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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Africa Fund Update

Nigeria: Africa Fund Update
Date distributed (ymd): 970426
Document reposted by APIC


A Special Update For the National Consultation on Africa, April 18-19, 1997, Washington DC

The Africa Fund, 17 John St., 12th Floor, New York, NY 10038. Tel: 212-962-1210; fax: 212-964-8570; e-mail:

by Michael Fleshman

[Note: for more information on the Consultation, please contact the Africa Fund.]

Nobel Laureate Among 16 Democracy Leaders Charged With Treason

Nobel-winning author Wole Soyinka, exiled pro-democracy leader Chief Anthony Enahoro and 14 other leaders of Nigeria's largest democratic organization, the National Democratic Coalition of Nigeria (NADECO), were charged with treason on March 12 by the country's military government. The indictments drew immediate condemnation from the international community and human rights groups, and fueled mounting skepticism about the regime's announced commitment to the restoration of democracy in 1998.

Significantly, the charges came 72 hours before the scheduled beginning of local elections, a carefully orchestrated centerpiece of the dictatorship's transition program. Four of the accused, including Soyinka and Enahoro, are already in exile and were charged in absentia. The remaining 12 opposition leaders are being held without bail in a military prison -- among an estimated 7,000 pro-democracy activists imprisoned by the regime.

Imprisoned Environmentalists Tortured

Attorneys for 19 imprisoned Nigerian environmentalists filed an urgent motion for bail in early April, charging the military government with torture and abuse of their clients. The motion charges that one prisoner lost several fingers under police torture and that another had gone blind due to inhuman prison conditions and lack of medical care. The 19 were active in a non-violent campaign against the Shell oil company's environmental pollution in Nigeria. The head of that campaign, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight others were hanged by the dictatorship in November 1995 after a trial denounced by Amnesty International and the United Nations as a travesty. Two detainees have already died in prison. The surviving 19 are entering their third year in prison without trial. They face the same trumped-up murder charges used to convict and execute Saro-Wiwa. The Africa Fund is working with Amnesty International, The Sierra Club and other organizations on an international campaign to free the Ogoni 19.

Cities, Pension Funds Target Companies In Nigeria

The Africa Fund is working closely with a growing number of institutional investors, including five New York City pension funds worth over $60 billion, who have adopted policies to vote for shareholder resolutions favoring human rights and democracy in Nigeria. Nigeria resolutions will be introduced at Shell, Chevron and other corporations' shareholders meetings this spring.

The investor actions complement efforts by municipal and state legislators to pass local pro-democracy resolutions and sanctions laws. New York, Oakland and New Orleans have already adopted Nigeria measures and similar acts have been introduced in a dozen other cities and counties, including Alameda County California, Amherst, Massachusetts and St. Louis Missouri. State and local government sanctions were critical to the success of the campaign for anti-apartheid sanctions.

Flawed Elections Raise Doubts About Democracy Transition Timetable

Widespread irregularities and political interference in last month's local government elections in Nigeria have given new ammunition to critics who charge that the regime's timetable for the restoration of democracy is a sham. Voting in 138 of 779 districts -- nearly 1 in 5 -- was so badly flawed that the results were annulled by the National Election Commission. The allegedly independent Commission was later forced to restore the results in three of the 138 disputed districts at the insistence of the local military commander.

The commission also conceded that in many parts of the country the number of "registered" voters exceeded the total population, suggesting massive voter fraud. In another embarrassing indication of military manipulation, the head of one of the five legal political parties -- all carefully screened for their pro-military sympathies -- was dismissed and briefly arrested by the government after suggesting he would challenge dictator Sani Abacha's expected candidacy for the Presidency in 1998. It is widely expected that all five approved parties will nominate Abacha as their Presidential candidate, lending a democratic veneer to continued military rule.

In 1993 the Nigerian army annulled free and fair Presidential elections and jailed the winner, businessman Moshood Abiola. Two years later, under growing international and domestic pressure, the regime announced its own rigidly controlled democracy timetable, with local and regional elections leading to new Presidential elections in 1998. Many Nigerian and foreign observers argue that with thousands of democracy activists in jail, press freedom banned and the Constitution suspended, the dictatorship lacks the legitimacy to conduct a credible transition process.

Journalist Arrested as Press Assault Continues

A leading Nigerian journalist, Ladi Olorunyomi, was arrested by Nigerian security police on March 20. The wife of National Consultation on Africa panelist Dapo Olorunyomi, remains in prison without charge. In New York, the Committee To Protect Journalists, a press freedom group headed by Walter Cronkite, condemned the arrest as "a blatant attack on press freedom, journalists and their families." The Nigerian media has been hit hard by repression since dictator Sani Abacha seized power in 1993.

U.S. Religious Leaders Press For Sanctions

In February a national delegation of religious leaders, headed by Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker, former Chief of Staff to Martin Luther King, and National Council of Churches General Secretary Reverend Joan Campbell met with White House and corporate leaders to press for economic sanctions against Nigeria.

The delegation met with National Security Council Advisor Samuel Berger and with senior officials of the Mobil Oil company, the second largest producer of Nigerian oil. The delegation presented Berger with a statement signed by over 70 religious leaders condemning repression in Nigeria and a copy of the World Council of Churches' report on human rights abuses in the Nigerian oil fields.

Reverend Walker, President of the Africa Fund's associate, The American Committee On Africa, said that the delegation had reminded Mobil executives that "slavery too was profitable. We must never accept that profits are more important than human life."

Tailor Jailed For Insulting Dictator

A tailor in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, Nigerian dictator Abacha's home town, was arrested in January for publicly criticizing the military ruler. Bashir Musa was the 47th person arrested since December 1996 for "insulting" Abacha and other members of the ruling elite.

Legislative Action For Democracy In Nigeria

What You Can Do

"The international interest in Nigeria's human rights record is not interference in its affairs but legitimate concern expressed by the international community. Hence sanctions...must be viewed as intervention and not interference." -- Nigerian Methodist Bishop Sunday Mbang

State and local legislators played a critical role in the international campaign against apartheid by passing resolutions condemning apartheid and legislating local sanctions. Today it is Nigeria's 100 million people that are struggling for democracy against a brutal military dictatorship. They have asked us to impose sanctions against U.S. and European companies, particularly Shell, Mobil and Chevron, who generate the billions of dollars needed to finance the regime. The Africa Fund can help you support the restoration of democracy and human rights in Africa's largest country with information and analysis, direct contact with Nigerian democracy leaders and expert testimony. Below is a sample resolution for freedom in Nigeria that you can introduce in your state legislature. Some cities have gone further, imposing selective purchasing and other sanctions on the dictatorship. Contact the Africa Fund for more information.

WHEREAS in 1993 a free and fair Presidential election in the west African nation of Nigeria was annulled and a military dictatorship seized power, suspending the constitution, banning the free press and independent trade unions, removing thousands of democratically elected officials and conducting a bloody crackdown on the democratic opposition,

WHEREAS the democratically elected President of Nigeria, Moshood Abiola, has been imprisoned without trial for nearly three years, leading political, cultural and human rights leaders have been jailed, murdered or forced into exile and human rights organizations like Amnesty International have documented the widespread use of torture, rape, assault and extra-judicial execution against pro-democracy leaders,

WHEREAS the 1995 execution of internationally respected Ogoni environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight supporters after a trial before a military tribunal was condemned by world leaders from President Clinton to Nelson Mandela, and another 19 environmentalists face execution on the same false charges used to convict Ken Saro-Wiwa,

WHEREAS the Nigerian dictatorship depends on the sale of oil for 90 percent of its export earnings and over 80 percent of all government revenue and the United States, which buys nearly half of Nigeria's annual oil output, has powerful economic leverage over the dictatorship,

WHEREAS the citizens of the State of
______________________________, support the immediate restoration of human rights and democracy in Nigeria and believe that the United States should use its economic influence to assist the Nigerian people in their non-violent struggle for freedom,

RESOLVED that the Legislature of the State of _________________________ commends the Nigerian people for their courageous and peaceful struggle against repression and tyranny, demands the immediate release of Moshood Abiola, the Ogoni 19 and all other political prisoners and calls on the United States government to take all practical steps, including economic sanctions, to secure the prompt restoration of democracy and respect for human rights in Nigeria.

Daily Challenge (Thursday April 10, 1997)

Rule of law in Nigeria was on the verge of collapse

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA Two U.N. rights investigators, warning that the rule of law in Nigeria was on the verge of collapse, called on the military government on Wednesday to halt extra-judicial executions and arbitrary arrests by security forces.

In a scathing report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, they called on Lagos to release and pardon political prisoners including those convicted in the 1995 trial of alleged "coup plotters," including former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo.

Nigeria must allow the Supreme Court to hear an appeal by Chief Moshood Abiola, the presidential claimant jailed on treason charges since June 1994, according to Malaysian lawyer Param Cumaraswamy, U.N. rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and Senegal's Bacre Waly Ndiaye, U.N. rapporteur on extrajudicial or arbitrary executions.

The murder of Abiola's wife, Kudirat, in June 1996 should also be fully investigated, they added.

"It appears that under the military government of Nigeria today the rule of law is on the verge of collapse, if it has not already collapsed," their joint report said. "Whether there is a Constitution left is debatable.

"The Government of Nigeria must take effective measures to prevent extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, as well as torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention, by members of the security forces," they added.

"This situation is exacerbated by governmental lawlessness in the form of refusal by the military government and its agencies to obey court orders."

Some 70,000 people remain detained either upon conviction, remand or without trial, according to the U.N. investigators. Some 60 per cent await trial, and Abiola "continues to languish" in jail awaiting his appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court.

The U.N. investigators repeated that they had called off their mission to Nigeria in February after authorities denied them full access to detainees including those already tried.

They urged the 53-member forum to appoint a separate country rapporteur to closely scrutinize Nigeria Africa's most populous country. Their report was based on allegations from non-governmental organizations and a recent trip by an aide.

But Auwalu Yadudu, top legal adviser to Nigeria's military ruler, General Sani Abacha, took the floor at the U.N. Commission on Tuesday evening to defend his country's record.

Yadudu said by diplomats to "call the shots" on legal matters in Nigeria rejected allegations of summary executions, torture and arbitrary detentions as "unfounded."

"It is a matter of serious concern that events in Nigeria have been deliberately misrepresented and exaggerated," he said.

Yadudu pledged that "all suspects" charged last month for alleged involvement with a spate of recent bombings in Nigeria who face the death penalty for treason would receive a public trial "in full observance of due process of the law."

Rights groups fear that the 12 to 15 dissidents accused of treason who include exiled Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka will be tried by a special tribunal without a right to appeal in conditions like those of author Ken Sara Wiwa and eight Ogoni activists hanged amid an outcry in November 1995.

Along with Soyinka, others charged in absentia at a Lagos magistrate court were several exiled leaders of the opposition group the National Democratic Goalition (NADECO). The remaining 10 or so suspects are in detention.

Soyinka and other pro-democracy activists are fighting for Abacha's annulment of 1993 elections to be reversed and for Abiola, who took a commanding lead in that vote, to be freed and installed as president.

Abacha, who seized power in 1993 after previous army rulers aborted a plan to return Nigeria to civil rule, has promised that constitutional rule will start by October 1, 1998.

Yadudu also refuted the U.N. investigators' claim that authorities had not been ready to grant them full access to detainees in line with normal procedures for such missions. "We are unable to accept any such account," he told the Commission.

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 individuals.

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