U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Nigeria
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Nigeria, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa820.html [accessed 4 March 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
NIGERIAGeneral Sani Abacha, who seized power in a palace coup in November 1993, remained Head of State throughout 1997. Under Abacha, the main decisionmaking organ is the exclusively military Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), which rules by decree. The PRC oversees the 33-member Federal Executive Council composed of military officers and civilians. Pending the promulgation of the Constitution written by the Constitutional Conference in 1995 and subsequently approved by the Head of State, the Government observes some provisions of the 1979 and 1989 Constitutions. The decree suspending the 1979 Constitution was not repealed and the 1989 Constitution was not implemented. The transition timetable announced by Abacha in 1995, which purports to return the country to democratically elected civilian government by October 1, 1998, underwent significant revisions in July. The judiciary's authority and independence are significantly impaired by the military regime's arrogation of judicial power and prohibition of court review of its action. The Government continued to enforce its arbitrary authority through the Federal Security System (the military, the State Security Service (SSS), the national police, and other regulatory and law enforcement agencies), a variety of official and quasi-governmental security forces, and through decrees blocking action by the opposition in the courts. All branches of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses. Most of the approximately 105 million population is rural, engaging in small-scale agriculture. Oil exports account for over 90 percent of national foreign exchange earnings. The economy stagnated during the year, and gross domestic product per capita dropped to $260 after marginal growth in 1996. The general level of economic activity continued to be depressed, with factory capacity utilization remaining in the 30 percent range, and many major companies reporting lower profits and expanding inventories. Endemic corruption and recurring fuel shortages further hindered the functioning of the economy. There was a continued lack of transparency in government transactions. Government control over the economy remained extensive, including government mandated below-market fuel prices. Although the Government continued to espouse a program of guided deregulation, actual steps taken to liberalize investment and foreign exchange rules were disappointing. The Government's human rights record remained dismal. Throughout the year, Abacha's Government relied regularly on arbitrary detention and harassment to silence its most outspoken critics. The winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood K.O. Abiola, remained in detention on charges of treason, as did prominent politician Olu Falae, prodemocracy activist Fredrick Fasehun, and several others. Although Abacha announced on November 17 that he would release political detainees, the Government failed to do so by year's end. Security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings and use excessive force to quell antigovernment protests as well as to combat crime, resulting in the death or injury of many individuals, including innocent civilians. Security forces tortured and beat suspects and detainees. There were many reports of sexual abuse of female suspects and prisoners by security forces. Prison conditions remained life threatening; many prisoners died in custody. The Government repeatedly engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention is a problem. Security services routinely harassed human rights and prodemocracy groups, including labor leaders, journalists, and student activists. The Government also infringed on citizens' right to privacy. Citizens do not have the right to change their government by peaceful means. Despite the announced timetable for transition from military to multiparty rule, there was little meaningful progress toward democracy. Local government elections held on March 15 were largely peaceful, but a flawed voter registration process, preelection screenings of candidates, and unresolved debates over the delineation of constituencies cast doubts upon the exercise. In April the Government issued Decree Number 7, which allowed for the arbitrary removal of any elected official by the Head of State. Several disputes over election results remained unresolved at year's end. On July 3, the Transition Implementation Committee announced significant changes to the transition to civil rule program outlined in 1995. State assembly elections, moved from the third to the fourth quarter of the year, took place on December 6. Although they showed some improvement over the March local government elections, they were flawed, and the authorities annulled the results in some constituencies and called for by-elections. Under the new timetable, gubernatorial elections originally scheduled for the end of the year were postponed until 1998, and the inauguration of governors and state assemblies was rescheduled for September 1998. The presidential election remains scheduled for August 1, 1998, with the inauguration of a civilian government to follow on October 1. The Government's reliance on tribunals, which operate outside the constitutional court system, and harsh decrees prohibiting judicial review seriously undermined the integrity of the judicial process and often resulted in legal proceedings that denied defendants due process. Former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo and more than 30 others convicted by secret military tribunals remained in prison for their alleged roles in a purported March 1995 coup plot. Obasanjo's erstwhile deputy and outspoken National Constitutional Conference delegate Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, one of those imprisoned for the alleged March 1995 coup plot, died in government custody on December 8, provoking large public protests in the north. Yar'Adua's death appears to have been from natural causes exacerbated by lack of proper medical attention. Several days later a newspaper reported that another of the coup plotters, staff sergeant Patrick Usikekpo, had died in prison of typhoid fever at an undetermined date late in the year. Leading attorney and former presidential aspirant Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye was held incommunicado without charge throughout the year; the Government ignored court orders to bring his case to court. The Government's frequent refusal to respect court rulings also undercut the independence and integrity of the judicial process. On December 21, the Government announced the arrest of the country's second highest-ranking military officer, Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Oladipo Diya, 10 other officers, and 1 civilian on charges of coup plotting. Subsequently, the Government announced that it had arrested an unstated number of additional persons for roles in the purported coup plot, and that it would try the accused before a military tribunal. By year's end, the Government had not released details of the alleged plot, although its public pronouncements were prejudicial to the presumption of innocence for the accused. Other human rights problems included infringements on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and travel; violence and discrimination against women; and female genital mutilation. Worker rights deteriorated as the Government continued to interfere with organized labor. The Government further weakened the independence and viability of the labor movement by enacting decrees and taking other measures that restricted fundamental rights of association. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), established by the Government in 1995 but not inaugurated until June 1996, was slow to get started but met several times with independent human rights groups and began a nationwide review of prison conditions. Public opinion of the NHRC was mixed, as some hoped that the Commission might prove useful while others dismissed it as irrelevant.