Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September 2014, 13:07 GMT

UNHCR CDR Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Nigeria

Publisher UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Author Centre for Documentation and Research
Publication Date 1 November 1997
Cite as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR CDR Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Nigeria, 1 November 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a6510.html [accessed 30 September 2014]
Comments This information paper was prepared in the Country Research and Analysis Unit of UNHCR's Centre for Documentation and Research on the basis of publicly available information, analysis and comment, in collaboration with Regional Bureau Responsible for Somalia and the UNHCR Statistical Unit. All sources are cited. This paper is not, and does not, purport to be, fully exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

PREFACE

Nigeria has been an important source country of refugees and asylum-seekers over a number of years. This paper seeks to define the scope, destination, and causes of their flight. It replaces an earlier paper prepared in October 1995 by the Country Information Unit of UNHCR's Centre for Documentation and Research (CDR).

In the first part, the paper provides a statistical overview of Nigerian refugees and asylum-seekers in Western Europe and the United States, describing current trends in the number and origin of asylum requests as well as the results of their status determination. The data are derived from government statistics made available to UNHCR and are compiled by its Statistical Unit.

The second part of the paper contains information regarding the conditions in the country of origin, which are often invoked by asylum-seekers when submitting their claim for refugee status. The Country Information Unit CDR conducts its work on the basis of publicly available information, analysis and comment, with all sources cited. The paper is not, and does not purport to be, fully exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

1.   Asylum applications and status determination of refugees and asylum seekers from Nigeria

1.1   General Comments on Statistics

The statistics contained in the tables in Annex I are based on the reporting by governments to UNHCR. While every effort has been made to ensure that the data are accurate, they should be considered as provisional and subject to change. The decisions (granting of asylum/refugee status, humanitarian status and rejections) usually refer to decisions in first instance only. While most statistics refer to the number of persons, those for the United Kingdom and the United States refer to the number of cases (c). A zero ("0") may indicate that the value is zero or rounded to zero; in a number of cases, it indicates that the data are not (yet) available, i.e., Australia (1990-1996), Bulgaria (1990-1995), the Czech Republic (1990), Hungary (1990-1994) and Poland (1990-1994). It should be noted that countries of asylum frequently do not list separate countries of origin accounting for relatively small numbers, which can therefore lead to underestimation.

1.2   Findings on Statistics

During 1990-1996, some 66,200 Nigerian nationals applied for asylum in the countries listed, with a peak in 1991/2, when their number reached over 13,000. In 1996, total applications for asylum by Nigerians numbered 8,200, or 1.6 per cent of all asylum applications. Germany received 45 per cent of all applications by Nigerians during 1990-1996, while 23 per cent of the applications were submitted in the United Kingdom (cases only). During 1990-1996, at least 1,250 Nigerians were granted Convention refugee status, of whom 420 were recognized during 1996. In 1996, the Convention recognition rate for Nigerian asylum-seekers was almost five per cent, which compares unfavourably with the overall recognition rate in 1996 (19 per cent). Taking into account other non-Convention statuses, the total of Nigerian asylum-seekers granted refugee status or allowed to remain in the country of asylum for humanitarian reasons was about 5.2 per cent in 1996. The majority of Nigerian asylum-seekers are granted Convention status rather than humanitarian status. Thus, in 1996, only about 125 Nigerian asylum-seekers were granted humanitarian (non-Convention) status.

There are over 1,000 Nigerian refugees in Benin. The majority of them are ethnic Ogonis, who arrived between December 1995 and March 1996.

2.   Country Profile

2.1   Basic Country Information

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is situated in West Africa on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea, with Benin to the west, Niger to the north, Chad to the north-east and Cameroon to the east and south-east. It has an area of 923,768 sq. km (356,669 sq. miles) (Europa World Yearbook 1997, p. 2475) According to Africa South of the Sahara 1997, the November 1991 census gave the population as 88,514,501 (1996, p.724). Much of this population is concentrated in the southern part of the country, and in the area of dense settlement around the city of Kano in the north. Recent economic development has stimulated considerable rural-urban migration and led to the phenomenal growth of the cities of Lagos, Ibadan, Ogbomosho, Kaduna and Port Hartcourt. Other major cities include Ilorin, Abeokuta, Zaria, Ife and Benin. Although the federal capital was formally transferred from Lagos to Abuja in December 1991, many non-governmental institutions remain in the former capital (Europa World Yearbook 1997, p. 2475). English is the official language, but Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo and Fulani are recognized as national languages, and there are a great many other indigenous languages spoken (Ibid.).

Nigeria comprises more than 250 ethnic groups, some numbering fewer than 10,000 people. Ten groups, notably the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Ibo, Kanuri, Tiv, Edo, Nupe, Ibibio and Ijaw, account for nearly 80 per cent of the total population (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, 1996, p.724). Some 47 per cent of the population are Muslims and 35 per cent are Christians (Europa World Yearbook 1997, p. 2475). The beliefs, rites and religious practices of the people of Nigeria are very diverse, varying between ethnic groups and between families in the same group, while some 18 per cent of the population are believed to be adherents of African traditional religions (Ibid.; Contemporary Religions, 1993, p.450).

The three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa-Fulani, who make up the majority of the population in the northern region; the Yoruba, who form the majority in the southwest; and the Ibo, who are the largest group in the south-eastern population (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, 1996, p.724). The Hausa-Fulani, and therefore the northern part of the country, are mainly Muslim and have traditionally controlled Nigerian politics. The Yoruba and the Ibo, who dominate the more economically wealthy southern regions, are mainly Christian (The Europa World Yearbook 1994, 1995, p.2244).

Nigeria became independent from the United Kingdom on 1 October 1960, and in 1963 the Federal Republic of Nigeria was proclaimed (Political Parties of Africa and the Middle East, 1993, p.218). In 1968 Nigeria adopted a federal structure comprising 12 states, the number of which was increased to 19 in 1976, to 21 in 1987, to 30 in 1991, and to 36 in 1996 (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, 1996, p.724). The post-independence history of the country has been marked by a series of coups d'état, so that for 27 of its 37 years of independence Nigeria has been ruled by the armed forces (EIU, Country Profile 1996-97, p.8).

2.2   Recent Political Developments

The latest such coup d'état occurred in November 1993, when General Sani Abacha took over from Chief Ernest Shonekan, a prominent businessman who headed the four-week Interim National Government (ING) established by the previous military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, who ruled the country from 1985 to 1993 (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, 1996, p.730). Shortly afterwards, General Abacha dissolved all other organs of state formed during the previous transitional government and created a Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) (Ibid., p.733). The PRC was initially composed of senior military officials, the principal members of a new Federal Executive Council (FEC), former members of Major-General Babaginda's Interim National Government (ING), as well as several prominent supporters of Chief Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential elections who was accused of treason and has been imprisoned since June 1994 when he declared himself President of Nigeria (Ibid.). He has yet to be brought to trial (Human Rights Watch/Africa, October 1997; Amnesty International, 22 September 1997). In September 1994 the PRC was reconstituted and enlarged from eleven to 25 members, all of whom were senior military officers (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, 1996, p.734). The mostly civilian FEC was dissolved by General Abacha on 17 November 1997, ostensibly to enable some of its members to stand as candidates in the forthcoming elections that are to lead to the transfer of power to a democratically elected president (Reuters, 17 November 1997).

The current military government continues to proclaim its commitment to the return to civilian rule. A transition programme announced by General Sani Abacha on 1 October 1995 and governed by Transition to Civil Rule (Political Programme) Decree No. 1 of 1996, is the fourth such effort by a military regime in Nigeria. Under the transition programme, local, state and presidential elections are foreseen, leading to the installation of a civilian president on 1 October 1998. (US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996, 1997; HRW/Africa, October 1997). The transition process includes the drafting of a new constitution, the lifting of the ban on political activities, the establishment of transitional institutions, the election of local government officials on a non-party basis, the redrawing of the state and local government boundaries, the formation of political parties, and the holding of elections on a party basis (Ibid.).

The transitional institutions created under Decree No. 1 are the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON); the Transitional Implementation Committee (TIC); the Federal Character Commission (FCC); the National Reconciliation Committee (NARECOM), and the Panel for the Creation of State and Local Government Boundary Adjustment (Ibid.). A so-called "Power Devolution Committee" mentioned by General Abacha in his 1 October 1995 address but not included in Decree No. 1 of 1996 has also been established (HRW/Africa, October 1997)

Five new political parties were created to compete in the elections and were registered in September 1996. They were the parties that had been recommended by the PRC and approved by General Abacha (Ibid., U.S. DOS Country Reports for 1996, 1997). Political associations which failed to meet stringent registration requirements were disqualified, as were those deemed "progressive" or "conservative", which Minister for Special Duties [one of three] Laz Unaogu explained was in order to avert political instability (HRW/Africa, October 1997). Also disqualified were aspiring candidates holding "pro-opposition sympathies" (Ibid.).

The transition process has been marked by a series of irregularities, such as inflated voter registration figures, the sale of voter cards in some rural areas, riots disrupting registration procedures, and delays in the production of the voter lists which have in turn caused the postponement of elections. The local government elections held in March this year had originally been scheduled for December 1996. (Amnesty International, 22 September 1997; WriteNet, September 1997; EIU Country Report, 1st Quarter 1997). In July 1997, TIC chairman Mamman Nasir announced that, at the request of the five registered political parties, elections for state governors would be delayed from 1997 to 1998 (Ibid.). In the view of a WriteNet observer, this delay leaves in place the 36 current military governors until next year, when they could wield great influence over the electoral process, and also appeases their unease about plans to return to the barracks and thus the loss of their networks of patronage (September 1997). Subsequently, Decree No. 9 of 1997 was issued, empowering the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) to shift the dates of the remaining transition elections if it so desires (Africa News Services, 20 October, 1997).

There are indications that General Abacha himself intends to enter the race for the 1998 presidential election, although he has not clarified his position nor ruled out the possibility (EIU Country Report, 1st Quarter 1997; Amnesty International, 22 September 1997). There are also reports that the military officers in the PRC are divided over the merits of his standing for office (Africa Confidential, 7 November 1997). A decree issued on 10 April 1997 confers new powers on the military head of state, including "absolute control over the local governments that were elected [in March 1997]", enabling him to "remove any head of local government if he is unsatisfied that the affairs of the council are being managed in the best interests of the community or to strengthen the unity of the Nigerian people" (EIU Country Report, 2nd Quarter 1997, p.6). The decree also forbids any civil court to "challenge the validity of the election or the decision of a special election tribunal. . . [so that] . . . if General Abacha is successful in a presidential campaign there can be no challenge to his authority" (Ibid.).

The major political force in the country is the armed forces, whose strength has been maintained despite the country's economic difficulties since the early 1980's (EIU Country Profile, 1996-97, pp.8-9). Seen as the "only functioning, nation-wide organisation in the political arena" (Ibid.), it has reportedly justified its hold on power by claiming to correct the ills of the ousted regime, to prevent the break-up of the country, or to redress the nation's economic and social problems (Oko, O., in Harvard Human Rights Journal, Spring 1997, p.258). Several observers note that, under the rule of the armed forces, corruption, crime and decay of ordinary life have become endemic, there have been regular fuel shortages despite Nigeria being one of the world's leading oil producing countries, and the siphoning of oil reserves has left the state grossly underfunded, leaving its employees underpaid and basic services neglected (WriteNet, February 1996). In its report on Nigeria for the June 1997 multidonor meeting, the World Bank refers to the problem of "rent seeking", a euphemism for corruption. Bank officials estimate that at least ten per cent of the country's oil earnings disappear into secret accounts controlled by the military (World Bank, 12 May 1997; Africa Confidential, 4 July 1997). At the same meeting, the World Bank announced its decision to halt funding for development projects in Nigeria because it could no longer guarantee that the money would be used as intended (Reuters, 24 September 1997).

Nigeria is a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Its petroleum industry is the dominant sector of the Nigerian economy and the major determinant of the country's economic growth. The Niger delta remains the main petroleum producing region. Production costs for Nigerian petroleum are nearly seven times as high as those of the Middle East, yet the product's low sulphur content places it at the low end of OPEC's price scale (EIU Country Profile, 1996-97; Africa Confidential, 12 September 1997). In August 1997 it was reported that the state-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had received no budget allocations for seven months and it was therefore unable to meet cash calls for in its six oil production ventures with Agip, Chevron, Elf, Mobil, Shell and Texaco (Africa Confidential, 29 August 1997). The lack of NNPC funding was also the prime cause for the country's worst oil shortage in July 1997 (Ibid.).

The per capita GNP, which stood at US$1,160 at the height of the oil boom in 1980, has fallen to US$210 (World Bank, 12 May 1997). The foreign debt stands at some US$34.7 billion, with US$17.4 billion of that representing debt arrears (Ibid.). The economy has come under severe pressure in recent months, with biting fuel shortages spreading to most of the country and sending black market prices soaring to five times their official price of 13 Nairas, or US$0.15, per litre (Ibid.).

3.   The Human Rights Situation

3.1   The International Legal Framework

Nigeria has ratified or acceded to major international human rights instruments such as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees - CSR51 (23 October 1967) and its 1967 Protocol (2 May 1968); the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - ICCPR (29 July 1993); the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (29 July 1993); the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (16 October 1967); the 1952 Convention on the Political Rights of Women (17 November 1980); the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (13 June 1985), and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (19 April 1991). Nigeria has signed, but not ratified, the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Nigeria has ratified regional instruments such as the Charter of the Organization of African Unity - OAU (14 November 1963); the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugees (23 May 1986), and acceded to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (22 June 1983). Nigeria has also ratified the ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively (UNHCR Refworld Legal Databases, July 1997).

3.2   The National Legal Framework

The Nigerian legal system is based on English common law (EIU Country Report, 3rd Quarter 1997). On taking office in November 1993, General Abacha and his military government reportedly "abrogated the whole pre-existing legal order in Nigeria except for what [was] preserved under Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993 . . . which conferred on the Federal Military Government . . . absolute powers to make laws ‘for the peace, order and good government of Nigeria'" (UN Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/62/Add.1, 24 March 1997). In this capacity, the Government allowed certain provisions of the Constitution of 1979 to remain in effect, such as Section 6, which vests the judicial power in the courts (Ibid.). However, as section 3(3) of Decree No. 107 states that "provisions of a Decree shall prevail over those of the unsuspended provisions of the 1979 Constitution", the supremacy of the Constitution is effectively ousted (Ibid.; Amnesty International, 22 September 1997). At present, federal legislation is enacted by decrees of the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), while state legislation is enacted by the 36 military governors appointed by the PRC (EIU Country Report, 3rd Quarter 1997).

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, points out that Decree 12 of 1994 (Supremacy and Enforcement of Powers) ousts the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts and makes the judiciary subservient to the Federal Military Government, by stipulating that:

(i)         No civil proceedings shall lie or be instituted in any Court for or on account of or in respect of any act, matter or thing done or purported to be done under or pursuant to any Decree or Edict, and if such proceedings are instituted before, on or after the commencement of this Decree the proceedings shall abate, be discharged and made void.

(ii)        the question whether any provision of chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 has been, is being or would be contravened by anything done or purported to be done in pursuance of any Decree shall not be inquired into in any Court of law and accordingly, no provision of the Constitution shall apply in respect of any such question (UN Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/62/Add. 1, 24 March 1997).

Constitutionally, there is a two-tiered civilian judicial system with federal and state courts: the federal system comprises the Federal High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court; the State court system consists of magistrate (or district) courts, customary (or area) courts, shar'ia courts of appeal, and the state high court (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, p.751; Oko, O., 1997, p.267). This system has remained undisturbed by any of the military decrees (Ibid., p.268). However, as civilian courts are empowered to order the military rulers to govern according to the law, the military regime has established its own tribunals to hear civil offenses, to which it assigns any threatening cases (Ibid., p.267; U.S. DOS Country Reports for 1996, 1997).

Examples of these tribunals include the robbery and firearms (special provisions) tribunals; the civil disturbances special tribunals, and the treason and other offenses special military tribunals, all of which are allocated greater resources and better paid staff, "resulting in further diminution of the pool of competent judges and staff available to the ordinary courts" (United Nations, General Assembly, A/51/538, 22 October 1996). The government's military tribunals, therefore, "form a parallel but separate adjudicatory system that has displaced the traditional judicial system in most constitutionally important matters", assuming jurisdiction for offenses such as corruption, armed robbery, examination malpractice, arson, civil disturbances and treason (Oko, O., P. 268).

Tribunal proceedings, said to be conducted by military officers with no legal training, are held in camera, and often result in severe penalties for minor offenses, including the death penalty (Ibid., p.271-2). Two other observers note that these special tribunals, together with the Government's refusal to respect court rulings, undercut the independence and integrity of the judiciary, often result in legal proceedings that deny defendants due process, and seriously undermine the integrity of the judicial process (Amnesty International, 22 September 1997; U.S. DOS Country Reports for 1996, 1997). Regular courts are thereby diminished and prevented from issuing any legal pronouncements on "manifestly extra-constitutional actions taken by the military regime" (Oko, O., 1997, p.170). The right of appeal is generally denied, and even when granted, a defendant "can only appeal to either the highest military ruling body, the Provisional Ruling Council, or to a special tribunal constituted by the military regime" (Ibid., 273).

Two of these special tribunals -- the civil disturbances special tribunal and the special military tribunal -- received world-wide attention in 1995:

The Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal

Decree No. 2 of 1987, Part 1, section 1, envisages the establishment of a civil disturbances investigation committee whenever the head of state concludes that the following conditions exist: (a) civil disturbances, commotions or unrest have occurred in any part of the country; (b) there has been a breach of the peace that would have the effect of destabilizing the peace and tranquillity of the nation; (c) the public order and public safety of Nigeria is threatened by any disturbance, and (d) a riot or civil disturbances of a riotous nature have occurred or are likely to occur, resulting or likely to result in loss of life and property and injury to persons (UN General Assembly, A/51/538, 22 October 1996).

The highly publicized 1995 murder trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the writer and Ogoni activist who campaigned for better environmental conditions in his homeland, was conducted by the Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal. The charges brought against Saro-Wiwa, including the organization of a protest in which four Ogoni chiefs were killed, would normally have fallen under the jurisdiction of a regular high court. Instead, he and the other eight defendants were "denied fundamental rights of defense, including the right to be tried by an impartial and independent court, the right to retain and consult with counsel of their choice, and the right of appeal against the tribunal's decision to an independent higher court" (Oko, O., 1997, p.170; Amnesty International, 6 November 1996). The Civil Disturbances Tribunal tried and convicted Saro-Wiwa and the other eight defendants, all of whom were subsequently executed, amidst international outrage which led to the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth and the imposition of mild sanctions by some Western countries (Ibid.).

The Special Military Tribunal

Constituted under the Treason and Other Offenses Special Tribunal Decree No. 1 of 1986, the special military tribunal is empowered to try "any person whether or not a member of the armed forces who, in connection with any act of rebellion against the Federal Government, has committed the offen[s]e of treason, murder or any offen[s]e under Nigerian law" (UN General Assembly, A/51/538, 22 October 1996).

In June-July 1995, a Special Military Tribunal in Lagos tried 43 military officials and civilians charged with plotting a coup d'état against the military government (Ibid.), or with being "accessories after the fact to treason" (Amnesty International, 6 November 1996). The defendants included, inter alia, retired General and former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo and his former deputy head of state, Major-General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, as well as Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Shehu Sani, Chairman and Vice-Chairman, respectively, of the opposition group Campaign for Democracy (Ibid.). The tribunal was composed entirely of military personnel led by Brigadier-General Patrick Aziza, a member of the Provisional Ruling Council (UN General Assembly, A/51/538, 22 October 1996). In a trial said to have been conducted in secrecy, the defendants were reportedly denied legal representation of their choice and instead were assigned military lawyers who were in turn answerable only to the tribunal, while most of the documents needed for the defense were allegedly not available (Ibid.). The special military tribunal convicted 41 of the accused persons and issued sentences ranging from long prison terms to death. Following international appeals, however, the death sentences of those convicted for treason were commuted to long prison sentences (Ibid.; Amnesty International, 6 November 1997)

In addition to decrees and ouster clauses immunizing executive and legislative actions against judicial review, the Government is said to resort to the promulgation of retroactive legislation, legitimizing extralegal acts or criminalizing acts that were legally permitted at the time of their occurrence (Oko, O., 1997, p.259).

3.3   Political parties, opposition groups, and labour organizations

Upon taking office in November 1993, General Abacha banned all political activities in the country and dissolved the then-legally permitted groups, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republic Convention (NRC), the only two parties allowed to compete in the June 1993 presidential elections which were presumed to have been won by the SDP's candidate, Chief Moshood Abiola, and were subsequently annulled by then head of state Major-General Babangida (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, p.732; Oko, O., p.260).

Under the current programme for transition to civilian rule, limited political activity has again been permitted, and five parties were chosen by the military officers of the PRC and approved by General Abacha to run in elections for local government councils, state assemblies, state governorships and finally for the presidency. The latter elections are scheduled for the third quarter of 1998, to be followed by the swearing-in of a new civilian president on 1 October 1998 (EIU Country Profile, 1996-97, p.7).

The newly created parties are: the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP); the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN); the Committee for National Consensus (CNC); the National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCP), and the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) (EIU, Country Report, 2nd Quarter 1997, p.6; Reuters, 13 November 1997). The UNCP, according to one observer, is believed to be closely connected to senior government figures and, together with the DPN, won the largest share of seats in the March 1997 local government elections (EIU, Country Report, 2nd Quarter 1997, p.6;). NGO observers, pro-democracy groups and supporters of Chief Moshood Abiola claim that the five groups "all have pro-government views", and that they have praised General Abacha's policies in their brochures and in political advertisements they financed (Reuters, 12 November 1997(a); InterPress Service, 25 October 1997). Three of the parties -- the UNCP, the DPN and the NCP -- have declared their willingness to have General Abacha stand as their party's presidential candidate, while Special Duties Minister Wada Nas has reportedly called on all five parties to adopt General Abacha as a consensus candidate for the sake of national unity (Reuters, 13 November 1997; InterPress Service, 25 October 1997; International Herald Tribune, 18 November 1997).

Political opposition groups

In an interview published by West Africa magazine in early January 1997, the Nigerian Minister of Information, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, is quoted as saying that there is no organized opposition in Nigeria, and that "some characters calling themselves pro-democracy groups . . . have been sponsored by the Western world to make noise here and cause trouble, but they are being ignored because they only have nuisance value. There is no opposition; every Nigerian is with us. This is the achievement of Abacha's administration" (23 December 1996-5 January 1997). Numerous published sources, however, report on the existence and activities of various political opposition groups, most notably those listed below.

The Campaign for Democracy (CD)

The Campaign for Democracy was formed in 1991 at a meeting of human rights, student, women's and labour groups, in which Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti was named the group's chairman. CD calls for the return of the military to the barracks and for a "sovereign national conference" to determine the country's political future (WriteNet, September 1997). Although initially not a strong supporter of Chief Abiola, the annulment of the 1993 elections prompted CD to call for his instalment as president, to which the government responded by arresting hundreds of its supporters and dozens of its leaders. About 150 supporters of the CD died in riots that followed the cancellation of the 1993 elections (Human Rights Watch/Africa, October 1994). Dr. Ransome-Kuti and CD Vice-Chairman Shehu Sani were convicted of being an accessory to treason and sentenced to 15-year prison terms for defending the rights of people accused of plotting an alleged coup d'état in 1995 (Amnesty International, 6 November 1996). Another of its members, the lawyer Femi Falana, was detained in February 1996, ostensibly for "trying to bring about an uprising". No charges were brought against him, however, and he has now been released (Amnesty International, 6 November 1996; telephone interview, 21 November 1997).

National Democratic Coalition (NADECO)

The National Democratic Coalition was formed in 1994 by former politicians, retired army officers and human rights activists who called on General Abacha to relinquish power. It reportedly has an agenda consisting of four major points: (i) the withdrawal of the military from politics; (ii) the installation of Moshood Abiola as president; (iii) the holding of a sovereign national conference to debate the country's future, and (iv) the structuring of Nigeria along federal lines (WriteNet, September 1997). The expiration of its end-May 1994 deadline for the resignation of the military administration was followed by violent anti-government protests (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, p.733). Some of its members have been accused by the security forces of a series of bombings in 1997 targeting senior military officers and Muslim Hausa traders. Others, such as Secretary-General Ayo Opadokun, and Vice-President Abraham Adesanya, were detained in 1994 for up to two years, although subsequently released without charges (EIU Country Report, 3rd Quarter 1997, p.10; Reuters, 12 November 1997(b); Human Rights Watch/Africa, October 1997; Amnesty International, 6 November 1996; telephone interview, 21 November 1997). During the October 1997 meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government, NADECO lobbied for tougher sanctions against the military government, including Nigeria's expulsion from the Commonwealth (InterPress Service, 22 October 1997; Le Monde, 27 October 1997). The group's chairman, Michael Ajasin, died in October 1997 afer an illness (Reuters, 12 November 1997(b)).

Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP)

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People was formed in 1990 to "co-ordinate opposition to the exploitation of petroleum reserves in the territory of the Ogoni ethnic group (Ogoniland) in the south-central Rivers State by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria" (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, p.730). One of its leaders, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP supporters were convicted and executed in November 1995 after a trial by a Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal, an act which, according to one human rights observer, aimed to "undermine [the organization's] grassroots campaign for political, economic and environmental rights for the Ogoni minority" (Amnesty International, 6 November 1996). Other MOSOP supporters are among a group of 19 Ogonis held in detention since mid-1994, awaiting trial by the Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal (Ibid.).

United Action for Democracy (UAD)

The United Action for Democracy was formed in May 1997, allegedly by more than 30 groups opposed to the military regime. It is reported to suffer from internal divisions and to have failed from the start to effectively unite the opposition (EIU, Country Report, 3rd Quarter 1997, p.9). One of the founding groups, the National Conscience Party, was kept out of the coalition by its leader, the human rights lawyer Gani Fawehinmi, reportedly because he was angry about the UAD's failure to demand recognition of Chief Abiola's election victory in 1993 (Ibid.).

Labour Movements

Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC)

The group is said to support Chief Moshood Abiola, and in 1994 staged industrial action in support of the installation of a civilian administration (Africa South of the Sahara 1997, p. 732).

National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG)

The group also supports the transition to civilian rule, and joined the end-August 1993 strike in support of Chief Moshood Abiola. It staged a strike again in July 1994, demanding Abiola's release and installation as president, as well as increased government spending in the petroleum sector. Its senior officials were replaced by Sani Abacha in August 1994 (Ibid., 734).

Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN)

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association is regarded as the senior petroleum workers' union. It joined the July 1994 strike initiated by NUPENG in favour of Chief Moshood Abiola's release from detention and assumption of the presidency . Its senior officials were also replaced by Sani Abacha in August 1994 (Ibid.).

3.4   General Respect for Human Rights

Under Decree No. 22 of 1995, a National Human Rights Commission was established to deal with all matters relating to the protection of human rights as guaranteed by the constitution and international treaties to which Nigeria is a signatory (UN General Assembly, A/51/538, 22 October 1996); to "monitor and investigate all alleged cases of human rights violations in Nigeria and make appropriate recommendations to the Federal Military Government for the prosecution and such other actions as it may deem expedient in each circumstance", and to "assist victims of human rights violations and to seek appropriate redress on their behalf" (HRW/Africa, October 1997). Its governing council includes officials of the ministries of justice, internal affairs and foreign affairs, journalists and lawyers, who are all appointed by the head of state on the recommendation of the attorney-general of the Federation, and can be removed from office by the head of the state "if he is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the public that the member should remain in office" (Ibid.). The NHRCO was officially inaugurated in June 1996, but was only able to commence work in November 1996, due to the Government's delay in providing funds. Its work has proceeded slowly due to shortages of personnel and equipment (Ibid.). To date, the Commission "has been reluctant to accept jurisdiction over cases that are under consideration by the courts...[and]...over the cases of individuals detained for ‘security reasons' under State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 2 of 1984" (Ibid.).

There are, in addition, independent human rights organizations in Nigeria dedicated to the promotion of human rights, whose activities range from documentation and research to legal aid for prisoners, women's rights, the return to democratic rule, campaigns against detention without trial and extrajudicial killings. Several organizations publish annual reports on the country's human rights situation. The most notable of these are the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR), the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL), the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL), Human Rights Africa, and the Legal Research and Development Centre (LRDC). Together with international observers, they provide a vast array of information attesting to the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation in the country, whose citizens are portrayed as being at great risk of a myriad of violations such as extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, torture and ill treatment, arbitrary arrest or detention, the latter in usually degrading conditions.

Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

In his examination of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions points to Section 30(1), which provides that "[e]very person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offen[s]e of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria" (UN Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/62/Add. 1, 24 March 1997). The Special Rapporteur also notes that Section 30(2) provides that "a person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary (a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property; (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained, or (c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny" (Ibid.).

The Special Rapporteur adds that he has received numerous allegations about the use of torture that results in death, or extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution by the police following the arrest and/or detention of criminal suspects (Ibid.). He also indicates that a general pattern for these occurrences has emerged whereby (i) victims are killed in police custody; (ii) victims are killed as they attempt to avoid being stopped or arrested by the police; and (iii) victims are killed when security forces fire indiscriminately upon demonstrators (Ibid.). These incidents, in his opinion, reveal the need for law enforcement authorities to receive training both on the Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners and the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, as well as on the use of force and firearms to minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life (Ibid.). In a separate report, the Special Rapporteur has also expressed concern about the proceedings before customary courts and area courts, whose judges are said not to be required to be legally trained or "might be closely linked to the executive authorities in the areas in which they operate" (UN General Assembly, A/51/538, 22 October 1996).

In early June 1996, Kudirat Abiola, the senior wife of the imprisoned opposition leader Chief Moshood Abiola, was shot at point-blank range by unknown assailants near her home in Lagos, as she was driving to a meeting with a Western diplomat (Africa News, 10 June 1996; Le Monde, 6 June 1996; The Toronto Star, 6 June 1996). Mrs. Abiola was a major opponent of the military regime and active in the campaign calling for the release of her husband (Le Monde, 6 June 1996). Two earlier attacks were also directed at prominent critics of the military regime: Alex Ibru, General Abacha's ex-minister of the interior and the director of the pro-Abiola newspaper, the Guardian, was shot and seriously wounded on 3 February 1996; and Alfred Rewane, the largest financial supporter of the opposition National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), who died of his wounds after being shot on 7 October 1995 (Ibid.). At the end of 1996, the prominent Yoruba politician and businesswoman, Suliat Adedeji, was murdered by gunmen at her house in Ibadan (Agence France Presse, 15 November 1996). Various observers point out that incidences of politically motivated murders in Nigeria have increased since 1993, and that they share one common trait: the victims are members of the opposition (Amnesty International, 7 June 1996; Agence France Presse, 2 septembre 1997; Associated Press, 5 June 1996; Courrier International, 27 juin-3 juillet 1996).

Torture and ill treatment

According to the U.S. Department of State, torture is prohibited by the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria, and the Evidence Act of 1960 forbids the introduction of evidence obtained through torture (Country Reports for 1996, 1997). However, under State Security Decree No. 2 of 1984, detainees can be "held indefinitely, incommunicado and without opportunity to challenge the legality of their detention . . . [often] . . . in overcrowded and unsanitary cells, with inadequate food and washing facilities and without exercise or exposure to fresh air" (Amnesty International, 22 September 1997; UN General Assembly, A/51/538, 22 October 1996). The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the question of torture, Nigel Rodley, reports that torture and ill-treatment continue to be used in Nigeria. As examples, he cites the cases of journalist George Mbah, who is reportedly suffering from neurological disorders and who had lost consciousness as a result of ill-treatment following his arrest in May 1995; of the Ogoni detainees Baridor Bera, allegedly stripped naked, tied to a pillar, flogged with a horsewhip and forced to swallow his teeth that had been knocked out [by] the beatings"; Clement Tusima, who died in August 1995 from medical neglect while in detention, and Benjamin Bere who, together with other detainees, had been allegedly beaten each day with a cane and fed only every three days while in detention at a military camp in Bori (Ibid). Another detainee, Adoba Kamiyi, was allegedly tortured at a Lagos police station in order to extract a confession (Ibid.). The U.S. Department of State adds that torture and ill-treatment can also be inflicted by members of other state organs such as the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force or the Lagos State Environmental Task Force, against a variety of people such as street traders, those perceived as "undisciplined", jaywalkers, errant drivers, children and young street hawkers, and against those failing to stop and pay roadblock tolls (Country Reports for 1996, 1997). The Lagos-based Committee for the Defense of Human Rights reports that "the police and security agencies stand out as the chief torturers and degraders of the human person . . ." (1995 Annual Report, 1996, p.20). It further illustrates the process as follows:

A suspect that is not tortured to extract a confessional statement from him, is most certainly going to be locked up in an overcrowded cell. If owing to his social status, the suspect cannot be brazenly brutalized by the Police during investigation, once he is pushed into the cell, he is surely going to be softened up by a severe pounding from cell-mates acting on the instruction of the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) or Divisional Crime Officer (D.C.O.) and who must have been promised some money or favours by police officers (Ibid.).

The same report details numerous incidents in which careless or unwarranted police behaviour resulted in the death of ordinary citizens as they went about their daily business (Ibid.), while the Civil Liberties Organisation also describes a number of incidents of excessive police force resulting in death (Annual Report, 1995, 1996, pp. 8-9).

Detention without trial

Section 32 of the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria provides that "except in some stated instances, every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty (Ugochukwu, B., in Law Enforcement and Human Rights in Nigeria, 1995, p.52). Section 32(3) requires a police officer to provide reasons for arresting an individual unless the latter is apprehended committing a crime, and that the person arrested be taken either to a police station or other detention centres, allowed to seek legal counsel and be brought to trial within a reasonable time (Ibid.). State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984, on the other hand, provides for the indefinite incommunicado detention without charge or trial of any person deemed to be a threat to the security or economy of the state (U.S. DOS Country Reports for 1996, 1997; Amnesty International, 6 November 1996). The repeal in June 1996 of Decree 14 of 1994, which had suspended the right of habeas corpus by forbidding courts to hear cases demanding that the government produce in court those detained under Decree 2 of 1984, is in practice rendered meaningless because Decree 2 still contains a clause removing the court's jurisdiction (Ibid.). Nigerian police are reportedly empowered to arrest without warrant (U.S. DOS Country Reports for 1996, 1997), and the government is under no obligation to provide information about the grounds for the detention, nor to inform the detainee's family of the arrest, the place of detention or the detainee's state of health, or to allow visits (Amnesty International, 6 November 1996).

Approximately 70,000 people are said to be currently held in detention in Nigeria, either upon conviction, on remand or without trial, with 60 per cent of them believed to be awaiting trial, some for as long as 12 years (UN General Assembly, A/51/538, 22 October 1996). Those most at risk of being detained are pro-democracy and human rights activists, trade unionists, journalists and political opponents (Amnesty International, 22 September 1997; US DOS Country Reports for 1996, 1997). The most celebrated of these detainees is Chief Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential elections who was imprisoned in June 1994 and is still awaiting trial. A November court order to release Chief Abiola on bail was ignored by the Government, which also failed to pay him any damages awarded for the illegality of his initial arrest and detention (HRW/Africa, October 1997) . Chief Abiola is said to be in poor health, having been denied access to his family and doctor for long periods; and his personal physician, Dr. Ore Falomo, has himself been periodically detained (Ibid). Other prominent Nigerians still in detention are NUPENG secretary-general Frank Kokori and former PENGASSAN secretary-general Milton Dabibi, detained without charges after the two-month oil strike in 1994; retired General and former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy head of state, Major-General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, convicted of treason after the alleged 1995 coup d'état trial by a Special Military Tribunal; the journalists Chris Anyanwu (The Sunday Magazine), Ben Charles Obi (Weekend Classique), Kunle Ajibade (The News Magazine) and George Mbah (Tell Magazine), detained for publishing an article about the 1995 arrest and secret trial of armed forces officers; human rights lawyers Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Shehu Sani of the Campaign for Democracy, detained for defending the rights of people convicted in the 1995 treason trial, and Rebecca Ikpe and Sanusi Mato, relatives of officers accused of involvement in the alleged 1995 plot to overthrow the government, for being "accessories after the fact to treason" for offering support and assistance to their relatives (Amnesty International, 6 November 1996; telephone interview, 21 November 1997)

On 17 November 1997 General Abacha was reported to have granted an amnesty for a number of political prisoners, which would free "those detained persons whose release would constitute no further impediment to the peace and security of the country" (International Herald Tribune, 18 November 1997). At that time, there was no reference to Chief Moshood Abiola, although a subsequent press report suggested the that his name might be included on the list of prisoners to be released (Ibid.; Reuters, 21 November 1997).

Prison conditions

The US Department of State indicates that prisoners in Nigeria are held in life-threatening facilities lacking, inter alia, adequate food, drinking water, sewage facilities, proper ventilation, medical care and supplies, or time outdoors for recreation. In cases where food is brought in by the relatives of wealthy inmates, prison officials can withhold it as punishment or for extortion. Poor inmates often rely on handouts (Country Reports for 1996, 1997). Those convicted for plotting the alleged 1995 coup d'état are said to be dispersed, with no access to family or food. Women prisoners are reportedly abused, and their children left with them in detention (Ibid.). A 1991 study of prison conditions by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies describes the day-to-day living conditions of police detainees: "[they] rarely bathe. Feeding is acute. Space is sheer luxury. Hygiene is out of the question because detainees sleep in the cell, answer the call of nature there and generally live inhuman lives. Under these conditions, suspects in police detention are known to have died and when this happens they are surreptitiously buried and forgotten" (Ajomo, M. and I. Okagbue, (eds), 1991, p.120). The incidence of disease is described in the following paragraph, highlighted by the human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, himself frequently detained, from another comprehensive report on prison conditions in Nigeria:
though prison diet varies according to regional conditions, there are no such regional differences to be found in the ailments ravaging inmates in Nigerian prisons. In every prison visited the same diseases reared their heads. Tops in [ubiquity] were skin diseases, from rashes, kraw-kraw, ring-worm to scabies and herpes. According to many reports life in many a cell is one endless orgy (or ordeal) of scratching . There were numerous cases of diarrhoea, dysentery and other abdominal infections, as well as stomach ulcers. Cases of piles were also said to be common, as were cases of insomnia, chicken pox and small pox. As was to be expected, malnutrition was widespread in the prisons. From prison to prison, there came descriptions of inmates suffering from kwashiorkor, beri-beri, etc. There were tales of inmates with swollen stomachs, spindly limbs, large heads perched atop stringy necks, chests with ribs showing through, and dim eyes (The Civil Liberties Organization, 1991, p. v).

In its 1995 annual report on the human rights situation in Nigeria, another Lagos-based human rights monitor also lists a number of cases of deaths by disease and malnutrition in Nigerian prisons (Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, August 1996, p.24). In a similar report, the Civil Liberties Organization refers to the problem of prison overcrowding, indicating that 21 out of a total of 143 prisons are overcrowded by more than 100 per cent, with one of them at 730 per cent (Annual Report 1995, 1996, p.20).

Freedom of expression

According to the U.S. Department of State, the continued suspension of the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria makes it impossible to enforce constitutional provisions calling for freedom of speech and press (Country Reports for 1996, 1997). Another observer notes, however, that while the Constitution guarantees to an individual "the freedom to receive and impart information, opinion and ideas without interference" (Constitutional Rights Project, January 1993), there are no specific provisions in the constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press (Ibid.). Under Newspaper Registration Board Decree 43 of 1993, all newspapers and magazines are required to register with the Government, and in December 1996, the Minister of Culture and Information announced that publications not registered with the Board would be prosecuted in 1997 (Ibid.). Virtually all editors of the weeklies Tell, Dateline, The News, Tempo and A.M. News are subject to surveillance and harassment by security agents (Amnesty International, 22 September 1997; U.S. DOS Country Reports for 1996, 1997). Foreign reporters critical of the government are banned (Ibid.). As regards the broadcast media, rights were granted to private radio stations in 1994, but their broadcasts are carefully monitored as they are considered the most important means of reaching the public (Ibid.). Under Decree 38, which calls for equity and reciprocity in broadcasting, a radio station, Ray Power, was banned from transmitting BBC news programmes (Ibid.). Television, both Nigerian and otherwise, is said to be widely available, but the government-controlled broadcast media prevails, and private broadcasters do not transmit programmes critical of the government (Ibid.).

3.5   The situation of minorities

The U.S. Department of State reports that the Government of Nigeria has promulgated no official policy concerning discrimination against any of the more than 250 ethnic groups, and there are no laws favouring one group over the other (Country Reports for 1996, 1997). However, it notes that tradition continues to impose considerable pressure on individual government officials to favour their own ethnic group, resulting in the persistence of ethnic favouritism. As an example, it refers to the non-partisan local government elections in March, in which non-indigenous residents of certain states, notably Kaduna, were barred from exercising the right to vote (Ibid.). It adds that there is a long history of tension among the diverse groups, and that clashes continued between rival ethnic groups in Delta, Rivers, Benue, Cross River, Kaduna, Plateau and Tarana states, often resulting in casualties (Ibid.). Some of the more significant conflicts involve the Ogonis, the Ijaws and Itsekirris, and the Ife people.

The Ogonis

The Ogonis are a minority ethnic group of approximately 500,000 people in Rivers state in Eastern Nigeria, whose homeland is spread across three local government areas: Gokana, Khana, and Tai-Eleme (African Affairs, 1995, 326-7). Rivers state reportedly produces the bulk of Nigeria's crude oil, the country's main source of revenue, while the Ogonis allegedly remain among "the most backward and politically marginalized groups in the country" (Ibid.). In 1990, Ogoni leaders belonging to the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) presented the Ogoni Bill of Rights to the Federal Government, demanding self-determination and the right to control their political affairs as well as a "fair" share of the economic resources derived from the Ogoni land (Ibid). The core issue, according to one observer, was the "rising local anger at the failure of the Nigerian state and the transnational oil companies operating in the area to reinvest some of their revenues back into the impoverished communities from which the petroleum is taken" (WriteNet, September 1997). One of the more militant MOSOP leaders, the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other people were tried and executed in November 1995 after an anti-Government demonstration resulted in the death of four moderate Ogoni chiefs (Ibid.). At that time, it was reported that the Government "engaged in outright repression and covert tactics to foment ethnic tensions between the Ogonis and their neighbours" (HRW/Africa, July 1995). According to the U.S. Department of State, the Ogoni group maintains that the Government continued to engage in a systematic campaign to deprive them of their land and its wealth, and that it continues to seize Ogoni property without fair compensation, ignores the environmental impact of oil production in Ogoni land and fails to provide adequate public services like water and electricity (US DOS Country Reports for 1996, 1997). Since the start of the conflict in 1990, more than 2,000 people are said to have died at the hands of the military (Africa News, 19 August 1997).

The Ijaws and Itsekirris

In September 1997, the Economist Intelligence Unit reported on the "simmering ethnic tensions" in the Niger delta, stemming mainly from the conflict between the fourth largest ethnic group, the Ijaws, and neighbouring Itsekirris, over the relocation of local government offices, the principal conduit for the distribution of central government resources to their region, which is said to be one of the most impoverished in the country (EIU, Country Report, 3rd Quarter 1997, p.11). The resulting violence, which is said to have gone largely unreported, has caused the death of hundreds of people since April 1997 (Ibid.), when government troops were sent to Warri City in order to quell the ethnic clashes (Reuters, 29 April 1997). Warri is the site of one of Nigeria's three main oil refineries, a petrochemical plant, a steel mill and a deep-water river port. The region's inhabitants, like the Ogonis, believe that "the wealth of the oil industry has been pocketed by a handful of elites" (WriteNet, September 1997). Given the larger number of people involved, it is feared that the violence of the Niger Delta could have "far more devastating consequences than the Ogoni crisis" (Ibid.).

The Ife

In August 1997, clashes occurred in the southwestern town of Ife, the religious capital of the Yoruba people, over the relocation of local government headquarters from a ward controlled by the Modakeke people to a section of town dominated by the Ife people. Sixty-five people died in confrontations between men armed with machetes and shotguns, and at least 30 people are reported to have died in a new round of fighting on 23-24 September 1997 (Reuters, 25 September 1997; 24 September 1997).

4.   General Comments

Less than one year remains prior to the intended restoration of civilian democratic rule in Nigeria. The military government of General Sani Abacha has put in place several institutional mechanisms to ensure a smooth transition, starting with the creation of legally acceptable political parties to compete in elections beginning at the local level, followed by those at the gubernatorial level, and culminating with presidential elections scheduled for the autumn of 1998. No effort has been spared in ensuring that all of the newly created parties profess an ideology acceptable to the ruling Provisional Ruling Council, and that those political groups voicing dissent or opposition are excluded from the process, for the sake of national unity. Barring another coup d'état, a civilian president should be installed by 1 October 1998.

However, the legally accepted parties have yet to offer candidates for the presidency, and three would welcome General Abacha as their party's contender. An April 1997 decree confers greater powers on the head of state, giving him absolute control over the elected heads of local governments and denying the validity of any challenge to the results of the presidential elections. Speculation mounts over General Abacha's intention to run as a civilian candidate, while political advertisements shown on state-run television give the impression of widespread popular support for him.

Were General Abacha to succeed himself as a civilian and thus give a semblance of legitimacy to his rule, it is difficult to envisage a major change of attitude towards political dissent or opposition, or in his relationship with the powerful armed forces of Nigeria and consequent distribution of perks to his supporters. The continued enactment of decrees, ouster clauses and retroactive legislation forebodes continued subordination of the suspended 1979 constitution, or the yet to be promulgated 1995 constitution, to rule by decree.

The country's vast supplies of oil, accounting for approximately 90 per cent of its foreign earnings, appear insufficient to alleviate the country's economic difficulties. The inadequate distribution of financial resources seems destined to foment increasing tensions among the multiple ethnic groups.

Dissenters and defenders of the rule of law run the risk of assassination or imprisonment in intolerable conditions, receiving little more than token support from the outside. Without a stronger and more effective stance by the international community, it is difficult to see how any effective and meaningful change can be brought about only from within.

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All sources are cited. This paper is not, and does not, purport to be, fully exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

 

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