Transition or Travesty?

Nigeria's Endless Process of Return to Civilian Rule

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In November 1995, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (chogm), convened in Auckland, New Zealand, suspended Nigeria from membership in the Commonwealth pending its compliance with the principles of the 1991 Harare Declaration, which commits Commonwealth members to democratic political processes and respect for human rights and the rule of law. The suspension was in protest over the arbitrary execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (mosop) on November 10, 1995, while chogm was in session, and also over the persistent hold of Nigeria's armed forces on government and their failure to return the country to civilian rule. The heads of government stated that if no demonstrable progress was made towards respect for the Harare Declaration, including the release of political prisoners, Nigeria would be expelled from the Commonwealth. Two years later, the Nigerian military government led by Gen. Sani Abacha has failed to make progress with regard to any of the principles set out in the Harare Declaration. Over the last two years, international criticism of Nigeria has become more muted. While measures imposed in 1993 and 1995 remain in place, certain countries have expressed frustration with the failure of sanctions to achieve instant results and have indicated that they should therefore be relaxed. Human rights and opposition activists in Nigeria, however, are convinced—as is Human Rights Watch— that the situation in Nigeria would be far worse if these sanctions had not been imposed. Nigeria's international isolation should be maintained pending the installation of a civilian government elected following a transition program that allows all parts of the Nigerian political spectrum to participate and that respects certain basic minimum standards, as set out below. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch recommends to chogm that Nigeria be expelled at the meeting in Edinburgh, taking place in October 1997, two years after Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth at Auckland.
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