Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September 2014, 12:56 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Nigeria

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Nigeria, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4640.html [accessed 18 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

 

General Sani Abacha, who seized power in a palace coup on November 17, 1993, remained Head of State throughout 1994. Under Abacha, the main decisionmaking organ is the military-dominated Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), which rules by decree. The PRC oversees the 32-member Federal Executive Council composed of some of Nigeria's most prominent politicians. Like previous military regimes, Abacha and the PRC claimed they would eventually hand over power to a civilian government, but the PRC did not reveal a timetable, although it initiated a "constitutional conference" over which it had strong influence. Pending a new constitution, some provisions of the 1979 Constitution were observed, although the decree suspending it was not repealed. The regime failed to clarify, however, which aspects of the Constitution remained in effect. Although the regime occasionally made reference to rights or guarantees outlined in the Constitution to suit a particular purpose, it just as often reminded the public of the contnued suspension of constitutional rights.

Despite several positive initial steps, the PRC showed little respect for human rights after its first month in power, and the political and economic climate steadily deteriorated throughout 1994. New political forces steadily gathered in support of Chief Moshood K. O. Abiola, who on June 12, l993, had won the presidential election, in what national and international observers characterized as the most free and fair election in Nigeria's history, but which was quickly annulled by then military head, General Ibrahim Babangida. In particular, opposition figures united in a new organization called the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which campaigned for an immediate return to civilian rule through a "sovereign" national conference. Abiola declared himself President of Nigeria on June 11, 1994.

The Government continued to enforce its authority through the Federal Security System (the military, the state security service, and the national police--all of whom were responsible for serious human rights abuses) and through decrees blocking action by the opposition in the courts. Starting in May and June, the Government cracked down hard on the opposition, arresting NADECO members. With Abiola in prison awaiting trial, General Abacha convened a constitutional conference, but the labor movement, led by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the National Labor Congress (NLC), responded with massive strike action, demanding that General Abacha release Abiola and hand over power to a civilian government. The ensuing strikes brought economic life in Lagos and much of the southwest to a standstill for almost 8 weeks.

By the middle of September, the military Government became increasingly confident, escalating further the crackdown on its opponents. In the face of the Government's tough actions, most striking workers, fearing arrest and dismissal, soon returned to work, and most of the fight went out of organized labor. At the end of the year, the economy continued its downward slide. While Nigerian elites continued to prosper, unemployment, underemployment, and inflation increased markedly. Nigeria depends on oil exports for over 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings and 75 percent of its budget revenues. In order to cope with reduced oil revenues, Nigeria implemented an indigenous structural adjustment program (SAP) from 1986 to 1991. While the SAP was a success in some respects, economic conditions for the average Nigerian remained very difficult, and successive military governments increasingly abandoned reform by printing money that fueled inflation.

Nigeria's human rights record remained dismal in 1994. General Abacha's policies heightened episodic civil unrest in urban areas. Security forces used excessive force to control the situation, killing and wounding a number of persons, including peaceful protesters. The Abacha Government regularly relied on arbitrary detention and mass arrest as a means of silencing its many critics. To consolidate its hold on power, the regime in August announced a series of harsh decrees restricting press freedom and civil liberties which, like other military decrees, contained clauses prohibiting judicial review of any government action. Security services stepped up routine harassment of human rights and prodemocracy groups, including labor leaders, journalists, and student activists. Other human rights problems throughout the year included extrajudicial killings; police torture; dangerous and unsanitary prison conditions with many deaths; violence and discrimination against women; and infringements on freedom of speech, press, travel, and political and labor affiliation.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

As in previous years, police and security services commonly engaged in extrajudicial killings and excessive use of force to quell antimilitary and prodemocracy protests. The most deadly incidents occurred in July and August after the Government deployed police and military units to put down protests in Lagos and other cities in the southwest. There were credible reports that security forces may have killed from 20 to 50 people in the Lagos area alone. Government reports of deaths resulting from the riots were much lower, and the Government asserted that security forces intervened only when confronted by violent criminals. While the victims included hoodlums and looters, who used the protests as cover to engage in violent criminal activities, eyewitness accounts indicated that security forces often fired randomly into crowds, killing innocent bystanders and peaceful demonstrators.

Nigerian human rights groups maintain that scores of people die annually while in police custody, though there are no definitive statistics, and the claims are difficult to substantiate. They are, however, accepted by the Nigerian public and remain consistent with other credible reports of police abuse, including the use of torture to extract confessions. The Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), publicized the case of Anthony Imo, who died while in police custody in February. Police arrested Imo, a "patent medicine" seller, in Kano and accused him of selling fake pharmaceuticals. Reportedly tortured by police while in custody for several hours, Imo was taken by police to a local hospital where he later died, apparently from brain damage.

The Government seldom holds police and security services accountable for the use of excessive, deadly force or the death of individuals while in custody; it made no effort to investigate the conduct of security forces during the July and August prodemocracy protests and denied that protesters died at the hands of government forces. The Government has thus fostered a climate of impunity in which these abuses flourish.

According to the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR) and the CLO, in January a police patrol in Delta state shot seven men they suspected of being armed robbers. The police maintain the seven fired upon them while trying to run a checkpoint near Warri. In an exchange of fire, the police shot two of the men and arrested the rest of the party. The police then reportedly executed all seven prisoners soon after, including a 70-year-old man.

Extrajudicial killing remained common in eastern Nigeria, particularly as conflict between members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and government forces escalated throughout the year. In April, spurred by increased violence in the oil-producing area, the Government deployed large numbers of police and military to Ogoniland. Credible reports of increased killings and beatings at police checkpoints and other areas accompanied the deployment. To quell the upsurge of violence in the area, the military administration of Rivers state promulgated a draconian decree imposing the death sentence for "civil disturbances occasioning death," and also for crimes such as "attempted murder." The administration set up a special court, the Civil Disturbances Tribunal, to try such cases.

Human rights groups and the press corroborated MOSOP claims that hundreds of people died in the violence which continued unabated despite the military presence and the actions of the Rivers state government. The commander of the military forces in Ogoniland, Major Paul Okuntimo, admitted publicly his forces killed six people from June to August, stating that two were shot when they fired on soldiers, one while trying to escape from detention, and "the remaining three...as a deterrent to their like."

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances; however, government detention practices have the effect of causing many detainees to be "missing" for extended periods (see Section 1.d.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The 1979 Constitution (suspended) and the 1989 Constitution (never implemented) prohibit torture and mistreatment of prisoners and provide criminal sanctions for such excesses, and the Evidence Act of 1960 prohibits the introduction of evidence obtained through torture. Nevertheless, detainees frequently die while in custody (see Section 1.a.), and there were credible reports that police seeking to extract confessions regularly beat and torture suspects. For example, reports circulated in September that the military beat and nearly tortured to death detained NADECO members. Detainees are regularly kept incommunicado for long periods of time (see Section 1.d.).

In its early months in power, the Abacha regime formed the Lagos State Environmental Task Force as part of its "war on indiscipline and corruption." Under the direct supervision of the Lagos state administrator, Colonel Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the Task Force grew increasingly brutal in its attempts to rid Lagos of illegal street traders and mountains of garbage. Task Force soldiers routinely beat and arrested anyone they perceived as being "undisciplined," usually unarmed market women and traders, but also including jaywalkers, errant drivers, children, and young traders who hawk goods on Lagos streets. The Constitutional Rights Project publicized the case of one of its lawyers, Kolawole Olaniyan, who was beaten and horsewhipped after protesting being pressed into a work gang by Task Force soldiers on March 16. Armed soldiers reportedly stopped the bus in which he was commuting and forced the occupants to clean up piles of refuse nearby. Soldiers also targeted young women in short skirts or trousers, humiliting them and sometimes stripping them naked for wearing "immodest clothing." The Government neither acknowledged nor denied that such practices occurred; the perpetrators went unpunished.

Conditions in Nigeria's prisons remain life threatening. Lack of potable water, sewage facilities, and medical supplies contribute to deplorable sanitary conditions. Disease runs rampant in the cramped, poorly ventilated facilities. Prison inmates are seldom allowed outside their cells for recreation, and many must provide their own food. In those cases, only those with money or whose relatives bring food regularly have something to eat. Poor inmates rely on handouts from others to survive. There are credible reports that prison officials and police deny inmates food and medical treatment as a form of punishment or to extort money from them. For example, the prison authorities denied Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of MOSOP, who suffers from a heart condition, access to medical care and food appropriate to his medical condition during his detainment in January and again during his subsequent detention, while ignoring continued requests by Saro-Wiwa's personal physician to see him (see Section 1.d.). There were lso credible reports that prison officials kept Saro-Wiwa in chains for at least part of his detention.

Severe overcrowding in Nigerian prisons remains a serious problem. For example, Ikoyi prison in Lagos, built to house about 800 inmates, holds over 2,000. The CDHR estimated that 2,000 people die each year in prisons from disease, although the Government admits only to a much lower mortality rate. A correspondent for the Vanguard newspaper reported the death of 40 inmates from tuberculosis in the Warri federal prison since the end of 1993. The Ita Oko detention camp was most likely reopened to ease the burden on other overcrowded facilities.

The Government derives considerable savings from the practice of leaving many children born in prison with their jailed mothers rather than placing them in foster homes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, and Exile

The regime repeatedly engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention (see below). Police are empowered to make arrests without warrants if there is reasonable suspicion of an offense and often abuse this power. Nigerian law requires the arresting officer to inform the accused of charges at the time of arrest and take him or her to the station for processing within a reasonable time. Suspects must be given the opportunity to engage counsel and to post bail. However, police do not generally adhere to these safeguards. They often hold suspects incommunicado under harsh conditions for extended periods without charge; arbitrary detention occurs frequently. Police also commonly place relatives and friends of wanted suspects in detention without charge in an effort to induce the accused to turn themselves in.

The State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree of 1984 (Decree Two) provides that the Government may detain without charge persons suspected of acts prejudicial to state security or harmful to the economic well-being of the country. When invoked by the Vice President, the decree suspends the detainee's civil liberties and precludes judicial review. Many Nigerians still consider Decree Two the main threat to their basic freedoms because the judicial ouster clause encourages arbitrary detention and fails to define what constitutes acts prejudicial to state security or the nation's economic well-being.

During the year, the Government expanded its authority to detain opponents by promulgating a series of new decrees. One of them, Decree 11, authorizes the PRC Vice Chairman or the Commissioner of Police to detain persons for up to 3 months. Another, Decree 14, forbids courts to order the Government to produce prisoners in court, effectively suspending the right of habeas corpus. The PRC relied heavily on arbitrary arrest and detention throughout the year in an effort to silence its critics. In February, after the Government announced a ban on regional political organizations, security forces arrested and detained without charge retired general and former presidential candidate Shehu Musa Yar'Adua. In March the Government cracked down on human rights groups' activities throughout the nation. The authorities arrested Femi Falana, chairman of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and two members of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) in Lagos on March 11, but never charged them. Security operatives erlier in the month arrested Oyo state chairman of the CD, Gbenga Awosode, and Kwara state CDHR chairperson, Josephine Okei. Security forces broke up an antiwar rally organized by the CD on March 15 and arrested and detained eight CD members, including Femi Falana and founding member Frederick Fasehun.

In the wake of protests against the constitutional conference in May and June, the Government expanded its crackdown, arresting hundreds of prodemocracy agitators. In the wave of arrests, the Government detained and charged with treason several former senators, who declared they had reconvened the disbanded National Assembly, including Senate President Ameh Ebute and Senators Bola Tinubu, Polycarp Nwite, N.

A. Okorofor, and Abu Ibrahim. They were released on bail, but the charges against them remained pending. The authorities also arrested and released Tokunbo Afikuyomi, member of the disbanded House of Representatives and former aide to General Abacha's Minister of Foreign Affairs Baba Gana Kingibe, and a number of NADECO members, such as former governor of Plateau state Air Commodore Dan Suleiman; former governor of Benue state Air Commodore Jonah Jang; former governor of Anambra state C.

C. Onoh; former governor of Oyo state Bola Ige; and the highly respected politician and statesman, Anthony Enahoro. Th authorities detained human rights figures around the country, including CD chairman and NADECO member Beko Ransome-Kuti, who went on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his detention.

The Government arrested on charges of treasonable offenses in late June Chief Moshood K.

O. Abiola, widely believed the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993, elections, who declared himself President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. The Government kept Abiola in isolation for weeks before moving him to Abuja and commencing his trial (see Section 1.e.). Credible reports emerged that Abiola had been humiliated while in custody, and that his family and doctor were only sporadically allowed access to him. In September the regime allowed Abiola's personal physician and other doctors to examine him. Despite the doctors' findings of a serious heart condition, the regime refused pleas from his family and others that he be released for urgent tests that could be performed only in Lagos or abroad. In August and September the regime continued to silence opposition to its rule. It arrested again Chief Anthony Enahoro on August 18, jailing him in the Port Harcourt prison. His family complained that security forces refused them access to see him and that his doctor was unable to assess the 75-year-old Enahoro's medical condition. Enahoro was released without charge in late December after being moved to the Port Harcourt military hospital. Beko Ransome-Kuti was again arrested without charge on September 15, after security operatives entered the offices of the CDHR with a warrant and seized a number of documents. After holding Ransome-Kuti incommunicado for 1 week, the Government charged him with writing threatening letters to the managing directors of Agip and Shell oil companies and released him on bail. In early November, the federal High Court in Lagos ruled that only the federal Attorney General could prosecute cases of treasonable felony, and that because the Government's case against Ransome-Kut had been filed at the state court level, it was invalid. The Government ignored the ruling, rearresting Ransome-Kuti on November 9, this time also accusing him of receiving 6 million Naira from Abiola to "bomb government installations and strategic buildings." The new Attorney General of the Federation, Michael Agbamuche, defended the Government's actions, saying that the Government had the right to overturn judicial decisions "in certain circumstances." Ransome-Kuti was released on bail soon after, and the case continued at year's end. Noted civil rights activist and lawyer Gani Fawehinmi was arrested on October 1 after announcing the formation of a new political party, the National Conscience (NC). He was released several days later.

Throughout the year, government forces harassed and detained from time to time other members of MOSOP, including Ken Saro-Wiwa's brother, Owens Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa also remained in prison at year's end, without access to a lawyer, his family or a doctor. In November the Government announced the formation of a military tribunal to try Saro-Wiwa and other MOSOP members for complicity in the murders of four Ogoni chiefs (see Section 5).

The labor movement confirmed that the following labor leaders were in detention at year's end: Frank Kokori, General Secretary of NUPENG; R. Addo, first president of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN); P. Aidelomon, a PENGASSAN branch chairman; Wariebi Kojo Agamene, president of NUPENG; and Olu Aderibegbe, Chairman of the Edo state NLC.

The above cases were not isolated. The Government routinely detained human rights monitors, journalists (see Section 2.a.), and political opponents throughout the year for making or publishing statements critical of the Government. Most often the authorities did not charge the detainees with a crime, held them for brief periods, and questioned them about their activities and statements. Nigeria's total prison population is estimated at 65,000. Human rights groups estimate that as much as 46 percent of this population awaits trial. A precise figure for the number of persons detained without charge is unavailable, and there are no credible estimates of the number of political detainees.

There were no known instances of forced exile as a means of political control, although several NADECO members were in self-imposed exile in the United States and the United Kingdom at year's end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

In its efforts to suppress opposition to its rule, the regime first bypasssed the regular courts in favor of "tribunals" and then declared itself above the law by prohibiting court review of any government action (see below).

Decree One of 1984, the Basic Constitution (Modification and Suspension) Decree, the first decree promulgated by the military officers who overthrew the civilian regime of President Shagari in 1983, left the institutional framework of the judiciary relatively intact. However, it established a parallel system of military tribunals with sole jurisdiction over certain offenses, such as coup plotting, corruption, armed robbery, and illegal sale of petroleum. A 1991 decree amended Decree One by providing that only sitting or retired civilian judges may preside over tribunals hearing nonmilitary cases. The PRC retained the tribunal framework.

In most cases before the tribunals, the accused have the right to legal counsel, bail, and appeal, though some tribunals substitute a presumption of guilt for the presumption of innocence, and conviction rates in the tribunals reportedly exceed conviction rates in the regular courts. Sentences are generally severe. The Government's reliance on tribunals, which operate outside the constitutional court system, seriously undermines the judiciary's independence and often results in legal proceedings that deny defendants due process.

The Government's frequent refusal to respect court rulings also undercuts the independence and integrity of the judiciary. In November the federal Government circumvented a ruling by the Kaduna High Court granting Abiola bail by filing an appeal to the Supreme Court, further calling into question the relevance of judicial decisions. The Government ignored court orders in July requiring that it allow Punch, a daily newspaper closed down by security forces, to reopen. In August a federal High Court ruled the Government in contempt of court for ignoring the ruling. The Court declared the closure of the paper illegal and unconstitutional and ordered the police to vacate the premises, which they did after an additional 11 days. Within 2 weeks, the Government shut down Punch by decree.

Seriously damaging the shred of credibility the judiciary retained, the regime in August declared itself above the law. Decree 12 of 1994, enacted on August 18, states that "no act of the federal military government may be questioned henceforth in a court of law," and "divests all courts of jurisdiction in all matters concerning the authority of the federal government." When Attorney General Olu Onagoruwa criticized the decrees as being unconstitutional, the PRC fired him.

The regular court system is composed of both federal and state trial courts, state appeals courts, the federal Court of Appeal, and the federal Supreme Court. Under the 1979 Constitution, courts of the first instance include magistrate or district courts, customary or area courts, Shari'a (Islamic) courts, and for some specified cases, the state high courts. The nature of the case usually determines which court has jurisdiction. In principle, customary and Shari'a courts have jurisdiction only if both plaintiff and defendant agree to it. In practice, fear of legal costs, delay, and distance to alternative courts encourage many litigants to choose these courts.

Criminal justice procedures call for trial within 3 months of arraignment for most categories of criminals. Inefficient administrative procedures, petty extortion, bureaucratic inertia, poor communication between police and prison officials, and inadequate transportation continue to result in considerable delays, often stretching several years in bringing suspects to trial.

Trials in the regular court system are public and generally respect constitutionally protected individual rights, including a presumption of innocence, the right to be present, to confront witnesses, to present evidence, and to be represented by legal counsel.

There are no legal provisions barring women or other groups from testifying in civil court or giving their testimony less weight. The testimony of women is, however, accorded less weight in Shari'a courts. There is a widespread perception that judges are easily bribed, or "settled," and that the courts cannot be relied upon to render an impartial judgment. An internal government report submitted to General Abacha in June, later printed in the press, called the judiciary a "disaster institution" and recommended that the federal Government correct the institution's lack of independence and funding, as well as put an end to corruption and bribery among judges.

The number of political prisoners (as distinct from political detainees) held by the Government was also unknown. At year's end, M.

K.

O. Abiola remained in prison, despite a November ruling by the Kaduna federal High Court of Appeals granting him bail on the condition that he "not disturb the peace." The regime refused to honor the ruling, however, and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Abiola's trial on treason charges remained suspended indefinitely on orders from the regime. Other long-term political detainees, such as Ken Saro-Wiwa, continued to be held without trial.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Provisions of the 1979 and 1989 Constitutions provide for the rights to privacy in the home, in correspondence, and in oral electronic communications. However, the military Government regularly interfered in the lives of its citizens, and if the authorities desired to use a warrant in a particular search case, they often secured it from a military tribunal rather than a regular court. Human rights leaders reported that security agents regularly followed them and cut or tapped their organizations' telephones.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

There is a large and vibrant press, which is frequently critical of the Government. Nonetheless, the Government directly owns or controls many newspapers and has shut down several others. The Government granted broadcasting rights to private radio stations for the first time in 1994. Constitutional provisions providing for freedom of speech and the press are not enforceable since no constitution is in effect. The Abacha regime often publicly declared its support for these freedoms; however, the Government attempted to confine public political dialog to the constitutional conference. The regime also increased its systematic intimidation of the press through legal and extralegal means throughout 1994.

The regime used a variety of methods to muzzle its many critics. In January it seized the entire print run of the weekly newsmagazine Tell, and soon after indicted the editor in chief of Razor magazine for sedition and three Newswatch magazine executives on other spurious charges. During the week building up to the anniversary of the June 12 election, the Government detained and otherwise harassed dozens of journalists, along with prodemocracy activists. Security forces on June 11 occupied the offices of M.

K.

O. Abiola's Concord group newspaper Punch, charging that the buildings were used to store weapons. On August 14, security forces occupied the offices of the Guardian, Nigeria's most respected daily newspaper, disrupting its production.

Following a number of court decisions favoring the press over the summer, in August the Government issued a series of decrees proscribing for 6 months three newspaper publishing houses. These new decrees granted the Abacha regime and its agents legal immunity from challenges to any actions taken to implement the decrees, even when the action predated the decree itself. In December the Government extended the decrees indefinitely.

The Government also summarily deported foreign journalists, including two correspondents of Cable News Network.

The military Government used a number of other means to intimidate the press. These included a regulation banning government offices from advertising in nongovernment media, periodic directives to government offices forbidding the purchase of certain publications, personal attacks in government-controlled media against journalists and others who challenged government policies, and threats of harassment against potential advertisers and financial backers of antigovernment newspapers and magazines.

While academic freedom is generally respected, the military Government closed universities sporadically due to continued social unrest and strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities and other university unions calling for implementation of the June 12, 1993, elections, a return to civilian democracy, and improved funding for the university system. Some student groups believe university authorities follow government directives to suspend or expel activist students.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The two Constitutions provide citizens the right to assemble freely and associate with other persons in political parties, trade unions, or other special interest associations. However, the Government proscribed all political activity one day after coming into power in 1993. On August 17, General Abacha announced that "individuals or groups may henceforth canvass political ideas, but they cannot form political parties for now."Permits are not normally required for public meetings indoors, and permit requirements for outdoor public functions are often ignored. However, the Abacha Government retained the authority of Decree Five of the Babangida government, which banned gatherings whose political, ethnic, or religious overtones might lead to unrest. Open-air religious services away from places of worship remain prohibited in most states due to religious tensions in various parts of the country.

Religious, professional, and other organizations need not register with the Government and are generally permitted free association with other national and foreign bodies. The PRC retained a ban on several political organizations which it contended were founded primarily along ethnic, tribal, religious, or other parochial lines for the purpose of sponsoring various political candidates.

c. Freedom of Religion

Decree One (suspending most of the 1979 Constitution) and the suspended 1989 Constitution prohibit federal and state governments from adopting an official state religion. The PRC reaffirmed the secular nature of the State in its instructions to the constitutional conference. The 1979 and 1989 constitutional provisions for freedom of belief, practice, and education in regard to religion are generally respected. The Government instituted a ban in 1987 (which is still in effect) on religious organizations on campuses of primary schools, though individual students retain the right to practice their religion in recognized places of worship.

Distribution of religious publications is generally unrestricted. There is a lightly enforced ban on published religious advertisements, and religious programing on television and radio remains closely controlled by the Government. Both Christian and Muslim organizations allege that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Immigration Department continue to restrict the entry into the country of certain religious practitioners, particularly persons suspected of proselytizing. While it has not officially outlawed the practice, the Government discourages proselytizing in the belief that it stirs up religious tensions, particularly in the north.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The two Constitutions entitle citizens to move freely throughout the country and reside where they wish. However, increasing violent crime in many parts of the country prompted police to set up roadblocks and checkpoints, where officials commonly engaged in extortion, violence, and excessive use of force.

Those Constitutions also prohibit expulsion or the denial of exit or entry to any Nigerian citizen. However, women must often provide permission from a male family member before they are granted a passport, and the Government, like its predecessors, occasionally prevented travel for political reasons.

For example, in July the Government seized the passport of an opposition leader, Chief Sobo Sowem Imo, as he attempted to exit the country through the Lagos airport. In September the Government confiscated the national passport of noted social critic and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, who, a few days before, had filed a suit against the Abacha regime challenging its legal right to rule. In October immigration authorities again prevented Soyinka from leaving the country, seizing the U.N. laissez-passer issued to him as a UNESCO goodwill ambassador. Soyinka subsequently left the country clandestinely. In November the Government seized Bar Association President Priscilla Kuye's passport, preventing her from traveling after she had already boarded an international flight.

Journalists reported harassment at the nation's airports by security officials throughout the year, including having to fill out a special exit and entry form detailing their movements abroad, reasons for making their trip, and friends and associates overseas. Security officials temporarily confiscated the passports of journalists who refused to complete the form.

Nigerian law and practice permit temporary refuge and asylum for political refugees from other countries. The Government cooperates with the Lagos office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in dealing with an estimated 3,000 Liberian and an undetermined number of Chadian refugees. There were no reported cases of forced repatriation of refugees in 1994.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens could not exercise this right in 1994, and there was little indication that General Abacha's military regime was willing to permit them to do so on any basis other than a process tightly controlled by the regime. Throughout the year, the regime committed numerous, repeated, and egregious human rights abuses in its effort to prevent citizens from opposing it by peaceful political means.

After coming to power, the Provisional Ruling Council headed by General Abacha promised a return to civilian, democratic rule but did not provide a timetable. The regime instead announced the convening of a constitutional conference to prepare a transition program. Citizens were not to be given the opportunity peacefully to change their government at any level until the constitutional convention completed its work. As protests against the regime mounted in May and June, the Government arrested a number of ex-politicians who attempted to reconvene disbanded democratic institutions. Those arrested included Chief M.

K.

O. Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the aborted June 12, 1993, election, who declared himself President on June 11.

In July the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers called a strike demanding that General Abacha release Abiola and hand over power to a civilian government. Other unions joined NUPENG, and the ensuing strikes brought life in Lagos and much of the southwest to a standstill for almost 8 weeks, while rioting and civil disobedience erupted throughout the country, particularly in the southwest. By September the regime cracked down on its opponents, and most elements of resistance dissolved. As noted, it committed numerous, repeated, and egregious human rights abuses in its effort to prevent citizens from opposing it by peaceful political means.

At the end of the year, the regime continued to consolidate its hold on power, although General Abacha indicated that he might lift the ban on political activity early in the new year. He also repeated his commitment to "respect the decision of the constitutional conference" regarding a transition to civilian rule, but stated that the Government "reserved the right" to review any decision made by the conference. His promises encouraged many members of the so-called political class to form associations and quasi-political parties in anticipation of another transition program. However, most Nigerians, preoccupied by increasing economic hardship and ethnic polarization, and weary of repeated military promises of democratic rule, remained politically impassive.

Nigerian politics remain dominated by men. However, there are no legal impediments to political participation or voting by women or any other minority group. One woman served in the 91-member Senate, and 6 women served in the 589-member House of Representatives. There is one woman in the PRC's Federal Executive Council.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government permitted local human rights groups to operate but often interfered with their activities, detaining their members and preventing them from criticizing the Government's human rights record (see Sections 1.d. and 2.a.). High-level government officials regularly denounced the activities of Nigeria's human rights community, often accusing its members and the independent press of participating in foreign-inspired plots to destabilize the country.

Notwithstandng the Government's hostile attitude, human rights groups remained engaged in a vocal and public campaign for the promotion of human rights. Among the most active are: The Civil Liberties Organization; the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights; the Campaign for Democracy; the Constitutional Rights Project; the National Association of Democratic Lawyers; Human Rights Africa; the Legal Research and Resource Development Center; the National Association of University Women; the International Federation of Women Lawyers; and the Human Rights Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association. A number of prominent authors, including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, artists, educators, and jurists, in addition to professional and labor organizations, spoke out frequently on human rights issues as well.

The Government sometimes prevented foreign human rights monitoring groups and individuals from visiting Nigeria or mistreated them while they were there. For example, in April the Government refused visa requests by representatives of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, invited by Shell Oil and MOSOP to investigate the situation in Ogoniland. In June security agents beat and detained for 4 days Nick Ashton-Jones, a representative of the British environmental awareness group Pronatura, and two Nigerian human rights activists, Oronto Douglas and Uche Onyeagocham, reportedly for meeting with detained MOSOP secretary Leedum Mitee in Port Harcourt. The Government admitted Amnesty International representatives to the country in December but denied them access to detainees.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Both the 1979 and 1989 Constitutions provide citizens the right to freedom from discrimination based on "community, place of orgin, ethnic group, sex, religion, or political opinion." However, customary and religious discrimination against women persists, while tension between the Government and disaffected minority ethnic groups is on the rise.

Women

There are no laws barring women from particular fields of employment, but women often experience discrimination because the Government tolerates customary and religious practices which adversely affect them. While the number of women in the formal sector increases every year, women do not receive equal pay for equal work and often find it extremely difficult to acquire commercial credit or obtain tax deductions or rebates as the heads of households. While some women have made considerable individual progress, both in the academic and business world, most are underprivileged. Though women are not legally barred from owning land, under customary land tenure systems in some parts of Nigeria only men own land, and women gain access to it through marriage or family. In addition, many customary practices do not recognize a woman's right to inherit her husband's property, and many widows are rendered destitute when their in-laws take virtually all of the deceased husband's property. In other areas, the widow heself is considered part of the property, and she too may be "inherited" by the husband's eldest male relative. Polygyny is widely practiced among all ethnic groups in both Christian and Islamic communities.

Reports of wife abuse are common, especially wife beating in polygynous families. Police do not normally intervene in domestic disputes, and they are seldom discussed publicly. In more traditional areas, it is questionable whether the courts and police actively intervene to protect women who formally accuse their husbands if the level of alleged abuse does not exceed customary norms in the area. Purdah, the Islamic practice of keeping girls and women in seclusion from men outside the family, is prevalent in parts of Nigeria's far north. Women also bear the brunt of attacks for social and religious reasons, particularly for "immodest" or "inappropriate" behavior.

Children

The Government only occasionally condemns child abuse and neglect and makes little effort to stop customary practices, such as the sale of children into marriage. It remains only sporadically committed to children's welfare. While the amount of money spent on children's health projects has increased in recent years, laws designed to protect the rights of children are often obsolete, inadequate, and seldom enforced. Although the law stipulates that "no child shall be ordered to be imprisoned," juvenile offenders are routinely denied bail and incarcerated along with hardened criminals.

There are credible reports that poor families often sell their daughters into marriage as a means of supplementing their incomes. There are also reports that many young girls are forced into marriage as soon as they reach puberty, regardless of age, to prevent "indecency" associated with premarital sex.

The Government publicly opposes female genital mutilation (FGM), and Nigeria cosponsored a resolution at the 46th World Health Assembly calling for the elimination of harmful health practices, including FGM. However, it has taken no action to abolish the procedure, and nearly all ethnic groups subject young females to it. Nigerian experts estimate that as many as 50 percent of Nigerian women, primarily in the Christian south but less in the Muslim north, have undergone FGM, which varies from simple removal of the clitoral hood or labia minora to excision of the clitoris and the most painful and harmful form, infibulation.

The age at which females are subjected to FGM varies from the first week of life to after a woman delivers her first child. The federal Ministry of Health and NGO's sponsor public awareness and education projects to inform communities of the health hazards associated with FGM, and the press openly condemned the practice on a number of occasions.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There is no official policy of discrimination against any of Nigeria's 250 ethnic groups, and laws do not favor one group over another. However, Nigeria has a long history of tension among its diverse ethnic groups. Clashes continued between rival ethnic groups in Delta, Rivers, Benue, Cross River, and Taraba states, often resulting in bloodshed. Tradition continues to impose considerable pressure on individual government officials to favor their own ethnic group, and ethnic favoritism persists. The Ogoni, an ethnic group indigenous to Rivers state in eastern Nigeria (Nigeria's oil-producing region), maintain that the Government continues to engage in a systematic campaign to deprive them of their land and its wealth.

The Ogonis claim that the Government seizes Ogoni property without fair compensation, ignores the environmental impact of oil production on Ogoni land, and fails to provide adequate social services, such as water and electricity. MOSOP, which campaigns for greater Ogoni autonomy, often describes government policy towards the Ogoni as genocide. The confrontation between the Government and the Ogoni has increasingly turned violent (see Section 1.a.), and Ogoni concerns about environmental degradation and the quality of social services in the oil-producing region have some merit. Despite this, accusations that the Government is engaged in a genocidal campaign against the Ogoni are unfounded.

Other ethnic minorities, particularly in Delta, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom states, have echoed Ogoni claims of environmental degradation and government indifference to their development. Groups such as the Ijaw, Itsekiri, and Urhobo have grown increasingly vocal in expressing their unhappiness, while the prevalence of ethnic conflict and confrontation with government forces increased in these areas.

Religious Minorities

Nigerian law prohibits religious discrimination. Nonetheless, it is commonly reported that government officials often discriminate against persons practicing a religion different from their own. Religious tensions often lead to violence, as in April when clashes between Muslims and Christians in the northern city of Jos resulted in hundreds of deaths and the partial destruction of the city's main market. A predominantly Christian city in a Muslim-dominated part of the country, Jos had long been championed as an example of Nigerian religious tolerance. Residents in an overwhelmingly Christian part of the city rioted when the military administrator of Plateau state (a Muslim from Kano) chose a Muslim rather than a Christian for the position of local government administrator. In September Muslims attacked and killed some Christian residents of the northern town of Potiskum, capital of Yobe state. In response, the Christian Association of Nigeria issued a strong statement condemning the killings and alleging official indifference to the incident.

People with Disabilities

While the Government called for private businesses to institute policies ensuring fair treatment to the 2 percent of the work force that it claims is disabled, it has not enacted any laws, including on accessibility to buildings and public transportation, nor formulated any policy which specifically ensures the right of the disabled to work.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Abacha Government has left basic labor legislation in place, essentially the 1974 Labor Decree. However, there are no constitutional safeguards preventing the Government from interfering in the administration of labor unions, and the Government added new decrees further restricting worker rights. Nigeria has signed and ratified the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Convention on Freedom of Association. On November 3 and 4, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association heard a complaint by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the World Confederation of Labor, and the Organization of African Trade Union Unity against the Nigerian Government's labor policy. The ILO ruled that the Government's interference in the administration of labor unions and its restriction of worker rights is in direct contravention of ratified conventions. The Committee recommended that the Government remove appointed administrators from labor bodies, restore suspended union executives and allow them access o the premises of union headquarters, and restore dues check-off. At year's end the Government had not responded.

Workers, except members of the armed forces and employees designated essential by the Government, may join trade unions. Essential employees include firefighters, police, employees of the central bank, the security printers (printers of currency, passports, and government forms), and customs and excise staff. In May 1993, the Government promulgated the Teaching Essential Services Decree, declaring education an essential service. The Decree did not, however, proscribe education sector unions. The National Labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria's umbrella labor federation, has repeatedly called on the Government to reinstate unions in all sectors of the economy except for the armed forces, firefighters, and the police.

The vast majority (approximately 72 percent) of the work force is employed in agriculture. Agricultural workers are not unionized. Most of the informal sector and practically all small industries and businesses remain nonunionized. Approximately 11.5 percent of the total work force belong to unions.

In contravention of the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association, the Government has decreed a single central labor body, the NLC, and deregistered other unions. Government interference makes it difficult for the NLC to represent Nigerian workers effectively. The NLC claims 3 million members out of a total work force of 30 million, but this figure is difficult to verify. The Government continued to resist attempts by senior government staff to form and register as an independent labor association the Senior Staff Consultative Association of Nigeria (SESCAN).

The right to strike is recognized by law, except in the case of essential services. There are no laws prohibiting retribution against strikers and strike leaders, but strikers who feel they are facing unfair retribution may submit their cases to the Industrial Arbitration Panel, whose decisions are binding on all parties.

In 1994 the labor movement engaged in large-scale strike action, including two general strikes, in support of K.

O. Abiola and the prodemocracy movement. In response, the Government enacted decrees dismissing the executives of the NLC, PENGASSAN, and NUPENG and prohibiting legal challenges by offended unions to these decrees. The courts subsequently cited the latter in dismissing an NLC legal suit asking the courts to declare these decrees null and void.

The crippling strike by petroleum workers began on July 4 and officially ended on August 17, when the Government dismissed the petroleum unions' executives. In the strike's aftermath, the Government continued to detain petroleum union leaders, including NUPENG General Secretary Frank Kokori and a number of other ranking labor leaders. By September, petroleum workers, frustrated by a lack of support from other Nigerians, returned to their jobs.

Under the labor laws, any nonagricultural enterprise which employs more than 50 employees is obliged to recognize trade unions and must pay or deduct a dues checkoff for employees who are members. The NLC has complained that some employers deliberately organize their industries into multiple units employing less than 50 workers to avoid unionization. The Government threatened to withdraw the dues checkoff provision and make the payment of union dues completely voluntary if unions pursue strikes. This was the case in August 1993 when the NLC called a general strike and again in September 1994 at the conclusion of the petroleum strike.

In August 1991, the Government's Decree 32 amended a policy in effect since 1975 that permitted international labor affiliation only with the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and affiliated pan-African labor federations. Decree 32 allowed affiliation with non-African international labor organizations, but only for training and educational assistance. Since Decree 32, the NLC and SESCAN opened negotiations with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions seeking formal affiliation. The removal of the NLC executive and the protracted political confrontation have precluded further progress on these applications.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The labor laws provide for both the right to organize and the right to bargain collectively between management and trade unions. Collective bargaining is, in fact, common in many sectors of the economy. Laws further protect workers against retaliation by employers for labor activity through an independent arm of the judiciary, the National Industrial Court, which handles complaints of antiunion discrimination. The NLC has complained, however, that the judicial system is often slow to handle labor cases and that this constitutes a denial of redress to those with legitimate complaints.

There have been no significant reforms in labor practice since January 1991, when the Government abolished the uniform wage structure for all government entities. This allowed each tier of government--federal, state, local, and state-owned firms--freedom to negotiate its own level of wages, benefits, and conditions of employment. As a result, negotiations previously conducted on a nationwide basis under the direct supervision of the Labor Ministry, are now conducted on a local, often plantwide, basis with less government involvement.

At year's end, there were no functioning export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The 1974 Labor Decree and the 1989 Constitution prohibit forced or compulsory labor. While this prohibition is generally observed in practice, the Lagos Task Force soldiers used forced labor to clean up community streets (see Section 1.c.). The ILO, noting that with the 1989 Constitution suspended Nigeria may not be able to enforce the ILO Convention against Forced Labor in the absence of constitutional guarantees, pressed the Government for its views on this point, but at year's end the Government had not replied.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The 1974 Labor Decree prohibits employment of children under 15 years of age in commerce and industry and restricts other child labor to home-based agricultural or domestic work. The law further stipulates that children may not be employed in agricultural or domestic work for more than 8 hours per day. The Decree allows the apprenticeship of youths aged 13 to 15 under specific conditions. The Government does not specifically regulate service of apprentices over the age of 15.

Primary education is compulsory, though rarely enforced, and recent studies showed declining enrollment due mainly to the continuing deterioration of public schools. This lack of sufficient primary school infrastructure has ended some families' access to education, forcing them to place their children on the employment market. The ILO and the U.N. Children's Fund, in consultation with the NLC, have concluded that child labor, while not yet endemic, is increasing and could become a serious problem (see Section 5).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The 1974 Labor Decree sets a minimum wage, which is reviewed on an ad hoc basis. The last review in 1991 was undertaken by a tripartite group consisting of representatives of the NLC, the Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association, and the Ministry of Labor. It raised the monthly minimum wage from 250 naira to 450 naira per month, but the rapid fall in the true market rate of the naira (down to approximately 100 to the dollar by year's end), rendered the legislation essentially meaningless. The minimum wage as currently stipulated does not keep pace with inflation and does not provide a decent living for a worker and family. The deteriorating economy, coupled with a high inflation rate, has reduced the buying power of workers, leading to a marked decline in their standard of living. The high inflation rate is a frequent cause of strikes demanding large wage increases.

The 1974 Labor Decree also establishes a 40-hour workweek, prescribes 2 to 4 weeks of annual leave, and stipulates that workers are to be paid extra for hours worked over the legal limit. The Decree also states that workers who work on Sundays and statutory public holidays must be paid a full day's pay in addition to their normal wages. There is no law prohibiting excessive compulsory overtime.

The 1974 Decree contains general health and safety provisions, some aimed specifically at young or female workers. Employers must compensate injured workers and dependent survivors of those killed in industrial accidents. The Labor Decree does not provide workers the legal right to excuse themselves from dangerous work situations without loss of employment. The Labor Ministry, which is charged with enforcement of these laws, has been largely ineffective, and violations are common and go largely unpunished. The Government has failed to act on various ILO recommendations since 1991 to update its moribund inspection and accident-reporting program.

 

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