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An increase in the number of killings of high profile political figures in recent months has sharpened fears in Nigeria of a violent and turbulent election period. While the cases described below are a sample of some of the more high profile killings in Nigeria, they do not constitute an exhaustive list.

Marshall Harry
On March 5, 2003, Marshall Harry, the national vice chairman for the South-South Zone of the largest opposition party, the ANPP, became the most senior national figure to have been killed since Justice Minister and Attorney General Bola Ige was killed in December 2001. Both killings sent shockwaves through the country. While many more Nigerians have lost their lives in small-scale political clashes than in targeted assassinations, these high-profile deaths have provoked perhaps greater turmoil in Nigeria, and in some, though not all, cases a slightly more focused response by government and police. In many of these cases it is difficult to confirm the exact motive for the crime. It has become almost reflexive for politicians in Nigeria to point the finger at one another whenever a prominent figure is killed. Nonetheless, even discounting some of the cases as ordinary murders, the number of killings leaves no doubt that political assassinations are a far too common occurrence, and action by the government and police to stem the problem have been insufficient and ineffective.

Marshall Harry was an important politician both nationally and within Rivers State, where he was known as a political "kingmaker." After the 1999 elections, he was still a member of the PDP, but although he had supported the Rivers Governor Peter Odili, he soon began to publicly disagree with Odili's policies and began a drive to ensure that he would not return to power in 2003.159 He also began campaigning against President Obasanjo, and helped form the Campaign for the Realization of a South-South Presidency (CRESSOP).160 The PDP suspended Harry in 2001 because of these "anti-party" activities and the next year he joined the ANPP, which has since fielded Mohammed Buhari, Obasanjo's primary competitor in the presidential elections and military head of state from the north.161 Harry became the ANPP's national vice chairman, with responsibility for the South-South zone of Nigeria covering his home state of Rivers and several other states of the Niger delta area. He was a strong supporter of Sergeant Awuse, the ANPP's candidate for Rivers governor and a bitter opponent of Governor Odili.

At around 3 a.m. on March 5, four armed men in plain clothes came to Marshall Harry's residence in Abuja, the federal capital.162 They asked the security guard where Marshall Harry was. The guard attempted to cover up the fact that Marshall Harry was at home, but they tied him up and proceeded to break the lock on the building, gaining entry into the house, where Marshall Harry, his daughter, and his niece were asleep. They collected the mobile phones in the home, and forced his daughter to lead them to Marshall Harry's bedroom. At some point, Marshall Harry began to shout for help, but the intruders were able to gain entry into the room and shot him twice. Harry's daughter was reportedly assaulted as well. The intruders were in the home for a total of about one hour. A friend arrived at the home soon thereafter, and alerted the police at a checkpoint very near the house, who reportedly told him they could do nothing as they had no fuel in their vehicle. The home was also located within walking distance of the headquarters of the Abuja police command. The friend then rushed Marshall Harry to the hospital in his own vehicle, where Harry was pronounced dead on arrival.

Although the motive for his killing is unconfirmed, his death has created tension among many familiar with the political scene in Rivers State who believe that his death was related to the bad feeling between him and the Rivers State government. Marshall Harry had been in Abuja to debrief other ANPP party officials about logistics for the kick-off to Mohammed Buhari's presidential campaign, which was planned for March 8 in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State. The ANPP had applied to the state government to use the stadium in Port Harcourt and was apparently told it would cost N7.5 million (approximately US$ 58,000) for the permit, although they claimed the ruling PDP had used the stadium two weeks earlier for a price of only N800,000 (approximately US$ 6,200). Marshall Harry had sent a letter to the Rivers State Commissioner of Police and other security officials protesting the fee.163 He had also claimed that "since we started the preparation for the presidential flag-off campaign, we have noticed a high spate of arrest, intimidation, harassment and maiming of our party officials, candidates and supporters by Odili's thugs with the assistance of the Police," according to a news story that reprinted the letter.164 Although Human Rights Watch has no confirmation of the specific claims presented, they illustrate the high level of hostility that existed within the state. There were immediate and strong condemnations of Harry's murder by the federal government, Governor Odili, leading national human rights organizations, as well as foreign governments, all calling for prompt investigation of the murder. The Inspector General of Police promised a full-scale investigation, and told journalists on March 6 that seventeen people had been arrested in connection with the murder, although it was unclear whether any of them were actual suspects.165

Killings in Imo: Ogbonnaya Uche and Theodore Agwatu
An ANPP senatorial candidate in the southeastern state of Imo and former commissioner in the Imo state government, Ogbonnaya Uche, was shot in his home in Owerri on February 8, 2003, and died two days later. Speaking to journalists before his death in the hospital, Uche reportedly said he believed the attack was political, and explained that two days before the shooting, he had been trailed to the party secretariat by a group of armed men, who had asked his driver where he was.166 Another death in Imo shortly followed; Theodore Agwatu, principal secretary to the Imo State governor, was shot and killed in his home on February 22.

The motive for the killings was not confirmed in either case. Nevertheless, politicians in the state used the fact of the killings as a political weapon, as frequently occurs in Nigeria, seeking to lay blame, however prematurely, at their opponents' doorsteps. For example, Imo State Governor Achike Udenwa reportedly said, "The fact that these violent and senseless killings are coming just on the eve of elections and coincides [sic] with the entry into politics of some men of violent and questionable characters is instructive enough."167 At the same time, ANPP leaders in the state pointed the finger at the state's PDP government.168 While the killings may well have been political, such unsupported statements can increase political antagonism and the tendency for violent reprisals.

Abigail and Barnabas Igwe
Reformers who criticize abuses of power have also been targets of political assassination in Nigeria. In the southeastern state of Anambra, Barnabas Igwe, chair of the state branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, and his wife Abigail Amaka Igwe were ambushed in their car and brutally murdered in Onitsha, in September 2002. There is strong and credible evidence that his killing was politically motivated.169 Igwe had been a powerful public critic of Anambra's Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju, openly calling for the governor's resignation due to the failure to pay government workers for several months. Igwe and other close colleagues who had denounced government abuses received direct threats from senior officials in the Anambra State government in the days preceding the killing. Close associates were also threatened as soon as the day after the killing. In the past, the Anambra State government has used the Bakassi Boys, a vigilante group officially endorsed by the state and known as the Anambra State Vigilante Services, to intimidate and kill opponents.170 Although the federal police finally arrested members of the group operating in the southeast in August and September 2002, according to reports none have been prosecuted and most if not all have been released.

Governor Mbadinuju was the only one of twenty-one incumbent PDP governors who failed to win their party's nomination in December 2002; the Anambra gubernatorial primaries were twice postponed before the party finally declined to give him the party nomination. Governor Mbadinuju had come under severe criticism in Anambra State for some time, and the high-profile negative publicity around his alleged involvement in the killing of Barnabas Igwe and his wife may have been a contributing factor in persuading the PDP to withdraw its support from him.

Bola Ige
While violence seems to have increased in the lead-up to elections, political killings are by no means only an election-related phenomenon in Nigeria. Federal Justice Minister and Attorney General Bola Ige was shot dead in his home in Ibadan, in the southwestern state of Oyo, on December 23, 2001. He was the highest level politician to have been killed in Nigeria since the government of President Obasanjo came to power in 1999, and the case provoked a severe outcry in Nigeria. Progress on the investigation, though not unproblematic, shows what the Nigerian police and judicial authorities are able to accomplish when sincere effort is exerted. Though the motive for the murder is not confirmed, it was likely linked to a political crisis between the Governor and Deputy Governor of Osun State, where Ige was from. Ige was perceived as supporting the Governor's faction. In the weeks before his death, gunmen had raided the grounds of the Osun legislature before legislative debate over the crisis in the executive.171 Four days before Bola Ige's death, a representative in the Osun State House of Assembly, Odunayo Olagbaju, had been stabbed to death. The next day, a local AD chairman was also killed as rioters protested the killing of Olagbaju.172 Eleven suspects were formally charged in the Ige murder in October 2002, including a close relation of then-Deputy Governor Iyiola Omisore. Omisore was impeached by the state legislature in December 2002, and soon thereafter he was also arrested and detained in connection with the murder. The trial began in March 2003.

Although the police and authorities made initial headway in the case, the fact that no trial had begun more than a year after the first suspects were arrested shows the delays and obstacles that exist to prosecuting even the highest profile cases in Nigeria. Prosecutors purportedly intended to formally charge Omisore on January 25, 2003, but at the time a key witness, Festus Keyamo, was also being held for an unrelated incident and was reportedly unavailable to testify. Keyamo, who had been detained within a few days of Omisore's arrest, claimed that the motive for his detention was to prevent damaging information about high-level politicians' involvement in Ige's murder from coming out in the course of the trial. Keyamo said he was held by the same police unit that was investigating the Ige case, and could easily have been produced as a witness.173 By March, Omisore was still being detained without charge, in contravention of a court ruling that he either be released or formally charged before February 28, 2003.174 He filed contempt charges against the police, and was finally brought to a high court for arraignment on March 12. The prosecutor requested an adjournment to "prepare his response to Omisore's objections to his arraignment."175 Meanwhile, Osun State PDP officials continued to stand behind Omisore's bid for the Senate, despite opposition from national party leaders.176

159 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with representative of Port Harcourt-based non-governmental organization, March 6, 2003.

160 There have been occasional calls in Nigeria for the Presidency to rotate between the country's six geographic zones. CRESSOP's campaign for the next president of Nigeria to be from the South-South zone would be unfavorable to President Obasanjo, who is from the southwestern zone, and incidentally also to the ANPP's presidential candidate, Mohammed Buhari, who is from the north.

161 Buhari led a military coup in December 1983 that toppled the civilian government of Shehu Shagari; he was ousted in August 1985 in a coup by Ibrahim Babangida.

162 This account of events is drawn from a Human Rights Watch telephone discussion on March 6, 2003, with a source who had spoken with some witnesses, as well as reasonably consistent stories in the media. See, for example, Gilbert da Costa, "Senior Nigerian opposition party official killed," Associated Press, March 5, 2003; Ben Agande, et al, "ANPP Chieftain, Marshall Harry Shot Dead - IG Orders Probe," Vanguard, March 6, 2003.

163 "Harry Petitions Police, Says Odili Out to Disrupt ANPP Rally," This Day, March 6, 2003.

164 Ibid.

165 "IG Orders Full Scale Investigation," This Day, March 6, 2003; Human Rights Watch telephone interview, March 6, 2003.

166 "Assassins Attack ANPP Senatorial Candidate, Vanguard, February 11, 2003.

167 "Police Special Squad for Imo State," P.M. News, February 28, 2003.

168 "In the `Dock'", Newswatch, February 28, 2003.

169 See Human Rights Watch press release, "Nigeria: Government Critics at Risk After Political Killings," September 19, 2002.

170 See Human Rights Watch/CLEEN Report, "The Bakassi Boys: The Legitimization of Murder and Torture," May 2002.

171 "Nigeria: Attacks send politicians into hiding in Nigeria," Reuters, December 22, 2003.

172 Ibid.

173 Human Rights Watch interview with Festus Keyamo, January 31, 2003, Lagos.

174 Innocent Anaba, "Ige: Court Orders Omisore's Arraignment," Vanguard, February 22, 2003.

175 "Nigerian Politician in Court over Ige's Murder," Agence France-Presse, March 12, 2003.

176 Ademola Adeyemi, "Osun PDP to Ogbeh - We won't replace Omisore," This Day, March 10, 2003; Sina Babasola, "Omisore remains candidate for Ife/Ijesa Senatorial district in April polls, says PDP," Vanguard, March 11, 2003.

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