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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: After Abacha, 1

Nigeria: After Abacha, 1
Date distributed (ymd): 980628
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +US policy focus+ |
Summary Contents:
This posting contains statements following the release of nine political prisoners on June 17 by the Nigerian military government headed by General Abdulsalam Abubakar, following the death on June 8 of General Sani Abacha. Last week, on June 25, 17 more political prisoners were released. Those released do not yet include the winner of the 1993 elections, Chief Moshood Abiola, nor Ogoni environmental activists. The statements below are from the Africa Fund, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM). The next posting contains testimony by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

While foreign governments tend to see hope in these tentative moves by the new regime, pro-democracy forces are still sceptical. They stress that the test of the new regime will be whether it meets demands for release of all political prisoners, unbanning of political parties and an end to repression of dissident voices. A genuine transition must involve a role for the imprisoned winner of the June 12, 1993 election, Moshood Abiola, and an opportunity for Nigerians to elect new leaders under free and fair conditions.

Speaking to the BBC last week, former head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo, one of those released on June 17, said that even if Abiola is also released, that would be far from sufficient. "After you have had two successive military governments that lied, deceived, oppressed, covered up, ... it would take more than just releasing one individual -- or even all the political detainees -- to really establish credibility and confidence.

For Immediate Release, June 18, 1998

Africa Fund Statement on the Release of Nigerian Political Prisoners

"Keep The Pressure On" For Freedom

Contact: Michael Fleshman (212) 785-1024

The release yesterday of the first nine Nigerian political prisoners, a group that includes former head of state Olesegun Obasanjo, trade unionists Frank Kokori and Milton Dabibi, democracy leader Beko Ransome-Kuti and journalist Christine Anyanwu is a victory for the Nigerian democratic movement. We welcome this long overdue step. The releases are the first concrete indication that the newly installed military government of General Abdulsalam Abubakar is prepared to break with the repressive policies of the late and unlamented dictator General Sani Abacha.

But it is only the barest beginning. The Africa Fund calls upon the military to end human rights abuses, release all political prisoners, and negotiate with the democratic movement a quick return to barracks.

Thousands of other prisoners of conscience still languish in what has now become General Abubakar's Nigerian gulag. Among those still imprisoned is President-elect Moshood Abiola, whose installation in office remains the non-negotiable demand of the democracy movement. Twenty indigenous Ogoni activists approach their fifth year in prison without trial for their peaceful opposition to the environmental destruction of their land by the Shell Oil Company. Human rights and democracy leader Olisa Agbakoba is still held without charge or trial for his role in organizing protests against the previous dictator's scheme to preserve military rule through rigged elections.

Thousands more remain in exile, including such outstanding democracy leaders as Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, and independence movement leader Chief Anthony Enahoro, and Ogoni rights activists Ledum Mitee and Owens Wiwa. The Abubakar regime must move quickly to release the remaining prisoners and allow the return of exiles. There can be no reconciliation in Nigeria while the authentic leaders of the people are jailed or exiled.

The release of prisoners, while welcome, cannot of itself resolve the present crisis. The Abubakar regime must accept the peoples' demand for genuine democracy and for the immediate return of the military to barracks. We call on General Abubakar to abandon Abacha's failed election program and open talks with the democracy movement on the rapid and orderly transfer of power to President Abiola.

Abubakar should immediately withdraw his occupation troops from the Ogoni oil fields, respect human rights and begin a dialogue with the legitimate representatives of the Ogonis, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People on the full range of environmental, economic and social grievances.

We condemn the Clinton Administration for failing to support the democracy movement and for continuing to support instead a discredited military-controlled election that has been rejected by the Nigerian people and the entire international human rights community. Clinton's "constructive engagement" accommodation with the army undermines the freedom movement and can only encourage Nigeria's military rulers to retain their illegal and absolute hold on power.

It is illusory to think that the conditional release of nine prisoners demonstrates the Nigerian military's commitment to human rights and democracy. On the contrary, we believe that the releases are the product of the tenacious resistance of the Nigerian people and the growing international sanctions movement. The encouraging events of the past week proves that pressure works. If the opportunity opened by Abacha's death is to lead to a resolution of the Nigerian crisis the United States must speak clearly and forcefully in support of the democratic alliance. In the meantime we urge concerned Americans to keep the pressure on both Abubakar and Bill Clinton for Nigerian freedom.


The Africa Fund. 50 Broad Street, suite 711, New York NY 10004
(212) 785-1024. Fax: (212) 785-1078

Founded in 1966 by the American Committee On Africa, the Africa Fund works for a positive U.S. policy Toward Africa and supports African human rights, democracy and development. For more information about The Africa Fund's Nigeria human rights education program contact Human Rights coordinator Mike Fleshman.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 03:40 GMT June 19th 1998
CONTACT: Tim Concannon, Ledum Mitee, (+44) (0)181 563 8614


LONDON - MOSOP welcomes the release of former head of state retired General Olusegun Obasanjo by the military authorities, and the announcement that another eight prominent political prisoners are to be released. MOSOP notes media reports that the authorities intend to release all Nigerian political prisoners in the near future.

Nigeria's new de facto leader General Abdulsalam Abubakar has stated that the initiative is an effort to 'facilitate the process of national reconciliation, reconstruction and successful completion of the socio-political transition programme'. General Abubakar is calling for the return of opposition figures from 'self imposed exile'.

Responding to the developments in Nigeria, MOSOP's Acting President Ledum Mitee remarked:

"This is certainly an encouraging development. However, previous military administrations have made gestures like this, buying time to consolidate their own position in power. If he is sincere in making a call for national reconciliation - and if he wishes that process to be effective - General Abubakar must demonstrate his commitment to real and lasting change in Nigeria. There now has to be a genuine effort to right the wrongs of the past, and embrace all sections of society in creating a new Nigeria".

"Nigeria's period of isolation from the international community began with the murder of MOSOP President Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders by the military in November 1995. The military continue to refuse to release the bodies of the Ogoni 9 to their families for proper burial".

"20 Ogoni political prisoners have languished in a cell in Port Harcourt for more than four years awaiting trial. They face the same politically motivated charge, the same violations of their human rights and the same hangman's noose that killed Ken Saro-Wiwa. This month the military authorities refused to obey a court ruling to release them on bail".

"Nigeria and the world must not forget the suffering the Ogoni people are enduring for the sake of Shell's profits and Nigeria's oil revenues. We still live under military occupation. Our environment remains devastated. 2000 Ogoni people have been killed and thousands have escaped state orchestrated violence as refugees".

"We urge Nigerians and the international community to treat the immediate release of the Ogoni 20, and release of the bodies of the Ogoni 9 to their families, and MOSOP's other immediate demands as benchmarks to measure the new regime's commitment to real change and genuine reconciliation".

MOSOP calls on General Abdulsalam Abubakar to:

  • immediately and unconditionally release all Ogoni political prisoners - including the Ogoni 20 - and 25 other Ogoni activists currently detained at various locations by the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force - RVSISTF - (a combined Nigerian military operation currently occupying Ogoni)
  • immediately release the bodies of the Ogoni 9 to their families for proper burial
  • immediately and unconditionally release all Nigerian political prisoners, including Chief Moshood Abiola
  • immediately demilitarise Ogoni and guarantee freedom of movement, assembly and association in Ogoni and the Niger Delta region as a whole, by disbanding the RVISTF and all structures of the security apparatus operating in Ogoni, in connection with the suppression of MOSOP and legitimate Ogoni political protest
  • immediately repeal military decrees militating against the due process of law
  • immediately implement the recommendations of the United Nations fact-finding Mission concerning the economic development of the Ogoni people, and the payment of compensation to the families of the Ogoni 9
  • immediately undertake to form a transitional government of national unity
  • undertake that part of the mandate of a transitional government will be the formation of a sovereign and national conference, made up of elected representatives of all Nigeria's ethnic groups, with equal voting rights (since independence in 1960, there has been no occasion for Nigeria's 247 plus ethnic groups to meet together to reach a consensus on issues like the fair allocation of oil revenue s and the federal structure of the country)
  • immediately respond to the Ogoni Bill of Rights, which was presented to the Nigerian Federal Government in 1990, and to which the Ogoni people have still not received a reply.

MOSOP calls on Shell to:

  • immediately issue a public statement calling for the release of the Ogoni 20, the release of the bodies of the Ogoni 9, and supporting all MOSOP's immediate demands

MOSOP calls on Nigerians, supporters of the Ogoni people and the international community to:

  • call for the immediate release of the Ogoni 20, and release of the bodies of the Ogoni 9
  • call on General Abdulsalam Abubakar to meet all of MOSOP's immediate demands
  • call on Shell to issue a public statement supporting MOSOP's immediate demands.


Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP),
International secretariat:
Suite 5, 3 - 4 Albion Place, Galena Road,
London W6 0LT, United Kingdom.
Tel. (+44) (0)181 563 8614 Fax. (+44) (0)181 563 8615
e-mail: MOSOP International secretariat <>


No. 59/1998

18 June 1998

The following is from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM):



Nigerian oilworkers' leader Frank Kokori arrived back in Lagos yesterday to a noisy welcome from crowds of supporters and the media. He immediately called for an overhaul of Nigerian politics - and of the Nigerian unions.

Kokori, who is the General Secretary of the Nigerian oil and gas workers' union NUPENG, had been detained without trial by the regime of General Abacha since 1994. In that year, a strike by Nigerian oil workers and others was put down by the military regime and a wave of repression against the oil unions and their leaders was unleashed.

Milton Dabibi, General Secretary of Nigerian oil and gas workers' union PENGASSAN, was released from prison on Monday night. He had been held without trial since January 1996. He is now resting with his family at an undisclosed location and is expected in Port Harcourt tomorrow. Sources close to Dabibi said that he would be needing medical care. His conditions of detention are understood to have been particularly harsh.

Both unions are affiliated to the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions, which led a sustained worldwide campaign for Dabibi's and Kokori's release. When Abacha died last week, the ICEM, its affiliates and other union internationals immediately asked his successor as Head of State, Major-General Abdulsalam Abubakar, to order Dabibi's and Kokori's release. They are among the first nine detainees to be freed. About a hundred political prisoners are still being held in Nigerian jails.

Observers say Kokori looked and sounded "frail" on his arrival at Lagos airport yesterday. He subsequently told union officers that he is "OK", but they note that the conditions in which he was detained have "taken a toll on him."

But there was certainly nothing frail about Kokori's speech to the crowds at the airport.

Thanking all those who supported him during his detention, Kokori roundly condemned the Abacha regime and said that he had never really expected to be freed while Abacha remained in power. In fact, "I never wanted to be released under General Abacha, despite the pains I went through in prison."

Turning to the military's annulment of the 1993 presidential elections in Nigeria, Kokori called on Major-General Abubakar to "redress the injustice that was done." The presumed winner of the elections, Moshood Abiola, is among those still being detained without trial.

But some of Kokori's strongest remarks yesterday were directed at the Nigerian trade unions - and more particularly the national union federation, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).

"What has become of the organised labour movement that we left behind?" Kokori asked his cheering supporters. The NLC had betrayed the 1994 strike, he insisted. "At the peak" of the 1994 crisis, Kokori recalled, he had spoken to the NLC's leader at that time, Pascal Bafyau: "I said, 'Let us be on the right side of history.' Bafyau replied, 'I don't care what side of history I'm on.' " Not long afterwards, Kokori was arrested by the State Security.

ICEM General Secretary Vic Thorpe has congratulated Major-General Abubakar on his prompt action in releasing Dabibi and Kokori, and has thanked him for the particular attention given to these cases. At the same time, Thorpe asked the Head of State to lift the remaining restrictions on PENGASSAN and NUPENG.

In particular, Thorpe said, legal recognition of Dabibi and Kokori as the unions' elected General Secretaries should be restored and the "sole administrators" imposed by the Abacha regime should now be withdrawn from the unions' offices. The ban on the check-off of union dues should be lifted. The unions' bank accounts should be unfrozen. Any oil workers sacked for their part in the 1994 strike should be reinstated. And all decrees that restrict Nigerian unions' right to affiliate freely at the international level should be rescinded.

In Washington yesterday, hundreds of demonstrators outside the Nigerian embassy called for a return to full democracy in Nigeria and the release of all political detainees there. The demonstrators applauded the release of Dabibi, Kokori and seven other detainees.

The demonstration was co-sponsored by the ICEM, the US national labour federation AFL-CIO, Amnesty International, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Public Services International, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, TransAfrica, International Human Rights Law Group, Free Nigeria Movement, Nadeco (USA), Nigerian Democratic Movement, and United Democratic Front of Nigeria.

"America's unions stand united with the people of Nigeria," said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka. "We urge the release of all labour and political prisoners and call for democratic elections in Nigeria. We will continue to lend our support to our Nigerian brothers and sisters until democracy is restored."

Trumka was joined in addressing the demonstration by Cordelia Kokori, Frank's daughter; Calvin Moore, Vice President of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW); Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA); Steve Rickard, Director of the Washington Office of Amnesty International; and Steve Mills, Director of the Human Rights and Environment Campaign at the Sierra Club. The OCAW and the UMWA are ICEM affiliates.

Today, a government spokesman in Nigeria promised that more detainees will be released "in batches" over the coming weeks. He did not, however, say how many, when and whether Abiola will be among them.

Individual ICEM UPDATE items can be supplied in other languages on request.

Our print magazines ICEM INFO and ICEM GLOBAL are available in Arabic, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.

Visit us on the Web at

ICEM avenue Emile de Beco 109, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium. tel.+32.2.6262020 fax +32.2.6484316 Internet:

Editor: Ian Graham, Information Officer

Publisher: Vic Thorpe, General Secretary.


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 individuals.

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