A briefing on the human rights situation in Nigeria as of October 1998, for Commonwealth Foreign Ministers

A briefing on the human rights situation in Nigeria as of October 1998, for Commonwealth Foreign Ministers.

Prepared by Islamic Human Rights Commission: Free Al-Zakzaky Campaign, PO Box 598, Wembley, HA0 4XX, UK.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned about the continuing human rights abuses in Nigeria under the leadership of General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

In its latest report (attached), IHRC lists the names of at least 103 Nigerian political prisoners still incarcerated in prisons across the country. It also includes details of political killings, as recent as 25th September 1998. This list does not contain all the names of those imprisoned, and does not contain names of those held in police cells, or those released on bail with charges still outstanding against them. Since the publication of this report, IHRC has received confirmation that a further 32 Nigerians were detained at a demonstration on 18th September in Kano, were charged on 30th September with unlawful assembly and incitement, and detained indefinitely (see addendum attached).

IHRC is deeply concerned that despite the very public assurances of General Abubakar, only some political prisoners have been released. Notably, Muslim political prisoners have not been released, and charges against Muslim political opponents remain in place. The Zaria Four, led by Mu’allim Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky, leader of Nigeria’s Islamic opposition, is a case in point.

The four men have been incarcerated since September 1996. They were charged after nine months detention with sedition, and their trial has repeatedly been adjourned to change prosecutors, judges, and reframe charges. The principle charge against them is that they were responsible for the publication of the phrase, ‘there is no sovereignty except through God,’ attributed to Al-Zakzaky. Their trial is scheduled to resume on October 22. It is entirely unacceptable that four men should be detained for expressing a religious opinion. Clearly the undertakings given by the new Nigerian regime can best be described as superficial. It is worthy to note that the four have refused bail unless all political prisoners associated with the Muslim opposition are released. Many have been fined and / or imprisoned for possession of videotapes of Al-Zakzaky and others speeches.

Regarding charges against political opponents, the charges against Zeenah Ibrahim, her six children aged between eighteen months and twelve years, and eight other women and ten other children, remain. All of them are charged with insulting the authorities, including the late General Abacha. All were held in appalling conditions in four different police cells across Nigeria, for almost six weeks.

IHRC calls on Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting with the Nigerian Foreign Minister on 8 / 9 October 1998 to continue imposing sanctions against the junta. It further calls on them, not to allow Nigeria back into the Commonwealth and international fold unless and until:

  • Assurances for the safety of all those listed in the IHRC reports and all political detainees of whatever ethnic, confessional or political background are given;
  • All political prisoners from whatever racial, confessional or political background are immediately and unconditionally released;
  • All charges against political opponents are dropped;
  • Proper restitution to all who have been victims of state sponsored harassment is given;
  • Freedom of worship, association, assembly and protest is safeguarded not only in words but by actions.

It bodes ill for the credibility and reputation of the Commonwealth, if given the continued abuses by the Nigerian regime documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, IHRC and others, it allows Nigeria to regain international status.

IHRC trusts that the plight of those Nigerians suffering for political reasons, will be brought up at your meeting, and representations made on their behalf by yourselves.