On the eve of President Obasanjo's inauguration as president of Nigeria, Human Rights Watch has joined with two Nigerian human rights organizations to write to the president-elect outlining human rights priorities for the new government.
"After decades of military rule, Nigeria faces huge challenges to restore respect for human rights and the rule of law," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "But there are certain first steps that President Obasanjo can take to show that he is moving in the right direction."
Among the priorities listed by Human Rights Watch together with the Civil Liberties Organization and the Constitutional Rights Project, two leading Nigerian human rights groups, are the repeal of repressive military decrees, the release of the bodies of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his codefendants hanged in 1995, and the initiation of a transparent process to draft a new constitution.
In a twenty-five page report, "Crackdown in the Niger Delta," Human Rights Watch also draws attention to the crisis among Nigeria's oil producing communities, where serious human rights violations have continued unabated, despite the relaxation of repression elsewhere in Nigeria since the death of former head of state General Sani Abacha in June 1998. Among the incidents highlighted is an attack on two remote communities in January 1999, for which the Nigerian army used a helicopter and boats contracted to Chevron Nigeria. The report is an update to "The Price of Oil," a 200-page Human Rights Watch report on corporate responsibility in the oil producing communities in Nigeria released in February 1999.
"Chevron Nigeria must take a long hard look at its security relationship with the Nigerian government," Peter Takirambudde said. "The company appears to think it has no responsibilities to try to ensure respect for human rights in the area of its operations."
The report also examines the military response to initially peaceful demonstrations against oil production in the Niger Delta in late December and early January, concluding that more than one hundred people, mostly unarmed, were killed by soldiers. Human Rights Watch urges that those responsible be prosecuted or disciplined. It also recommends that Nigeria's government initiate 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.