(New York, June 8, 1998) - Human Rights Watch today called on the Nigerian military to return the country to democratic rule following the death of Gen. Sani Abacha,the head of state.

Gen. Abacha will hardly be mourned by many Nigerians. His legacy to his country includes a political system in crisis, a roster of hundreds of political prisoners and others who have been arbitrarily detained, an abusive police force, a court system that has been systematically undermined by military interference, appalling prison conditions, and public services in collapse.

"We hope that Gen. Abacha's death can be an opportunity for the Nigerian military to return the country to rule by the people," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The generals stole an election from the Nigerian people. They should return the country to democracy without delay."

Gen. Abacha took power in a military coup in November 1993, following the annulment of presidential elections held in June 1993. At the time of his death, Gen. Abacha was the sole likely candidate in new presidential elections scheduled for August as part of a "transition program" for the return of Nigeria to civilian rule.