Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

November 5, 1996

Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

i) The repeal of the Civil Disturbances (Special Tribunal) Decree so that offences covered by it are in future tried by the ordinary criminal courts, or amendments to the decree to bring it into line with international fair trial standards. The amendments recommended were: removal of the provision allowing serving military personnel to be members of such tribunals; addition of a provision stipulating that members of such tribunals should be appointed on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; addition of a provision allowing the right of judicial appeal and the replacement of the Provisional Ruling Council by the Nigerian Court of Appeal as the body confirming verdicts and sentences; removal of the provision which excludes the jurisdiction of the courts to review decisions of such a tribunal; restoration of the power of superior courts to issue writs of habeas corpus; and the provision of compensation to the families of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight other MOSOP supporters who were executed. Finally, the mission called for all pending or contemplated trials by Civil Disturbances Special Tribunals to be suspended until these amendments were carried out.
ii) The Nigerian government should establish a review committee, headed by a senior judge, to examine the decrees promulgated by the military government to date and to recommend the repeal of those decrees or provisions which violate the human rights provisions of the Constitution or undermine the rule of law.

iii)The Nigerian government should ensure that all its officials respect the decisions, orders and judgments of the courts.

iv)All those detained under Decree No. 2 of 1984 and similar decrees should be released and an amnesty granted to all persons convicted of political offences.

v)The rights to freedom of association and expression should be fully respected.

In May 1996, the Nigerian government gave its interim response to the recommendations of the UN mission. It announced two amendments to the Civil Disturbances (Special Tribunal) Decree: members of the armed forces would no longer be allowed to sit on such tribunals and the right of judicial appeal would be provided. However, the military government retains sole control over the appointment process and the body authorized to confirm verdicts and sentences after judicial appeal remains the Provisional Ruling Council. A trial by a Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal reformed along these lines would remain vulnerable to political interference and would not meet international fair trial standards.

In addition, the Nigerian government stated that Decree No. 14 of 1994, which suspended habeas corpus, would be repealed. It was repealed in June 1996. But Decree No. 14 was only an amendment of Decree No. 2 of 1984, which still contains a clause ousting the jurisdiction of the courts. Further, Decree No. 14 of 1984 is just one of many military decrees which diminish the role of the normal judicial system. For example, Decree No. 12 of 1994 effectively places the government above the law by prohibiting legal challenges to any of its military decrees or to any action which violates the human rights provisions of the Constitution.

The Nigerian government also announced that it would amend Decree No. 2 of 1984 to allow for a review every three months of the cases of persons detained under that decree by a body comprising the Chief of General Staff, the Inspector General of Police and the Federal Attorney General. The composition of this body raises questions about its impartiality and independence. In addition, it announced a review of all those currently detained without trial under the decree. By the end of June 1996, a number of those detained under Decree No. 2 of 1984 had been released.