The arresting officers were members of the Security Force, an agency of the Nigerian government. No reason for his arrest was given. This arrest was preceded by an earlier encounter in March 1998 where he was attacked and arrested by members of the Nigerian Police when he tried to speak at a pro-democracy rally in Yaba, Lagos. On January 8th and March 23rd of 1998, Batom Mitee and Barileresi Mitee who are brothers of Ledum Mitee, President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), were arrested. No charges were ever given for their arrests.
Batum Mitee was kept detained for several weeks without having access to his lawyers, his family, or a doctor. On January 18, 1998 he was brought before a judge who declared that the case was not within his competence because of its political character. Mitee was later transferred to a military hospital because of the beatings and ill treatment inflicted by the military. These incidents of brutality and harassment are just a few examples of the abuse by members of the police, security forces, and Nigerian government and how it remains to be a persistent human rights problem.
There are numerous underlying factors that contribute to the problem of human rights in Nigeria. One the major factors is that of religion. Religious differences often correspond to regional and ethnic differences. For example, the northern region is overwhelmingly Muslim, as are the large Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups of that area. Many southern ethnic groups are predominantly Christian. About half the country"s population practice Islam and about 40% practice Christianity.
Approximately 10% practice exclusively traditional indigenous religions or no religion at all. Many persons practice both elements of Christianity or Islam and elements of an indigenous traditional religion. Consequently, it is difficult to distinguish religious discrimination from ethnic and regional discrimination, which is pervasive. Although the government has never outlawed proselytizing, it continues to discourage and criticize it publicly because it believes that it stimulates religious tensions.
Both Christian and Muslim organizations allege that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Immigration Department restricted the entry into the country of certain religious practitioners, particularly persons suspected of intending to proselytize. Consequently, Nigeria"s constitution prohibits state and local governments from adopting an official religion. Though Nigerian law prohibits religious discrimination, it is common for government officials to discriminate against persons who practice a religion different from their own, notably in hiring or awarding contracts.
There have been documented reports of harassment of Christian missions by local government officials in predominantly Islamic regions. In April and again in August 1998, the local council of Lafia, in Nasarawa State, reportedly ordered the closure of a Protestant Christian mission church in connection with a dispute about the mission"s title to the land. In March 1998, State Security Service officers detained and interrogated the mission"s pastor. The mission sought to convert members of the generally Islamic Kambari ethnic group.
The lack of concern for the environment and the people that it affects has also been a major concern in the struggle for human rights. Since 1958, oil companies such as Shell have exploited oil wealth in the region of the Ogoni people. As a consequence, they have suffered extreme economic deprivation and the environmental devastation of their land. Since Shell began drilling in Nigeria"s Niger Delta, it has spilled oil on farmland and in water sources, bulldozed across farms and flared gas just meters from Ogoni villages.
The people of Ogoniland suffer extreme health problems from the air and water pollution. The Nigerian military has played a significant role in the continued persecution of the Ogoni. When the Ogoni began to demand environmental justice, villages were attacked, villagers were killed and their leader was executed by the judgment of a military court. Shell has even admitted to paying the military, which brutally silences voices crying for justice from the government of Nigeria and Shell, along with other multinational oil corporations.
Shell is only one of many multinational oil corporations operating in Nigeria. Mobil, Chevron, and Texaco are also found in Nigeria, operating as partners of the Nigerian government, as required by Nigerian law. "Shell is certainly not the only Oil Corporation that abuses its money, power, and feeling of superiority over the people of Nigeria. " The country"s population of about 120 million is ethnically diverse, comprising more than 250 ethnic groups, many of which speak distinct primary languages and are concentrated geographically.
There is no majority ethnic group. The three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa-Fulani of the north, Yoruba of the southwest, and Igbos of the southeast, who together make up about two-thirds of the population. The fourth largest group, the Ijaw, has a population of approximately 12 million. "Societal discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is widely practiced by members of all ethnic groups and is evident in private sector hiring patterns, de facto ethnic segregation of urban neighborhoods and a continuing paucity of marriage across major ethnic and regional lines. There is a long history of tension among diverse ethnic groups.
Although the country"s successive constitutions all have prohibited ethnic discrimination by the State, northerners and particularly Hausas have long been predominant in the national government, including the military officer corps. Tradition continued to impose considerable pressure on individual government officials to favor their own ethnic groups and ethnic favoritism persisted.
Resentment of northern domination of the Government aggravated by the suspension of federal decentralization under the Abacha regime and resentment of Igbo success in private commerce, have contributed to ethnic and regional tensions. Possibly the most controversial issue within Nigeria is that of the political structure of the government. Since Nigeria received its independence from Britain, in 1960, there has been conflict in regards to the military and authoritarian system of government that existed.
The citizens of Nigeria have longed for a democratic system of government that included themselves as active proponents. Nigeria became a Republic in 1963 and Nnamdi Azikiwe was made the President of the Federal Republic. In January of 1966, some Igbo army officials staged a coup d"etat to overthrow the government, who were primarily Hausa, because they objected to the population census. They felt it over estimated that number of people in the northern region thereby giving them a larger representation in the federal parliament.
They succeeded in killing many of the senior officers but Azikiwe was not harmed. As a result of the attempted coup, the government promised a progressive program, a return to civilian rule determined by elections, and vowed to stamp out corruption and violence. Though idealistic in theory, these promises were never realized. Instead, it became the common practice of the government to consider democracy, but continue to practice authoritarian rule. Nigeria would bear witness to numerous coup attempts over the next three decades, most involving the transition to democracy.
It wasn"t until the death of Sani Abacha, possibly the most famous President of Nigeria, in June 1998 that civilian rule would be realized. A new transition program was established that would lead the country back to democracy by Abdulsalam Abubakar, the man chosen to replace Abacha. After a series of elections, Olusegun Obasanjo was declared the new and current, democratically elected president on May 29, 1999. At the end of May 1999, Nigeria completed its transition from authoritarian rule to a formal democracy.
A number of Nigerian groups have managed to create strong institutional structures, with narrowly defined mandates and internal staff structures as well as program plans. While there are still growing pains within many of these groups, this type of planning process has resulted in "the Nigerian human rights community"s being far ahead of its anglophone neighbors in putting human rights institutions into place. " The Center for Advanced Social Sciences (CASS) was formed in 1992 and is based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. CASS is a think tank concerned with improving management and public policy in Africa.
It has a Board of Trustees and is governed by an international Board of Directors. The Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), established in 1987, is one of Nigeria"s largest human rights organizations. The CLO is a non-governmental organization set up for the defense and expansion of human rights and civil liberties. It investigates human rights abuses and campaigns through litigation, publications, and communications with the government on behalf of people whose rights have been abused. Another human rights advocate is the Constitutional Rights Project (CRP) that was set up in 1990.
Their aims are to ensure that Nigerian legislation conforms to international standards, monitor institutions whose activity impact on the rights of citizens, and to provide legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses. The cry for human rights reform in Nigeria hasn"t fallen on deaf ears from those of the international community. On November 12, 1998 the 53rd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) met to discuss the situation of human rights in Nigeria. The General Assembly reaffirmed that Nigeria is a party to the International Covenant on Human Rights and thereby making it a Member State.
All Member States have an obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Nigerian government was "strongly encouraged" that the establishment and strengthening of national structures and institutions in the field of human rights are of the utmost importance for the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria. The sanctions imposed on Nigerian government by the European Union, the Commonwealth and the government of the United States of America were to be lifted in light of the progress made towards the restoration of democratic government and respect for human rights.
The Nigerian government in its transition to democracy was applauded for its establishment of the Independent National Electoral Commission and the issuance of a detailed timetable for the election process. Overall, the UN General Assembly was satisfied with the progress of the Nigerian government in its transition to democracy. Nigeria has seen some very turbulent times in its history as it relates to democracy and human rights.
Democracy consolidation, which appears to be the most immediate challenge for the human rights movement in post transition Nigeria, will require forward thinking and cohesive action on the part of the human rights community. It has been clearly demonstrated that in Africa relatively free and fair elections observed by international monitor and elaborate "handing over ceremonies" will not necessarily bring about genuine democracy and a human rights culture. Civil society organizations will have to work gradually to expand the democratic space and rebuild the institutions of civil society.
The long years of military dictatorship have decimated these institutions and virtually erased the rule of law according to AFRONET Reports. Though politicians glibly vocalize democratic jargon, it is still evident that democratic values and attitudes are not yet commonplace in the political class. Also, among ordinary Nigerians, popular mentalities need to change; the people have become accustomed to not expecting anything but the worst from their leaders in terms of political leadership, economic management and respect for civil liberties and human dignity.
The average Nigerian has been driven by economic hardship to adopt a survivalist mode of life in which he or she is preoccupied with access to the bare necessities of life and does not demand or expect accountability or respect for human rights from their leaders. The Nigerian government, though its history is not favorable, is making sincere efforts to overwrite its history. But unless the human rights community and the people they represent adopt a more positive attitude towards its government, change can not be realized.