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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Human Rights Letter

Nigeria: Human Rights Letter
Date distributed (ymd): 990613
Document reposted by APIC

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

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a letter from the Civil Liberties Organisation and the Constitutional Rights Project, together with Human Rights Watch, outlining human rights priorities needing to be addressed by the new Nigerian government. Another posting contains two recent reports about the crisis in the Niger Delta in particular.

For additional news and background sources see:

The current Nigerian constitution is available at:

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Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor,
New York, NY 10118-3299 USA.
TEL: 1-212-290-4700, FAX: 1-212-736-1300 E-mail:;
Web Site Address:

May 27, 1999

Three Human Rights Organisations set Priorities for New Nigerian Government

On the eve of President Obasanjo's inauguration as president of Nigeria, Human Rights Watch has joined with two leading Nigerian human rights organisations, the Civil Liberties Organisation and the Constitutional Rights Project, to write to the president-elect outlining human rights priorities for the new government. Human Rights Watch also releases today a new report on the situation in the Niger Delta, detailing the ongoing crisis in that region.

"After decades of military rule, Nigeria faces huge challenges to restore respect for human rights and the rule of law," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, Abdul Oroh, of the CLO, and Clement Nwankwo of the CRP. "But there are certain first steps that President Obasanjo can take to show that he is moving in the right direction."

Among the priorities listed by Human Rights Watch, the Civil Liberties Organisation and the Constitutional Rights Project are the repeal of repressive military decrees, the release of the bodies of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his codefendants hanged in 1995, and the initiation of a transparent process to draft a new constitution.

In a twenty-five page report, "Crackdown in the Niger Delta," Human Rights Watch also draws attention to the crisis among Nigeria's oil producing communities, where serious human rights violations have continued unabated, despite the relaxation of repression elsewhere in Nigeria since the death of former head of state General Sani Abacha in June 1998. Among the incidents highlighted is an attack on two remote communities in January 1999, for which the Nigerian army used a helicopter and boats contracted to Chevron Nigeria. The report is an update to The Price of Oil, a 200-page Human Rights Watch report on corporate responsibility in the oil producing communities in Nigeria released in February 1999.

"Chevron Nigeria must take a long hard look at its security relationship with the Nigerian government," Peter Takirambudde said. "The company appears to think it has no responsibilities to try to ensure respect for human rights in the area of its operations." The report also examines the military response to initially peaceful demonstrations against oil production in the Niger Delta in late December and early January, concluding that more than one hundred people, mostly unarmed, were killed by soldiers. In addition to investigation of these and other human rights violations and the prosecution or disciplining of those responsible, Human Rights Watch recommends that Nigeria's government initiate an immediate, inclusive and transparent process of negotiation with freely chosen representatives of the peoples living in the Niger Delta to resolve the issues surrounding the production of oil.

The full text of the letter to President Obasanjo is attached, together with the summary and recommendations from the report [in next posting].


27 May 1999

Dear President-Elect Obasanjo

After decades of military rule, Nigeria faces huge challenges to restore respect for human rights and the rule of law. While there are many pressing issues for your government to address, we are writing to you as human rights organizations to bring to your attention several priority matters.

  • The lack of a democratically drafted constitution

The constitution that has finally been signed into law by General Abubakar is the product of a military government and an undemocratic process. We believe your government should treat this constitution as an interim document and should institute an immediate, inclusive, and transparent process for drafting a new constitution which will be legitimate in the eyes of all Nigerians.

  • Repeal of repressive decrees and general review of laws

Military decrees remain in force suspending constitutional guarantees of respect for fundamental human rights, allowing detention without trial, ousting the jurisdiction of the courts to examine executive acts, restricting freedom of expression, establishing military or special tribunals to try criminal offences without respect for international standards of due process and permitting other acts in violation of international human rights law. As an indication of your commitment to respect for human rights, we call on you to take immediate steps to repeal the most notorious decrees, including Decree No.2 of 1984, which allows indefinite detention without trial, and, in conjunction with the National Human Rights Commission and the nongovernmental human rights community, to institute a comprehensive process of review of the laws in force, with a view to the repeal or amendment of those that do not comply with the international human rights standards to which Nigeria is committed.

  • Recent detentions

Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of arrests of journalists and union leaders critical of the government. Lanre Arogundade, chairman of the Lagos State council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) was arrested on April 25, and charged with the murder of Bolade Fasasi, a former official of the NUJ. There appears to be no evidence that Arogundade was in fact involved in the murder, and it seems that his arrest may have been motivated rather by his campaigns for press freedom. Union leaders among civil servants have also been arrested and removed from their jobs. We urge you to order an immedate review of these cases, and in particular to ensure that the investigation of the murder of Fasasi is thorough and impartial and that the charges against Arogundade are dropped immediately if there is found to be no evidence implicating him in the murder.

  • The Ogoni trial

The trial and execution in November 1995 of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight other Ogoni activists has been condemned around the world, including by a factfinding mission sent by the U.N. Secretary- General, as in flagrant violation of international standards of due process. The bodies of the nine men have never been released to their families for proper burial; recently General Abubakar refused once again to respond to appeals to do so. As the victim yourself of a miscarriage of justice which sent you to prison for three years, we believe you should be quick to act to address these issues. In line with the findings and recommendations made by national and international monitoring bodies, we urge you to take immediate steps on taking office to issue a formal statement that the executions were a miscarriage of justice, to release the bodies of those hanged to their families, and to pay compensation as suggested by the U.N. Secretary-General's factfinding team. In addition, we urge you to appoint a judicial enquiry into the Ogoni crisis of 1993-98, including the murders of the four Ogoni leaders for whose deaths Ken Saro-Wiwa and his codefendants were hanged; to examine the human rights violations that were committed by members of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force and others; and make recommendations for disciplinary or criminal proceedings against those responsible, compensation for the victims, and other measures of redress.

  • The situation in the Niger Delta

While the human rights situation in most of Nigeria has improved over the past nine months, the situation in the Niger Delta area has deteriorated. There has been increasing protest at oil company activity and federal government failure to listen to the demands of the peoples of the delta. In response, large numbers of soldiers have been deployed in the area, and have carried out serious and widespread violations of human rights, in particular in the course of a military crackdown in late December 1998 and early January 1999 which led to the deaths of dozens of young men, most of them unarmed. While protest has included criminal acts such as kidnappings of expatriate oil company staff, or violence against neighbouring ethnic groups, the appropriate response to such acts must be to arrest and prosecute those responsible, not to carry out indiscriminate reprisals against the entire population of the oil- producing regions.

We urge your administration to focus as a matter of urgency on the restoration of respect for human rights and the rule of law in the delta region. Among other steps, the government should appoint an independent judicial enquiry to investigate the human rights violations in the delta, including over the New Year period, and should discipline or prosecute those responsible, compensate the victims, and release or charge those who are still detained. In addition, your government should replace soldiers carrying out policing duties in the Niger Delta area and elsewhere with regular police with training in public order policing. We also urge you to institute an immediate, inclusive and transparent process of negotiation with freely chosen representatives of the peoples living in the Niger Delta to resolve the issues surrounding the production of oil.

  • Restoration of the justice system

Nigeria's court system is in a state of near-collapse. The police are responsible for widespread violations, including extrajudicial executions. Prison conditions are life-threatening. There is an urgent need to focus on these and other issues relating to the administration of justice, in conjunction with the national Human Rights Commission and the human rights community in Nigeria, as well as international agencies who can give technical assistance, in order to help restore respect for human rights and the rule of law - - respect that is essential not only for the rights of the Nigerian people, but also to promote the sort of external investment that will be necessary to bring Nigeria out of its current economic crisis.

  • Problems with the electoral process

Although most international and domestic observers of the local, state and federal elections in Nigeria welcomed their peaceful completion as an important step forward in the return of Nigeria to civilian government, they also noted serious flaws in the process at all stages. These irregularities included inflated figures for voter turnout, stuffing of ballot boxes, intimidation and bribery of both electoral officials and voters, and alteration of results at collation centres. These irregularities were widespread, but were particularly serious in the South-South zone of the country, the Niger Delta region. In addition, money clearly played a dominant role at the party primaries, including the presidential primary of the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP). We urge you to work with national and international organizations in order to ensure that the next elections held in Nigeria do represent a more genuine process.

Yours sincerely,

Abdul Oroh, Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation

Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director, Constitutional Rights Project

Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director, Africa Division, Human Rights Watch

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). 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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