Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

Report
November 5, 1996

Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

4 Guarantee the fair and prompt trial of all political prisoners with full rights of defence, including the right of appeal to a higher and independent judicial body. Release all
political prisoners detained indefinitely without charge or held in prolonged pre-trial detention unless they are to be brought to trial promptly and fairly.

The present Nigerian government has shown a flagrant disregard for its international legal obligations with regard to ensuring fair trials. The trials of the alleged coup-plotters and of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 14 other supporters of MOSOP during 1995 violated virtually every fair trial principle contained within the ICCPR and the ACHPR.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples´ Rights, which monitors compliance with the ACHPR,has been highly critical in the past of the procedures of special tribunals established by military decree in Nigeria. In respect of Zamani Lekwot and six others (complaint 87/93), the Commission ruled that the Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal which tried them violated the ACHPR because they had been denied the right of appeal to a higher court after being convicted and sentenced to death. It recommended their release. All those convicted were released in 1995. Further, the Commission ruled in respect of Wahab Akamu, G Adega and others (complaint 60/91) that the absence of a right of appeal under the Robbery and Firearms Tribunal also violated the ACHPR.

In May 1996 the present military government announced that in future Civil Disturbances Special Tribunals would no longer include members of the armed forces. It also announced that in future there would be judicial review at appellate level of verdicts and sentences handed out by Civil Disturbances Special Tribunals. The announcement that military personnel would henceforth not sit on such tribunals appeared to meet one criticism made of the trials of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in 1995. But the military government remains in control of the appointment process. The announcement of the right of judicial appeal appeared to meet another criticism. However, the announcement also stated that the Provisional Ruling Council would retain the role of "confirming authority" after judicial appeal. The process remains as vulnerable as ever to political interference. These measures are insufficient to secure judicial independence and impartiality.

A host of further concerns which Amnesty International and others have raised concerning the operation of the Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal which tried Ken Saro-Wiwa and others were not addressed. From now on, will defendants be promptly informed of the charges against them in future? Will defendants have the right to lawyers of their own choice? Will defendants be safeguarded against torture and ill-treatment? Will defendants get prompt access to lawyers, families and doctors? Will defendants be brought to trial within a reasonable time? There remain no guarantees that any of these rights will be respected in future.

The government has so far shown little willingness to acknowledge the validity of international criticisms voiced of the conduct of these trials. It should immediately commit itself to the principle of fair and prompt trials with full rights of defence, including the right of appeal to a higher and independent judicial body, for all political prisoners. Furthermore, unless political prisoners currently being detained indefinitely without charge or held in prolonged pre-trial detention are to be brought to trial promptly and fairly, the government should release them without delay. This includes the 19 Ogoni prisoners still being held in pre-trial detention on identical charges to those which led to the conviction and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP supporters in 1995.