Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

November 5, 1996

Nigeria: Time to end contempt for human rights

Without the urgent establishment of respect for human rights in Nigeria, the transition to civilian rule should be viewed with deep scepticism by the international community. Partial and piece-meal measures of human rights reform and the release of a small number of prisoners of conscience after prolonged periods of arbitrary detention, such as those announced by the Nigerian authorities following the visit of a United Nations (UN) Mission to Nigeria in April 1996, are not enough. What is required is the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience and the urgent implementation of a comprehensive and far-reaching program of human rights reform.

For its part, the international community, including transnational companies with significant investments in Nigeria, has a continuing responsibility to do all it can to ensure that respect for human rights is established in Nigeria. To discharge that responsibility, governments should agree common and specific human rights measures which the Nigerian authorities should implement without delay. Transnational companies should affirm their support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and show through concrete actions in Nigeria that they accept that they have a responsibility under the declaration to uphold human rights.

This report begins with an audit of the human rights record of the present Nigerian government. It demonstrates the ways in which the government has failed to meet international human rights standards with regard to specific cases or categories of human rights violations covered by Amnesty International´s mandate. Nigeria´s human rights record since November 1993 is measured primarily in terms of its legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples´ Rights (ACHPR), both of which Nigeria has ratified. Also cited is the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture), which Nigeria signed in 1988 but has not yet ratified.

The report then sets out Amnesty International´s10-point program for human rights reform in Nigeria. Amnesty International calls upon the present Nigerian government to adopt and implement this program in order to establish respect for human rights.

Finally, the report reviews the recent role of the international community with regard to human rights in Nigeria and the response of the Nigerian government. It then sets out the steps that governments and transnational companies with significant investments in Nigeria should urgently take to discharge their responsibility to do all they can to end contempt for human rights in Nigeria.


Key:ICCPR = International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
ACHPR = African Charter on Human and Peoples´ Rights

1 Secret treason trials, 1995

The detention and trial by a secret Special Military Tribunal in 1995 of people alleged to have been involved in a plot to overthrow the government led to 43 people being convicted of treason and related offences. Among them were human rights and pro-democracy activists such as former Head of State, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo and his former Deputy, retired Major-General Shehu Musa Yar`Adua. Sentenced to life imprisonment and death respectively, their sentences were later commuted to 15 and 25 years´ imprisonment. Also imprisoned for long prison terms on charges of being an accessory to treason or concealment of treason were the renowned human rights defender Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, Chairman of the Campaign for Democracy; Shehu Sani, Vice-Chairman of the Campaign for Democracy; and four journalists, Chris Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah and Ben Charles Obi. Amnesty International believes that all are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely in order to end their criticism of the present military government.