news analysis advocacy
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Print this page

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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: HRW Letter (Excerpts)
Any links to other sites in this file from 1996 are not clickable,
given the difficulty in maintaining up-to-date links in old files.
However, we hope they may still provide leads for your research.
Nigeria: HRW Letter (Excerpts)
Date Distributed (ymd): 960523

1522 K St., NW Washington, DC 20009
Telephone: (202) 371-6592; Facsmile: (202) 371-0124

Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director
Janet Fleischman, Washington Director

[Note: the text below is slightly abridged.
The full text can be found at:]

May 10,1996

General Sani Abacha
Chairman, Provisional Ruling Council
State House, Abuja, Federal Capital Territory

Dear General Abacha:

I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch/Africa to protest
the continuing detention of human rights and pro-democracy
activists in Nigeria. Despite the international outcry
surrounding the executions of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other
Ogoni activists last November the Nigerian military government
has persisted in flagrant violations of the human rights of
Nigerian citizens. Most recently, the wife of detained
presidential candidate Moshood Abiola, was arrested and
charged on 8 May with conspiracy, apparently only as a result
of her public activities campaigning for his release.

The State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984
has been repeatedly condemned by international observers,
including the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. In
1993, the Working Group declared a number of detentions
carried out under the decree to be arbitrary, and requested
the government of Nigeria to bring its laws into conformity
with the provisions and principles incorporated in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. ...

Particularly objectionable amongst the provisions of Decree No
2 are the following: a detainee has no right to be informed of
the reasons for his or her detention; he or she has no right
of access to family, lawyers or private medical treatment;
detention orders are renewable, thus permitting indefinite
detention on grounds of "state security" without charge or
trial; the courts' jurisdiction to review detention orders has
been ousted, so that no civil proceedings may be brought in
respect of anything done in terms of the decree, nor may the
constitutionality of any action be inquired into by any court.

Even where individuals face damages for what appear to be
normal criminal offences, many have been tried in military
tribunals whose procedures fall far short of international
standards of due process. Most notoriously, in November 1995,
a special tribunal convicted of murder and sentenced to death
Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other supporters of the Movement for
the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). ...

In April of this year, the UN Human Rights Committee ... ruled
that, by establishing special tribunals that exclude free
choice of lawyers or provisions for appeals, by allowing
indefinite detention, and by not investigating allegations of
torture and ill treatment, Nigeria is in violation of the
ICCPR. The Committee urgently recommended that Nigeria
immediately suspend all decrees establishing special tribunals
or otherwise abrogating fundamental rights. ...


Gani Fawehinmi

Chief Gani Fawehinmi is one of Nigeria's best known and most
courageous human rights lawyers and leader of the National
Conscience Party (NCP), which has been protesting the
government's three-year program of transition to civilian
rule. Amongst other important cases, he led the defense team
for Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other MOSOP members in the trial
before a special tribunal that led to their execution, and
subsequently launched an action to challenge the
constitutionality of that tribunal and of a further tribunal
constituted to try 19 other Ogoni activists. He was detained
on January 30 of this year, shortly before he was due to
address a rally at the University of Lagos. He has been
detained by the military authorities on many previous
occasions for his work.

After being held at the headquarters of the State Security
Service (SSS) in Shangisha, near Lagos, Chief Fawehinmi was
transferred to a prison in Bauchi State, in the north of
Nigeria. Although Fawehinmi suffers from hypertension and
became seriously ill while in detention on a previous
occasion, the military authorities have ignored court orders
for him to be allowed to receive medication from his family.
We understand that he has recently received hospital treatment
but is now back in prison, where his health remains poor.
Although he has been visited once by his wife, he has since
been held incommunicado.

Femi Falana

Femi Falana is president of the National Association of
Democratic Lawyers (NADL), a human rights lawyer, and worked
with Chief Fawehinmi in the defence of Ken Saro Wiwa. He was
arrested on February 14, 1996, after security police seized
files from his chambers, ... He was most recently said to be
held in Hadeija prison in Jigawa state, in the north of

Femi Aborishade

Femi Aborishade is deputy head of the National Conscience
Party. Following the detention of Gani Fawehinmi, the NCP
campaigned for his release, and also protested the local
government elections to be held on a non-party basis at the
end of March. On February 13, the government announced that it
had promulgated a new decree making it a criminal offence the
"undermining, preventing, forestalling or prejudicing" of the
transition program. On February 14, Femi Aborisade was
arrested. It is not known where he is being held.

Milton Dabibi

Milton Dabibi, general secretary of the Petroleum and Natural
Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), until his
dismissal by the military government in August 1994 following
a two month pro-democracy strike, was arrested in Lagos on
January 25, 1996. He was initially held at the SSS office in
Ikoyi, Lagos. News of his detention first appeared in a
Nigerian newspaper on February 14. He is being held at a
prison in the north of Nigeria, far from his family in Lagos.

Nosa Igiebor

Nosa Igiebor is editor-in-chief of the independent weekly
magazine Tell, which has frequently been critical of the
military government in Nigeria. He was arrested on December
23, 1995 by members of the SSS. 20,000 copies of the Christmas
Day edition of Tell, with the cover story "Abacha is adamant:
terrorises the opposition", were confiscated at the same time.
Most recently, Mr. Igiebor was said to be held in Bauchi
state, in the north of Nigeria. He suffers from hypertension
and his health is poor.

Abdul Oroh

Mr. Abdul Oroh is executive director of the Civil Liberties
Organisation (CLO), one of Nigeria's best known human rights
organizations. He was arrested on July 27, 1995, at the
offices of the CLO in Lagos, by plain-clothed security police.
Mr. Oroh is being held at an SSS holding facility at Alagbon
Close in Lagos. Court orders for his release from illegal
detention have been ignored.

Tunji Abayomi

Dr. Tunji Abayomi is founder and chair of Human Rights Africa,
a Nigerian human rights group, and counsel to former head of
state General Olusegun Obasanjo, who is also currently in
prison, as one of the "coup plotters" (see below). He was
arrested by plain-clothed security police on July 26, 1995,
shortly after holding a press conference at which he had
denied that his client, General Obasanjo, had any complicity
in the alleged coup plot for which he had just been convicted
in a military tribunal. Journalists attending the press
conference were also harassed. Dr. Abayomi is also being held
at Alagbon Close. The Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered
that he be released or charged with a criminal offence in the
regular criminal courts. Neither of these has occurred.

Chima Ubani

Mr. Chima Ubani is former secretary general of the Campaign
for Democracy and Head of Campaigns at the Civil Liberties
Organisation, one of Nigeria's best known human rights groups.
He was arrested on July 18, 1995 by seven plain-clothed men
from the State Security Service (SSS), at his home in Lagos;
The SSS searched his apartment for "subversive documents", and
he is apparently held in connection with his human rights and
pro-democracy activities. Mr. Ubani is being held at the same
Alagbon Close facility of the SSS as Abdul Oroh and Tunji
Abayomi. The authorities have ignored a series of court orders
demanding that he be produced in court or released from

Kebir Ahmed

Mallam Kebir Ahmed is chair of the Sokoto state branch of the
Campaign for Democracy. He was arrested in his home in Sokoto
by a team of plain-clothed and uniformed policemen on March
10,1995. He was questioned in Kaduna in connection with his
pro-democracy activities, in particular the distribution of
leaflets. Mallam Ahmed is being held in Kirikiri
maximum-security prison in Lagos.

Shehu Sani

Mallam Shehu Sani is the vice-chairman of the Kaduna region of
the Campaign for Democracy, an opposition group. He was
arrested by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) on
March 9, 1995 at his home in Kaduna. He was said to have
granted an interview to the Hausa service of the British
Broadcasting Corporation, in which he had said that the
Campaign for Democracy would work towards the immediate
termination of military rule. Military sources alleged that
the date of the interview coincided with the date of the
alleged coup plot (see below). Mallam Sani is being held in
Kirikiri maximum-security prison in Lagos. On March 27, 1995,
the high Court in Ikeja ordered his immediate release from
Kirikiri prison, but this order was not obeyed by the

Ayo Opadokun

Chief Ayo Opadokun, secretary of NADECO, the National
Democratic Coalition, was detained on October 13, 1994 under
Decree No. 2, apparently in connection with his activities
opposing continued military rule. Like other detainees under
Decree No 2, he has been moved around between prisons, and is
not allowed visitors, access to lawyers or private medical

Frank Ovie Kokori

Frank Kokori is secretary general of the National Union of
Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG). He was arrested on
August 20, 1994 by p1ain-clothed security operatives who
trailed him to the place in Lagos where he was living in
hiding. Chief Kokori was one of the leaders of the two-month
oil-workers strike that took place between July and August
1994, to protest the military take-over of one year earlier
and to demand a return to civilian rule. Like many of the
other detainees, Chief Kokori has been moved around between a
number of different prisons, mostly in the north of Nigeria.
He has intermittently been allowed to receive visitors, but is
reported to be in poor health as a result of diabetes. Court
orders that he be produced in court or released from illegal
detention have been ignored by the government.


Anyakwee Nsirimovu, executive director of the Institute of
Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL), based in Port
Harcourt, and at least 18 supporters of the Movement for the
Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) were detained for several
days in late March and early April 1996. Nsirimovu is a
well-known human rights activist who has been active in
monitoring and reporting abuses by the security forces in
Ogoniland. ... His arrest, on March 27, 1996, followed a raid
on the offices of the IHRHL in Port Harcourt during which the
security forces were looking for documents.

These detentions appear to have been designed to prevent Mr
Nsirimovu and the others from giving information to the
representatives of the UN Secretary General during their
recent mission to Nigeria, in the course of which they visited
Ogoniland. The purpose of the UN mission, which was in Nigeria
from March 28 to April 12, was to gather information on the
trial and execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and the other MOSOP
activists and to enable the UN to assess the process of
transition to democracy in Nigeria that has been announced by
the military government. Nsirimovu and the others were
released after the UN left Ogoniland.

Kamedi von Dimeari, the president of the National Union of
Rivers State Students, was detained for two weeks from January
5, 1996. He had organized a demonstration on December 10,
International Human Rights Day, to protest the execution of
the Ogoni nine. Before his release, he was taken to the
military governor of Rivers State, Lieutenant Colonel Dauda
Komo, and threatened with further detention unless he ceased
his activities.


In March 1995, a number of armed forces officers and some
civilians were arrested and charged with plotting a coup
against the Nigerian military government. In June and July
1995, a military tribunal sat in judgment over 43 individuals
charged in the case, including some who had simply publicized
information about the arrest and detention of others supposed
to be involved in the coup. Those tried were denied legal
representation of their choice, there was no appeal procedure,
the trial was in secret and the tribunal, consisting only of
military officers, was specially constituted to hear the case.
In October 1995, the "coup plotters" were sentenced, some of
them to death or life imprisonment, although the death
sentences were later commuted to terms of imprisonment and the
terms of imprisonment reduced, after international appeals.
Amongst those still in prison are the following:

Beko Ransome-Kuti

Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti is chair of the Campaign for Democracy,
and a well-known Nigerian campaigner for the restoration of
civilian rule. He was arrested by men from the DMI on July 27,
1995, five days after addressing a press conference on the
conviction of the alleged coup plotters. He had earlier
circulated to some international human rights groups the
defense statement of Colonel R.S.B. Fadile, head of the Army
Legal Directorate and one of those allegedly involved in the
coup plot, He was charged, convicted of being an "accessory
after the fact" to treason, having "illegally obtained
sensitive documents pertaining to the coup trials which he
faxed abroad to his collaborators in the UK and United States
in order to subvert and blackmail the Federal Military
Government." He was sentenced to life imprisonment, later
commuted to 15 years.

Dr. Ransome-Kuti is being held in Katsina prison, in the north
of Nigeria. He is reportedly currently in very poor health,
having been suffering from a fever for several weeks. He has
not been permitted to see any other doctor than the prison
doctor, nor has he been allowed to consult with lawyers. His
family have obtained permission for him to have one visit a
month, by his wife or one of his daughters, at which four
prison wardens must be present, including the Deputy
Controller of Prisons. Otherwise he is held in solitary
confinement, and he is not permitted letters. Orders that he
be produced in court have been disregarded by the regime.

Rebecca Ikpe

Rebecca Ikpe is the sister-in-law of Colonel R.S.B.
Bello-Fadile. She was also convicted of being an accessory
after the fact to treason, as a result of passing Col.
Fadile's defense submission to Dr Ransome-Kuti. At the time of
her arrest, she was seriously anaemic, requiring iron
injections to maintain her health. It is not known whether she
is receiving the necessary medical attention for her

Christine Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah and Ben Charles

Chris Anyanwu, editor-in-chief and publisher of 'TSM' ("The
Sunday Magazine"), George Mbah, assistant editor of Tell
magazine, Kunle Ajibade, editor of The News magazine and Ben
Charles Obi, editor of Classique magazine, were all sentenced
to terms of imprisonment in connection with the "coup plot".
The evidence cited against them consisted solely of publishing
articles aimed at inciting the public against the Federal
Military Government of Nigeria". They are held in various
prisons at a distance from Lagos. Kunle Ajibade is reported to
be in ill health, suffering from a kidney problem.


Bashorun Moshood K.O. Abiola is the leader of the Social
Democratic Party (SDP), which received the majority of votes
in the June 12, 1993 election which was supposed to lead to
the installation of a civilian government. The election was
annulled by former head of state General Babangida, and an
interim government installed that was replaced in November by
General Abacha in a renewal of military government. One year
after the elections, on June 12, 1994, Chief Abiola declared
himself president; on June 23, 1994 he was detained and
charged with treason. Although others charged with treason at
the same time have been released pending trial, he remains in
detention to date. His lawyers have appealed against a refusal
to grant him bail, but eight of the 12 Supreme Court judges
recused themselves following a separate Supreme Court ruling
that they should not hear the case, because they were involved
in a libel suit against Concord Newspapers, owned by Chief
Abiola. No further judges have been appointed by the
government, so that the bail application and case itself
cannot be heard. Chief Abiola is in poor health, suffering
from hypertension and heart problems. He has on many occasions
been denied access to visitors, although some official
delegations, including the representatives of the UN Secretary
General, have been permitted to see him.

Kudirat Abiola, the wife of chief Abiola, has campaigned for
his release both domestically and internationally. On May 8,
she was arrested and charged with "conspiracy to cause
misdemeanor and making false publications with intent to cause
fear to members of the public." She appeared in court,
together with two co-accused (one of who was identified as a
printer) and all three were released on bail. ...


Human Rights Watch urges the Nigerian government to:

Immediately and unconditionally release all detainees held
under the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2
of 1984 and repeal the decree and all other decrees allowing
indefinite detention without charge;

Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti,
Rebecca Ikpe, Christine Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah,
Ben Charles Obi, and others who have been charged with or
convicted of offences relating only to the exercise of
fundamental rights to freedom of speech and association;

Immediately release or charge and try properly before a
regular court respecting international standards of due
process, the others convicted of involvement in the alleged
coup plot;

Immediately and unconditionally release Chief Moshood Abiola
and withdraw all charges against him and the others charged in
connection with their statement criticizing the current
government urging the release of Chief Abiola or stating Chief
Abiola to be the rightful head of state;

Repeal all laws that make it an offence to criticize the
government of Nigeria;

Immediately release, or charge and try promptly before a
regular court respecting international standards of due
process, the 19 Ogoni activists held in connection with the
same facts as those for which Ken Saro Wiwa and his co-accused
were convicted by a special tribunal;

Repeal all decrees allowing for the establishment of military
or special tribunals to try civilians who are alleged to have
committed normal criminal offences;

Obey all court orders relating to those in custody: in
particular orders for individuals held to be released;
produced before court; allowed visitors, access to lawyers or
private doctors; removed to hospital where a prison or
personal doctor recommends; or permitted reading material;

Allow all those held in custody for whatever reason full
access to lawyers of their choice, their families and private

Hold detainees and prisoners at locations near to their

Ensure that conditions of detention and imprisonment are in
full compliance with international standards.


Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director

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.


URL for this file: