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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Trade Unionists Targeted
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Nigeria: Trade Unionists Targeted
Date Distributed (ymd): 950510

Amnesty International
International Secretariat
1 Easton Street
London WC1X 8DJ United Kingdom

NIGERIA: Trade unionists in Nigeria; A state of crisis
AI Index: AFR 73/07/95

Nigerian trade unionists have been the targets of human
rights violations in the past year because they have called
strikes in protest against military rule.  At least four oil
union leaders have been held in incommunicado detention
without charge or trial since August and September 1994.
These detentions have occurred within the context of
political turmoil in Nigeria which reached crisis point in
June 1994.

Political background

Nigeria has spent 24 out of the 34 years since independence
from colonial rule under military governments.   With most
of its economic wealth in the south, armed forces officers
from the mainly Muslim north have retained power over the
last ten years through constant military coups.   The
failure of the present and last military governments to
bring Nigeria back to democracy has brought closer the
collapse of the federation than at any time since the
1967-70 civil war.

Presidential elections in June 1993 were supposed to end
military rule in Nigeria.  However, the military government
of General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the elections which
were widely acknowledged to have been fairly won by Bashorun
(Chief) Moshood K.O. Abiola.  The military government
appointed an interim government to hold fresh presidential
elections.   On 17 November 1993, following widespread
strikes over fuel prices and a High Court ruling that the
interim government was illegal, General Sani Abacha, former
Chief of General Staff and Defence Minister, seized power in
a coup, thereby halting the lengthy and expensive process
begun in the mid-1980s - costing an estimated US $20 million
- of returning Nigeria to civilian rule.  He appointed a
predominantly military Provisional Ruling Council, disbanded
federal and state elected legislative bodies, replaced
elected state governors with military administrators and
banned all political activity.

As the anniversary of the 1993 presidential elections
approached in 1994, the newly-formed National Democratic
Coalition (NADECO), comprising former civilian and military
political leaders as well as pro-democracy activists,
demanded that the military government hand over power to the
elected President by the end of May.   NADECO leaders were
arrested and charged with treason and, after Moshood Abiola
had declared himself the rightful head of state, he too was
arrested and charged with treason; hundreds of pro-democracy
activists were arrested in protests and as many as 200 died
in circumstances suggesting they were victims of unlawful
killings by the security forces.

Amnesty International considers that Moshood Abiola and
others still imprisoned on treason charges to be prisoners
of conscience, held solely on account of their non-violent
political activities, and is calling for their immediate and
unconditional release.  Some of those charged with treason
or treasonable felony have been released to await trial;
Amnesty International believes that they would become
prisoners of conscience if convicted and sentenced to prison
terms, and is calling for the charges against them to be

The oil unions' strike

On 4 July 1994 workers in the oil industry came out on
strike in protest at the arrests of Abiola and NADECO
leaders.  They were soon joined by senior oil staff and
employees in other businesses, mostly in the southwest.
The strike began to disrupt domestic fuel, electricity and
water supplies immediately.  It also caused the closure of
oil refineries and eventually disrupted oil exports;
Nigeria's main foreign currency earner.   The Nigerian
Labour Congress (NLC), representing 40 unions and 3.5
million workers, called a general strike on 3 August which
was called off the next day when the government promised to
release Moshood Abiola.   On 18 August the government
replaced oil union and NLC leaders with appointed
administrators and ordered strikers back to work.   On 28
August the military government of Rivers State announced the
arrest of saboteurs attempting to blow up oil pipelines and
flow stations; 15 people were reportedly detained.   Under
threat of dismissal and without financial backing, the
strike effectively collapsed and on 4 September it was
called off.   Oil union and NLC leaders were later detained.

Many of the government's actions were declared illegal by
the courts.  In response, the government legitimised its
illegal actions against the opposition by issuing eight
backdated decrees on 6 September 1994.  The decrees extended
already draconian powers of detention, formally proscribed
15 newspapers and journals, dissolved the executives of the
oil unions and NLC, and removed the jurisdiction of the
courts to challenge government authority and actions.

The decree removing the jurisdiction of the courts - the
Federal Military Government (Supremacy and Enforcement of
Powers) Decree, No. 12 of 1994 - effectively blocked the
legal challenge by the NLC and oil union executives against
their dismissal by the government: on 23 August Justice
Mamman Kolo in the Federal High Court, Lagos, ordered them
reinstated until their case was heard; on 31 August Justice
Roseline Ukeje said that the dissolution of the union
executives contravened international labour conventions but
on 7 September said she could make no ruling because the
court no longer had jurisdiction.

Another effect of the new decrees was to extend arbitrary
detentions.  Under the State Security (Detention of Persons)
Decree, No. 2 of 1984, as amended in September 1994 by
Decree No. 11 of 1994, the Chief of General Staff and - now
in addition - the Inspector General of Police may order the
detention without charge or trial of any person considered a
threat to the security of the state for an initial period of
three months - doubled from a previous maximum of six weeks.

There has never been any legal requirement for this initial
period to be followed by any independent or judicial review
of the detention, and military governments have routinely
treated the initial period as indefinitely renewable,
detaining people incommunicado for months or years without
charge or trial.   Although such detentions are "legal",
they remain arbitrary in that they allow no formal procedure
for challenging them through the courts and, as such, are
incompatible with Nigeria's international human rights
commitments.  A further measure which removes the most
fundamental protection against arbitrary detention, habeas
corpus, was introduced in a new decree.  The decree, which
lawyers first learned about on 29 November, prevents the
courts from ordering detainees to be produced before them or
from challenging detentions by the security forces.

Since June 1994 hundreds of demonstrators and protestors
have been arrested in sporadic demonstrations and clashes
with police, and it is estimated that as many as 200 may
have been shot dead by the security forces.   Many of those
arrested are believed to have been released, but there have
been no investigations into the circumstances in which
protestors have been killed.  Arrests and detentions of
pro-democracy and human rights activists have continued
sporadically, with some being held for a few days before
being released uncharged.   Most of those arrested are being
held in administrative detention under the 1984 State
Security Decree, although some have been charged with
offences and released to await trial.

Several trade union leaders are being held in incommunicado
detention without charge or trial because of their
involvement in the strikes.   Chief Frank Ovie Kokori,
Secretary General of the National Union of Petroleum and
Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), was arrested in Lagos on 20
August, refused necessary medication and transferred to
detention in Abuja.   The Nigerian authorities have
confirmed that he is being detained, however, his current
whereabouts are unknown.  On 24 August Olu Aderibigbe,
Chairman of the Edo State branch of the Nigerian Labour
Congress (NLC) was arrested in Benin City.   Also reported
to have been detained were Francis A. Addo, a Vice-President
of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of
Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and Chairman of the Port Harcourt branch
of PENGASSAN and Fidelis Aidelomon, Chairman of the
PENGASSAN branch of the Pipeline and Products Marketing
Company, in August, and Wariebi Kojo Agamene, President of
NUPENG, in September.   NUPENG officials in Port Harcourt
are also reported to have been detained: Chief Amadi, G.A.B.
Paschal and Akpabi Okorowanta.

On 28 September Justice C.O. Idahosa, in the High Court in
Benin City, ordered the release of Olu Aderibigbe and 30
other detainees.  Olu Aderibigbe has since been released.

In December 1994 Amnesty International delegates visiting
Nigeria were refused access to visit the four trade
unionists and other prisoners of conscience.  Their place of
detention still has not been disclosed by the authorities.

On 1 May 1995, Frank Ovie Kokori, Francis A Addo, Fidelis
Aidelomon and Wariebi Kojo Agamene will have been held
without charge or trial for at least eight months.

AI is calling on the Nigerian government to:

* Ensure no individual is imprisoned solely for their
peaceful trade union activities;
* Either to release Frank Ovie Kokori, Francis A Addo,
Fidelis Aidelomon and Wariebi Kojo Agamene, or to give them
a fair trial immediately;
* Give assurances of the detainees' physical safety and
guarantee that they are not being subjected to torture or
* Make the whereabouts of the detainees in custody public
and grant immediate and regular access to their families,
legal counsel and any necessary medical attention;
* Hold the detainees in conditions which conform to the UN
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

For more information please contact the Amnesty
International section in your country or Amnesty
International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street,
London WC1X 8DJ United Kingdom  (Tel +44-171-413-5500, Fax
+44-171-956-1157).  Basic information on Amnesty
International is available by sending a blank email message
to Email contact for Amnesty
International USA is

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by
the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary
objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States
around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by
concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant
information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups
and individuals.  APIC is affiliated with the Washington
Office on Africa (WOA), a not-for-profit church, trade union
and civil rights group supported organization that works
with Congress on Africa-related legislation.


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