IRIN-West Africa Update 291, 98.9.9

IRIN-West Africa Update 291, 98.9.9

U N I T E D N A T I O N S Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa

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IRIN-WA Update 291 of Events in West Africa, (Wednesday) 9 September 1998

NIGERIA: Release of 20 Ogoni rights activists confirmed

Nigerian security forces released 20 human rights activists of the ethnic Ogoni people held without trial since 1994 in southeastern Nigeria, news organisations reported yesterday (Tuesday). The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), in a statement, said it had received confirmation yesterday of the unconditional release of all the Ogoni detainees.

Reuters quoted a released prisoner, Nyieda Nasikpo, as saying that one of his fellow prisoners had been blinded and another had died during detention. He said: "It was very horrible. The conditions were very hostile... We have cardiovascular problems, asthma and dermatitis from the unsanitary conditions" in the jails. A high court judge based in the eastern city of Port Harcourt ruled on Monday that the detainees should be released into MOSOP's care.

On the orders of the former Nigerian leader, General Sani Abacha, the Ogoni human rights activists were arrested and charged in 1994 with murdering four pro-government Ogoni chiefs. At the time the Ogoni activist and writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight collegues were executed for the murder of a pro-government chief in 1995.

An international outcry followed the executions which resulted in Nigeria being suspended from the Commonwealth.

Under Saro-Wiwa's leadership, MOSOP campaigned against alleged pollution of lands in the southeastern Niger Delta belonging to the Ogoni people by the Anglo-Dutch oil company, Shell, news agencies reported. Since 1994 the Nigerian government has stationed a special military security task force to maintain security in Ogoniland and other oil communities.

Reuters quoted political analysts as saying that the release of the activists was part of a new climate of freedom established by the new Nigerian leader, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. He has freed scores of political detainees and set in motion a process to end years of military rule in May 1999.

US and Britain welcome release of Ogoni activists

The US and British governments welcomed news of the release of the Ogoni activists. AFP quoted British Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd as saying: "I'm absolutely delighted that the Ogonis have been released. They have endured four miserable years in detention in appalling conditions." Lloyd said the releases were a "further sign" that Abubakar was "serious about human rights and the rule of law".

US State Department spokesman James Rubin said Washington welcomed the continuous efforts undertaken by the new Nigerian leadership to correct errors of the past. Rubin called on the Nigerian government to release all political prisoners.

Registration deadline

The registration deadline for Nigerian political associations wishing to contest next year's elections expired today, AFP reported. An official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said more than 23 political parties had applied for registration as of yesterday, but expected more to "apply right up to the deadline".

The list of parties that have been accepted, under INEC guidelines, would be released on 24 September.

Meanwhile, a prominent registered political group, the All People's Party (APP), suffered a setback with the withdrawal of a key southern political leader, Bola Ige. APP party officials, quoted by AFP, said Ige had withdrawn from the party over what they called "personality differences" with other leaders. The APP has drawn most of its support from the ranks of the opposition National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), one of the leading opposition groups under Abacha.

Ige, a high-ranking NADECO official, was arrested by the previous military regime on charges of inciting violence against the government.

Cameroon-Nigeria tensions

A Nigerian defence ministry statement said yesterday its neighbour, Cameroon, was reinforcing troops in the disputed oil-rich Bakassi peninsula bordering the two West African countries, news agencies said. Nigerian state radio quoted Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Tella, spokesman for the defence ministry, as saying that the "action of the Cameroonians was capable of triggering fresh confrontation in the disputed areas". He added that the Nigerian government would continue to maintain its peaceful stand and seek peaceful ways of resolving the dispute. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague gave Nigeria nine months in July to present written arguments on its border dispute with Cameroon over the peninsula, the scene of sporadic fighting since 1993.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Death sentences commuted

The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, announced yesterday that he would not execute 15 people sentenced to death by a military tribunal over alleged separatist attacks on the main island of Bioko.

Several members of the security forces were killed during the attack in January. Media reports said the announcement followed a plea for clemency from the human rights group, Amnesty International, which said the fifteen had signed confessions extracted under torture.

The 15 were among a group of 113 accused of belonging to the outlawed Movimiento para la Autodeterminacion de la Isla de Bioko, which supports the separatist aspirations of Bioko's indigenous Bubi population. The others were given gaol terms ranging from six to 24 years.

West African human rights analysts in London told IRIN today that Nguema's decision could not necessarily be interpreted as giving in to international pressure.

One source said prisoners sentenced to death were traditionally executed immediately after judgement was passed. It was therefore likely that Nguema had intended to commute the sentences, but waited for a while after appeals had been made to show his decision had not been influenced. "But we are all encouraged that the threat of execution has been lifted," the source added.

SIERRA LEONE: WFP appeals for funds to purchase food aid

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it was seeking US$ 9.7 million to perchase emergency food aid for 200,000 Sierra Leoneans who had fled rebel attacks in the east of their country to Guinea since March. In a statement yesterday, WFP said Sierra Leonean refugees were arriving in Guinea suffering from exhaustion, malnutrition and disease and were in urgent need of food, shelter, health care and sanitation facilities. Heavy rains had transformed the roads in Guinea into "mud baths", sometimes forcing it to halt food deliveries to refugee camps.

It added that the rebels had also been attacking Guinean villages, killing and wounding local residents and refugees. During an incursion last week on Tuesday into Guinea territory, "elements believed to belong the Sierra Leonean rebellion attacked the village of Toumandou in southwestern Guinea and killed at least 10 people".

ICRC to fly aid up-country

An official of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told IRIN today that it would start helicopter flights to bring medical assistance and humanitarian aid to civilians in inaccessible areas over the next three months. He said the flights would allow the ICRC to reach a greater number of victims and civilians forced to hide in the bush following rebel attacks. The first flights were scheduled tomorrow for Makeni and Magburaka in central Sierra Leone. Subsequently, the source said needs assessments would be carried out by helicopter to ascertain and fill the gaps in existing humanitarian programmes.

ICRC said the helicopter would fly to areas that the West African intervention force, ECOMOG, had declared safe. The chartered helicopter would be clearly identified in order to avoid any problems which could link it to other organisations operating in Sierra Leone.

LIBERIA: Army chief orders checkpoints removed

Liberia's armed forces chief of staff has ordered military checkpoints from the seven-year civil war removed in what analysts told IRIN today was an important step in building post-conflict confidence. The Monrovia-based independent Star Radio reported that General Prince Johnson had removed several checkpoints across Liberia in Bomi, Cape Mount, Lofa, and Nimba Counties after an assessment tour of the area, and ordered the dismantling of all other "war-time" controls in other counties.

Star radio quoted him as saying only checkpoints which existed before the war would be allowed to remain. Johnson also reportedly told security officers to be "tolerant and understanding" in their dealings with the civil authorities. Humanitarian sources, who worked in Liberia during the war, told IRIN the removal of the checkpoints was an important symbol that Liberia was moving on.

One source recalled that armed fighters had routinely used checkpoints on all major routes to terrorise civilians. "If you wanted to get through, you had to pay," he said. "If the fighters suspected you of sympathising with another faction, then you would have been lucky to get away alive."

Another source said checkpoints - sometimes decorated with gruesome victory symbols - had symbolised the paralysing grip factions maintained on all aspects of Liberian life during the conflict. "People will be happy they are going," he said.

"Many of the new security forces are former fighters," he said. "Civilians still do not trust them."

WEST AFRICA: FAO raises US$ 2 million to fund 136 micro-projects

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) announced in a statement yesterday that it had raised more than US$ 2 million to assist farmers in 136 small projects around the world last year after the launch of TeleFood, a global public awareness television event. The FAO said TeleFood projects were designed specifically to help small farmers, herders and artisanal fishers in the developing world to produce more food and improve nutrition at the grassroots level. According to FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, "Telefood has one major objective: to raise awareness of the scale of the problem and encourage solidarity in the fight against hunger."

The first projects were designed to achieve "self-sufficiency" and stress the important contributions made by women to home and national food security. Telefood projects operational in West Africa are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Niger and Nigeria.

The second Telefood would be aired on 16 to 18 October 1998 in countries around the world.

Abidjan, 9 September, 1998 17:40 gmt


[The material contained in this communication comes to you via IRIN West Africa, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN IRIN-WA Tel: +225 21 73 66 Fax: +225 21 63 35 e-mail: for more information or subscription. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this report, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. IRIN reports are archived on the Web at: or can be retrieved automatically by sending e-mail to - mailing list: irin-wa-updates]

Date: Wed, 9 Sep 1998 18:01:50 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa To: Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 291, 98.9.9 Message-Id:

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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