Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

November 5, 1996

Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

The May 1996 announcements fell far short of the recommendations contained within the report of the UN Mission. The Nigerian government has said that other aspects of the report are under serious consideration, but it has issued no further statements in response since then. The UN Secretary General stated that he was encouraged by the interim response of the Nigerian government and would monitor the implementation of the reforms which it had announced. In August 1996, the UN Secretary General sent Lansana Kouyate, Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, to Lagos to assess the reform measures undertaken by the Nigerian government.


The OAU has adopted a very low profile on Nigeria. It released no substantive statements on the human rights situation in Nigeria between January and August 1996, leaving the UN to take the lead.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples´ Rights

In February 1996 the African Commission on Human and Peoples´ Rights asked a delegation composed of the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and the Special Rapporteur on summary and arbitrary executions to undertake a mission to Nigeria. By the end of August 1996, efforts to reach agreement with the Nigerian government over arrangements for the visit of the mission had still not met with success.

The Commonwealth

Following the executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others in November 1995, the Commonwealth suspended Nigeria from the organization for two years. The Commonwealth also established a Ministerial Action Group (comprising the foreign ministers of the UK, Canada, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malaysia, Ghana, Jamaica and New Zealand) to lead Commonwealth policy on Nigeria. In December 1995 the Ministerial Action Group decided that the Commonwealth should send a mission to Nigeria consisting of senior government figures from Zimbabwe, Malaysia, Ghana, Jamaica and New Zealand. However, Nigeria refused to issue an invitation to the Commonwealth mission. In April 1996 the Ministerial Action Group recommended that the Commonwealth implement further measures to register its continuing disapproval of the human rights situation in Nigeria. The Nigerian government met with members of the Ministerial Action Group in London in June 1996, during which meeting a number of human rights activists were released in Nigeria. The Ministerial Action Group recommended postponing the implementation of further measures by Commonwealth countries. However, Canada decided to implement them unilaterally. In August 1996, the Nigerian government invited representatives of the Ministerial Action Group to visit Nigeria on 29-30 August 1996. However, following the imposition of restrictions upon the visit by the Nigerian government which the Ministerial Action Group felt were unacceptable, it was unclear whether the visit would proceed.

Transnational companies

The most important transnational company with economic interests in Nigeria is Shell, the oil giant. It is the largest foreign oil company in Nigeria, accounting for approximately half of the country´s oil production. Other foreign oil companies in Nigeria include Agip, Elf, Chevron, Mobil, Total, Texaco, BP, Exxon and Statoil. There are also a host of transnational companies in the manufacturing, construction, retailing and banking sectors with important economic interests in Nigeria.

In recent years large-scale community protests have been reported against the oil operations of Shell in the River Niger delta. Other foreign oil companies such as Elf, Agip and Chevron have also faced community protests. The main causes of these protests have been concern about the environmental impact of the oil operations of these companies and concern that local communities do not receive a fair share of the wealth generated by oil in the River Niger delta.