Nigeria: Human Rights Watch Africa

Nigeria: Human Rights Watch Africa

Nigeria: HRW Letter (Excerpts)
Date Distributed (ymd): 960523

1522 K St., NW Washington, DC 20009
Telephone: (202) 371-6592; Facsmile: (202) 371-0124

Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director
Janet Fleischman, Washington Director

[Note: the text below is slightly abridged. The full text can be found at:]

May 10,1996

General Sani Abacha
Chairman, Provisional Ruling Council
State House, Abuja, Federal Capital Territory

Dear General Abacha:

I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch/Africa to protest the continuing detention of human rights and pro-democracy activists in Nigeria. Despite the international outcry surrounding the executions of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists last November the Nigerian military government has persisted in flagrant violations of the human rights of Nigerian citizens. Most recently, the wife of detained presidential candidate Moshood Abiola, was arrested and charged on 8 May with conspiracy, apparently only as a result of her public activities campaigning for his release.

The State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984 has been repeatedly condemned by international observers, including the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. In 1993, the Working Group declared a number of detentions carried out under the decree to be arbitrary, and requested the government of Nigeria to bring its laws into conformity with the provisions and principles incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. ...

Particularly objectionable amongst the provisions of Decree No 2 are the following: a detainee has no right to be informed of the reasons for his or her detention; he or she has no right of access to family, lawyers or private medical treatment; detention orders are renewable, thus permitting indefinite detention on grounds of "state security" without charge or trial; the courts' jurisdiction to review detention orders has been ousted, so that no civil proceedings may be brought in respect of anything done in terms of the decree, nor may the constitutionality of any action be inquired into by any court.

Even where individuals face damages for what appear to be normal criminal offences, many have been tried in military tribunals whose procedures fall far short of international standards of due process. Most notoriously, in November 1995, a special tribunal convicted of murder and sentenced to death Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other supporters of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). ...

In April of this year, the UN Human Rights Committee ... ruled that, by establishing special tribunals that exclude free choice of lawyers or provisions for appeals, by allowing indefinite detention, and by not investigating allegations of torture and ill treatment, Nigeria is in violation of the ICCPR. The Committee urgently recommended that Nigeria immediately suspend all decrees establishing special tribunals or otherwise abrogating fundamental rights. ...


Gani Fawehinmi

Chief Gani Fawehinmi is one of Nigeria's best known and most courageous human rights lawyers and leader of the National Conscience Party (NCP), which has been protesting the government's three-year program of transition to civilian rule. Amongst other important cases, he led the defense team for Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other MOSOP members in the trial before a special tribunal that led to their execution, and subsequently launched an action to challenge the constitutionality of that tribunal and of a further tribunal constituted to try 19 other Ogoni activists. He was detained on January 30 of this year, shortly before he was due to address a rally at the University of Lagos. He has been detained by the military authorities on many previous occasions for his work.

After being held at the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS) in Shangisha, near Lagos, Chief Fawehinmi was transferred to a prison in Bauchi State, in the north of Nigeria. Although Fawehinmi suffers from hypertension and became seriously ill while in detention on a previous occasion, the military authorities have ignored court orders for him to be allowed to receive medication from his family. We understand that he has recently received hospital treatment but is now back in prison, where his health remains poor. Although he has been visited once by his wife, he has since been held incommunicado.

Femi Falana

Femi Falana is president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL), a human rights lawyer, and worked with Chief Fawehinmi in the defence of Ken Saro Wiwa. He was arrested on February 14, 1996, after security police seized files from his chambers, ... He was most recently said to be held in Hadeija prison in Jigawa state, in the north of Nigeria.

Femi Aborishade

Femi Aborishade is deputy head of the National Conscience Party. Following the detention of Gani Fawehinmi, the NCP campaigned for his release, and also protested the local government elections to be held on a non-party basis at the end of March. On February 13, the government announced that it had promulgated a new decree making it a criminal offence the "undermining, preventing, forestalling or prejudicing" of the transition program. On February 14, Femi Aborisade was arrested. It is not known where he is being held.

Milton Dabibi

Milton Dabibi, general secretary of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), until his dismissal by the military government in August 1994 following a two month pro-democracy strike, was arrested in Lagos on January 25, 1996. He was initially held at the SSS office in Ikoyi, Lagos. News of his detention first appeared in a Nigerian newspaper on February 14. He is being held at a prison in the north of Nigeria, far from his family in Lagos.

Nosa Igiebor

Nosa Igiebor is editor-in-chief of the independent weekly magazine Tell, which has frequently been critical of the military government in Nigeria. He was arrested on December 23, 1995 by members of the SSS. 20,000 copies of the Christmas Day edition of Tell, with the cover story "Abacha is adamant: terrorises the opposition", were confiscated at the same time. Most recently, Mr. Igiebor was said to be held in Bauchi state, in the north of Nigeria. He suffers from hypertension and his health is poor.

Abdul Oroh

Mr. Abdul Oroh is executive director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), one of Nigeria's best known human rights organizations. He was arrested on July 27, 1995, at the offices of the CLO in Lagos, by plain-clothed security police. Mr. Oroh is being held at an SSS holding facility at Alagbon Close in Lagos. Court orders for his release from illegal detention have been ignored.

Tunji Abayomi

Dr. Tunji Abayomi is founder and chair of Human Rights Africa, a Nigerian human rights group, and counsel to former head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo, who is also currently in prison, as one of the "coup plotters" (see below). He was arrested by plain-clothed security police on July 26, 1995, shortly after holding a press conference at which he had denied that his client, General Obasanjo, had any complicity in the alleged coup plot for which he had just been convicted in a military tribunal. Journalists attending the press conference were also harassed. Dr. Abayomi is also being held at Alagbon Close. The Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered that he be released or charged with a criminal offence in the regular criminal courts. Neither of these has occurred.

Chima Ubani

Mr. Chima Ubani is former secretary general of the Campaign for Democracy and Head of Campaigns at the Civil Liberties Organisation, one of Nigeria's best known human rights groups. He was arrested on July 18, 1995 by seven plain-clothed men from the State Security Service (SSS), at his home in Lagos; The SSS searched his apartment for "subversive documents", and he is apparently held in connection with his human rights and pro-democracy activities. Mr. Ubani is being held at the same Alagbon Close facility of the SSS as Abdul Oroh and Tunji Abayomi. The authorities have ignored a series of court orders demanding that he be produced in court or released from custody.

Kebir Ahmed

Mallam Kebir Ahmed is chair of the Sokoto state branch of the Campaign for Democracy. He was arrested in his home in Sokoto by a team of plain-clothed and uniformed policemen on March 10,1995. He was questioned in Kaduna in connection with his pro-democracy activities, in particular the distribution of leaflets. Mallam Ahmed is being held in Kirikiri maximum-security prison in Lagos.

Shehu Sani

Mallam Shehu Sani is the vice-chairman of the Kaduna region of the Campaign for Democracy, an opposition group. He was arrested by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) on March 9, 1995 at his home in Kaduna. He was said to have granted an interview to the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Corporation, in which he had said that the Campaign for Democracy would work towards the immediate termination of military rule. Military sources alleged that the date of the interview coincided with the date of the alleged coup plot (see below). Mallam Sani is being held in Kirikiri maximum-security prison in Lagos. On March 27, 1995, the high Court in Ikeja ordered his immediate release from Kirikiri prison, but this order was not obeyed by the authorities.

Ayo Opadokun

Chief Ayo Opadokun, secretary of NADECO, the National Democratic Coalition, was detained on October 13, 1994 under Decree No. 2, apparently in connection with his activities opposing continued military rule. Like other detainees under Decree No 2, he has been moved around between prisons, and is not allowed visitors, access to lawyers or private medical attention.

Frank Ovie Kokori

Frank Kokori is secretary general of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG). He was arrested on August 20, 1994 by p1ain-clothed security operatives who trailed him to the place in Lagos where he was living in hiding. Chief Kokori was one of the leaders of the two-month oil-workers strike that took place between July and August 1994, to protest the military take-over of one year earlier and to demand a return to civilian rule. Like many of the other detainees, Chief Kokori has been moved around between a number of different prisons, mostly in the north of Nigeria. He has intermittently been allowed to receive visitors, but is reported to be in poor health as a result of diabetes. Court orders that he be produced in court or released from illegal detention have been ignored by the government.


Anyakwee Nsirimovu, executive director of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL), based in Port Harcourt, and at least 18 supporters of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) were detained for several days in late March and early April 1996. Nsirimovu is a well-known human rights activist who has been active in monitoring and reporting abuses by the security forces in Ogoniland. ... His arrest, on March 27, 1996, followed a raid on the offices of the IHRHL in Port Harcourt during which the security forces were looking for documents.

These detentions appear to have been designed to prevent Mr Nsirimovu and the others from giving information to the representatives of the UN Secretary General during their recent mission to Nigeria, in the course of which they visited Ogoniland. The purpose of the UN mission, which was in Nigeria from March 28 to April 12, was to gather information on the trial and execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and the other MOSOP activists and to enable the UN to assess the process of transition to democracy in Nigeria that has been announced by the military government. Nsirimovu and the others were released after the UN left Ogoniland.

Kamedi von Dimeari, the president of the National Union of Rivers State Students, was detained for two weeks from January 5, 1996. He had organized a demonstration on December 10, International Human Rights Day, to protest the execution of the Ogoni nine. Before his release, he was taken to the military governor of Rivers State, Lieutenant Colonel Dauda Komo, and threatened with further detention unless he ceased his activities.


In March 1995, a number of armed forces officers and some civilians were arrested and charged with plotting a coup against the Nigerian military government. In June and July 1995, a military tribunal sat in judgment over 43 individuals charged in the case, including some who had simply publicized information about the arrest and detention of others supposed to be involved in the coup. Those tried were denied legal representation of their choice, there was no appeal procedure, the trial was in secret and the tribunal, consisting only of military officers, was specially constituted to hear the case. In October 1995, the "coup plotters" were sentenced, some of them to death or life imprisonment, although the death sentences were later commuted to terms of imprisonment and the terms of imprisonment reduced, after international appeals. Amongst those still in prison are the following:

Beko Ransome-Kuti

Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti is chair of the Campaign for Democracy, and a well-known Nigerian campaigner for the restoration of civilian rule. He was arrested by men from the DMI on July 27, 1995, five days after addressing a press conference on the conviction of the alleged coup plotters. He had earlier circulated to some international human rights groups the defense statement of Colonel R.S.B. Fadile, head of the Army Legal Directorate and one of those allegedly involved in the coup plot, He was charged, convicted of being an "accessory after the fact" to treason, having "illegally obtained sensitive documents pertaining to the coup trials which he faxed abroad to his collaborators in the UK and United States in order to subvert and blackmail the Federal Military Government." He was sentenced to life imprisonment, later commuted to 15 years.

Dr. Ransome-Kuti is being held in Katsina prison, in the north of Nigeria. He is reportedly currently in very poor health, having been suffering from a fever for several weeks. He has not been permitted to see any other doctor than the prison doctor, nor has he been allowed to consult with lawyers. His family have obtained permission for him to have one visit a month, by his wife or one of his daughters, at which four prison wardens must be present, including the Deputy Controller of Prisons. Otherwise he is held in solitary confinement, and he is not permitted letters. Orders that he be produced in court have been disregarded by the regime.

Rebecca Ikpe

Rebecca Ikpe is the sister-in-law of Colonel R.S.B. Bello-Fadile. She was also convicted of being an accessory after the fact to treason, as a result of passing Col. Fadile's defense submission to Dr Ransome-Kuti. At the time of her arrest, she was seriously anaemic, requiring iron injections to maintain her health. It is not known whether she is receiving the necessary medical attention for her condition.

Christine Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah and Ben Charles Obi

Chris Anyanwu, editor-in-chief and publisher of 'TSM' ("The Sunday Magazine"), George Mbah, assistant editor of Tell magazine, Kunle Ajibade, editor of The News magazine and Ben Charles Obi, editor of Classique magazine, were all sentenced to terms of imprisonment in connection with the "coup plot". The evidence cited against them consisted solely of publishing articles aimed at inciting the public against the Federal Military Government of Nigeria". They are held in various prisons at a distance from Lagos. Kunle Ajibade is reported to be in ill health, suffering from a kidney problem.


Bashorun Moshood K.O. Abiola is the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which received the majority of votes in the June 12, 1993 election which was supposed to lead to the installation of a civilian government. The election was annulled by former head of state General Babangida, and an interim government installed that was replaced in November by General Abacha in a renewal of military government. One year after the elections, on June 12, 1994, Chief Abiola declared himself president; on June 23, 1994 he was detained and charged with treason. Although others charged with treason at the same time have been released pending trial, he remains in detention to date. His lawyers have appealed against a refusal to grant him bail, but eight of the 12 Supreme Court judges recused themselves following a separate Supreme Court ruling that they should not hear the case, because they were involved in a libel suit against Concord Newspapers, owned by Chief Abiola. No further judges have been appointed by the government, so that the bail application and case itself cannot be heard. Chief Abiola is in poor health, suffering from hypertension and heart problems. He has on many occasions been denied access to visitors, although some official delegations, including the representatives of the UN Secretary General, have been permitted to see him.

Kudirat Abiola, the wife of chief Abiola, has campaigned for his release both domestically and internationally. On May 8, she was arrested and charged with "conspiracy to cause misdemeanor and making false publications with intent to cause fear to members of the public." She appeared in court, together with two co-accused (one of who was identified as a printer) and all three were released on bail. ...


Human Rights Watch urges the Nigerian government to:

Immediately and unconditionally release all detainees held under the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984 and repeal the decree and all other decrees allowing indefinite detention without charge;

Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Rebecca Ikpe, Christine Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah, Ben Charles Obi, and others who have been charged with or convicted of offences relating only to the exercise of fundamental rights to freedom of speech and association;

Immediately release or charge and try properly before a regular court respecting international standards of due process, the others convicted of involvement in the alleged coup plot;

Immediately and unconditionally release Chief Moshood Abiola and withdraw all charges against him and the others charged in connection with their statement criticizing the current government urging the release of Chief Abiola or stating Chief Abiola to be the rightful head of state;

Repeal all laws that make it an offence to criticize the government of Nigeria;

Immediately release, or charge and try promptly before a regular court respecting international standards of due process, the 19 Ogoni activists held in connection with the same facts as those for which Ken Saro Wiwa and his co-accused were convicted by a special tribunal;

Repeal all decrees allowing for the establishment of military or special tribunals to try civilians who are alleged to have committed normal criminal offences;

Obey all court orders relating to those in custody: in particular orders for individuals held to be released; produced before court; allowed visitors, access to lawyers or private doctors; removed to hospital where a prison or personal doctor recommends; or permitted reading material;

Allow all those held in custody for whatever reason full access to lawyers of their choice, their families and private doctors;

Hold detainees and prisoners at locations near to their families;

Ensure that conditions of detention and imprisonment are in full compliance with international standards.


Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director


Message-Id: <> From: "APIC" <> Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 15:53:06 -0500 Subject: Nigeria: HRW Letter (Excerpts)

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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