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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Ogoni Press Release

Nigeria: Ogoni Press Release
Date distributed (ymd): 980810
Document reposted by APIC

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

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+
Summary Contents:
This 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. The previous 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.

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

July 28th 1998

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Tim Concannon, Ledum Mitee
(+44) (0)181 563 8614
<mosop@gn.apc.org>

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
http://www.oneworld.org/mosop/
e-mail: mosop@gn.apc.org

NIGERIAN MILITARY DEFY DEMANDS OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY AND REFUSE TO RELEASE THE OGONI 20 ON BAIL

JULY 28th 1998, PORT HARCOURT PRISON, RIVERS STATE, NIGERIA -

20 Ogoni continue to languish in the jail cell where they have been held since May 1994, after the Nigerian police have refused to obey a High Court ruling to release 15 of the detainees on bail.

Police have told the 20's lawyers that the prisoners will not be released without direct orders from military commanders in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

The 20's legal defense team are petitioning the head of state General Abubakar, and have filed an application for the security forces to be held in contempt of court for refusing to release the detainees.

The 20 face the same politically motivated murder charges, the same violations of their human rights in prison and to a fair trial, the same military appointed tribunal and the same hangman's noose which killed MOSOP President Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders in November 1995. Ogoni is currently under combined army and security forces occupation, with the normal duties of the police subject to oversight by the military [1].

The European Union has directly appealed to Nigeria's head of state General Abubakar to act on the 20's case. UK Foreign Minister Tony Lloyd said `[the European Union called for] the early resolution of the case of Chief Abiola and the 20 Ogonis, as well as the release of the remaining detainees' when he held face to face talks with General Abubakar, in Abuja on June 28th 1998.

The refusal to release the prisoners follows a decision made yesterday by a High Court Judge, Mr. Justice Ebie Daniel-Kalio in Port Harcourt to delay a ruling on a bail application made on behalf of 5 of the detainees till October 14th. This is the fourth occasion on which the Judge has adjourned a ruling on their application. Other rulings have been adjourned from June 15th, June 29th and July 13th 1998.

MOSOP believes this to be clear evidence that the regime is trying to keep the plight of the Ogoni 20 out of the international spotlight. Anxious to avoid another show trial of Ogoni detainees likely to incur international condemnation, the state has delayed the 20's court proceedings for more than four years by deliberate obstruction of the due process of law.

Responding to the police refusal to release 15 of the Ogoni 20, MOSOP's Acting President Ledum Mitee remarked:

`I am alarmed and saddened by this deliberate - and clearly illegal - delay in releasing the Ogoni 20 on bail. This development demonstrates the need for urgent international action to secure the release of the Ogoni 20'.

'With all this talk of democratic change in Nigeria, surely the world cannot stand by and allow another 20 Ogoni men to suffer the fate of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders murdered by the regime in 1995'.

'MOSOP calls on Shell to make an immediate public statement demanding the authorities obey Nigerian law and release the Ogoni 20 on bail'.

'MOSOP calls on Nigerians and the international community to demand that the military authorities abide by Nigerian law and allows the 20 to be released on bail'.


BACKGROUND

"As proof of the genuineness of the call for reconciliation on the part of this Administration, and the desire to have all hands on deck for the new dispensation, this Administration has released all political detainees. Government has also decided to withdraw all charges against political offenders. I therefore call on all Nigerians to reciprocate this gesture. Those in self-exile should return and join our efforts to build a greater nation" - Nigerian military ruler General Abdulsalam Abuba

"[The case of the Ogoni 20] has been stymied by the Government's indifference to constituting a new tribunal composed of only civilian members to hear their case" - U.S. Department of State country report on human rights in Nigeria, January 1998.

"[The European Union calls for] the early resolution of the case of Chief Abiola and the 20 Ogonis, as well as the release of the remaining detainees" - UK Foreign Minister Tony Lloyd, following face to face talks with General Abubakar, June 28th 1998.

The Nigerian military routinely and deliberately frustrate the due process of law to punish perceived political opponents by illegally prolonging their detention, including by refusing to obey bail rulings from the Courts.

  • Despite charging the 20 under both Nigerian criminal law and the law covered by military decrees, the authorities have deliberately delayed their trial by arguing that the 20 should be tried under the jurisdiction of the same Ogoni Civil Disturbances Tribunal (where military law is applicable) that murdered the Ogoni 9 in November 1995, rather than the High Court (where Nigerian criminal law is applicable).
  • An application was first made by the state on May 27th 1997 - almost 2 years after the first set of charges were made against 15 of the 20 - to stay proceedings pending a Court of Appeal ruling on jurisdiction. Justice Daniel-Kalio ruled that he had jurisdiction to hear the bail application [2].
  • Subsequently, the state has delayed the case by frequent interventions to stay proceedings, arguing over bail applications and the jurisdiction of the case, withdrawing from the case and then repeating the same applications in the Court of Appeal.
  • On May 6th 1998, an application by the state was made to the Court of Appeal to stay a bail ruling, arguing that bail could not be granted until the issue of jurisdiction of the case had been resolved.
  • On May 22nd Justice Daniel-Kalio granted bail to 15 of the 20 (those named on the first of the three charge sheets for conspiracy to commit four murders in Giokoo, Ogoni, and the actual murder of Chief Albert T. Badey on May 21st 1994).

In closing his ruling, Mr. Justice Daniel-Kalio, said:

"I think the prosecution has a duty, if I may use a modern expression, to be `pro-active' towards the case of the applicants [the Ogoni 20]. The respondent [the state] has not shown what it has been doing all these years of the applicants incarceration in prison custody with respect to ensuring that they are prosecuted for the offence for which they have been held is custody. By not being `pro-active' the impression is being given although it may well be erroneous, that the respondent is sati

"The courts frown at any passive attitude towards cases of persons held in custody for long periods of time and in appropriate cases will grant bail [...] Let me say in closing that the presumption of innocence remains a backbone of our criminal justice system. If that backbone is trampled upon, God forbid, the concomitant effect will be too horrid to contemplate, much less express".

  • MOSOP has a copy of a legal document dated May 25th issued by the Court to release one of the 20 to bail on satisfaction of the bail conditions.
  • On May 28th Justice Daniel-Kalio suspended his ruling, pending the decision of the Court of Appeal on an application by the state to stop the hearing. The state prosecutor appeared ex parte before Justice Daniel-Kalio, meaning the defence was not represented. The legal expert Michael Birnbaum has described this as `in itself a most disturbing feature of any proceedings relating to bail' [3]. According to MOSOP sources, Justice Daniel-Kalio suspended his ruling under direct pressure from the
  • On June 1st the Court of Appeal dismissed the state's application to stay the May 22nd bail proceedings in the High Court.
  • According to Nigerian legal experts the Court of Appeal's ruling means that the May 22nd bail ruling still stands. Under Nigerian law the 20 should be released on bail.
  • On June 1st, having satisfied the bail conditions, the 20's defense lawyers were told by the police that the 20 couldn't be released without the express order of the Abuja authorities.
  • Immediately following the unexpected death of the head of state General Abacha on June 8th - and the period of political uncertainty that followed - the overtly political nature of the Ogoni 20's case seems to have discouraged the High Court from hearing applications on their behalf.
  • The High Court declined to hear bail applications on behalf of the remaining 5 detainees - whose bail status has not previously been ruled on - on June 15th, June 29th and July 13th. On July 13th the state prosecutor was not present. On other occasions Justice Daniel-Kalio was able to hear the case, but he declined to.
  • On July 13th Justice Daniel-Kalio formally revoked his suspension of his ruling granting bail to 15 of the Ogoni 20.
  • On July 27th a hearing on the bail application on behalf of the remaining 5 detainees was adjourned for a fourth time. A ruling is now expected on October 14th 1998.
  • On July 27th the police again refused to release the 20 to bail, pending the express order of the Abuja authorities.
  • This is clear evidence of the continued extra-legal interference by the state in the legal process.

The regime knows that executing the 20, or even trying them, will draw unwanted attention. Instead, the authorities seem prepared to let them die from disease or through torture and maltreatment in detention.

Whether the Ogoni 20 are executed following a show trial, or they are allowed to die in prison through disease or maltreatment, the military authorities' political motivations for detaining them are the same:

  • to punish the Ogoni 20 for speaking out against state oppression in Ogoni and the environmental devastation of Ogoni land
  • to deter MOSOP and the Ogoni people from continuing our campaign
  • to deter other Niger Delta peoples from mounting similar protests.

Like the 9 Ogoni killed in 1995, the regime is making an example of the Ogoni 20.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Rivers State Internal Security Task Force is a combined Nigerian military operation in Ogoni that has been overtly operating under this title since 1994.

[2] 'Suit No PHC/ 150M/ 97: Commissioner of Police v Sampson Ntignee & others (Ogoni 20)', High Court, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

[3] Michael Birnbaum QC, July 3rd 1998, `Note on the Ogoni 20', London, UK.

ENDS.

MOSOP has now prepared a detailed Ogoni File - `The Ogoni 20: their arrest, detention and continued abuses of their fundamental rights by the Nigerian state'.

Copies are available by e-mail on request (if you want the document sent to you by email as an attachment, please specify the compression format your system and software accepts (Word 6.0 for Pc, Word for Mac etc).


Additional Note from MOSOP International Secretariat

Dear Friends -

Today's development is clear evidence that the Ogoni 20 remain political hostages of the Nigerian military. The regime knows that executing the 20, or even trying them will draw unwanted attention. In his treatment of the Ogoni 20, Abubakar is showing himself to be no different from his predecessor. He intends to let them die from disease or through torture and maltreatment in detention.

MOSOP calls on Nigerians, the international community and supporters of the cause of human rights in Ogoni to:

  • Demand that the Nigerian authorities abide by Nigerian law and allow the 20 to be released on bail.
  • Demand that Shell makes a public statement demanding that the authorities obey Nigerian law and release the Ogoni 20 on bail.

Write to:

General Abdulsalam Abubakar,
Chairman, Provisional Ruling Council,
State House,
Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria. Faxes [+234] 9 523 2138
Salutation: `Dear General'

And to diplomatic representatives of Nigeria accredited to your country.

Cor Herkstroter,
Chairman of the Committee of Managing Directors, Royal/ Dutch Shell Group of Companies,
Shell Centre, York Road, London,
United Kingdom.
Faxes [+44] 171 934 5252
e-mail: Shell International Ltd., External Affairs <press-info@si.shell.com>

Salutation: `Dear Mr. Herkstroter'

And to the member of the Royal/ Dutch Shell group in your country ( http://www.countonshell.com/SOC/index.html -- page no longer available 10/99 -- lists them all with their respective e-mail addresses).

Tim Concannon, Communications Coordinator.


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.


URL for this file: http://www.africafocus.org/docs98/nig9808b.php