Human Rights lawyer and President of Justice Centre, Detroit, Michigan, USA, Barrister Kayode Oladele was the guest speaker at the Bremen and Hamburg Conference on Human Rights abuses and the democratisation process in Nigeria on Wednesday 15th and Thursday 16th Ocotber, 2004. Also speaking at the Conference were Gunther Werner, a renowned lawyer and Mose Babatope Bodunde, a Nigerian humanrights and political activist who is currently seeking asylum in Germany. The Conference was organised by the Nationwide Caravan-for the rights of refugees and migrants in collaboration with Bildungswerk Bremen, Verein Okumenischer Ausländer Arbeit, Bremen, The Afrika-FreundInnen Bremen e.v.and the Refugee Council, Hamburg. The conference examined the ignoble legacies of humanrights abuses under past military dictatorship in Nigeria which unfortunately has continued under the present civilian regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
Mr Oladele shot to fame following his successful litigation in the US against former Nigerian military dictator General Abubakar Abdulsalami of humanrights abuses which included the death of Chief M.K.O Abiola-the winner of the annuled 1993 presidential elections in Nigeria.
Barrister Oladele traced the history of violence in Nigeria from the colonial era to the present civilian administration of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. According to him violence is not new in Nigerian politics. He gave some examples such as; The Aba Women riot in 1929, The Egba Women uprising in 1931, The 1931 general workers strike, 1945 Kano riot and so on. Some of these he said resulted from the forceful merging up of several ethnic groups by the British colonial powers for their economic interest and thus ethnic conflicts became permanent feature in Nigerian politics.
However the present Government of General Olusegun Obasanjo has witnessed unprecedented levels of political violence both in rural and urban areas with politically motivated killings becoming a means to silent opposition.
Political violence is an issue that confront the state and the society and which is, as always, generating discussions, worries and concerns amongst the populace. Communial conflicts, agitation for the rights of minority ethnic groups and the rise of ethnic militias, clamour for self determination, and political persecutions is
the order of the day. He stated that the response of the Obasanjo's government to these conflicts has not been different from the response during the days of military dictatorship in Nigeria. According to him the military intervention in politics added to the occurrence and discharge of violence in Nigeria. Also responsible for violence is the rigging of various elections. The Judiciary which is supposed to be independent is controlled by the Executive. These resulted in the existing militia groups taking up the gauntlet to defend and protect their interests. Such militia groups include Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), The Bakassi Boys, The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), The movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), The Arewa Peoples Congress etc.
The government he said usually criminalise the demands of the ethnic militias and adopted extreme force to ensure social control. The Attorney General and Justice minister, Chief Akinlolu Olujimi (SAN) was reported by the Nigerian Guardian newspaper of September 3, 2004 as saying that the Nigeria government will crush the MASSOB organisation. This was the language adopted by the military under the late dictator Sanni Abacha. He said government usually arrest actvists and opponents and later parade them as armed robbers so as criminalise them as a way of silencing people who are opposed to its.policies
The Human Rights record of the Nigerian Government remains very poor.
The police, the military and other arms of the security forces commit extra judicial killings and use excessive force to apprehend and quell several incidences of ethno-religious and socio conflicts. The Security Operatives often times beat, torture and kill detainees and peaceful protesters. In most cases neither the police nor the military are held responsible for the excessive use of force leading to the deaths of members of these Militias. Members of these Organisations are detained for a very long time while some die in detention without trial. He cited many instances of political persecution of ethnic militias such as the killing of 10 members of (MASSOB) and the destruction of their headquarter in Okigwe in February 2001. Gani Adams a factional leader of OPC was arrested in August 2001 and charges of murder; stealing , robbery and illegal possession of fire arms were levelled against him. Many Human Rights Activists have horrible tales of political persecution to tell since the inception of this new political dispensation. In 2000 the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights ( CDHR ) reported that 302 OPC members were arrested following clashes with the police in Lagos. In the same year several Ogoni activists were arrested and detained.
He stated that political asylum seekers deported to Nigeria are normally arrested and detained. If lucky they get freed after two or three years. In most cases many disappeared or died in detention while the relations of the deportees are not aware of the deportation or the disappearance of their kin. He faulted the Germany asylum
process for not adopting the United Nations standard. According to the UNO any person who belongs to a persecuted group deserves the right to asylum even if he or she cannot prove personal persecution beyond resonable doubts but can prove that he/she belong to the group and share in its aspirations. He cited many examples including the Ogoni people in Niger delta of Nigeria, when the leader of Ogoni Ken Saro wiwa and ten of his kinsmen were executed in Nigeria by the military dictator Sanni Abacha. The Ogoni people as a persecuted entity were therefore qualified to seek and get asylum and many of them actually got asylum in the United States of America.
He concluded by calling for a National Conference where every one including the ethnic militias can table and discuss their fears and grievances and work out a compromise acceptable to all.
The Bremen lawyer Gunter Werner said that German asylum procedure does not recognize the issue raised by Mr. Oladele. And that in most cases, one can hardly make sense of the basis upon which asylum requests are rejected in Germany. He stated that for example, the court rejected the Nigerian, Mr. Bodunde Moses’s application because he did not disclose his full identity when he had his first interview as he was afraid of being deported immediately. He concluded that the new law on asylum which takes effect from January 2005 does not recognise exile political activities as a basis for granting asylum. This he said was a big step back as many of those who got asylum in the last years succeeded in doing so by credible evidence of exile political activities.
Mr Bodunde Moses who is a member of the OPC and active with the Caravan spoke about his political activities in Nigeria and the circumstances that made him flee the country. According to him, he is a member of Alliance for Democracy A.D, one of the major opposition political parties in Nigeria. He was and still an active member of Oodua People’s congress, a pressure group dedicated to self determination and true federalism in Nigeria. He was a Ward leader in Ikirum Ifelodun local government area of Osun state and was the nominated as the Alliance for Democracy candidate for the federal parliamentary election in 2003 before he fled the country. He fled from Nigeria in 2002 because of several assassination attempts on his life and the continued persecution by the police for his activities as a member of the OPC. His uncle while trying to protect him was killed during one of these attempts on his life. This he said made him to flee the country in 2002. He applied for asylum in Germany in August 2002 and his application for asylum was rejected by The Asylum Office after one year. The reasons given for the rejection was that the validity of his claims could not be verified and that Nigeria was on the road to democracy. His lawyer appealed to the court but the court upheld the previous decision.
Agreeing with Mr Oladele that Nigeria must hold a Sovereign National Conference as a way forward in the crisis that it faces, he called on the German government through their Foriegn Office and its report to be factual, accurate and honest with their asseessment of the situation in the country. He said the level of persecution, politically movitaved assassinations and the general insecurity to lives and properties in Nigeria is so high that even the German personnel are forced to use bullet-froof cars and vests in Nigeria.
The conference was well attended by people from different sectors of the society and it was duly repeated in Hamburg the following day where it also drew a large attention.