Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AND TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE IN NIGERIA'S NIGER DELTA DURING CIVILIAN RULE: A Focus ON THE FOURTH REPUBLIC

Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AND TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE IN NIGERIA'S NIGER DELTA DURING CIVILIAN RULE: A Focus ON THE FOURTH REPUBLIC

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In almost every region of the world, governments violate the basic human rights of their citizens through the use of torture and by stifling freedom of speech, assembly, and religion, among other things. (1) The situation is no different in Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta, where crude oil is produced. Ranked fifth globally in oil production, Nigeria has earned more than $340 billion in oil and gas revenue since the 1970s. (2) Yet 70 percent of its population presently lives on less than one dollar per day, 43 percent have no access to clean water, and insurgents in the oil-producing Niger Delta threaten the stability of the Nigerian state. (3) Additionally, both military and civilian governments in Nigeria have been accused of gross human rights violations in the Niger Delta. (4) The failure of these regimes to ensure respect for human rights has contributed to several cases of violent conflict.

The persistence of human rights violations and violent conflict in the Niger Delta since Nigeria gained independence in 1960 has led some scholars to describe the area as an unfortunate region. From 1966 to 1970, it was the scene of the Biafran War, a civil war that led to the death of about 2 million people. Most of these deaths occurred as a result of hunger and disease. Despite international protests, the military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha executed nine Ogonis, including renowned human rights activist Kenule Saro-Wiwa, in 1995. (5)

The death of Gen. Abacha in 1998 led to the appointment of Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar as the military head of Nigeria. Although the regime successfully handed over power to a civilian government, it was not free from accusations of gross human rights violations in the Niger Delta. For example, on January 4, 1999, Opia and Ikenyan, two small communities of about 500 people each in the Warri North area of Delta State, were attacked by about 100 armed soldiers. Human Rights Watch Report indicates that the traditional leader of Ikenyan, who went to negotiate with the soldiers, was killed, as was a seven-year-old girl. Many other persons were victimized in this incident. (6)

The introduction of civilian administration in Nigeria on May 29, 1999, was expected to improve respect for human rights in the country. (7) President Olusegun Obasanjo recognized the need to address past human rights violations, and his government initiated some actions related to transitional justice. The first major effort of the civilian government during this period was the inauguration of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, popularly known as the Oputa Panel, to investigate all cases of human rights violations in Nigeria and to submit a report to the federal government. This article examines actions related to transitional justice aimed at addressing past human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, identifying gaps and making recommendations for improvement.

CONCEPTUAL CLARIFICATION

As Kabiru S. Chafe rightly notes, "the primary requirement for debating anything is to understand first and foremost the critical thing being talked about." (8) Consequently, this section clarifies the concepts of human rights violations and transitional justice.

Human Rights Violations

Human rights violations occur when state or nonstate actors abuse, ignore, or deny basic human rights, including civil, political, cultural, social, and economic rights. Some scholars of human rights violations have attempted to standardize ways to measure them. For example, Hilde Hey grouped human rights violations by their severity using the categories of "extremely severe," "severe," and "less severe." (9) Hey includes genocide in the category of extremely severe violations and gross human rights violations and acts of state repression in the category of severe violations. (10) She argues that whereas the victims of gross human rights violations "need not be a collectivity, but may be individuals," genocide involves "the killing of a collectivity, in whole or in part, thereby destroying the cultural identity of that collectivity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.