Human Rights in Nigeria: the Buhari/idiagbon and Abacha Situations Compared and Contrasted

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Wikipedia encyclopedia refers to human rights as “basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled.” This exists in the areas of civil and political rights and particularly describes the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, and equality before the law, social, cultural and economic rights includes the rights to participate in culture,

the right to food, the right to work and the right to education. This is expressly summed up by Article 1 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR as:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Although this article will not delve into the history of Human rights which covers thousands of years and mainly drawn from almost every department of life such as culture, politics, religion and economy etc, it will merely look into a certain period of military rule in Nigeria when Buhari/Idiagbon and the Late General Abacha were in power as the rulers of Nigeria. It will seek to some extent objectively compare and contrast these two regimes for the purpose of establishing human rights situation in Nigeria within the period under study.

However, it is very germane to add here that so many ancient documents which can be recognized as concepts of human rights have existed globally, but credit should be given the United Nations Organization for the shaping of International Human rights Law as we have it today.

Human rights is agreed to be violated when a state or non-state actor within the International Community breaches any part of the United Nations Human rights treaty. This is hard to hard as such state or non-state actor may constantly risk condemnation by vehemently denying the act, and consequently covering up these acts of abuses with several sets of further acts which may prove difficult to demonstrate, particularly in several parts of the African continent. 

General Mohammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon (now deceased) came to power on Saturday December 31, 1983 although the regime of this duo was too short to appraise but the regime reigned in what many people of Nigeria could at best describe as dictatorial, even the successor regime of this regime led by General Ibrahim Babangida described the regime thus:

“He was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitude to issues of national significance”.

No sooner did Buhari/Idiagbon ceased government than the infamous Decree Number Four (DN4) of 1984 was promulgated by the duo; Buhari/Idiagbon became famous for coming down heavily against the Nigerian press, making the report of truth a very serious offence in the country, not many will for get the terrible situation of Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of the Guardian who were imprisoned for making a ca report on the Government.  The Buhari/Idiagbon regime would also executed Bernard Ogedengbe, Bartholomew Owoh and Lawal Ojulope for an offence committed by them as alleged by the regime after a national debate in spite of public pleas, the execution of these gentlemen were made possible by a retroactive decree courtesy of Buhari/Idiagbon regime.

Buhari and his Deputy would again promulgate another Decree called Decree Number two (DN2) of 1984 which made it possible for Tunde Idiagbon to detain anybody whether such person is a citizen of the country or foreigner, this decree stripped the court of law of the powers to depend the reason such person is being detained. In essence, the decree did not recognize the significance of the judiciary but was merely interested in achieving its aims of dictatorial tendencies. In what would later follow, the world became amused to hear the verdicts of 125 years imprisonments handed down to the regime suspects.

Buhari was also noted to have utilized excessive force in handling drug peddlers caught, as he issued death penalties to them in what political commentators believed should not have attracted death sentences, still death was the fate of several of these suspects in laws that resembled that of Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations.

The tactics of the Buhari/Idiagbon regime became too harsh for the survival of the people, with arbitrary creation of decrees to lead the regime but promulgated to harshly lure the Nigerian public into playing into the waiting ready-made hand of the regime. Victims who became preys of these draconian decrees were mostly detained and made to remain inside prisons for as many years as Buhari and Idiagbon pleased.

There are those have argued in favour of this regime, in that according them the regime came up with the famous War Against Indiscipline which re-awakened Nigerians to the social norms of the society and helped to maintain societal order and respect for the Nigerian society as a whole. But this is outside the human rights records of the time.

The regime of General Sani Abacha who lived from 20 September 1943-8 June 1998 and the de facto military leader of Nigeria between 1993 and 1998) suffered stiff opposition internally and externally because Pro-democracy activists made the regime unpopular. His regime was accused of gross human rights abuses both home and abroad. The heights of his human rights abuses was the arrest and detention of Chief Moshhod Kolawole Olawale Abiola, the man who won the 1993 Presidential election in the country, Abiola would later die in detention in a circumstance yet unclear till this day though this was not in the days of Abacha but his mere detention caused a global uproar as the appeals of several notable people from around the world to the Military leader to free Abiola was not heeded by him.

But the peak of the gross abuse of human rights in the country was ushered by the arrest, detention and hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an activist by the regime in what was globally condemned.

Some the activities that characterized his regime as a tool for the gross violations of human rights in the country were the trial in absentia of Prof. Wole Soyinka, charged for treason, and the arrest and detention of Olusegun Obasanjo also jailed for treason. Abacha was also notable for banning political parties, in what people viewed as a means of likely transformation of himself to the life president of the country, and the personal control of the press. Several human rights activists who opposed his policies whether from the military or civil society were either detained without trial or jailed. Many other persons, chiefly members of the press were also jailed. Allegations of coups and counter coups reined in this regime too. The regime abruptly ended when General Sani Abacha reportedly died of heart attack in June 1998 at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.   

Having narrated the background of certain of the human rights violations of two military regimes Nigeria during the military era of the nation, this article will go further in comparing and contrasting the regimes in terms of human rights violations.

In the first place, both regimes were not democratically welcomed by Nigerians as power was ceased through fraudulent means, Buhari/Iidiagbon overthrew a democratically elected government of shehu Shagari , while Abacha ceased power from an interim government led Ernest Shonekan. It is also a known fact that Buhari, Idiagbon and Abacha all participated in the coup that overthrew the government of Shehu Shagari. Abacha and Babangida would further bring down the government of Buhari/Abacha.  

While the regime of Buhari/Idiagbon reigned for too short a period that any political analyst could valuably access, one can still point out that certain violations of human rights charter were committed that resembled the Abacha regime. One can not forget the incessant arrest and detentions of pressmen many of whom were jailed after trials too unconvincing to justify their offences. Buhari/Idiagbon shut down some media houses which was also a major feature of Abacha, in trying to personally control information and limit it to the whims and caprices of the regimes. Innocent pressmen who heard the names of Buhari/Idiagbon and Abacha fled for their dare lives and often abandoned their cameras and materials.

The two regimes also shared in the executions of persons globally thought innocent, especially after unconvincing trials, Buhari/Idiagbon executed Bernard Ogedengbe Bartholomew Owoh and Lawal Ojulope in yet a controversial circumstance, while Abacha executed Ken Saro Wiwa and his kinsmen, yet in another controversial circumstances. General sani Abacha operated with many of the draconian decrees set up by Buhari/Idiagbon administration, which both regimes used to try to gag the press and haul many innocent people into prisons.

Both regimes were tough on Nigerians, operating with draconian laws without recourse to the rule of law and legalities. This affected Nigerians negatively and brought sufferings to the people without correcting the anomalies both regimes claimed brought them to power. Again, it would seem that none of these two regimes announced a set date for the return of power to a democratically elected government.

 Both regimes continuously received harsh criticism from the civil populace, and in fact, however, while the overthrow of Buhari/Idiagbon was very surprising to the people, many Nigerians may have rejoiced over the exit of Abacha which they attributed to divine intervention, believing it to be welcome development.

Again, the attitude of Buhari in present time, has been described as a desperate one as he continues to express absolute ambition to once again lead the people of Nigeria, the extent he has pursued this to the Supreme Court level amidst the lack of interest attitude of his party has been used as indices to conclude that Buhari is power thirsty and may not have concluded his plans within himselve as the Head of State of the country to hand over power to any democratically elected government, a date he never mentioned until he was overthrown by Babangida. Abacha also never expressed any desire to hand over to civilians; in essence, both regimes had no plans for transiting to civil rule. Buhari/Idiagbon and Abacha were no democrats.

I have so far tried in some way to compare the regimes and shall now dwell on the area differences between the two regimes, Buhari/Idiagbon we may conclude was a not self-centered one, while that of Abacha was considered selfish with a lot of looting, accountability was not considered a responsibility to the people of Nigeria by Abacha while Buhari/Idiagbon felt they owe the nation regular accountability and transparency.

The major point of departure of these regimes was a more vocal international condemnation of Gen. Abacha which would further lead to the suspension of the country from Commonwealth in November 1995, when the regime hanged Ken Saro Wiwa and nine other persons believed to be enemies of the military regime in the country. This was with further condition “That if no demonstrable progress was made towards the fulfilment of these conditions (democratisation and respect for human rights/release of political prisoners) within a time frame (of two years), Nigeria would be expelled from the association.”

As we later observed Abacha bluffed this condition and the nation was made a pariah State, and in fact a leper-State not deemed fit for relations by other good nations of the world, Abiola would soon die in Jail still die in detention in a controversial State, it was partly as a result of this that the country failed to make it to a particular nations cup in South-Africa.

With the reported recovery of huge sums by the Obasanjo regime from Overseas which has implicated the deceased general and his family in a wholesale looting of Nigeria’s coffers and some $3 or $4 billion USD in foreign assets have been traced to Abacha, his family and their representatives, $2.1 billion of which the Nigerian government tentatively came to an agreement with the Abacha family to return, the Abacha is regarded as highly corrupt, another major departure from the Buhari/Idiagbon regime.

However, we conclude this article by stating that in spite of the differences highlighted here no military government is ever considered good by the people, and as they say, the worst civilian government is better than the best military government.

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