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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Recent Documents

Nigeria: Recent Documents
Date distributed (ymd): 970408
Document reposted by APIC

This posting contains (1) a press release from Human Rights Watch/Africa, and (2) a statement by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, as posted on the usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nigeria.

Human Rights Watch/Africa, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104; Tel: 212/972-8400; Fax: 212/972-0905; E-mail:; 1522 K Street, NW, Washington DC 20005; Tel: 202/371-6592; Fax: 202/371-0124; E-mail:

Thursday March 13, 1997

For Further Information: Urmi Shah 171-713-1995 in London Janet Fleischman 202-371-6592 in Washington D.C.


(New York, 13 March 1997)--Human Rights Watch/Africa is deeply disturbed to learn that the Nigerian government has charged Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, opposition leader Chief Anthony Enahoro, democracy activist Dr. Fredrick Fasheun, former finance minister Chief Olu Falae and eight others with treason, a capital charge. Soyinka and Enahoro are in exile, having fled the country fearing for their lives; Falae, Fasheun and several others are currently held in detention in Nigeria. The Nigerian government alleges that the accused have been involved in a series of bombs that have killed a number of people in Nigeria recently, but has failed to put forward any evidence that they were in fact involved.

"The treason charges brought against these opposition activist fall into a pattern of harassment and arbitrary action against those that have spoken out against the military regime," said Peter Takirumbudde, director of Human Rights Watch/Africa, "we believe that the Nigerian government has brought legal proceedings simply in an attempt to silence the most vocal opposition to continued military rule."

Human Rights Watch/Africa calls on the Nigeria government to witdraw the charges of treason against these individuals immediately.

Human Rights Watch/Africa Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of the Helsinki accords. It is supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly. Kenneth Roth is executive director. Robert L. Bernstein is the chair of the board. Its Africa division was established in 1988 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Peter Takirambudde is the executive director. William Carmichael is the chair of the advisory committee.

Web Site Address: Gopher Address: gopher:// Listserv address: To subscribe to the list, send an e-mail message to with "subscribe hrw-news" in the body of the message (leave the subject line blank).

Statement by Wole Soyinka
From posting in usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nigeria March 27, 1997

[Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.]

WHEN I wrote in my latest book, The Open Sore of the Continent, that "the judicial murder of the Ogoni nine and the continued decimation of Ogoni people was the first Nigerian experimentation with ethnic cleansing, authorised and sustained by the Nigerian despot General Sani Abacha", some critics in foreign ministries described this as the language of an activist given to dramatising his opponents' action.

Prior to this grotesque display of savagery by Abacha, he had acceded to the plot of the chieftain of his Ton-Ton Macoutes, Ismaila Gwarzo, to fabricate a coup d'etat. Those who succeed as, or are suspected of acting as, couriers of details of the secret kangaroo court proceedings of those alleged to be involved in the coup, are rounded up, tried in minutes and sentenced to stretches varying from seven years to life imprisonment.

The standard charge is "concealment to treason". The chairman of the Campaign for Democracy is already among the victims of this madness, and the two ex-military rulers of Nigeria were also jailed for "levying war against the Federal Republic of Nigeria".

Countless others have been held without being charged for the crime of "association" with the so-called coup plotters. Yet none of this appears to be a sufficient signal to the world.

Now that Abacha has prepared a list of 14 people, myself included, for a charge of "levying war against the Federal Republic of Nigeria by conspiring with others to explode bombs" and "causing explosion in several parts of Nigeria", perhaps some will see why Ogoniland is only the model for the actualisation of a totalitarian onslaught on politically sophisticated sections of the Nigerian polity which have dared expose and confront the power obsession of a minuscule but obdurate hegemony.

The only way Abacha knows how to deal with political opposition is not to negotiate, discuss or debate, but to liquidate its leaders. And if he cannot contrive this physically through his executioners (as with the more than 200 demonstrators mowed down by his soldiers in 1993), then he'll seek to repeat the phantom coup d'etat or the tragic Ken Saro-Wiwa experience.

This time, he is biting off more than he can chew. However much Abacha may harass or intimidate the democratic opposition, our position remains that Abacha is not the legitimate president of Nigeria any more than an armed robber is the legitimate owner of the property he has stolen.

It is very difficult to be surprised by this predictable despot and his gang. If I had been in Nigeria when the coup was engineered, I'd have been the first on the list of those to be arraigned. Although I am not an Ogoni, I would probably have featured in the list of those sacrificed for speaking out against genocide in Ogoniland.

So this whole orchestration has been set in motion since I became Abacha's most prominent nemesis. I was supposed to have been in Benin Republic on January 28, attending a meeting of labour leaders and students, where "we planned to disrupt the local government election".

At the time in question, I was in Davos in Switzerland at the World Economic Summit and among my witnesses are Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Kofi Annan and Binyamin Netanyahu. As though this was not enough, Abacha granted an interview to The Washington Times newspaper in February, where he repeated the allegation that I am a terrorist responsible for all the bomb blasts in Nigeria.

The Washington Times is now facing a libel suit for the indiscretion of publishing this blatant lie.

I and other members of the democratic movement are already condemned to long jail sentences for another "treasonable offence". This combination of diversion, bloody-mindedness and lies will not intimidate the opposition into silence. Neither will it confuse any discerning observer as to the true state of things in Nigeria, which is the reign of terror unleashed by Abacha. Dissent in Nigeria will not go away until he has gone.

Yet it is important to put Abacha into perspective. He knows that he is nothing without his foreign collaborators in Nigeria's agony.

What further proof is demanded by the world? Why have African leaders failed to halt Abacha's repetitious game or to challenge his transparent ploy of buying time?

Take the regime's elaborate charade called "transition to civilian rule". Even as it becomes clearer by the day that Abacha is seeking to perpetuate himself as a civilian president, foreign governments continue to say let's wait a little longer. Really, he has promised us that this time, once this latest exercise is over, he will make his pronouncement.

However, just in case the compliance of his hypnotised watchers and consumers of Nigerian oil begins to wear thin, Abacha has stumbled on the perfect plot: concoct treason charges against Soyinka, Enahoro and others, and while that case drags on in the court in which he is judge, jury and executioner, declare your presidential ambition.

Yet the world watches in cold complicity as this conspiracy to eliminate all real and imaginary opponents to Abacha's dictatorship is concretised.

Those governments that believe that Nigeria's Godot is just around the corner in the labyrinths of Aso-Rock Fortress are no friends to the Nigerian people. They have forgotten their own history or, for reasons best known to them, have chosen to patronise us, to treat us as second-class subjects of the historical process.

Perhaps, though, their intent may be to deliver the message that we do not hear, or that we are too complacent in the certitude of justice to understand: which is that our destiny rests in no other hands but ours.

If that is so, we welcome the distressing signals and their implicit challenge. Our commitment remains to the enthronement of genuine democracy, as expressed on June 12 1993, and to the permanent removal of the military from our lives. This, we know, is no small task but we are prepared for a marathon.

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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