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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 17:27 GMT
Generals evade Nigeria rights panel
Former ruler General Abdulsalam Abubakar
General Abubakar has refused to appear before the panel
The court of appeal in Nigeria has ruled that the country's human rights panel does not have the power to summon former rulers of the country.

President Olusegun Obasanjo
The president failed to incorporate the required law into the consitution
President Olusegun Obasanjo established the panel two years ago to investigate human rights abuses during Nigeria's decades of military rule.

The court said on Wednesday that a law which would have empowered the rights panel to summon former leaders violated the Nigerian constitution.

Ironically, the court said that it was Mr Obasanjo who failed to modify the required 1966 military decree to conform to the constitution which he adopted in 1999.

Therefore the so-called Oputa panel had no power to compel anyone to conform to any orders it might give.

Defiance

Three former military rulers - Mohammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, and Abdulsalam Abubakar - have repeatedly defied summonses to appear before the panel to answer allegations of rights abuses.

The panel, similar in scope to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is expected to submit its findings to the Nigerian government within weeks.

General Ibrahim Babangida
The generals are accused of overseeing widespread human rights abuses

It ended its hearings earlier this month, threatening to have the three former rulers jailed for contempt.

One of the cases under investigation was the 1986 killing of a magazine editor, Dele Giwa, by a letter bomb delivered to his Lagos home.

But the generals have questioned both the legality of the commisssion and its power to summon them.

Beyond the issue of whether former rulers appear personally, correspondents say the ruling also throws into doubt the validity of any order or recommendation that any other commission or enquiry set up under the same law might make.

The government has not declared an intention to file an appeal.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sola Odunfa
"The government has not declared an intention to file an appeal"
See also:

24 Oct 01 | Africa
Nigeria: Crisis in Benue state
28 Jun 01 | Africa
Villagers 'massacred' in Nigeria
29 May 99 | Africa
Profile: Olusegun Obasanjo
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Nigeria
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