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Human Rights Developments

The overriding human rights issue in Nigeria in 1992 was the postponement, once again, of the departure of the military government of President Ibrahim Babangida from political office. The blame for many of the human rights abuses during the year can be tied directly to the failure of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (afrc) to leave office as promised.

Right up to its supposed conclusion, the government has insisted on repeatedly interfering with the details of the transition program, by disqualifying candidates of the political parties it created, promulgating military decrees to regulate behavior of candidates and voters, and changing dates of elections. It has allowed only its own two parties to contest elections. In January 1992, the hand-over was postponed for a further three months, to January 1993, to allow additional time for National Assembly and presidential elections. The government also announced that it would continue to use the so-called "open ballot," according to which voters line up behind photos of the candidates of their choice, even though this inherently coercive system had failed to eliminate fraud in elections in 1991.

National Assembly elections in July 1992 took place with a minimal amount of fraud, but then the government announced that the Assembly could not be sworn in until January 1993. Extraordinary fraud in the first presidential primary election in August 1992 caused the government to annul the results. A second attempt in September fared no better, leading the government in October to annul those results too and to dissolve the parties' leadership. The National Electoral Commission was given the task of creating a new selection process and screening all prospective candidates. It recommended a return to the secret ballot. In November, President Babangida again announced a postponement of the hand-over date, this time to August 27, 1993, the anniversary of the coup that brought him to power. All 23 presidential candidates were banned from participating in new elections to be held in June 1993. In attempting to head off resistance to the postponement, Babangida promised to disband the afrc on January 2, 1993 and replace it with a National Defense and Security Council; to inaugurate the National Assembly in December 1992; and to replace the Cabinet with a civilian-led Transitional Council in January 1993.

Decree 2, which provides for virtually unlimited detention without trial, was used in 1992 to detain members of a pro-democracy group, a former military governor and others. A positive development was the release in March of all relatives of suspected participants in the coup attempt of April 1990, including wives, girlfriends and infants, who had been detained under Decree 2 for nearly two years, together with two civilians tried in secret in October 1991 for their role in the coup attempt along with nine army officers. The nine officers are still held, reportedly in incommunicado detention.

Thousands of Nigerians died in 1992 in rioting and internal conflicts in various parts of the country. Longstanding disputes over political dominance, economic privileges and land control have been major causes of violence between various ethnic groups, such as the conflict between the Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups in Taraba and Benue States in east-central Nigeria, which has claimed some 5,000 lives since October 1991. Dozens of villages have been burned to the ground, and up to 150,000 residents have fled the area. Federal and state governments have been criticized for failing to give proper attention to the conflict because of the remoteness of the area and the involvement of minority ethnic groups that lack a voice in government. Although the federal government has made some attempts to stop the killings, its efforts began late in the crisis and have failed to take account of inaction by local authorities and allegations of police bias. Police have been implicated in abetting the killings by joining in the attacks and selling arms.

Already severe economic conditions deteriorated drastically with the devaluation of the naira by nearly 80 percent in March. President Babangida only inflamed resentments with statements such as the following, on March 30: "People themselves, quite frankly, should start rising now. They should start resisting some of these arbitrary prices being fixed." On May 4, riots broke out in Lagos, sparked initially by an increase in commuters' transportation fares. On May 13, a peaceful student demonstration led by the National Association of Nigerian Students, which has been banned by the government since 1986, was joined by angry mobs who turned the event into a violent looting spree. On May 20, ethnic clashes between Igbo and Yoruba traders in Lagos left several dead, and rioting broke out again the next day. Some 80 people died in the month of disturbances. Riots also spread to other cities, such as Benin, Akure, Enugu, Nsukka and Port Harcourt. Police were widely criticized for random shootings, indiscriminate use of teargas and arbitrary arrests.

Also in May, devastating riots struck Kaduna State, in northern Nigeria. Existing tensions over political supremacy in Zango Kataf, in southern Kaduna, between the predominantly Christian Katafs and Muslim Hausas erupted during an argument over the construction of a larger marketplace. Three months earlier, more than 60 residents of Zango Kataf died in a confrontation over the government's plan to move the local market, but government leaders had ignored the warnings from that incident and had not acted upon recommendations to the President sent by Muslim and Christian leaders in Kaduna to form problem-solving committees at all levels of government. In the May riots as many as 1,800 may have died in Zango Kataf, which is now a ghost town. When news of the killings reached Kaduna city, riots also broke out there, resulting in many more deaths.

Security forces arrested hundreds during and after the riots. Among them was the former military governor of Rivers State, retired Army-General Zamani Lekwot, who was arrested on May 18 in Kaduna, under Decree 2. On July 29, he and five other Kataf leaders were arraigned before a special tribunal on charges of unlawfulassembly with intent to subjugate the Hausa community in Zango Kataf. The charges were dropped for lack of evidence, but the six were immediately rearrested. Lekwot and six others were later served with a 22-count indictment that included the charge of culpable homicide, punishable by death. Lekwot is accused of distributing guns and ammunition to rioters and instigating a group of Katafs. Nigerian human rights groups believe that leaders in Kaduna are attempting to make scapegoats of Lekwot and the others because they are vocal leaders of Christian ethnic minorities in the state.

On May 20, the government proscribed all ethnic, religious and regional associations that supported political candidates. Five days later, the president outlined security measures including a crackdown on all persons, associations and groups that seek either to derail the transition program or to destabilize the nation. A number of arrests were made in Lagos, and five members of a pro-democracy group were detained for more than a month.

As in past years, the Nigerian Police Force continued its practice of extrajudicial execution, torture and arbitrary arrest. The government offered some reforms in 1992: the carrying and use of firearms were restricted, and mobile police were ordered to withdraw from police checkpoints. It remains to be seen whether these reforms will be fully implemented, and in the absence of more rigorous attempts to change police attitudes and behavior and to charge and try police for violent abuses, whether the reforms will have the desired effect. For example, Nigerian human rights groups have noted that the government's usual practice in cases of extrajudicial killings is to launch investigative commissions, the findings of which it then disregards.

Deaths in prison from diseases such as tuberculosis and diarrhea probably numbered in the thousands in 1992, abetted by malnutrition, severe overcrowding and lack of medical care that plague the prison system. A positive development was an increase of over 125 percent in prisoners' food allowances.

Hundreds of students were suspended or expelled in 1992 for either participating in demonstrations or taking part in student union activities. Four student activists who were detained in mid-1991 were released in January 1992, after charges of murder and conspiracy against them were withdrawn, but they were not readmitted to the university. Student unions at universities across the country have been harassed or dissolved, and many universities have shut down temporarily after student demonstrations. The National Association of Nigerian Students continues to be banned, and its president was arrested in May, along with several human rights activists.

Once again, the government banned the Academic Staff Union of Universities (asuu), the national professional association of university lecturers, following a strike it had called in July over issues of university funding, conditions of service, and university autonomy. The government then pressured lecturers with threats of dismissal and eviction from their living quarters.

As in past years, newspapers were shut down and individual journalists were detained and harassed after controversial stories appeared. In April, the Concord press group was closed by police after the African Concord had published a series of articles critical of the government's handling of the economy and the transition program. The offices were reopened two weeks later, after publisher Chief Moshood Abiola apologized to the government for the "discomfort" caused by the publication. Bayo Onanuga, editor of the African Concord, and three journalists resigned rather than apologize.

The managing and deputy editors of the government-owned Daily Times, Nigeria's most widely circulated newspaper, were fired in January 1992, following a front-page story on December 31, 1991 that cited criticism of the open ballot system. In March, editor Fola Olamiti and deputy editor Victor Antwi of the Nigerian Tribune in Ibadan were briefly arrested following publication of a story entitled "Ibadan Under Police Siege," which claimed that police were making random arrests and demanding bribes to secure the detainees' release. The two editors were released shortly after their arrests. In October, Olamiti was reportedly arrested again and taken to Lagos for questioning.

The Right to Monitor

As in the past, the afrc paid lip service to human rights, while maintaining its antagonistic attitude toward human rights monitors. In February, the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs co-sponsored an "International Seminar on Human Rights" in Lagos, but none of the active domestic human rights groups was invited. While the conference was taking place, Nigerian Vice President Augustus Aikhomu issued a warning to Nigerian human rights groups not to criticize government programs.

In February, security agents seized the passport of Emma Ezeazu, the former national secretary of the Civil Liberties Organisation (clo), as he was attempting to leave the country for a human rights training session in Geneva. In March, the passport of Dr. Michael Ekpo, former chair of the Lagos branch of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (cdhr), was seized. Later in March those passports, as well as the passports of human rights activists Gani Fawehinmi, seized in 1991, and Alao Aka-Bashorun, seized in 1990, were returned with no explanation. However, this evidently did not signal a change in government policy, since the passport of clo president Olisa Agbakoba was then seized on April 21, while he was en route to the Hague to attend a human rights conference, and has not been returned.

In May, the government used the riots and demonstrations as a pretext to arrest and detain some of the most outspoken members of the human rights community on the grounds that they were allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. The arrests are probably in retribution for the activities of the Campaign for Democracy (cd), a coalition of human rights, students, women and journalists organizations that was formed in November 1991 to protest theundemocratic nature of the transition program and the continuation of military rule.

At a press conference on May 10, the cd called for the resignation of the government because the country was "gradually moving toward a situation of chaos." Arrests quickly followed. On May 19, the home of Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, cdhr president and cd chair, was raided by 200 State Security Service (sss) members. The same day, Femi Falana, a lawyer, leading cd member and head of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, was also arrested by the sss, as was Baba Omojola, a labor economist, human rights activist and cd member. Chief Gani Fawehinmi, one of the lawyers representing the detainees before the Lagos High Court and a well known human rights activist, was arrested on May 20, after filing habeas corpus applications with the Lagos High Court on behalf of the detainees. On June 9, Olesegun Mayegun, nans president, was arrested. Two other students were arrested and released on bail on June 16. Three offices of the clo were raided and documents taken away. The cd offices were raided, and computers, diskettes and files were seized.

The detainees initially were held in incommunicado detention under Decree 2. On June 15, they were charged with conspiracy and treason. Although all were in Lagos when arrested, they were tried in Magistrates Court in Gwagwalada, 500 miles away, probably to discourage popular demonstrations in their support. The government's refusal to produce the defendants on the dates ordered caused the Nigerian Bar Association (nba) to call a strike in Lagos, which was halted by a court injunction after a day. All detainees were granted bail on June 29, and the treason trial was adjourned initially to October 23 and later to March 26, 1993. Ransome-Kuti, who became ill during his detention, and Falana were awarded damages for unlawful detention; by November the damages had not been paid.

U.S. Policy

William Swing became the new U.S. ambassador to Nigeria in September, replacing Lannon Walker, who was, according to human rights groups, privately quite outspoken in defending human rights before the Nigerian government. In February, Ambassador Walker forwarded to the Nigerian government under formal diplomatic note a letter written to him by Africa Watch raising a number of human rights issues, including police abuse, and attacks on human rights organizations, students and the press. The note requested the government's assistance in responding to the letter. Ambassador Walker's candidness on human rights and other issues apparently angered the Nigerian government so much that even in October, well after the ambassador's departure from Lagos, Information and Culture Minister Professor Sam Oyovbaire accused him of "espionage and acts detrimental to the well-being of Nigeria." Although new in his post, Ambassador Swing has met with some local human rights groups and is expected to be supportive of human rights concerns.

Unfortunately, there were no public statements issued either by the State Department or the embassy in Lagos on human rightsissues. A strong public protest would have been particularly welcome during the arrests of the Campaign for Democracy supporters, as would a public statement urging the military to keep to its original transition timetable.

No military assistance was provided in 1992. U.S. aid for military training in 1992 totaled $401,000. Non-military aid totaled $16.3 million, including $2 million in aid not assigned to specific projects. For 1993, $20 million in non-military aid has been authorized, all on specific projects relating to children's health, family planning, and hiv prevention and care.

The Nigeria chapter in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in 1991, released in January 1992, appropriately criticized abuses such as extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and torture by the security forces; abysmal prison conditions; and harassment of the press. Unfortunately, the report downplayed violations of academic freedom. It also attributed to others rather than pronouncing in its own voice criticisms of the open ballot system and the reliance on special tribunals.

The Work of Africa Watch

Africa Watch released two newsletters on Nigeria in 1992. A 30-page newsletter released in April, "Contradicting Itself-An Undemocratic Transition Seeks To Bring Democracy Nearer," updated a 1991 report on the transition and attacks on civil society. In June, "`Silencing the Vocal Opposition'-Crackdown on Democracy Advocates" reported on the trial of the Campaign for Democracy supporters.

In March, Africa Watch wrote a letter to President Babangida to urge greater efforts by the government to resolve the conflict between the Tivs and Jukuns. In June, Africa Watch wrote to Nigerian Ambassador Zubair Kazaure protesting the arrests of the Campaign for Democracy supporters. Africa Watch representatives also met with Ambassador Kazaure in November to pursue these and other issues.

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