Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

November 5, 1996

Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

The report then sets out Amnesty International's 10-point program for human rights reform in Nigeria. Amnesty International calls upon the present military government to adopt and implement this program in order to establish respect for human rights in Nigeria.

Finally, the report reviews the role of the international community with regard to the human rights situation in Nigeria. It makes recommendations about the steps which governments and transnational companies with significant investments in Nigeria should urgently take to discharge their responsibility to do whatever they can to end contempt for human rights in Nigeria.

Please note that Amnesty International's 10-point program for human rights reform in Nigeria and its recommendations to the international community are summarized in a companion document, Nigeria: A 10-point program for human rights reform (AI Index: AFR 44/15/96), also issued on 6 November 1996.

This report summarizes a document (10,578 words), Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights (AI Index: AFR 44/14/96) issued by Amnesty International on 6 November 1996. Anyone wishing further details or to take action on this issue should consult the full document.


The present military government in Nigeria has a record of open contempt for human rights. A year ago it executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other supporters of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) after grossly unfair trials, prompting widespread international condemnation. As the first anniversary of their execution draws near, little has changed. The government continues to violate the human rights of its critics, including opposition politicians, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the Ogoni ethnic group. The authorities continue to resort to arbitrary detention of prisoners of consceince, ignoring court orders whenever it suits them; political prisoners continue to face the prospect of unfair trials by special tribunals which have the power to impose the death sentence; detainees continue to be denied access to lawyers, families and essential medical treatment; there continue to be allegations of extrajudicial executions by Nigerian law enforcement officials. On 4 June 1996, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, senior wife of the man who won the aborted presidential election in June 1993, Chief Moshood Abiola, was murdered in Lagos in circumstances that led many to fear that her assassination may have been carried out by government agents acting with or without the knowledge of the central authorities. The government has failed to initiate an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the killing.

The outlook for human rights in Nigeria leaves many observers with a depressing sense of déja vu. Are Nigerians destined forever to suffer governments which have little regard for the rule of law and which fail to introduce safeguards to ensure respect for their human rights? Is the international community prepared indefinitely to tolerate such a situation in a country which is crucial to the future stability of the wider West Africa region? Surely the time has come to break with the past by ending contempt for human rights in Nigeria.

The present military government, led by General Sani Abacha, seized power in November 1993 after his predecessor, General Ibrahim Babangida, had annulled the results of the presidential election which was intended to complete the transition to civilian rule under General Ibrahim Babangida. Chief Moshood Abiola, the winner of that election, has been detained by the military authorities since June 1994 on politically-motivated charges of treason and treasonable felony. The present military government has announced that it will hand over power to a civilian government by the end of October 1998. Domestic critics of the government claim that the latest transition to civilian rule is a sham, arguing that local government elections which took place during 1996 were neither free nor fair. They also point to recent military decrees which empower the government to harass and detain those who criticize the transition process.