Nigeria: Amnesty Int. Statement, 11/8/96

Nigeria: Amnesty Int. Statement, 11/8/96

Nigeria: Amnesty Int. Statement
Date Distributed (ymd): 961108

Contains (1) Statement by AI Secretary General Pierre Sane; (2) AI Press Release

This News Service is posted by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ (Tel +44-71-413-5500, Fax +44-71-956-1157)

For more information on Amnesty International, visit Amnesty's International Secretariat Web site at: or send an e-mail message for an automatic reply to

News Service 195/96



Opinion piece by Pierre Sane, Secretary General, Amnesty International

When Africa threw off the chains of colonialism, Nigeria was looked to as a beacon of hope and progress by all Africans. As a young Senegalese man I shared this enthusiasm. A country of enormous energy and potential, Nigeria seemed destined to lead the people of Africa to a better future.

Thirty years later, this destiny remains unfulfilled. For the people of Africa today, Nigeria is looked at with despair, as successive governments have become locked in a cycle of contempt for human rights. Nigeria has instead been the inspiration for those African leaders who oppose justice and freedom.

Last year was a terrible year for human rights in Nigeria. It culminated with the execution in November of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others, most of them supporters of MOSOP, after grossly unfair trials which prompted an international outcry.

This year has been equally bleak. In June Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, senior wife of Chief Moshood Abiola, the man who won the aborted presidential election in 1993, was murdered, it is assumed, by government agents. Chief Abiola himself is still in prison on politically-motivated charges. Ogoniland, Saro-Wiwa's homeland, is still under siege.

Yet the government pretends that all is well and affects outrage when it is suggested that it is not. When asked about the fate of political prisoners earlier this year, Wadi Nas, the Minister for Special Duties replied, "They are not the first to be detained in this country... why are you interested in them?".

Take Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Nigeria's most renowned human rights lawyer. Here is why the world must take an interest: since his arrest on 30 January 1996, no reasons have ever been given for his detention, although the real reason is clearly his vocal criticism of the government. Incarcerated in Bauchi Prison -- a damp, dilapidated establishment filthy with human excrement, he suffers from acute malaria, diaorrhea and possibly pneumonia. The authorities have failed to bring him to court on two occasions, despite being ordered by the high court to do so. They clearly want to forget about him, perhaps hoping he will quietly die in his cell. For his sake -- and the sake of other human rights defenders in Nigeria -- we can't.

We must also not forget Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, who is serving a 15-year-sentence for involvement in the alleged 1995 coup plot. His only "offence" was to have faxed the defence submission of one of the military defendants to people outside Nigeria. He is held in solitary confinement in Katsina prison in the far north, where he also suffers constant malarial fevers.

The roll-call of injustice goes on and on -- Frank Kokori, Milton Dabibi, Femi Falana, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, Chris Anyanwu, Ben Charles Obi, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah, Shehu Sani, Rebecca Ikpe, Sanusi Mato, all scattered around the country, rotting away in prisons. And not forgetting another 19 Ogoni prisoners, still facing unfair trial and possible execution on the same murder charges as Ken Saro-Wiwa.

In May this year, the Nigerian government announced a number of human rights reforms. A closer look at these "reforms" reveals that in reality they are a sham. For example, the right of appeal promised for those before Civil Disturbances Special Tribunals like the one which tried Ken Saro-Wiwa turns out to be only to another government- appointed special tribunal. The main purpose of these reforms is an attempt to defuse international pressure.

Faced with such evidence, who can take seriously the claims of the military government that it is sincere about human rights? Who can believe in the latest transition to civilian rule when so many innocent people are suffering. So much of what has happened in Nigeria since General Sani Abacha seized power in 1993 is a repetition of events during the previous transition to civilian rule under General Babangida between 1987 and 1993.

The international community has appeared recently in increasing danger of succumbing once again to a paralysing fatalism about Nigeria. Aborted transitions? It will ever be so, some say. Military rule? At least it maintains stability, others argue. Such views could not be more wrong. Each time Nigeria is doomed to repeat its past, the prospects for its long-term stability deteriorate and the possibility of civil war and massive refugee movements increases. It happened in the 1960s; it could happen again. Most of West Africa would be thrown into turmoil. Rwanda, Burundi and Liberia have shown the tragic results of failing to take effective international action before a crisis develops.

It need not be like this. No Nigerian government has ever made a systematic attempt to create a culture of respect for human rights. The latest is no different. This is what the Nigerian government should now embark upon. Neither Nigerians nor the wider international community should settle for anything less.

Amnesty International has put forward a program of reforms, which we believe will create a culture of real respect for human rights in Nigeria. With the firm backing of the international community, if implemented, these reforms could bring an improvement in the day to day life of over 100 million Nigerians. And success in Nigeria could immeasurably enhance the prospects for human rights across the continent as a whole.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues cannot be brought back to life. The best way to respond to the terrible injustice which they, their families, friends and community suffered is for Nigerians to pledge that it will never happen again and then to take the necessary steps to ensure that it does not.

As Dare Babarinsa, a journalist on the Nigerian independent weekly Tell magazine, has said, Nigerians deserve a better fate.

News Service 193/96

AI INDEX: AFR 44/26/97
06 NOVEMBER 1996


JOHANNESBURG -- On the eve of the first anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Amnesty International, together with Nigerian human rights organizations, today called on the Nigerian government to end human rights violations.

An Amnesty International delegation is in the country to mark the 10 November anniversary, and to launch a campaign against human rights violations in Nigeria. Nigerian human rights organizations such as the Civil Liberties Organisation and the Constitutional Rights Project are supporting the campaign.

"Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues cannot be brought back to life," said Pierre Sane, Secretary General of Amnesty International, at a press conference. "The best way to respond to the injustice of their trials and executions is for Nigerians to pledge that it will never happen again and then to take the necessary steps to ensure that it does not."

"The Nigerian authorities' clear disregard for the most basic and fundamental rights of their people can only result in scepticism about its proposed transition to civilian government by October 1998. One year after the trials, governments worldwide should be keeping up the pressure for improvement in the human rights situation and accept nothing less than substantial reforms from General Abacha's government."

In new reports issued today, Amnesty International and the Nigerian human rights organizations are putting forward a 10-point program for human rights reform. This program includes the release of all prisoners of conscience, the revocation of all military decrees which allow the indefinite or incommunicado imprisonment of political prisoners, the guarantee of fair trials for political prisoners, safeguards against torture and ill-treatment and abolition of the death penalty.

"Despite the international outcry and condemnation of the executions, the situation in Nigeria remains grave," Mr Sane said. "Nigerians who have the courage to stand up for the human rights of their fellow citizens continue to pay a heavy price. Human rights defenders and journalists have been singled out for beatings, detention and harassment."

Former head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo and human rights defender Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti remain imprisoned after secret and unfair trials by special military tribunals. Others have been detained for long periods without charge or trial. Many have been held in harsh conditions, denied the support of families and lawyers, their lives at risk from malnutrition and medical neglect.

Supporters of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) continue to face heavy repression by the authorities. At least 19 Ogoni still face the prospect of unfair trial and execution on the same murder charges which were brought against Ken Saro-Wiwa, President of MOSOP, and his co-defendants. The government has made little progress towards bringing the Ogoni 19 to trial and has held them in such terrible prison conditions that one of them died in August 1995 and others are said to be in serious ill-health.

Veteran civil rights lawyer Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a thorn in the side of military governments since the 1960s, has been detained without charge in harsh conditions since January 1996. He has been denied all access to family or doctor, despite apparently requiring urgent admittance to hospital on at least three occasions. In June this year, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, senior wife of Chief Moshood Abiola who won the aborted presidential election in 1993, was murdered, it is widely feared, by government agents.

Amnesty International is particularly critical of the Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal which tried Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogoni. Measures announced following a critical UN report in May 1996 have done little to reform the Tribunal. The removal of the one military member from the Tribunal does not affect the government's direct control over it while the right of appeal granted in July 1996 to prisoners convicted by future Civil Disturbance Special Tribunals allows an appeal only to another hand-picked special tribunal, a Special Appeal Tribunal, not to an independent higher court in the normal judicial system. Its convictions and sentences must still be confirmed by the military government.

"Given that the Nigerian government appears unprepared to genuinely reform the Ogoni Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal, it should be abolished before the 19 Ogoni prisoners suffer the same fate as Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues," Mr Sane said. "Although there have been releases of a few detainees, measures announced by the government as reforms are a sham."

The government has revoked one military decree which specifically abolished the right of habeas corpus but has continued to flout court orders to release detainees or bring them before the court by invoking other military decrees which remove the courts' jurisdiction. The promised reviews of political detentions have not been undertaken by an independent, judicial body but in secret by the security officials who ordered the detentions in the first place. The latest review panel announced in October 1996 is headed by senior security officers and its recommendations have to be approved by the head of state. Chief Gani Fawehinmi's detention was reportedly extended after such a secret review, which confers no rights on the detainee and does not prevent arbitrary and indefinite detention.


For further information, please refer to the following documents published on 6 November 1996: Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights (AI Index: AFR 44/14/96, 29 pages), Nigeria: A 10-point program for human rights reform (AI Index: AFR 44/15/96, 2 pages), and Nigeria: Human rights defenders under attack (AI Index: AFR 44/16/96, 28 pages). These documents are available at


Message-Id: <> From: Date: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 22:14:26 -0500 Subject: Nigeria: Amnesty Int. Statement

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Country Specific