THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA

By Marika Witt

Little has been heard about the Abacha dictatorship in Nigeria since the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting earlier this year. Yet General Abacha continues with the vilest abuses of human rights. Since 1994 over 200 pro-democracy campaigners have been shot dead in Lagos, almost 100 students, market traders and peasants have been raped and shot dead in Edo state and 2000 Ogoni people have been killed. The military butchers came to power in 1993 following the annulment of the election results which gave victory to the followers of Chief Mashood Abiola, who is now held in prison. The regime continues to suppress democratic and workers' rights with new attacks on universities and trade unions. Any attempts to free political prisoners in Nigeria through the due process of law have been blocked by the government, depriving courts of powers to look into the cases of political detainees.

The West's half-hearted response stems the domination of Nigeria's economy by western capitalist transnational corporations such as Shell (which producies 50% of the oil of Nigeria), Total and other oil companies, Lever Brothers and Cadbury's. These corporations, which have looted the country's assets and poisoned its environment, continue to support the military regime and fill the pockets of the generals and the elite.

Union executives forcibly disbanded

In August 1994 the military forcibly and illegally disbanded the executives of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the senior gas and oil employees' association (PENGASSAN). They appointed 'sole administrators' who owe allegiance to the ruling junta.

This has allowed the government the to impose policies of mass retrenchment and wage freeze (especially on the public sector), further lowering the already deplorable living standards of workers.

The dictatorship has also banned three university unions at federal state and local levels by appointing a military 'sole administrator' in charge of the academic staff association (ASUU). Currently Nigerian lecturers are some of the lowest paid in Africa, receiving less than a quarter of the Ghanian wage and about 20% of a Zambian lecturer's wage. ASUU members have been on strike since 9 April 1996 over the government's failure to review the previous 1992 pay deal which was promised in 1995. There are reports that lecturers will be given two weeks in which to return to work or be summarily dismissed.

Activists held without trial

Frank Ovie Kokori, the general secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) was arrested and has been detained without trial for two years, living in atrocious conditions and denied access to family, lawyers and doctors. Milton Dabibi, general secretary of PENGASSAN is also being detained without trial in similar conditions along with other political activists.

Frank Kokori and Milton Dabibi played leading roles in the pro-democracy struggles in 1993-94, in particular the national oil workers' strike of July-August 1994 demanding termination of military dictatorship and the de-annulment of the results of the June 12 1993 presidential elections.

Urgent action is needed to help those fighting for the restoration of democracy and human rights in Nigeria. One such Nigerian body is the Campaign for Independent Unionism, a trade union-based campaign group whose aims are to free politiical prisoners, restore trade union independence, ensure the defence of the trade union, economic and political rights of workers, and to transform the trade unions into democratic and fighting organisations.

Donations, petitions and letter of support can be sent to The Secretary, Campaign for Independent Unionism, PO Box 496, Agege, Lagos, Nigeria.