Clinton should make clear that the Nigerian government will be internationally condemned if it uses violence to suppress popular protest in the Niger Delta region, and that it should seek a negotiated political solution to the demands of those who live there.

Clinton Visit to Nigeria
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Human Rights in Nigeria: A Briefing for the Visit of President Clinton


HRW Work on Nigeria






Human Rights in Nigeria - Clinton Visit to Nigeria - August 2000, Human Rights Watch Backgrounder
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Investigating Past Human Rights Abuses

Reform of the Justice System

Law Enforcement and Security Sector Reform

The Niger Delta

The Extension of Sharia Law

Constitutional Reform

The Electoral System

Nigeria in Sierra Leone

Recommendations to the U.S. Government

President Clinton will be traveling to Nigeria from August 25 to 27, his second visit to Africa and his first to that country. Clinton's last trip to Africa, in March and April 1998, was the most extensive trip to the continent by a U.S. president, but he did not visit Nigeria, which was at that time still under military rule and subject to international sanctions. In May 1999, following sixteen years of repressive dictatorship by a series of military regimes, elected civilian government was finally restored in Nigeria. Clinton's trip is a recognition of the importance of Nigeria's transition, and the need to consolidate the recent gains to face the challenges ahead.

The decade and half of military rule in Nigeria was marked by economic collapse, political repression and systematic human rights violations. Following a protracted struggle for the restoration of democracy, which intensified following the annulled elections of June 12, 1993, and the deaths in 1998 of head of state General Sani Abacha and Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 elections, the interim government of General Abdusalami Abubakar conducted a series of elections in late 1998 and early 1999 which led to the restoration of civilian government under Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999.

The human rights situation in Nigeria has improved a good deal since the installation of the new administration. Civil and political rights, which were substantially eroded under successive military regimes, have been reestablished and are broadly respected by the government. In June 2000, the government affirmed its commitment to the international human rights regime by signing the treaty for the establishment of an International Criminal Court. The Nigerian people are gradually becoming accustomed to enjoying their civil liberties, though a particularly pernicious legacy of military misrule is the prevalent fear and mistrust of "government" and its policies. The Nigerian media, possibly the largest and most diversified in sub-Saharan Africa, played a critical role in the reestablishment of democracy and has flourished in the more liberal environment created by the elected government. A survey on popular attitudes to democracy carried out in early 2000 found strong popular sentiments in favor of democratic governance among 80 percent of the Nigerian population. .The government has also embarked on an intensive campaign to restore diplomatic and economic relations with the international community, which were badly damaged under military rule. In turn, the U.S. government—like other governments—has deepened its engagement with Nigeria; several intergovernmental cooperation initiatives are underway in the political, economic, and commercial spheres. Several high-level U.S. officials have made visits to Nigeria and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has described Nigeria as one of four priority countries to assist in the consolidation of democratic government. U.S.AID is presently coordinating a major interagency democracy and governance assistance project in Nigeria including security sector reform. President Obasanjo has visited the U.S. twice since winning the presidential elections in February 2000.

These improvements notwithstanding, there are serious human rights concerns which have not been addressed by the government, and civil society groups in Nigeria point to several missed opportunities to improve constitutional governance. Nigeria experienced economic ruination under military rule. The national infrastructure and virtually all public institutions, including the judiciary and the security forces, decayed during this period. The constitution itself, imposed by the military, lacks legitimacy. The expectation of Nigerians and the international community was that an elected government faced with these realities would focus on a legislative agenda to begin rebuilding the country. This has not happened. Since late 1999, there has been protracted discord between the executive branch and the legislature. The result of this is that very little new legislation has been passed as the presidency and the National Assembly constantly bicker and seek public support for their respective positions on national issues. The National Assembly has been struck by repeated corruption scandals, even as it debated new anti-corruption legislation: in late July 2000, a Senate panel held hearings during which testimony was given of wildly overinflated prices for contracts awarded by the National Assembly; the report recommended that the Senate president and deputy president be removed from their posts, and that the police investigate the findings against them and others. The National Assembly accuses President Obasanjo of still being a dictator at heart, pointing to his military background and his human rights record when he was the military ruler of Nigeria from 1976 to 1979. It does not help that President Obasanjo has at times seemed to show contempt for the media and human rights groups. Considering the many challenges faced by Nigeria's civilian government, the lack of progress in establishing a reform program, starting from the urgent need to create an agreed constitutional framework for the country, is worrisome.

Most disturbing of all has been the renewal of state violence in the Niger Delta. In late November 1999, Nigerian soldiers moved into Odi, a community of perhaps 15,000 people in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta, engaged in a brief exchange of fire with some young men alleged to be responsible for the deaths of twelve policemen, and proceeded to raze the town. The troops demolished every single building, barring the bank, the Anglican church, and the health center. According to testimony collected by Human Rights Watch and Nigerian human rights groups, soldiers may have killed dozens of unarmed civilians. According to the Nigerian constitution, the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and has the power to determine the operational use of the army, including when it acts in support of civilian authorities to restore order. While there have been some government efforts to provide relief to the residents of Odi, there has been no government support for the independent investigation of the abuses committed and accountability of those responsible.

This document seeks to highlight the major concerns for human rights and constitutional governance and raise issues for U.S. policy towards Nigeria. These concerns include: investigation of past abuses and restoration of the rule of law; continuing abuses by the security forces and criminal justice system; the situation in the Niger Delta; ethnic, sectarian and communal violence in various parts of Nigeria, including violence deriving from the extension of the application of Sharia law; constitutional reform; and the electoral system.

Investigating Past Human Rights Abuses

Among the first steps taken by the new president were several initiatives to draw a clear line between past military regimes and the new civilian administration, including the appointment of commissions to examine human rights abuses and to investigate corruption. In June 1999 the president appointed a commission chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, to investigate "mysterious deaths" and assassinations and other human rights abuses during the period January 1966 to June 1998, and to make recommendations to redress past injustices and to prevent future violations (widely referred to in Nigeria as the Oputa Commission). The commission has a three-year mandate within which to complete its work, and has received approximately 11,000 petitions, mostly from Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta. However, the Nigerian government has given very limited resources to the commission and its impact has been very limited thus far. As it is chronically underresourced, it has only a two-room office in the federal secretariat and a minuscule support staff. Public knowledge of the commission's existence is very limited, especially in rural areas; many would-be petitioners have not had the opportunity to tell of the abuses that have affected them. All the commission's public activities and the training of its personnel have been funded by donors working with civil society groups.

In addition to appointing a commission to examine past violations, the Nigerian government has brought charges against a number of individuals accused of involvement in some of the more egregious violations of the Abacha regime. Those charged include Mohammed Abacha, son of the former head of state, and Major Hamza al-Mustapha, his former head of security. They are charged with various offenses including murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy in relation to "death squad" activity during the Abacha regime; in particular, the murder in 1996 of Kudirat Abiola, wife of Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the aborted 1993 presidential elections who died in detention in 1998. She had championed her husband's release and installation as president of Nigeria. Mohammed Abacha is separately charged with theft of public funds and is being investigated by a Swiss magistrate, George Vecchin at the instance of the Nigerian government in connection with public funds allegedly stolen by his father and deposited in Swiss banks. General Jeremiah Useni, a close associate of General Abacha is under indictment by the code of conduct tribunal for failure to disclose assets acquired while in public office. While these prosecutions are welcome, some Nigerians, especially those from the north of the country, are concerned that the selection of people to prosecute is selective, and that the government has not made the same effort to pursue many others associated with the abuses of the military period. There is an apparent reluctance of the government to investigate and prosecute of several of General Abacha's associates who are leading members and financiers of the ruling People's Democratic Party, including the former president, Ibrahim Babangida.

President Obasanjo also appointed panels to look into appointments and contracts made during the period leading up to the handover to civilian rule, when billions were reportedly stolen, and into failed contracts and fraudulent land transactions under successive military governments. The government has made strenuous efforts to recover stolen funds held in foreign bank accounts, and accounts in both Switzerland and Luxembourg have been frozen to a total value of more than U.S.$1.2 billion. In June 2000, President Obasanjo finally signed into law the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, after long delays in securing its passage through the National Assembly. However, it appears that corrupt spending of government funds has continued unabated: in late July 2000, a Senate panel held hearings during which testimony was given of wildly overinflated prices for contracts awarded since civilian government was restored; the report recommended that the Senate president and deputy president be removed from their posts, and that the police investigate the findings against them and others. While the deputy president resigned, the Senate brought impeachment proceedings against the president. There are also credible reports of continued spending by the executive without legislative oversight, while the accounting procedure for the funds recovered from overseas has been less than satisfactory, with discrepancies in the figures provided by the Accountant General and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Reform of the Justice System

Immediately before the handover of power to President Obasanjo, General Abubakar announced the repeal of a number of military decrees that had permitted a wide range of acts in violation of international human rights law. While a most welcome step, the many years of military rule in Nigeria have built up a large body of other laws that reflect their military origins and infringe on the rights of the Nigerian people. Among the laws causing concern are the Public Order Act 1979 and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Decree. The new civilian government also made commitments to respect the rule of law. Nevertheless, there are disturbing incidents of federal and state public officials continuing to disobey court orders with apparent impunity. In one case in late 1999, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency failed to release suspects granted bail by the Federal High Court for several months and no disciplinary action was taken against the officers responsible. While the number of such incidents has significantly reduced since the restoration of democracy, it is worrisome that some federal and state public officials continue to wilfully disregard court orders.

The collapse of the criminal justice system under military rule continues to result in serious and systematic human rights violations including the prolonged incarceration without trial of criminal suspects. The government has stated that it is committed to improving prison conditions, and federal and state governments have announced a series of amnesties for prison inmates. In January 2000, the government announced that all prisoners under sentence of death and awaiting execution for twenty years or more would be granted total pardon, and that those awaiting execution between ten and twenty years would have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. This has merely scratched the surface of the problem, and the government is yet to address the root cause of prison congestion, the collapse of the criminal justice system. Minister of State for Internal Affairs Alhaji Danjuma Goje announced on July 15, 2000 that pretrial detainees represent over 70 percent of the prison population, and that 32,000 are currently incarcerated awaiting trial. These problems plague the civil law system as well: on average, delays in a civil or commercial case filed in a magistrate or superior court will amount to three to six years before trial. The loss of faith by the Nigerian public in the judicial system and in the impartiality and effectiveness of the police has resulted in violent private "law enforcement" through vigilante activity, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths over the last year, as well as arbitrary destruction or confiscation of property.

Although the federal government has negotiated a multisector loan from a consortium of donors including U.S.AID and the World Bank, of which legal and judicial reform is a component, it is not clear that the government has the political will to rebuild the criminal justice system. Astonishingly, no recurrent or capital allocation was made for the judiciary in the draft budget for the year 2000. The chief justice of Nigeria protested the omission to President Obasanjo who acknowledged the error and apologized. That budget officials completely "forgot" the existence of the judiciary is symptomatic of the mindset in the executive towards the judiciary.

Law Enforcement and Security Sector Reform

Demonstrating a determination to bring the armed forces under control, Obasanjo removed several hundred army officers from their posts shortly after taking office, and announced plans to cut the military in size from 80,000 to 50,000 over four years. The Nigerian government has been working with both the U.S. and British governments toward strengthening civilian control and legislative oversight of the armed forces.

At the same time, the Nigerian government announced plans to increase the police force to nearly double its present size of 135,000. Yet no parallel announcement was made that comprehensive police reform would be undertaken. The Nigerian police are still governed by a colonial law first promulgated in 1943, and there are no effective provisions for civilian oversight of the force or for political accountability in case of abuse. Ordinary police officers are ill-paid and poorly trained, and consequently often corrupt; sexual discrimination and harassment of women police officers is routine. In addition, there is a paramilitary mobile police force, first established in 1959 and nicknamed "kill-and-go" by the civilian population in the early 1980s for their trigger-happy disposition. The mobile police were established as anti-riot police but now also serve as regular enforcement officers. They comprise the special anti-robbery squads and are deployed to long term patrols in areas of conflict such as the Niger Delta. The mobile police are notoriously brutal, and are even less subject to civilian oversight than the ordinary police. In April 2000, Mobile Policemen went on a rampage in the town of Suleja in Niger State and killed at least twenty civilians in a drunken shooting spree following an attack by unarmed civilians on their post during riots to protest the appointment of a traditional leader. The abusive paramilitary anti-crime units established under the military government have been disbanded since the end of military rule and replaced by police units that do not include soldiers. The methods used by the new units seem, however, to resemble those of their predecessors. The policemen who make up these units have continued to commit human rights violations with apparent impunity. Extortion, torture, and extrajudicial executions are commonplace. Supervision by senior officers is weak, and there is evidence that Mobile Police commanders turn a blind eye or are themselves complicit in human rights abuses.

In July 2000, the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) was established, coordinated by the NGO Centre for Law Enforcement Education (CLEEN) with the support of U.S.AID and the British Department for International Development. NOPRIN has identified five thematic areas for police reform: police operations and accountability; human resources; training and career development in the police; gender and policing; police legislation and standing orders; and community-police relations. Five civil society groups have nominated representatives to be part of a larger consultative group involving the three arms of government (the executive, legislature, and judiciary) on police reform.

Nigeria's principal intelligence agencies, the State Security Service (SSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), have a history of repression. Persons detained by these agencies reported being tortured to make confessions especially under the Babangida and Abacha regimes. To date, there is no information as to whether those alleged to be responsible for torture have been held accountable under the law. Since the restoration of civilian rule, some of those critical of the government have been arrested, interrogated, and arbitrarily detained for days or weeks; the agencies seem yet to rid themselves of the bad habits acquired under military rule. Although the Senate and the House of Representatives have committees which supposedly oversee the SSS and the NIA, which report to the presidency, the agencies continue to operate under a shroud of complete secrecy. The legislators do not have effective access to information on the activities of the agencies and so cannot exercise their powers of oversight. The intelligence budget is not subject to legislative scrutiny.

The Niger Delta

The crisis in the oil producing regions has resulted in some of the worst human rights violations since the restoration of civilian rule. The Niger Delta has been the site of major confrontations between the people who live there and the security forces, resulting in extrajudicial executions, mass internments of civilians, arbitrary detentions, and draconian restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. These violations of civil and political rights, which reached a climax during the "Ogoni crisis" of 1993 to 1996, have been committed principally in response to protests about the activities of the multinational companies that extract Nigeria's oil and the lack of local accountability for the way in which the oil revenue is used by the Nigerian government.

Since the restoration of an elected civilian government, there has been a surge in demands for the government to improve the position of the different groups living in the oil producing areas. In addition there has been an increase in criminal acts such as kidnappings of oil company staff in hope of ransom payments, and violence among neighboring ethnic groups over matters such as the location of local government headquarters, crucial in the distribution of oil resources. In September 1999, demonstrations at the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the Atlantic coast at Bonny, reportedly the largest single investment site in Africa, delayed Nigeria's first exports of LNG, indicating the continuing threat of major disruption to Nigerian government revenue.

Although there is a clear need for law and order to be established in those parts of the delta where criminal activities and the violence between neighboring ethnic groups has been worst, the security forces have both failed to protect civilians from violence in many cases, and have also themselves carried out serious and widespread violations of human rights. Security force action has often been indiscriminate, or targeted at those who have not committed any crime but have protested oil production in accordance with their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

The Nigerian government has deployed large numbers of soldiers and paramilitary Mobile Police across the delta, including a special task force to protect oil pipelines, and has announced plans for the training and equipping of a "special" police unit to be deployed in the Niger Delta. This unit would be drawn from elements of the Mobile Police, which has been responsible for serious human rights violations in the delta and other parts of Nigeria. In June and July 2000, the federal task force charged with protecting oil pipelines carried out several extrajudicial executions in oil producing communities in Delta State. The victims were persons suspected of vandalizing pipelines or stealing petroleum products, and included at least three children aged between eight and fourteen years.

The government has removed troops and police of ethnic Ijaw origin from the Niger delta on the allegation that they are providing weapons and training to fellow Ijaws who are engaged in conflicts with oil companies and local ethnic groups. While there are concerns that elements of the security forces who are of local origin may be partisan in ethnic clashes, it is also the case that security detachments made up of outsiders to the delta have often been more willing to use lethal and indiscriminate force. In November 1999, an army unit destroyed the town of Odi in Bayelsa State, allegedly in response to the killing of twelve policemen by local youths. Testimony collected by Human Rights Watch and Nigerian groups supports allegations that dozens of civilians, most of them unarmed, were killed. Graffiti left in Odi by the troops included ethnic slurs and clearly conveyed an "us" against "them" mindset. In all cases of bias or abuse by the security forces, the correct government response is to bring to justice those responsible, in accordance with international standards of due process, not to create an environment in which abuses become more probable. There has been no government-supported independent investigation of these events, and no military personnel are known to have been prosecuted for the atrocities committed in Odi.

In March and April 2000, repressive force was once again used in Ogoniland, Rivers State, when paramilitary Mobile Police deployed to the village of K-dere, Gokana local government area, following disputes over the completion of development projects to be funded by Shell. The security forces killed at least one civilian, razed a number of buildings, and arrested several Ogoni activists, including Ledum Mitee, a leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and codefendant of minority rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who was executed by the military government in November 1995.

In response to local demands for greater resource ownership and benefits, President Obasanjo introduced a bill to establish a Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Most leaders of the ethnic groups based in the Niger Delta, however, initially rejected the bill since it did not address their concerns surrounding revenue allocation and resource control and appeared likely to duplicate similar corruption-ridden bodies created by previous administrations. In particular, opponents to the draft bill objected to the proposal that 50 percent of the finance for the commission should come from the 13 percent of revenue that the 1999 constitution provides shall be allocated on a "derivation principle," returning to states from which the revenue is derived. In effect, they argued, the commission would actually take away money that should already go to the oil producing states under the new constitution. In response to these criticisms, the National Assembly amended the draft bill to reflect some of these concerns: the bill as passed would have the NDDC funded by the federal government and by oil companies operating in the area. The 13 percent revenue will go to the states unimpaired—though there have been substantial delays in actually making these payments, and it is still not clear whether the allocations will be backdated to June 1999, when the constitution came into force. President Obasanjo vetoed these amendments but the bill was subsequently passed by a two-thirds majority, overriding the president's veto. The president however sent an amendment to the bill back to the National Assembly. This amendment will be considered during the legislative session which began on July 13, 2000.

The oil companies operating in Nigeria, which operate joint ventures with the Nigerian government, also share a responsibility to ensure that oil production does not continue at the cost of violations of the rights of those who live in the areas where oil is produced. U.S.-based oil companies operating in Nigeria include Chevron, Mobil and Texaco. The U.S. government has undertaken an initiative on corporate responsibility and human rights in the oil industry, to promote dialogue and encourage best practices.

The level of anger against the federal government and the oil companies among the residents of the oil producing communities means that further protest is likely, as are further incidents of hostage taking and other criminal acts. Yet any attempt to achieve a forcible solution to these problems will certainly result in widespread and serious violations of Nigeria's commitments to respect internationally recognized human rights. While it is certainly necessary to establish the rule of law in the delta, a quiet achieved by repressive means can only be temporary and will result in more violence in the longer term.

The Extension of Sharia Law

Several states in northern Nigeria have, since September 1999, introduced or announced plans to extend the application of Islamic Sharia law to criminal offenses. Many parts of northern Nigeria have predominantly Muslim populations. Under colonial rule, common law was applied in these areas, but Sharia continued to be applied throughout the colonial period to personal law among Muslims. Post independence constitutions continued to restrict the scope of Sharia to personal law, but with the most recent restoration of civilian rule, politicians have responded to popular concern at rising levels of crime and discontent with the functioning of the criminal justice system by promoting the extension of the application of Sharia to criminal offenses. This move has been extremely popular among sectors of the Muslim population, and rallies in support of the application of Sharia have attracted tens of thousands of people in some cities. Despite assurances that the application of Sharia will be restricted to Muslim Nigerians, due process issues and the nature of some punishments imposed by Sharia, notably amputation and flogging, mean that the many thousands of Christians living in the north are deeply concerned that Sharia law and punishments will be applied to them also.

Sharia law punishments including amputation and flogging have been imposed in Zamfara State for offenses such as cattle theft and fornication. In March 2000, a suspected cattle thief had his arm amputated on the orders of a Sharia court; in April 2000, a male youth was flogged for fornication while his partner, a female minor received a suspended sentence as she was menstruating at the time she was to be flogged. Women in states that have implemented Sharia law are prohibited from employment outside their households and from sharing taxis and buses with men. The sale of alcohol and tobacco is prohibited and Muslims are expected to adopt "Islamic dress" including the veil for women. The Zamfara state government has established Sharia courts and an Islamic youth association to enforce the Sharia laws. The youth association is charged with detecting offenders and bringing infractions to the notice of the Sharia courts, and in at least two known instances have done so. In other states that have extended Sharia law, local Islamic voluntary organizations work with the Sharia courts to enforce the Sharia laws. The police commissioner of Zamfara state refused in a newspaper interview to state whether or not he would instruct his officials to enforce Sharia laws, but stated that he would seek clarification from his superiors; the state governor stated that the police had been ordered to enforce Sharia.

Nigeria has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and has signed but not ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. From the standpoint of these human rights treaties, the provenance of a country's law is not of paramount concern—so long as it is in conformity with international human rights law, including the prohibition on cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment and the rights to equality before the law and equal protection of the law. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture has confirmed that punishments such as amputation and flogging are breaches of the Convention Against Torture. Many of the restrictions imposed on women are equally breaches of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Nigerian human rights groups also argue that these practices are in violation of the Nigerian constitution, and that the government should take steps for the Supreme Court to consider the issues raised and issue an advisory opinion. However, the northern state governments have consistently dismissed these criticisms as based on Western values. The Nigerian government has refused to take legal steps to determine the constitutionality or otherwise of Sharia law, stating that it prefers a "political" solution.

Ethnic, Sectarian, and Communal Violence

A wave of ethnic, sectarian, and communal violence has swept across Nigeria since the restoration of elected civilian government in May 1999. Several hundred people have lost their lives in these incidents. Some of this violence is the result of longstanding interethnic and intercommunal disputes, which successive governments have at best ignored and at worst provoked or worsened by discriminatory application of the law, violent police or military action, and the distribution of government resources to favor one group over another. In late 1999 and early 2000, there were riots in Lagos in which the Oodua People's Congress (OPC), a Yoruba nationalist group, clashed with Hausas from the north of Nigeria living and working in the city. A committee of the Lagos State Senate investigated the violence, and found that at least nine policemen, seven OPC members and 163 innocent civilians had lost their lives. Twelve police stations had been burnt down. In recent months, much violence has followed the extension of Sharia law to criminal offenses in some states of northern Nigeria. Reports of the planned introduction of Sharia law led to clashes between Muslims and Christians in Kaduna and Kano in February 2000. At least 700 people were killed in these disturbances and in reprisal killings of Muslims in southeastern Nigeria that followed. Protracted communal and ethnic violence is also ongoing between the Aguleri and Umuleri (Anambra State), Ife and Modakeke (Osun State), and Jukun and Kuteb (Taraba State) communities.

Lack of faith in the criminal justice system is certainly a factor in the emergence of ethnic militias in the last two years, a particularly disturbing phenomenon. In some cases, these militias have obtained automatic weapons, significantly increasing the death tolls in communal and sectarian conflicts. The various militias claim to be vigilante units defending local populations against the rise in violent crime, which the police have appeared unable to contain. They are responsible for hundreds of murders of suspected criminals across Nigeria in the last twelve months. They operate on the basis of denunciations of suspects by local residents and administer "instant justice" by lynching their victims usually by "necklacing"—being burned alive by a burning tire placed around their neck. The vigilante/militia groups have also become involved in inter-ethnic and inter-communal conflicts.

Some government officials have spoken out against such vigilante action. However, in July 2000, the governor of Anambra State endorsed the activities of the "Bakassi Boys"—an Igbo vigilante group ostensibly set up to combat crime, but which was responsible for killing several dozen Hausa Muslims in Aba, Abia State and Owerri, Imo State, in reprisal for the killing of Igbos during the Kaduna riots in February 2000—and stated that they had been renamed the "Onitsha vigilante services." Although Minister of Police Affairs David Jemibiwon spoke out against the Bakassi Boys and other militias following this statement, he later seemed to back down from his position.

Soldiers and police have also committed serious human rights violations in the course of responding to intercommunal violence, including extrajudicial executions, torture, rape, and extortion.

Constitutional Reform

In many ways, the lack of consensus on the legitimacy of the 1999 constitution is the fundamental problem facing Nigeria. The interim government of General Abdusalami Abubakar promulgated the constitution that is currently in force in Nigeria only three weeks before the new government was inaugurated on May 29, 1999. This followed an unrepresentative drafting process that took place virtually without consultation with the Nigerian people. The 1999 constitution was finalized by a panel appointed by General Abubakar and adopted by the military Provisional Ruling Council. There is widespread agreement among Nigerian politicians and civil society organizations that the process by which the constitution was adopted was illegitimate and that the arrangements in relation to a number of crucial areas, including human rights and the rule of law, the structure of the Nigerian federation and the system for revenue allocation and resource management, are not acceptable.

The letter of the constitution also raises a number of human rights concerns. For example, section 315(5) of the constitution provides that "Nothing in the constitution shall invalidate" a set of laws, including the controversial National Security Agencies Act and Land Use Act, which in addition can only be repealed or amended by a special majority of the National Assembly and Senate. Section 6 of the National Security Agencies Act provides that the president may make any law to confer powers on the Defence Intelligence Agency, the National Intelligence Agency and the State Security Services. The Land Use Act provides the government with an extraordinary and often arbitrary degree of control over land; its repeal is one of the central demands of groups protesting the conditions of oil production in the Niger Delta area. As a result of section 315(5) of the constitution, the constitutionality of these laws cannot be challenged in any court of law.

The 1999 constitution also created novel political and funding problems for the judiciary. The constitution creates a National Judicial Council, which is to collect and disburse funds meant for the judiciary. It is also charged with recommending nominees to be appointed as federal or state judges—a provision that has caused a great deal of controversy. Nigeria is a federation of states, but the judges of the state high courts are to be selected by a federal body, which is also to fund the operations of state courts. This constitutional provision has created a constitutional anomaly that in effect "federalizes" state judiciaries. At the present time, the National Judicial Council is yet to become operational and the state judiciaries continue to be funded by the respective state governments.

The current Nigerian government did establish a thirty-person interparty committee to review the 1999 constitution, but it has been much criticized by political leaders and civil society groups for its vague mandate and unrepresentative composition. The committee has ten representatives from each of the three registered political parties, namely the ruling People's Democratic Party, the All Peoples' Party, and the Alliance for Democracy, all appointed by President Obasanjo on the recommendation of party leaders. The committee was then split into six teams which conducted "public hearings" in various state capitals in the six geo-political zones across Nigeria, in addition to meetings with the respective state legislatures and governors. The committee's resources were limited and it did not effectively publicize its activities, and as a result there was virtually no public participation in the "hearings." The committee has gradually disappeared into oblivion. No public information is presently available as to whether the committee produced any report and senior government officials no longer refer to the committee in public.

On May 23, 2000, in a joint session of the two houses of the National Assembly, the Senate president announced the formation of a forty-two person constitutional review committee. The committee made little progress during the legislative session, and the National Assembly has announced that it would make constitutional reform a priority in the new legislative session which began on July 13. Civil society organizations are responding with initiatives and coalitions to coordinate input to the process and promote popular participation.

The Electoral System

Related to the constitutional issues, and also fundamental to many of the problems still facing Nigeria, are failings in the electoral system. If members of the National Assembly and state assemblies are not genuinely representative of their constituencies, then they are unable to negotiate solutions to political problems that will be accepted as legitimate. Although observers of the elections conducted in late 1998 and early 1999 welcomed their largely peaceful conclusion, they also concluded that they were deeply flawed. Allegations of ballot stuffing, vastly inflated tallies of voter turnout and blatant purchasing of votes were rife.

Political exclusion and a lack of minority representation constitute significant problems. In addition, the current electoral regulations require all political groups and associations, whether they are contesting local, state, or federal elections, to be registered as political parties by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) before they can be accorded recognition as political entities or present candidates. The electoral regulations expressly prohibit parties formed on regional, ethnic, and religious lines and require parties to have offices in at least twenty-four of the thirty-six states of Nigeria. They do not allow independent candidates, and provide for a screening process for party candidates on grounds of "security." The registration criteria impose extremely arduous financial burdens as a result of which many persons or groups willing to engage in political activity cannot officially participate in electoral politics or present candidates for election. For example, the left-of-center party Democratic Alternative was unable to raise funds to set up offices in twenty-four state capitals in Nigeria, as a result of which it was not registered. The implication of this financial burden is that wealthy political bosses and former military officers who have substantial private resources and can afford to engage in political activities dominate the three political parties.

These requirements were justified by the government as necessary to promote national unity and prevent the formation of parties based on regional, ethnic or religious divisions. While this is a legitimate object, its practical effect is to restrict minority group participation in elections. For example, political groups representing the small Ogoni ethnic group such as MOSOP, which has a platform of securing local ownership of oil resources in Ogoniland, Rivers State, will not be able to build the cross-ethnic alliances needed to meet the electoral commission's requirements since their agenda is not one acceptable to the leaders of the larger ethnic groups in Nigeria. The result is that the political parties are very weak, and are effectively no more than agglomerations of often divergent interest groups and factions with no discernable political program. The security screening process carried out by the IEC is not based on reasonable and transparent criteria and has resulted in the exclusion of outspoken individuals likely to challenge the status quo rather than fulfilling any legitimate purpose. Many Nigerians who wish to participate in politics are shut out by these regulations.

Nigeria in Sierra Leone

Nigerian troops have played an important military role in Sierra Leone since February 1998, when they intervened under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to restore the elected government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. They currently form a key component of the peacekeeping forces of the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), with some 3,213 soldiers deployed, the largest component of the UNAMSIL forces (just larger than the Indian contingent). The U.N. Security Council is currently discussing a new mandate for UNAMSIL, and the possibility of the deployment of an even larger contingent of troops from ECOWAS countries, largely Nigerians, within an expanded force. The Nigerian forces in Sierra Leone have played a very important role and have undoubtedly protected many civilians from falling victim to the rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). However, there are concerns in relation to human rights issues. Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses by Nigerian forces serving under ECOMOG in Sierra Leone, including summary executions of suspected rebels and their collaborators, extortion, brutality and excessive use of force. Increasing the likelihood of abuse is the fact that Nigerian troops are not rotated out of Sierra Leone sufficiently often to allow for recovery from the very difficult posting, nor are their salaries paid regularly. Some Nigerian soldiers are only now going home after serving on active duty in Liberia and Sierra Leone for almost three years without home leave.

In August 2000, the U.S. announced that it would send at least a hundred U.S. Special Forces to Nigeria to train and equip up to five Nigerian battalions for UNAMSIL, part of a total of seven battalions from West Africa. Training is currently underway for the first battalion, with other battalions being reviewed for possible inclusion, and is expected to last at least a couple of months. The cost is expected to be U.S.$20 million. The U.S. has stated that it is vetting the Nigerian battalions in compliance with the Leahy law, which prohibits U.S. assistance to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if there is credible evidence that the units have committed gross human rights abuses. The training will include training in combat, peacekeeping, and counterinsurgency, in addition to human rights and humanitarian law education. The equipment to be provided will include Belgian FN rifles, mortars and communication equipment, but not heavy artillery or tanks. However, no provisions have been made for monitoring the conduct of these battalions once they are deployed or ensuring that any soldiers responsible for human rights abuses will be held accountable.

Recommendations to the U.S. Government

The reestablishment of civilian rule in Nigeria offers a real hope that the country can take its rightful place as a leader in Africa and that its citizens can enjoy the respect for human rights to which they are entitled. However, the government faces huge obstacles in achieving this goal in the face of the pattern of widespread and systematic abuse that it has inherited from its predecessors. In particular, the government, or elements within it, may be tempted to respond violently to the discontent in the Niger Delta, a response that could catastrophically reverse progress towards respect for human rights in Nigeria as a whole. The U.S. government can play an important role in supporting legal and practical reforms by the Nigerian government through technical assistance and constructive diplomatic efforts in relation to the issues raised in this document, and by assisting civil society organizations working towards increased respect for human rights. Nigerian human rights groups have welcomed the pro-democracy measures that have been supported, while expressing concern at the hiring, in some cases, of U.S.-based organizations and consultants to carry out work that could be done by Nigerian groups. Particular concerns arise in connection with the areas mentioned below.

Security sector assistance

With the restoration of civilian rule, the U.S. government has resumed military assistance to Nigeria. As a first priority in giving such assistance, the U.S. should seek to assist the Nigerian executive and legislature in building a culture of independent civilian oversight of the security forces and intelligence agencies. The U.S. government should encourage the Nigerian government to accept this principle as a means of establishing the legitimacy of civilian authority. U.S. military assistance given to Nigeria, including under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, should include strict human rights conditions. In particular, the U.S. government should put in place screening procedures to ensure that military, intelligence, and police officers who committed human rights abuses under previous military regimes do not benefit from U.S. training programs. Human rights training should be integrated into all programs. U.S.AID support for network of civil society groups working on security sector reform should be increased.

The U.S. government and especially the U.S. Embassy in Lagos, should implement Section 570 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, the so-called Leahy amendment, in relation to Nigeria, and should monitor military units that receive U.S. military aid. The Leahy amendment prohibits funds from being provided to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the secretary of state has credible evidence that the unit has committed gross violations of human rights, unless the secretary determines and reports to Congress that the government involved is taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice. It requires the embassy to monitor all security forces that have received, or may receive, U.S. security assistance. In this context, support for the Oputa commission's investigations into past abuses and for even-handed prosecutions of military officials and others based on information received by the commission, could be of particular importance.

Similar issues arise in relation to U.S. assistance for Nigeria's police force. While there is a clear need for the Nigerian police to achieve a higher standard of training and operations, any U.S. assistance in this regard should be subject to careful conditions. In particular, any assistance must be developed in consultation with Nigerian civil society including the network of NGOs working on police reform. This assistance should begin with support for radical reform of the police, including the drafting of new legislation to replace the colonial law that currently regulates policing. The U.S. government should also press for greater accountability for abuses, as well as for judicial reform, and the rooting out of rampant police corruption. If U.S. training is offered, individuals receiving training should be screened, in discussion with Nigerian human rights groups, to ensure that well-known abusers are not among them, and the content of training should be focused on skills aimed at reducing the use of force.

According to testimony to the House Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Africa in August 1999 by Dave Miller, a representative of the private Corporate Council for Africa, U.S. oil companies are considering funding modest efforts to provide training and nonlethal support for Nigeria police officials with responsibility for their area of operations. While he also stated that any comprehensive retraining of the Nigerian police force in modern methods and techniques needs the legitimacy and scope of a government-to-government or other international program, any initiative in relation to assistance for the security forces should be fully transparent and take into account the concerns we have raised here. In the context of the current situation in the Niger Delta, there is a clear danger that training and other assistance provided by U.S. oil companies to Nigerian police units engaged in policing the area may be viewed as support for repressive forces by the local population, resulting in an increased risk to oil company personnel in the region.

The Niger Delta

The U.S. government must make clear to the Nigerian government that any attempt to resolve he issues confronting the Niger Delta through the violent suppression of popular protest rather than political dialogue will be condemned by the international community. The U.S. should urge the Nigerian government, among other steps, 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 and the operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

The U.S. government should urge the Nigerian government to take steps to replace soldiers carrying out policing duties in the Niger Delta area and elsewhere with regular police with training in public order policing and ensure that those police deployed have been vetted to exclude abusive officers. The U.S. government and the oil companies should not provide assistance to any special police units for the Niger Delta.

The U.S. government initiative on corporate responsibility and human rights in the oil industry in Nigeria is welcome and should be supported. Systematic monitoring and protest of human rights violations by the government, and steps to ensure that the companies themselves are not complicit in such human rights violations, are more important than ever.

Sierra Leone and ECOMOG

The U.S. government should commend President Obasanjo for the continued support given by the Nigerian government to UNAMSIL, the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone. It is important that Nigerian troops remain under the U.N. umbrella, to ensure that they can be effective and that the different contingents within UNAMSIL can be coordinated. In addition, the Nigerian government should follow through with its commitment to investigate abuses committed by ECOMOG soldiers during the January 1999 rebel offensive in Freetown, as promised at the April 1999 ECOWAS summit, and to bring to justice, in accordance with international standards, all those found responsible for violations. To reduce the likelihood of future abuses, steps should be taken to provide human rights education, and to ensure regular rotation of Nigerian soldiers serving in Sierra Leone and that pay and other conditions are satisfactory. The Nigerian government should investigate allegations that officers deployed to Sierra Leone have been involved in illegal diamond mining for personal profit, and take appropriate steps to bring to justice any officers against whom there is evidence of wrongdoing.

With the U.S. now directly involved in training West African troops, it is imperative that mechanisms be put in place for ongoing monitoring of their conduct in the field and ensuring accountability if abuses occur. The U.S. should request regular reporting from ECOWAS and the U.N. about the adherence of these troops to international standards and any future efforts to hold soldiers accountable for abuses. In addition, the U.S. should press the Nigerian goverment and ECOWAS to conduct the promised investigation of ECOMOG abuses during January 1999.

Human Rights Watch, New York
Civil Liberties Organization, Lagos
Constitutional Rights Project, Lagos
Centre for Law Enforcement Education, Lagos
Human Rights Monitor, Kaduna
Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Port Harcourt