June 12 has been designated an International Day of Action on Nigeria. The Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (CCPJ) joins with its colleagues in Nigeria, other members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) and the Working Group on Nigeria in Canada to call for the release of all political prisoners, including journalists, and for a true transition to democracy to take place.
June 12 is a day when Nigerians at home and abroad commemorate the failed democratic elections of 1993 when publisher Moshood Abiola was elected president. After General Sani Abacha came to power in a coup annulling those elections, Chief Abiola was jailed the following June. He remains in jail, suffering under terrible conditions with hundreds of other political prisoners, including more than a dozen journalists jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression. With the death of Abacha on 8 June, CCPJ hopes there is a new opportunity for freedom of expression to thrive in Nigeria.
The CCPJ is calling on Nigeria's new Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, to release all political prisoners being held in detention, most without charge. They include Babafemi Ojudu, managing editor of "Tempo" and "TheNews", who was awarded the CCPJ International Press Freedom Award along with his colleague Bayo Onanuga. Onanuga fled the country after death threats, while Ojudu remains in detention without charge where he has been since last year.
Among the other journalists in detention are four journalists jailed in 1995 for reporting on an alleged coup plot. They are Christine Anyanwu, Ben Charles Obi, George Mbah and Kunle Ajibade. Anyanwu was honoured this year with the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Award for her efforts to promote press freedom in Nigeria at great personal risk. A fifth journalist, Niran Malaolu, was jailed in December for reporting on another alleged coup plot and sentenced to 25 years in prison earlier this spring.
The CCPJ continues to appeal to the Canadian government to keep up the pressure on Nigeria and to use its role in the Commonwealth to seek appropriate sanctions including the expulsion of Nigeria from that body if the transition to democracy does not take place.
We further appeal to Canadian oil companies to stop doing business with Nigeria, where billions of dollars of oil revenue goes into the pockets of the military rulers while the people of Nigeria suffer. Canadian Occidental recently announced its intention to pursue oil production in Nigeria despite being advised of human rights violations in oil producing areas, a fact of which Shell Canada has long been aware. We continue to appeal to Shell Canada, which says it does not import Nigerian oil, to pressure Shell International to reconsider its operations in Nigeria, including the Ogoni region.
We remind them that writer and Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed after a trial in 1995 which fell far short of international standards, and which many believe was used by the authorities to silence his protests over the devastation wrought by Shell in Ogoni.
Update: On 15 June 1998, the Nigerian leader, General Abubakar, announced Christine Anyanwu would be freed from prison.
Click here to go to the IFEX site and read about her release.