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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 16:38 GMT
General lashes out at Nigeria rights panel
Nigerian troops
Nigeria is coming to terms with decades of military abuse
By Dan Isaacs in Lagos

One of Nigeria's former military rulers has launched a vitriolic attack against the country's human rights commission.

President Olusegun Obasanjo
The president established the Oputa panel two years ago

General Muhammadu Buhari also outlined the personal reasons for his refusal to attend the public hearings of the so-called Oputa panel.

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

The panel, established by President Olusegun Obasanjo two years ago, ended its formal sessions last month.

Final request

The Oputa group made one final request to all of Nigeria's former military heads of state to explain their failure to appear.

But General Buhari, who led a coup in 1983 and ruled until he himself was overthrown two years later, wrote back reiterating his refusal to testify.

He wrote in the letter that it would serve no purpose to appear since the panel had already roundly accused the military heads of state publicly as individuals.

He said there was nothing remotely personal in the actions of his government.

He also suggested the panel consider the failings of other governments, and not his own.

Absent protagonists

His statement speaks volumes about the level of responsibility that Nigeria's former rulers have been prepared to take over the human rights failings of their own administrations.

General Ibrahim Babangida
General Babangida also refused to appear before the tribunal

The behaviour of the generals has angered human rights lawyers, most notably Chief Gani Fawihinmi.

In his own furious letter to the panel published in Wednesday's press, he demanded the commission take much sterner action against those who virtually crushed Nigeria.

The Oputa panel is seen by many here as a significant achievement in that it has led to open debate of the abuses of power over decades of military rule.

But it has conspicuously failed in its ability to persuade key protagonists to testify.

With or without the comments of the reluctant generals, the Oputa panel is expected to publish its final report by the end of the year.

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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