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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Nigeria examines abuses
Nigerians voting in 1999
Elections last year brought in a new era of accountability
Public hearings began in Nigeria on Monday into human rights abuses committed under the military dictatorship.

The panel, modelled on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the apartheid era, was set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo soon after he took office in 1999, ending 15 years of military rule.

The head of the panel said it would concentrate on 200 cases - involving the most grievous abuses, drawn up during a tour of Nigeria by the commission.

Among them are the hanging of the activist Ken Saro-Wira in 1995, and the detention and death in prison of the tycoon Moshood Abiola, the man widely believed to have won presidential elections in 1993.

The panel led by a retired judge, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, will have the powers to investigate abuses which took place at any time in the past 25 years.

Bitterness

Nigeria's last military ruler, General Sani Abacha, left behind him a huge legacy of bitterness, and many unanswered questions.

General Sani Abacha
General Abacha: Widespread abuses during his rule
Originally the panel was conceived as a way of shedding light into the darker corners of what happened under General Abacha's regime, in the hope that - as in South Africa - truth would bring healing.

And investigations into the Abacha period are relatively uncontroversial, since he is dead.

But as the public were invited to bring their complaints of abuse to the panel, demand grew for it to look into earlier injustices.

The commission received more than 10,000 petitions during its tour.

Broader mandate

Eventually its mandate was broadened to cover any events since the first coup d'etat in Nigeria in 1966.


Ken Saro Wiwa - spokesman of the Ogoni people
This gets it into much more contentious territory. It is expected, for instance, to look into the still unsolved parcel bomb killing of the journalist, Dele Giwa.

General Babangida was in power then, and he is still alive, and still an influential figure.

It could even find itself investigating abuses perpetrated by the military government of the late 1970s, which was headed by General - now President - Obasanjo; he in turn was a victim of unjust imprisonment by General Abacha's regime.

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See also:

03 Sep 99 | Africa
Nigeria: A history of coups
20 Oct 00 | Business
London implicated in Abacha probe
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