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Nigeria: Amnesty Issue Brief
Nigeria: Amnesty Issue Brief
Date distributed (ymd): 980810
Document reposted by APIC
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+
This posting contains an issue brief from Amnesty International USA, summarizing
the need for continued international pressure on the Nigerian military
regime. It also contains a short introduction with links to other sources
for current information. The next posting contains a press release from
the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), detailing the
failure of the military regime to release imprisoned Ogoni activists.
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Nigeria's new military ruler Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar has initiated a
new "transition" to civilian rule, to lead up to elections in
April next year and a hand-over to civilians in May. While the transition
has been cautiously welcomed by many Nigerian politicians and by leading
Western powers, human rights and environmental activists in Nigeria and
in exile, as well as most analysts, warn that there are many flaws in the
record of the new regime to date. Gen. Abubakar has not yet released all
political prisoners, abolished repressive legislation or established an
open climate for political expression and competition. His inconsistency
is accompanied by the continued presence in the military of strong forces
opposed to any weakening of their power. Letting up on international pressure
will increase the chances that this "transition" will repeat
the flawed parallel plans of the past that left the military in charge.
For current information, APIC has found the following sources most consistently
Africa News Service
Current news from the Pan African News Agency and other sources, as well
as documents from non-governmental organizations
Chuck Odili's Nigeria Web
Comprehensive and current, access to Nigerian and international news
sources, links to many other sites.
Shell-Nigeria-Action Listserv Archive
Frequent action-oriented documents from the Sierra Club and other groups
For additional sources and background see the Africa Policy Web Site
Amnesty International Issues Brief on Nigeria
Nigeria at the Cross Roads:
The Role for the International Community
For more information on this statement contact Amnesty International,
304 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington DC 20003, tel: 202-544-0200, Ext. 234;
fax: 202-546-7142. Amnesty International statements are distributed through
the Amnesty International news service, available as a listserv (Amnesty-L).
To subscribe to amnesty-L, send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org>
with "subscribe amnesty-L" in the message body. More information
from Amnesty International can be found at the organization's international
Web site (www.amnesty.org) or U.S.
Web site (www.amnesty-usa.org).
Following the death of Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha on June 8 hopes
that Nigeria was going to halt its descent in to political chaos were boosted
by the actions of his successor Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar. Abubakar announced
that it was his intention to fulfill the transition program back to civilian
rule by the October deadline promised by Gen. Abacha and within days, leading
political prisoners were released, mostly on medical grounds. Among those
freed were former head of State Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti,
Christine Anyanwu and roughly 60 others. Among those conspicuously absent
from the list of proposed releases were the Ogoni 21 and Chief M.K.O. Abiola,
the man widely acknowledged to have won the June 1993 elections. One month
later Chief Abiola died while still in detention. The Ogoni 21 remain in
On July 20 Gen. Abubakar unveiled his proposed transition plan. Elections
will be held by April of next year and the military will step down by May.
The Abacha transition process has been scrapped and all election results
at the state and local level having been cancelled. All political prisoners
are to be released and the Nigerian people are invited to form new parties
and participate in shaping the planned transition process.
As Nigeria stands at a crossroads the Clinton administration and the
international community must play a positive role in creating an environment
in which all Nigerians can take part in deciding the country's future.
The military junta must meet clear benchmarks of irreversible reform and
not just merely make symbolic speeches. The Nigerian people have heard
similar promises from Gen. Abacha and Gen. Abubakar's mentor, cousin and
former head of state Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Benchmarks include the repeal
of all repressive legislation, the immediate release of all political prisoners
and the implementation of a genuine transition process back to accountable
government which will be designed and managed by the Nigerian people, not
Gen. Abacha's stranglehold on Nigeria ended suddenly on June 8, leaving
behind a legacy of rampant human rights abuses and corruption and a country
dangerously polarized by ethnic differences. Gen. Abubakar's announcement
of his intention to fulfill the transition program and his subsequent release
of leading prisoners of conscience, while welcome, do not begin to address
the ongoing legacy of repression of military rule.
During the past five years hundreds and possibly thousands of Nigerians
were arbitrarily detained, most of them never even having been brought
to court. Over the last nine months, demonstrators and activists against
Abacha's transition program were arrested. In May. the government announced
that it had released 142 prisoners as part of a promise made in November
1997. However, most of those released were common-law prisoners who were
either elderly, ill or had served their jail terms.
Gen. Abubakar's announcement of July 15 that some 362 prisoners (none
of whom are political prisoners) would be released still leaves the question
as to who is defining who are political prisoners, and whether these reflect
a repudiation of the policies of Gen. Abacha or just political expediency.
For example, those released by Gen. Abubakar were also freed primarily
on medical grounds. Among those conspicuously absent from the list of those
freed were the Ogoni 21 and Chief Abiola. When Chief Abiola died of a heart
attack one month later while still in detention, the riots that erupted
were based on the anger of Abiola supporters convinced of foul play, and
outraged at pressure on Abiola to renounce his presidential mandate in
return for being released.
Repression In Ogoniland
The Ogoni area of Rivers State remains under occupation by the Internal
Security Task Force. Members of the Ogoni minority group continue to be
detained at random, harassed and assaulted by security forces in an effort
to silence protest and criticism of the government's policies in the region
and environmental degradation. The health of the Ogoni 21, now nearing
the third year of their "unofficial detention" is reportedly
worsening. In early 1998, a Port Harcourt High court ruled that they should
be released, however, no mention of their case has been made by the PRC.
Over the 28 plus years it has been in power, the Nigerian military has
created a complex web of military decrees focused on silencing dissent,
guaranteeing immunity by crippling the courts and negating constitutional
provisions protecting fundamental human rights. As long as any of these
laws remain in effect, all Nigerians, including those recently released
remain at risk. More importantly there cannot be a free and open process
to develop a genuine transition process back to democratic rule. Such laws
The Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree, No. 7, 1993 Suspends
fundamental rights provisions of 1979 Federal Constitution. Section 5 prohibits
the courts from reviewing any decrees passed by the military government
The Government (Supremacy and Enforcement of Powers) Decree, No. 12,
1994 Removes the jurisdiction of the courts to investigate any actions
undertaken by members of the government.
The State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree, No. 2, 1984 Allows
for indefinite detention, renewable every six weeks, if the person appears
to be a threat to the security of the state, or if it is believed that
the person has contributed to the economic adversity of the nation.
Decree No. 11, 1994 amends Decree No. 2 and allows the Inspector General
of Police and the Chief of General Staff to detain persons considered threats
to the state for three months (as opposed to 6 weeks) before having to
renew the detention order.
The Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No.
4, 1984 Allows government officials to arrest or detain persons for what
they perceives to be "false accusations," leaving the burden
of proof on the defendants.
The Legal Practitioners Act (Amendment) Decree No. 21, 1983 Allowed
the government to dismiss the leadership of the National Bar Association
and to appoint a commission to oversee the administration of the Bar. Similar
decrees were used to ban NUPENG and PENGASSAN.
The Treasonable Offenses Decree, No. 7 of 1993 Defines treasonable acts
as anything capable of disrupting the general fabric of the country, or
any part of it.
The Offensive Publications (Proscription) Decree, No. 35 of 1993 Provides
for the proscription, seizure and confiscation of a publication likely
to disturb the peace and public in Nigeria or disrupt, hinder, or prevent
the progress and peaceful transition to civil rule.
Decree No 14 of 1994 Suspended the right of habeas corpus by amending
the Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal Decree of 1987.
The US Congress should welcome the steps taken by Gen. Abubakar. However
it must maintain pressure to ensure that the efforts of the Nigerian people.
to restore the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights in
Nigeria are not hijacked once again. Swift passage of H.R.3890 and S. 2102
will provide much needed assistance to Nigerian civil society which faces
the task of rebuilding democratic institutions and the rule of law and
reaffirm key benchmarks of reform.
[For more information, see the Sierra Club web site
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.