Skip to main content

German President Köhler Should Address Corruption and Violence during His Upcoming Visit to Nigeria

Dear President Köhler:

We are writing to urge you to use your forthcoming visit to Nigeria to raise specific human rights concerns with President Umaru Yar'Adua and his administration. Serious problems include rampant government corruption and mismanagement that undermine the realization of the right to basic healthcare and education; political and intercommunal violence fomented by government officials and politicians; and widespread use of extrajudicial executions, torture, and extortion by state security forces.

The Nigerian government's lack of political will to address the prevailing culture of impunity and improve Nigeria's poor human rights record threatens to undermine the fragile gains made since the end of military rule in 1999. Your trip to Nigeria presents an important opportunity to call upon the Nigerian government to take immediate and meaningful steps to reduce corruption at all levels of government, end the widespread use of violence for political purposes, and address impunity for human rights violations.

In May 2007 President Yar'Adua came to power in elections marred by widespread fraud, intimidation, and election violence that left some 300 people dead. Powerful ruling-party politicians were credibly implicated in mobilizing armed gangs responsible for election-related violence and orchestrating the brazen rigging of the elections. No one has been investigated for any of those crimes, much less criminally prosecuted.

The violence and fraud surrounding the 2007 elections reflected entrenched patterns of corruption and abuse of power that have long pervaded Nigeria's political system. Nigeria has earned well over US$223 billion in oil revenues since the end of military rule. Despite this tremendous wealth, abject poverty ranks among the worst in the world and millions of Nigerians still lack access to basic health and education services. Public funds that could have been spent on improving the lives of ordinary citizens have instead been squandered and stolen by Nigeria's political elite.

Corruption often takes the form of embezzling state funds or accepting kickbacks for government contracts awarded without adherence to transparent bidding processes. Public funds looted from government treasuries are often laundered through foreign banks. A British court in 2007, for example, froze US$35 million of assets belonging to powerful former Delta State Governor James Ibori in a money laundering investigation. Mr. Ibori's official salary as governor was less than US$25,000 per year.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that Germany could be doing more to help Nigeria fight graft and corruption. In a 2007 meeting with Human Rights Watch, high-level officials from Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) expressed concern about the extent of cooperation received from the German government with EFCC efforts to track down Nigerian funds allegedly laundered in German banks or otherwise invested in Germany, and relating to the bidding practices of the construction company Julius Berger Nigeria PLC-a subsidiary of Bilfinger Berger AG.

Germany's position vis-à-vis corruption is all the more important given recent setbacks in Nigeria's anti-corruption campaign. In December 2007, Nuhu Ribadu, the then-head of the EFCC, took the bold step of arresting Mr. Ibori-a close associate of President Yar'Adua-charging him with 103 counts of corruption. Two weeks later, however, the inspector general of police ordered Mr. Ribadu to resign his office to attend a mandatory year-long training course. Since then senior EFCC investigators have been removed or arrested. Meanwhile, key corruption cases initiated under Mr. Ribadu have been effectively stalled.

In light of these disappointing developments, we urge you to call upon President Yar'Adua and his administration to publicly report on the status of the investigations and criminal prosecutions of senior politicians and their business partners credibly implicated in corruption and embezzling public funds, including those that may involve German companies.

Germany's economic relationship with Nigeria amounted to nearly two billion euros in bilateral trade in 2007. We hope that with this substantial interest you will use your visit to reaffirm Germany's commitment to good governance, transparency, and accountability. That commitment should include steps to ensure that funds looted by corrupt Nigerian officials are not laundered in Germany. These measures should include the investigation of corrupt transactions, freezing of assets, and repatriation of funds to Nigeria.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We will be publishing this letter on our website on October 27, 2008. Human Rights Watch stands ready to assist you in your efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Nigeria and ensure accountability for human rights abuses in Nigeria.

Sincerely,

Marianne Heuwagen
Director, German Office

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country