile in Europe and the United States suffered attacks on their property, including arson, vandalism, and robbery. Many opposition and human rights activists were detained, for long or short periods, among them Frank Ovie Kokori, secretary-general of NUPENG (the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers), held since August 1994 and still in detention in October 1996. Some long-standing detainees were released during the year, including Chima Ubani, secretary-general of Democratic Alternative and a staff member of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Abdul Oroh, executive director of the CLO, and Tunji Abayomi of Human Rights Africa, all held for one year or more. Family members of opponents of the military regime were also targeted: in several cases children were believed to have been arrested in the hope that their parents would attempt to get them released, and thus expose themselves to arrest. Travel documents were confiscated from a number of human rights and opposition activists. Meetings and rallies were routinely disrupted by the security services.

Other pro-democracy activists and journalists remained in prison, following their convictions in 1995 before a special tribunal of involvement in an allegedCbut widely suspected to be inventedCcoup plot. The arrests followed their publication of information relating to the alleged plot and the trial of the military personnel accused of involvement. They included Beko Ransome-Kuti, chair of the Campaign for Democracy, and journalists Christine Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah and Ben Charles-Obi. Among the military and former military officers convicted in the trial were former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy Musa Shehu Yar=Adua.

Although one of the strongest in Africa, the independent press remained under threat of government interference and harassment. In addition to frequent detentions and other persecution of journalists, newspaper offices suffered a number of arson attempts. In February, Alex Ibru, publisher of the independent newspaper The Guardian, survived an assassination attempt. Journalists with the foreign media were also targeted: in January, London Financial Times correspondent Paul Adams was detained for a week; in February, BBC World Service correspondent Hilary Anderson was detained overnight; and in July, a reporter for the Middle East News Agency was detained for a week. The broadcast media remained under virtual government monopoly, although an opposition radio station, ARadio Kudirat Nigeria,@ began broadcasting on short wave from outside the country on June 12, the anniversary of the 1993 elections.

Union activities continued to be restricted, in particular in the oil sector and on university campuses. In May, the federal Ministry of Education announced that the activities at the national level of unions at Nigerian universities, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), were banned, although chapters on individual campuses could continue to function. In August, ASUU and two other university unions were banned outright, and their assets confiscated. A number of ASUU members were detained at different times and meetings disrupted.

Nigerian citizens not involved in politics also continued to face a consistent pattern of human rights violations. Summary executions and torture by the security forces remained routine, while notoriously bad prison conditions failed to improve. Traders occupying markets constructed (with the permission of the local authorities) under or near highway flyovers in Lagos were removed by the security forces, with excessive force and without due process.

In Ogoniland, home of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), of which Ken Saro-Wiwa was leader before his execution in November 1995, repression continued during 1996. On January 4, three people were killed by security forces firing on crowds of Ogonis celebrating AOgoni Day.@ At least fifty Ogonis were detained following the celebrations. Others were detained around the visit of a fact-finding team appointed by the U.N. secretary-general in April and in other raids during the year. Meetings of MOSOP were disrupted, and activistsCincluding Ledum Mitee, the deputy president of MOSOP, who was acquitted of murder charges in the trial before a special tribunal leading to the execution of Saro-Wiwa and eight othersCwere harassed. Nineteen Ogonis remained in prison facing charges of murder before a special tribunal in connection with the same facts as those for which the Ogoni Nine were executed. The authorities showed no signs of actually bringing them to trial. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported in March that around 1,000 Ogonis had crossed the border to Benin; by September 600 Ogonis had been registered as refugees in Benin, and 400 still awaited interviews.

The Right to Monitor

Nigeria=s numerous and sophisticated human rights groups continued their activities of monitoring, advocacy and education throughout the year, despite routine harassment by the authorities. Seminars on human rights sponsored by the CLO, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, the Constitutional Rights Project (CRP), the Third World Forum, the Southern Minorities Movement and other groups were disrupted or prevented during the year by members of the state security services. Human rights activists were detained on numerous occasions; others were prevented from traveling abroad to attend the meetings of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights or other important meetings. Olisa Agbakoba, former president of the CLO, Ayo Obe, current president of the CLO, and Tunde Olugboji, project officer with the CRP, all had their passports confiscated during the year as they tried to leave Lagos to attend U.N. meetings. In November, Human Rights Watch honored Anyakwee Nsirimovu, the executive director of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at their annual human rights monitors ceremony for his work in eastern Nigeria.

The Role of the International Community

The November 10, 1995 executions of the Ogoni Nine caused a huge outcry from the international community. Sanctions put in place at the time of the annulment of the 1993 elections and the military coup which followed were strengthened and Nigeria was isolated to an unprecedented degree. Nevertheless, international attention on Nigeria lessened during 1996, as Nigeria=s major trading partners returned to protecting their short-term economic interests at the expense of human rights issues. The military government=s strategy of continuing to promise a Atransition@ to civilian rule appeared to be successful in fending off serious action against it.

United Nations

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on Nigeria on December 22, 1995, in which it condemned the executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the others, welcomed the steps taken by the Commonwealth, and expressed Athe hope that these actions and other possible actions by other States@ would encourage Nigeria to restore democratic rule, thus (unusually) encouraging member states to impose their own sanctions even without Security Council action.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on April 22, in which it requested two thematic special rapporteurs (on the independence of judges and lawyers and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions) to submit a report on Nigeria at the next session of the Commission in 1997 and an interim report to the U.N. General Assembly meeting in late 1996. In October, the Nigerian government agreed to allow the two special rapporteurs to visit Nigeria at the end of November. However, a paragraph calling for the appointment of a special rapporteur on Nigeria, proposed by the member states of the European Union and supported by the U.S., was not adopted, largely because of the failure of African countries to support the measure. In March and April, a fact-finding mission sent by the U.N. secretary-general visited Nigeria and reported on the trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogonis, as well as on progress toward the restoration of civilian rule. The report condemned the violations of due process during the trial, and recommended that compensation be paid to the families of those executed. The team also recommended a series of Aconfidence building measures@ including the release of political detainees.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee, monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), found severe violations of the ICCPR by Nigeria in April and July, on considering Nigeria=s first report submitted to the committee in accordance with the terms of the covenant. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considered and denounced a number of cases of detention without trial in Nigeria. Different organs of the International Labour Organization conference also adopted resolutions condemning Nigeria=s violations of the right to freedom of association. No action has been taken against Nigeria at Security Council level.

European Union

All European Union member states recalled their ambassadors for consultation following the executions. By Common Positions of the Council of the European Union dated November 20, 1995 and December 4, 1995, European Union member states agreed to impose visa restrictions on members (including civilians) of the Nigerian Provisional Ruling Council and the Federal Executive Council and their families (in addition to members of the Nigerian military and security forces and their families, on whom restrictions were imposed in 1993); to expel all military personnel attached to the diplomatic missions of Nigeria in member states and to withdraw all military personnel attached to diplomatic missions of E.U. members in Nigeria; to deny visas to official delegations in the field of sports and to national teams; to introduce a prospective embargo on arms, munitions and military equipment (allowing existing contracts to be fulfilled); and to suspend development cooperation except to projects through nongovernmental organizations and local civilian authorities. These sanctions were extended in June, without discussion, and were to be reconsidered and extended or modified in November. Nigeria=s major European trading partners, including Britain, were opposed to further measures.

The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that was taking place in Auckland, New Zealand at the time of the executions immediately demonstrated its outrage by suspending Nigeria from the Commonwealth, the first time that this step had been taken. Nigeria was given two years to comply with the terms of the Commonwealth=s Harare Declaration, which committed Commonwealth members to democratic governance, failing which it would face expulsion. At the same meeting CHOGM adopted the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, which included a commitment to take measures in response to violations of the Harare principles. A Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was appointed to deal with persistent violations, which committed itself to examining, in the first instance, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gambia, the three Commonwealth countries without democratically elected governments at that time.

On April 23, following its second meeting, CMAG recommended various measures for implementation by Commonwealth members with regard to Nigeria, including visa restrictions on and denial of educational facilities to members of the Nigerian regime and their families, withdrawal of military attachés and cessation of military training, an embargo on the export of arms, a visa-based ban on sporting contacts, and the downgrading of diplomatic and cultural links. At a further meeting on June 24-25, however, the imposition of the sanctions agreed upon in April, which had been delayed to give Nigeria time to engage in dialogue with CMAG about its human rights record, was further postponed, although existing measures consequent on Nigeria=s suspension from the Commonwealth remained in place. In September, CMAG met again and announced that a fact-finding missionCwhich had previously been blocked by the Nigerian governmentCwould travel to Nigeria as soon as possible. No further sanctions would be imposed in the meantime. No guarantees were obtained that the fact-finding mission would be able to visit political detainees.

Organization of African Unity

African countries were in general reluctant to condemn Nigeria=s human rights record in strong terms. In December 1995, OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim spoke against the response of the international community to the hangings of the Ogoni Nine, stating that, although the OAU would like to see a democratic Nigeria, with greater respect for human rights, Awe do not subscribe to the campaign to isolate Nigeria. ... We would not want anything to be done which would have the effect of destabilizing Nigeria.@

West African states, including Ghana, Niger, Senegal and the Gambia, indicated their support for Nigeria against Athreats to its sovereignty@ from the condemnation surrounding the November 10, 1995 executions. Southern African states, meeting at a summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in December 1995, also failed to take measures against Nigeria. The proposal for the appointment of a U.N. special rapporteur on Nigeria, included in the draft resolution submitted by E.U. member states to the 1996 meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, was not supported by most of the African delegates and had to be deleted before the resolution could be adopted.

At the CHOGM meeting in New Zealand in November 1995, South Africa led the call for strong action against Nigeria. South Africa became less outspoken in 1996, failing, for example, to support the proposal at the 1996 U.N. Commission on Human Rights meeting for the appointment of a special rapporteur on Nigeria. In July, President Mandela, speaking ahead of the OAU summit in Yaounde, Cameroon, acknowledged that AAfrica is not speaking with one voice,@ and indicated that he had Areceived representations from countries in West Africa as well as from [U.N. Secretary-General] Boutros Boutros-Ghali,@ who had reminded him that ANigeria is responsible for law and order in Sierra Leone and Liberia,@ as it contributes the largest contingent of troops to the West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG (the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) in Liberia.

On December 18 and 19, 1995, at the insistence of Nigerian and international nongovernmental organizations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples= Rights (an organ of the OAU) held its second ever extraordinary session at Kampala, Uganda, in order to consider the human rights situation in Nigeria. The commission had been amongst those bodies pleading for clemency in the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his codefendants after the death sentences were passed. The commission also resolved to send a fact-finding mission to Nigeria. Dates for the mission originally agreed with the Nigerian government for February fell through and by October no alternative dates had been set.

United States

The United States also responded to the executions by recalling its ambassador, Walter Carrington, for consultation. In addition, it extended pre-existing restrictions on military links (which included the termination in July 1993 of all military assistance and training) by banning the sale and repair of military goods. It extended a pre-existing ban on the issue of visas to senior military officers and senior government officials and their families to cover Aall military officers and civilians who actively formulate, implement or benefit from policies that impede Nigeria=s transition to democracy@; and introduced a requirement that Nigerian government officials visiting the U.N. or international financial institutions in the U.S. remain within twenty-five miles of those organizations. It also stated it would begin consultations immediately on appropriate U.N. measures. The U.S. government also cut the USAID budget, while reprogramming all USAID assistance exclusively through the nongovernmental sector.

In 1996, however, the U.S. like other countries was stronger on rhetoric than action. While the U.S. issued strong statements condemning military rule and human rights violations, no further concrete measures were adopted. In June, Assistant Secretary John Shattuck visited Nigeria and noted Aa steady deterioration in the human rights situation in Nigeria since 1993.@ Like the E.U., the United States publicly stated that all possible measures against Nigeria, without exclusion, were still under consideration; but no steps were announced by the administration to put these statements into effect.