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Nigeria: Human Rights Report Released

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jan 26, 2005 (050126)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The long-awaited report of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, completed in May 2002 after two years of public hearings, has now been made public, not by the Nigerian government but by civil society organizations. In December 2004, given the Supreme Court rulingt that the panel's original mandate was unconstitutional, the government said it was not planning to publish the wide-ranging report, which is popularly known as the Oputa report after the name of the panel's chairman, retired Chief Justice Chukwudifu A. Oputa.

The Nigerian Democratic Movement (NDM), based in Washington, in collaboration with the Civil Society Forum in Nigeria, decided to take the initiative to make this public domain document available over the internet. It is now being widely distributed in Nigeria through copies on CD-ROM as well.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the NDM press release on the report's publication, and brief excerpts taken from the report's overview volume.

The panel's deliberations covered not only specific human rights abuses, but also responded to a wide variety of grievances and issues presented by individual and group petitioners. The panel was most controversial for the refusal to testify of three former military rulers, Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari and Abdulsalami Abubakar. The final report included the recommendation that they be investigated for suspicious deaths and barred from governing Nigeria again.

The full 7-volume report and summary recommendations are available, in downloadable PDF files, at, which also contains a timeline and an extensive set of links to news articles on the Oputa Panel report. The downloadable files are also available on several other sites, including and

For additional background and links on Nigeria, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

National Democratic Movement Releases Full Version of Oputa Panel Report

Press Release, January 1, 2005

National Democratic Movement (NDM)
Washington, DC, USA.

A/ Release of Unofficial Oputa Panel Report

In solidarity with the Civil Society Forum (CSF) in Nigeria, the Nigerian Democratic Movement (NDM), a Washington-based pro-democracy organization since 1993, hereby releases unofficially the full Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC), popularly called the "Oputa Panel Report".


C/ Un-official Nature of the Report

This report is NOT a leak, rather a determination of the Civil Society in Nigeria to spend its own money (rather than wait for government money), time and effort to make it available to the world at large. The Commission did its work in the public domain; the report has ALWAYS been available in the public domain, but Civil Society in Nigeria had been waiting for two-and-a- half years (since it was submitted to President Obasanjo in May 2002) to have the Federal Government spend money to publish it. Now that it is clear that it is unwilling, unable or incapable of spending that money, we have decided to relieve it of that burden.

There are no hard feelings.

D/ Court Injunctions

We are aware of challenges to the legality of the Oputa Panel before several courts in Nigeria, all of which, being so far unresolved, stop the Federal Government from carrying out some or all of the recommendations of the Oputa Panel report. None of the injunctions issued from the courts has stopped its publication. We respect the courts in the country, but are hopeful that the Federal Government will VIGOROUSLY defend itself in those courts, so that the time, money and effort spent in all the nation-wide sittings of the Panel will not be in vain. Otherwise, future efforts to solicit the participation of the Nigerian public in discourses, for example the upcoming "National Dialogue," will always be met with understandable skepticism.

E/ The Duty of Civil Society and Citizens of Nigeria in 2005 and beyond

The NDM calls upon all members of organized Civil Society and all the Citizens of Nigeria to re-dedicate ourselves in this New Year 2005 and beyond towards ensuring greater transparency, accountability and integrity of ALL of our political and public officials. The wide dissemination of the Oputa Panel Report in various formats - including translation of its recommendations in various Nigerian languages - is a good starting point, as well as support for Electoral Reform, and the recently-announced revenuefocused "Citizens for Public Accountability and Integrity in Nigeria (C-PAIN)".

On its part, the NDM promises to re-engage in the dialogue which must lead to a New Nigeria.

F/ The Press as the Fourth Estate

The NDM particularly urges the Press in Nigeria to do everything that it can to disseminate these transparency, accountability and integrity efforts as a public service, and with minimal cost to the long-suffering citizens of Nigeria.

God Bless Nigeria ! God give its leaders integrity ! [Amen]

List of downloadable PDF files

[links available on]

Summary recommendations [612 Kb]
Volume One - Chairman's Introduction, Origins of the Commission, etc. [461 KB]
Volume Two - International Context [486 KB]
Volume Three - Research Reports [1.0 MB]
Volume Four - Case-by-Case Records of Public Hearings [1.3 MB]
Volume Five - Briefs on Petition Memos [1.2 MB]
Volume Six - Reparation, Restitution and Compensation [6.0 MB]
Volume Seven - Summary Conclusions and Recommendations [8.2 MB]
Appendix: List of Witnesses [1.4 MB]
Appendix: List of Exhibits [3.9 MB]

Synoptic Overview of Report Submitted by
Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission

May, 2002

Chairman Hon Justice Chukwudifu A. Oputa CFR, Justice Emeritus, Supreme Court of Nigeria

Excerpts from Chairman's Foreword

1.2 For much the greater part of the period covered by this Report, Nigeria was under military rule. During this period, most of our rulers. principal motivation and pre-occupation were not service to country but the accumulation of wealth and personal gratification. 1.3 This personal accumulation of wealth led to the decay of our society. Public and private morality reached its nadir; and the casualties included human dignity, human rights and our basic freedoms. We also experienced institutional and structural decay.

1.4 This Report has attempted to provide an over-view of the extent of our moral, physical and institutional decay under military rule. The proscription and circumscription of our human rights and freedoms under military rule were symptomatic of a much serious malaise, the departure from constitutional or limited government and with it the absence of accountability and transparency in public life. This was the ultimate decay involving the personalization of the governmental process around the military ruler.

1.5 The return to democratic civilian rule on 29 May 1999 provided the opportunity for us to rise above this decay, to break the silence of the past and to forge ahead, determined to lay to rest the ghost of this dark and painful period in our national history.

1.6 But we must be prepared to confront this history, if we are to forge ahead. We need to understand it, even if it means asking unpleasant questions and offering blunt answers. Where did we make the wrong turn? Who was responsible for what? What opportunities did we miss and why? What are the major lessons to be learnt? What do we now need to do to put the past behind us and to look to the future with renewed hope and patriotic zeal? What are the basic conditions for us to effect national catharsis?

1.7 This is what we have attempted to do in this Report. We have tried to be faithful to our terms of reference and to our mandate, both of which imposed on us the obligation .to review the past;. and to map out or indicate pathways to enable us as a people .redress the injustices of the past; [and] to prevent and forestall future violations..

1.27 To forgive and to reconcile is not necessarily to deny justice. We should not confuse or conflate justice with prosecution and with criminal or retributive justice. Viewed in the broader perspective of legal theory or jurisprudence as well as moral and political philosophy, reconciliation represents not the antithesis but the triumph of justice.

1.28 Nigeria now has a nascent and fledgling democracy, with all its imperfections and teething problems. Managing the transition from military to democratic civilian rule requires deft and dexterous navigational skill to avoid land mines and treacherous waters. To manage the transition successfully and to consolidate it may require that we sacrifice criminal justice for the higher moral imperative of reconciliation and to avoid the trauma, anguish and pain criminal prosecution will give rise to.

1.38 As one of our research teams pointed out, quite correctly, our national experience with federalism shows that the problem of marginalization is at the bottom of minority ethnic group fears of the curtailment or violation of substantive human rights. the right to selfdetermination, the right to the promotion of their cultural rights, and their citizenship rights, especially the right to equitable participation in the cultural, economic and political life of the country.

1.39 Under simple majoritarian, first-past-the-post competitive democratic electoral processes, and much more so under authoritarian regimes ethnic minorities all too easily find themselves excluded by the structure of power and the rules of the electoral process, making them less competitive and denying them access to the State and its enormous patronage.

1.40 A refreshing and confidence-building fall-out from the work of our Commission is the raising of the issue of minority rights as a core dimension of gross human rights violations and bringing it on the agenda of national debate. In this way, such public consciousness may engender well-thought out remedial public policies and constitutional guarantee of minority rights, thereby facilitating national reconciliation.

1.49 Unfortunately, our various military rulers, like all dictators, were unable to draw this distinction between themselves and the State. Their intelligence outfits danced to their tune and their agents also saw themselves as beyond and above the law. This led to the hounding of journalists and those who criticized their administrations and policies. Intellectuals and human rights activists, among other critics of military rule, were arrested and jailed, without recourse to due process, in the so-called interest of State security.

1.50 This attitude was also reflected in the protection given to oil companies, which supplied the much of the needed oil revenue to various military administrations. Their interests became .State interests,. which must be protected. This logically led to the systematic and generalized violations and abuses, which occurred in the Niger-Delta during the dark period of military rule in the country, as detailed in Volumes One, Three and Five of this Report.

1.54 The non-appearance of three former Heads of State and a number of former top government functionaries, when summoned by the Commission, put to test the theory that in a democracy all men are equal before the law, that the rule of law and not the rule of man should prevail. In addition to not appearing, these former Heads of State filed civil actions challenging the Commission.

1.55 The former Heads of State are: Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim B. Babangida, and Abdulsalami Abubakar. The former top functionaries are: Colonel Halilu Akilu and Lt-Colonel A.K. Togun.

1.56 Many in Nigeria and, indeed, in the international community, wondered why these highly placed Nigerians, who had held high public office, refused to appear and testify in person before the Commission.

1.57 Although the Commission had the power to issue warrants for their arrest, it refused to do so, in the over-all interest of national reconciliation.

Excerpts from historical introduction

6. Despite the lingering multifaceted and complex crises it has been going through since independence in 1960, the country has remarkably held together, always pulling away from the precipice, except for the civil war years between 1967 and 1970. Indeed, many would argue that perhaps the country's resilience is both its strength and its weakness.

7. In short, as if in a stupor, the country has tottered on, all the fears, anxieties and frustrations of nation building, notwithstanding. Many have concluded that indeed, rather than being seen as evidence of weakness or fragility, the sense and sentiments of nationhood actually run deep in the veins of Nigerians. Nigerians love their country. They want to see it united and strong. The real problem is, at what cost and who bears the brunt?

8. The missing link appears to be the inability of the ruling elite and the political class to establish a nexus between the yearnings, desires, hopes and aspirations of its young and coming generation and the design and construction of a new future for Nigeria.

9. It is arguable that the continuing frustration about the character of the polity is not unconnected with the general feeling among the Youth in the age brackets of 30-40 and below that earlier generations of the political class have squandered their hopes and future.

10. There is the feeling that the country's political leadership has been greedy, self-serving and lacking in serious political will, contributing in no small measure to the crises of democracy and development, which have delayed the country's march to nationhood.

11. When the military seized political power in January 1966, there was a general feeling in the country that they were motivated by altruistic intentions and objectives to save the country from descent into political chaos and instability.

12. As time passed, the country's military rulers and the military as an institution by and large lost their sense of direction. The greed of the military dragged the nation further and further away from the project of nationhood. The result is that by the end of almost thirty years of military rule, Nigeria is far more fragmented than it was in January 1966, when the military first seized power.

13. The democratic struggle against military rule in the country, whose high water mark was the return to democratic civilian rule on 29 May 1999, symbolizes and marks the return to the project of the three Rs (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation), which the military enunciated after the end of the civil war in January 1970.

Excerpts from findings

90. Clearly, the military are to be held accountable for gross human rights violations in the country, during the period under review. This is exemplified by cases of torture at the Intercentre, DMI headquarters in Lagos and Jos Prison by the military. All the other prisons in Nigeria failed so far below the standards of the United Nations that they became torture centres.

91. Oil, one of the greatest blessings God has showered on our nation, has turned out to be a curse. Instead of providing the basis for national economic, political, scientific/technological and social growth and development, cushioning its citizens from the scourge of abject poverty, squalor and want, oil became, in the hands of the ruling elite and the political class, an instrument sounding the death-knell of such key principles of good governance as democracy, federalism, transparency, accountability and national growth. Oil was the mainstay of the economy and the junta saw any inhibition to its flow as a breach of security. Consequently, legitimate complaints/agitations against oil pollution by host communities were violently suppressed. We therefore had to pay a heavy prize in lives and human rights violations.

93. Unable to accept defeat, some politicians often turned to their military contacts as a means to regain access to political power and the access to the state coffers flowing from it. Given that politics is essentially about capturing power, the business class has often been unable to subordinate its interests to those of the nation. The result is that wealthy and influential Nigerians have used their resources to bankroll coup plotters. We therefore hold that they were accomplices and therefore should be held accountable for the resultant human rights violations. The politicians should imbibe democratic spirit. This is because the desperation to win at all costs propels them to use the army to resolve political problems through coups with resultant violation of human rights.

94. If democracy is to take firm roots in Nigeria, then the various segments of the stakeholders in the polity must realize that, no matter the nature of their interests, such interests can only be attained within the boundaries of a democratic and stable nation.

95. This means that politicians must learn to accept the rules of the game. Those who win elections must realize that they have not won a price for themselves and their party, but that they have won a national trust. Those who lose elections must realize that it is easier to go back to the drawing board and wait for the political calendar to turn around than to resort to the military solution, which has no timetable, as such.

97. Sadly enough, both Islam and Christianity have never really been able to rise above the limitations of their intra- and interdenominational and sectarian cleavages. The result is that the
country is now caught up in what has come to be known as the problem of religion in Nigeria. Religious intolerance has been the main cause of communal clashes with attendant loss of lives and gross human rights violations. ...

99. However, the religious bodies ought to have done much more than they did in the struggle against human rights violations, especially during the dark days of the late Abacha regime. On the whole, the politicization of religion has undermined religion.

100. A new responsibility has now devolved on both the leadership of Christianity and Islam to respond appropriately to the challenges of nation building and to help in laying a solid foundation for a Nigeria that promotes and respects human rights under the rule of law.

113. Nigerians agree that corruption in public life, which was pronounced under military rule, has reached alarmingly pandemic proportions, and should now be a matter of very serious and pressing public policy concern.

114. From the evidence, which the Commission received, it is clear that the quest for political power personal enrichment was largely the driving force for military interventions in politics. The military tended to treat the state as a conquered territory and proceeded to treat the proceeds of state as spoils of war to be shared among the members of the military, the conquering forces of occupation.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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