Ten Steps for Yar’Adua to Improve Human Rights Record
June 7, 2009
President Yar’Adua has had two years to show that he meant business when he promised to strengthen the rule of law. But instead, it is business as usual. The people responsible for the wholesale pillage of Nigeria’s oil wealth and for arming Niger Delta militants have been left untouched, and the victims of police violence have seen no justice.
Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch

(Dakar) - President Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria, halfway through his presidential mandate, has undermined the country's foremost anti-corruption body, done little to rein in an abusive police force, and failed to address the root causes of the escalating crisis in the Niger Delta, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Yar'Adua that there have been serious setbacks during the first two years in addressing Nigeria's chronic human rights problems and endemic corruption.

Human Rights Watch's letter includes proposals for concrete steps to address the country's pressing human rights concerns. It describes endemic government corruption and mismanagement, which rob ordinary Nigerians of their basic right to health and education; ongoing state-sponsored violence by the security forces, including extrajudicial killings and torture; the civilian fallout of clashes between the military and armed militants in the Niger Delta; and outbreaks of sectarian violence, which over the past two years have claimed hundreds of lives.

"President Yar'Adua has had two years to show that he meant business when he promised to strengthen the rule of law," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "But instead, it is business as usual. The people responsible for the wholesale pillage of Nigeria's oil wealth and for arming Niger Delta militants have been left untouched, and the victims of police violence have seen no justice."

Human Rights Watch acknowledged tentative steps the Yar'Adua administration has taken to address Nigeria's human rights concerns, but noted that these efforts have so far amounted to little more than policy statements and a series of new committees, panels, and ministries that have had little, if any, positive impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians. Yar'Adua and his administration have failed to address the root causes of Nigeria's human rights problems or change the atmosphere that allows abuses to persist.

Human Rights Watch proposed a 10-point human rights agenda. The recommendations include: passing a proposed Freedom of Information Bill; improving oversight of state and local government expenditures; holding accountable government officials responsible for embezzling public funds or instigating political violence; passing legislation barring discrimination against "non-indigenes"; investigating and prosecuting members of the security forces implicated in extrajudicial killings, torture, or other serious human rights violations; dismissing the chair of the electoral commission; and appointing an inspector general of police committed to ending police abuses.

Yar'Adua pledged in his inaugural speech to pursue an impartial, "zero-tolerance" policy toward corrupt officials, but instead he has fired the dynamic chief of the anti-corruption commission and has not held accountable key ruling party politicians who have been credibly implicated in the massive looting of the state treasury. The National Assembly, controlled by the ruling party, has not passed the Freedom of Information Bill, which would empower Nigeria's citizens by giving them access to government financial records.

Two years after the violent and deeply flawed 2007 elections that brought Yar'Adua to power, elections are still determined by fraud and violence rather than the will of the people. The April 2009 gubernatorial election re-run in Ekiti State was marred, as Yar'Adua described it, by reports of "violence, intimidation of voters, bribery of electoral officials, and other breaches of the law."

Despite this acknowledgment, Yar'Adua has refused to remove the widely discredited chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Maurice Iwu, who presided over and legitimized the results of the Ekiti as well as the 2007 elections. In addition, the Yar'Adua administration has yet to investigate properly, much less hold to account, those who sponsored or carried out the 2007 election violence that left at least 300 dead.

The administration's strategy for the worsening crisis in the Niger Delta - an offer of amnesty to militants, military offensives, and the creation of a Niger Delta ministry - has failed to address the root causes of the worsening crisis there, Human Rights Watch said. The government officials who have sponsored violence for political gain in the region and the corrupt ruling party politicians who have squandered and embezzled its vast oil wealth remain free of scrutiny, inquiry, and prosecution.

Inter-communal violence, which has claimed 12,000 lives in Nigeria over the past decade, broke out again in November 2008 in Jos, Plateau state, leaving hundreds dead and thousands displaced. Yar'Adua has yet to end the impunity that perpetuates this violence or to address its root causes, most notably the discriminatory policies against "non-indigenes" - those who cannot trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants of the area where they live.

Human Rights Watch noted that the police force is in dire need of a new inspector general of police committed to reforming this notoriously corrupt institution.

The police force under the current inspector general, Mike Okiro, remains deeply mired in endemic corruption and widespread abuses. The Yar'Adua administration has made little effort to investigate and prosecute police officials responsible for scores of extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects as well as ordinary citizens, and for routine torture of criminal suspects during interrogation.

"President Yar'Adua should take immediate steps to address Nigeria's dismal human rights record," said Dufka. "If he wishes to build his legacy on the rule of law, he needs to exercise bold and courageous leadership to tackle the impunity that fuels abuses and address their root causes. The lives of ordinary Nigerians are in the balance."

More reporting on: