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Nigeria is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and to a number of other international human rights instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.6 The Nigerian military government is in violation of many if not most of the rights enumerated in these instruments.

Human Rights Watch’s research for this report focused on the repressive response by the Nigerian military to protests by members of the oil producing communities to the oil companies, and to attempts to organize the minorities of the delta politically. In the course of this repression, the Nigerian military authorities violate the rights of Nigerian citizens to express their views about the oil industry in Nigeria and to organize protests at injustices resulting from oil industry activities. However, the rights violated include not only the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, but also the broader right to live in a democratic society. Ultimately, the Nigerian government must address the rights of the peoples of the Niger Delta to health, education and an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing and housing, and to participate in democratic political structures that enable their voices to be heard in matters concerning the oil industry and the development of their society.

It is clear that a solution to the human rights abuses facing the oil producing communities of the Niger Delta must take into account their relationship with the natural resources with which their region is endowed and ensure that peoples living in the delta are compensated for the damage to their environment and livelihood caused by oil production. Furthermore, it must be ensured that Nigeria’s oil wealth is not siphoned off by a small and unaccountable military or civilian elite, but spent by democratically elected and transparent political institutions. Delta minoritygroups have called for a renegotiation of the relationship between the peoples of the oil producing regions and the federation.7

For this to occur, the first requirement is that the government respect the rights to political participation and to freedom of expression and association, and restore the rule of law. Articles 19, 21, and 22 of the ICCPR provide for the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. These rights may only be restricted in limited circumstances. In the case of freedom of association and assembly, restrictions are only allowed if they are prescribed by law and are “necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

While the Nigerian government might attempt to argue that protests in the vicinity of oil installations threaten national security, it is clear that the violent repression of nonviolent protest and of attempts to organize to challenge oil company activity by peaceful means is in violation of the rights to free expression, assembly, and association, and not within any reasonable national security exception.8 If individuals have allegedly carried out violent acts, damaged property, taken hostages, or other crimes, then they should rather be charged with those offenses and promptly brought before a regular court recognizing international standards of due process.

The ICCPR provides that “No one shall be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 7); that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention” (Article 9); and that, “In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law” (Article 14). Article 14 of the ICCPR covers not only criminal charges, but also cases where an individual wishes to bring a civil action against another individual or company or similar legal entity for compensation for loss suffered as a result of the other party’s actions. All of these articles have been regularly violated in Nigeria’s oil producing regions.

6 The African Charter was incorporated into Nigerian domestic law by the African Charter Ratification and Enforcement Act of 1983, although successive military decrees have purported to suspend its operation in particular cases. In the case of Chief Gani Fawehinmi v. General Sani Abacha and others ([1996] 9 NWLR p.710), the Lagos division of the Federal Court of Appeal affirmed that “The provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights are in a class of their own and do not fall within the classification of the hierarchy of local legislations in Nigeria in order of superiority. ... The law is in full force and because of its genesis it has an aura of inviolability unlike most municipal laws and may as long as it is in the statute book be clothed with vestment of inviolability.” 7 The “Ogoni Bill of Rights” adopted by MOSOP, for example, states that the rights listed are demanded “as equal members of the Nigerian Federation who contribute and have contributed to the growth of the Federation and have a right to expect full returns from that Federation”; the “Kaiama Declaration” agreed by an Ijaw youths conference on December 11, 1998, “agreed to work within Nigeria by to demand and work for self government and resource control for the Ijaw people.” 8 In October 1995, a group of experts in international law, security, and human rights, convened by the free expression organization Article 19 in collaboration with the Centre for Applied Legal Studies of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, adopted the “Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information,” which, while not binding under international law, provide guidelines as to what might be considered a correct interpretation of international law on this subject.

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