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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Amnesty Int. Statement
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: Amnesty Int. Statement
Date Distributed (ymd): 961108

Contains (1) Statement by AI Secretary General Pierre Sane;
(2) AI Press Release

This News Service is posted by the International Secretariat
of Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ
(Tel +44-71-413-5500, Fax +44-71-956-1157)

For more information on Amnesty International, visit Amnesty's
International Secretariat Web site at:
or send an e-mail message for an automatic reply to

News Service 195/96



Opinion piece by Pierre Sane,  Secretary General, Amnesty

When Africa threw off the chains of colonialism, Nigeria was
looked to as a beacon of hope and progress by all Africans. As
a young Senegalese man I shared this enthusiasm. A country of
enormous energy and potential, Nigeria seemed destined to lead
the people of Africa to a better future.

Thirty years later, this destiny remains unfulfilled. For the
people of Africa today, Nigeria is looked at with despair, as
successive governments have become locked in a cycle of
contempt for human rights. Nigeria has instead been the
inspiration for those African leaders who oppose justice and

Last year was a terrible year for human rights in Nigeria. It
culminated with the execution in November of  Ken Saro-Wiwa
and eight others, most of them supporters of MOSOP, after
grossly unfair trials which prompted an international outcry.

This year has been equally bleak. In June Alhaja Kudirat
Abiola, senior wife of Chief Moshood Abiola, the man who won
the aborted presidential election in 1993, was murdered, it is
assumed, by government agents. Chief Abiola himself is still
in prison on politically-motivated charges. Ogoniland,
Saro-Wiwa's homeland, is still under siege.

Yet the government pretends that all is well and affects
outrage when it is suggested that it is not.  When asked about
the fate of political prisoners earlier this year, Wadi Nas,
the Minister for Special Duties replied, "They are not the
first to be detained in this country... why are you interested
in them?".

Take Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Nigeria's most renowned human
rights lawyer. Here is why the world must take an interest:
since his arrest on 30 January 1996, no reasons have ever been
given for his detention, although the real reason is clearly
his vocal criticism of the government. Incarcerated in Bauchi
Prison -- a damp, dilapidated establishment filthy with human
excrement, he suffers from acute malaria, diaorrhea and
possibly pneumonia. The authorities have failed to bring him
to court on two occasions, despite being ordered by the high
court to do so. They clearly want to forget about him, perhaps
hoping he will quietly die in his cell. For his sake -- and
the sake of other human rights defenders in Nigeria -- we

We must also not forget Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, who is serving
a 15-year-sentence for involvement in the alleged 1995 coup
plot. His only "offence" was to have faxed the defence
submission of one of the military defendants to people outside
Nigeria. He is held in solitary confinement in Katsina prison
in the far north, where he also suffers constant malarial

The roll-call of injustice goes on and on -- Frank Kokori,
Milton Dabibi, Femi Falana, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Musa
Yar'Adua, Chris Anyanwu, Ben Charles Obi, Kunle Ajibade,
George Mbah, Shehu Sani, Rebecca Ikpe, Sanusi Mato, all
scattered around the country, rotting away in prisons. And not
forgetting another 19 Ogoni prisoners, still facing unfair
trial and possible execution on the same murder charges as Ken

In May this year, the Nigerian government announced a number
of human rights reforms. A closer look at these "reforms"
reveals that in reality they are a sham. For example, the
right of appeal promised for those before Civil Disturbances
Special Tribunals like the one which tried Ken Saro-Wiwa turns
out to be only to another government- appointed special
tribunal. The main  purpose of these reforms is an attempt to
defuse international pressure.

Faced with such evidence, who can take seriously the claims of
the military government that it is sincere about human rights?
Who can believe in the latest transition to civilian rule when
so many innocent people are suffering.  So much of what has
happened in Nigeria since General Sani Abacha seized power in
1993 is a repetition of events during the previous transition
to civilian rule under General Babangida between 1987 and

The international community has appeared recently in
increasing danger of succumbing once again to a paralysing
fatalism about Nigeria. Aborted transitions? It will ever be
so, some say. Military rule? At least it maintains stability,
others argue. Such views could not be more wrong. Each time
Nigeria is doomed to repeat its past, the prospects for its
long-term stability deteriorate and the possibility of  civil
war and massive refugee movements increases. It happened in
the 1960s; it could happen again. Most of West Africa would be
thrown into turmoil. Rwanda, Burundi and Liberia have shown
the tragic results of failing to take effective international
action before a crisis develops.

It need not be like this. No Nigerian government has ever made
a systematic attempt to create a culture of respect for human
rights. The latest is no different. This is what the Nigerian
government should now embark upon. Neither Nigerians nor the
wider international community should settle for anything less.

Amnesty International has put forward a program of reforms,
which we believe will create a culture of real respect for
human rights in Nigeria. With the firm backing of the
international community, if implemented, these reforms could
bring an improvement in the day to day life of over 100
million Nigerians. And success in Nigeria could immeasurably
enhance the prospects for human rights across the continent as
a whole.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues cannot be brought back
to life. The best way to respond to the terrible injustice
which they, their families, friends and community suffered is
for Nigerians to pledge that it will never happen again and
then to take the necessary steps to ensure that it does not.

As Dare Babarinsa, a journalist on the Nigerian independent
weekly Tell magazine, has said, Nigerians deserve a better


News Service 193/96

AI INDEX: AFR 44/26/97
06 NOVEMBER 1996


JOHANNESBURG -- On the eve of the first anniversary of the
execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Amnesty International, together
with Nigerian human rights organizations, today called on the
Nigerian government to end human rights violations.

An Amnesty International delegation is in the country to mark
the 10 November anniversary, and to launch a campaign against
human rights violations in Nigeria. Nigerian human rights
organizations such as the Civil Liberties Organisation and the
Constitutional Rights Project are supporting the campaign.

"Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues cannot be brought back
to life," said Pierre Sane, Secretary General of Amnesty
International, at a press conference.  "The best way to
respond to the injustice of their trials and executions is for
Nigerians to pledge that it will never happen again and then
to take the necessary steps to ensure that it does not."

"The Nigerian authorities' clear disregard for the most basic
and fundamental rights of their people can only result in
scepticism about its proposed transition to civilian
government by October 1998. One year after the trials,
governments worldwide should be keeping up the pressure for
improvement in the human rights situation and accept nothing
less than substantial reforms from General Abacha's

In new reports issued today, Amnesty International and the
Nigerian human rights organizations are putting forward a
10-point program for human rights reform. This program
includes the release of all prisoners of conscience, the
revocation of all military decrees which allow the indefinite
or incommunicado imprisonment of political prisoners, the
guarantee of fair trials for political prisoners, safeguards
against torture and ill-treatment and abolition of the death

"Despite the international outcry and condemnation of the
executions, the situation in Nigeria remains grave," Mr Sane
said. "Nigerians who have the courage to stand up for the
human rights of their fellow citizens continue to pay a heavy
price. Human rights defenders and journalists have been
singled out for beatings, detention and harassment."

Former head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo and human
rights defender Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti remain imprisoned after
secret and unfair trials by special military tribunals. Others
have been detained for long periods without charge or trial.
Many have been held in harsh conditions, denied the support of
families and lawyers, their lives at risk from malnutrition
and medical neglect.

Supporters of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni
People (MOSOP) continue to face heavy repression by the
authorities. At least 19 Ogoni still face the prospect of
unfair trial and execution on the same murder charges which
were brought against Ken Saro-Wiwa, President of MOSOP, and
his co-defendants. The government has made little progress
towards bringing the Ogoni 19 to trial and has held them in
such terrible prison conditions that one of them died in
August 1995 and others are said to be in serious ill-health.

Veteran civil rights lawyer Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a thorn in
the side of military governments since the 1960s, has been
detained without charge in harsh conditions since January
1996. He has been denied all access to family or doctor,
despite apparently requiring urgent admittance to hospital on
at least three occasions. In June this year, Alhaja Kudirat
Abiola, senior wife of Chief Moshood Abiola who won the
aborted presidential election in 1993, was murdered, it is
widely feared, by government agents.

Amnesty International is particularly critical of the Civil
Disturbances Special Tribunal which tried Ken Saro-Wiwa and
the other Ogoni. Measures announced following a critical UN
report in May 1996 have done little to reform the Tribunal.
The removal of the one military member from the Tribunal does
not affect the government's direct control over it while the
right of appeal granted in July 1996 to prisoners convicted by
future Civil Disturbance Special Tribunals allows an appeal
only to another hand-picked special tribunal, a Special Appeal
Tribunal, not to an independent higher court in the normal
judicial system. Its convictions and sentences must still be
confirmed by the military government.

"Given that the Nigerian government appears unprepared to
genuinely reform the Ogoni Civil Disturbances Special
Tribunal, it should be abolished before the 19 Ogoni prisoners
suffer the same fate as Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues," Mr
Sane said. "Although there have been releases of a few
detainees, measures announced by the government as reforms are
a sham."

The government has revoked one military decree which
specifically abolished the right of habeas corpus but has
continued to flout court orders to release detainees or bring
them before the court by invoking other military decrees which
remove the courts' jurisdiction.  The promised reviews of
political detentions have not been undertaken by an
independent, judicial body but in secret by the security
officials who ordered the detentions in the first place. The
latest review panel announced in October 1996 is headed by
senior security officers and its recommendations have to be
approved by the head of state. Chief Gani Fawehinmi's
detention was reportedly extended after such a secret review,
which confers no rights on the detainee and does not prevent
arbitrary and indefinite detention.


For further information, please refer to the following
documents published on 6 November 1996: Nigeria: Time to end
contempt for human rights (AI Index: AFR 44/14/96, 29 pages),
Nigeria: A 10-point program for human rights reform (AI Index:
AFR 44/15/96, 2 pages), and Nigeria: Human rights defenders
under attack (AI Index: AFR 44/16/96, 28 pages).
These documents are available at

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational
affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. 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


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